The arts are more than electives to midtown schools

Havergal, UTS and York break the fourth wall with film and music curriculums

Math, science and English classes often take precedence when it comes to the required courses at the high school level. But what of the electives: visual arts, drama and film making?

Some private schools are picture- and pitch-perfect when it comes the facilities for their electives. Havergal College, University of Toronto Schools and The York School are three that have gone beyond the classroom to bring the best in creative industries to their students.

University of Toronto Schools proclaims half of its student body is taking music at the school, and it shows in the yearly endeavour called the Twig Tapes, where students and alum compose original pieces to share with the school community.

Now in its 30th year, Twig Tapes has recently been archived into a digital format called uTunes.

Director of music Judy Kay is enthused by the self-driven nature of UTS students when tackling the arts, especially during the February “Nocturne” concert.

“We have students at our school that have won at international competitions on piano and violin,” she said. “This is an opportunity where our high-flyers get to perform.”

Kay, who has been at the school for 21 years, admitted her favourite part is “revelling in the creativity of the students.”

“Some of the music that they compose can be just so mature, and sophisticated and interesting,” she said. “I find most of the music that students have written here blows your mind.”

She goes so far as to declare it “better, far and away” than what is currently playing on radio.

Moving to the film production side, Havergal College is one school that has become synonymous with going beyond the classroom.

Senior student Tianna Tso unveiled her short film, Cookies for the Heart, in the Personal Portraits program at the Toronto Youth Shorts Film Festival this year.

The tale about how family is oftentimes taken for granted was developed in class.

“When I pitched it to my class, I kept mentioning how important family is, and how we shouldn’t take it for granted because our family is always there for us,” Tso said in a conversation the day before the unveiling at TYSFF. “It’s important we show them how important they are, when we can.”

Last year, while a junior in a Grade 12 class, she and five other classmates put together a stop-animation film based on a short story she had written.

Tso admitted she was nervous at first.

“I think the one thing that I wanted to mention was the course that I took was with five other girls who were all a year older than me,” she said. “It took a lot of guts for me to do.

“I was really intimidated and scared when I first went into the class, but when I got to know the girls, it was really rewarding in the end — especially now with how far the film has gone.”

Still, her classmates — Brittany Morrison, Calla Elia, Erica Laver, Kathy Ip and Sheridan Miller (who are now away at university) — welcomed her into the class.

Another school breaking down the classroom walls is The York School, by way of its international baccalaureate film program.

The school invited art director Dimitri Capuani, who worked with legendary director Martin Scorsese on the 2011 film **Hugo**, to come and chat with students.

Valerie Turner, York’s admissions associate, noted students were tickled with the Hollywood art director’s talk.

“The kids were so engaged by the notion that somebody that worked on **Hugo**, so closely with Martin Scorsese, could share not only his experience but the actual script with Martin Scorsese’s handwriting on it,” she said.

And it’s not just about the lectures, or brushes with Hollywood fame.

Students have now been tasked with creating a documentary, under the guidance of film class teacher Jan Noestheden, about The York School’s history.

The institution is celebrating 50 years.

“I cannot believe how innovative, forward thinking, and nimble the faculty, staff and program pieces are here at The York School,” Turner said. “I feel like I’m at a boutique school experience in a very urban, contemporary environment that sets the stage for success in the most deliberate way as far as developing right brain competencies and preparing these kids for what they have to be prepared for.”

These three schools show that electives can certainly attract a lot of attention, much to the delight of students with bursting imaginations.

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Posted: Sep 26 2014 6:26 pm
Filed in: Kids & Families
Edition: Toronto