Marc Charlebois is more than a musician and artist – he’s a fine arts student.
Crammed into his schedule at Claremont secondary, the Grade 11 student takes concert band, jazz band, musical theatre and visual arts classes. And he’s not alone in his artistic endeavours.
Many Claremont students are so heavily involved in the school’s various programs that teachers decided to formally acknowledge those commitments to artistic passions.
In September, Claremont will launch a school of fine arts.
“The model is essentially a school within a school,” said drama teacher Colin Plant. “Claremont still offers all the same programs, we’re just creating a new structure for those students who love the fine arts.”
Students who take at least 10 arts-related classes over their eight semesters at the school will graduate with a special school of fine arts diploma, on top of their regular Dogwood certificate.
“It sounds pretty interesting,” Charlebois said. “It’s a chance for students who are involved in fine arts to get some recognition for what they’re doing in high school. And it’s more of an opportunity for me to be creative.”
Claremont’s fine arts offerings are abundant: they range from the usual drama, band, dance and visual arts courses to specialized courses including 3-D art, stagecraft, photography, directing and scriptwriting, guitar and a new class in the practices of film and TV.
“If you can make music, if you can make art, if you can build a set, if you can be on stage, if you can film a show … basically any course you can think of is part of our school,” Plant said.
The drama teacher notes that the launch of the school of fine arts won’t really change anything at Claremont, save for a symbolic diploma students receive at graduation.
“This is more of a focus program, where there’s a combination of courses and a pathway provided to students to focus their interests,” said Nancy Macdonald, assistant superintendent for the Saanich School District. “It isn’t a ‘school of’, per se, it doesn’t have an ‘academy’ name to it. It’s more of a timetable shift.”
Declining enrolment is a reality around the region, and offering academies and focus programs is a great way to attract students, Plant said.
“That’s not the reason we’re doing it, we’re doing it because we believe in it. But it happens already: a lot (of kids) come to our school to be a part of our fine arts. We are trying to attract those students who have a passion for fine arts and want to immerse in it.”
Pat Duncan, associate superintendent of schools for the Greater Victoria district, defends the course offerings in his jurisdiction, despite the absence of a specific arts diploma program.
“We really feel that we are meeting the needs of all of our students,” he said. “So you can go to any one of our secondary schools and get any fine art program (Claremont offers).”
In general, Duncan said, schools offering academies and focus programs do have an upper hand in attracting students.
“We have (academies and focus programs) in the district … and these do draw students from the Sooke and Saanich school districts, and they have programs that may draw some of our students,” Duncan said. “It’s not a competition of trying to steal (students) from one another, it’s a matter of the (school) community saying, ‘We’d really like this in our school.’”
But unlike an academy, there will be no extra cost to families to have kids join the school of fine arts at Claremont. Some specific courses have associated costs, however, and optional field trips and events do happen, Plant said.
He says he hopes the diploma will eventually give participating students a bit more clout when they graduate, and hopefully give them a foot in the door for post-secondary fine arts schools.
“It’d be lovely in the future if students who apply for UVic for arts, or the Canadian College of Performing Arts, can put ‘graduate of Claremont school of fine arts’ and that does open a door for them,” Plant said.
As for Charlebois, he’s still unsure which direction he’ll take when he graduates in 2013. But he’ll be glad to have earned a diploma in fine arts.
“I’m involved in the arts because I like playing music, I like creating stuff. I guess (the diploma) is a bonus, on top of the enjoyment I get doing these things.”
Academies by district
Esquimalt High: curling
Lambrick Park: baseball and softball
Spectrum: hockey, lacrosse
Claremont: golf, lacrosse, rowing
Two new academies are also in the works for SD63: a judo academy at Parkland, and an Institute for Global Solutions at Claremont.