Arts Scene – Fine Arts in the Schools: Preparing our Future Artists

by Jo Barnes | photos by Amanda Cribdon Photography – 

Step together, step kick, step together, step kick, turn around and hold … do we have your attention?

Students in fine arts programs in the Saanich school district are learning how to make their audiences sit up and take notice.

While these programs for the next generation of artists can vary from school to school, they all offer students a wealth of benefits beyond an audience’s appreciation, including self confidence, empathy, problem solving and diplomacy.

“The fine arts are about collaboration, problem solving and self expression,” shares Colin Plant, drama and musical theatre teacher at Claremont Secondary School. “Students are in a group setting, learning how to work well with others, how to understand other’s perspectives, contribute, develop creativity and confidence.”

Participation often has a profound effect on how students can communicate and express themselves.

“A creative outlet is so important for kids,” shares Alicia Bartlett, drama, dance and musical theatre teacher at Stelly’s Secondary School.

Christine Irving, director of musical theatre and teacher at Parkland Secondary School, adds: “They find their confidence and voice, and they explore who they want to be.”

Being creative and interacting with others opens the door for students to better understand themselves and those around them.

“Students are working with different types of people. They learn a lot about others,” says Alicia.

Christine notes: “Kids are introduced to new ways of looking at life and learn to see the bigger picture.”

Projects they work on, such as musical theatre productions, stage plays, dance performances, music concerts or art shows, provide invaluable experience of planning, teamwork and even marketing ideas.

“There are typically 100 kids in a production,” says Colin. “They have a sense of ownership. They are involved in every aspect of the production from tickets to lights to orchestra.”

Christine shares: “The students experience what it’s like to have a product that you’re proud of at the end of all your hard work.”

Another valuable experience which students gain is overcoming obstacles like the fear of public speaking or performance anxiety. Finding success in conquering these fears prepares them well for taking on future challenges.

“Many students deal with nervousness before a show,” remarks Colin. “We acknowledge it. It’s a normal feeling. They learn to talk about it and not to mask their anxiety. You can work through things better this way.”

Regardless of the school or its fine arts offering, a key aspect is that access to these programs is open to all students. It means everyone can be a part of a group experience and contribute.

“Students have a sense of belonging. They can be part of something,” shares Colin.

This kind of inclusivity is invaluable for students, especially those with physical or developmental challenges who may never have experienced this in other parts of their lives.

“For students with diverse needs, they find joy. They are asked to do the same things as everyone else,” says Alicia. “They find acceptance.”

For some, the opportunity to participate, contribute and just be who they are, can be a lifeline, both figuratively and literally.
“I had a non-binary student one semester who found a place in the program and felt acceptance,” shares Alicia. “This student told me: ‘It saved my life.'”

Saanich is home to three secondary schools, all of which offer a variety of creative and performing arts classes to students. Focus on Fine Arts, a program unique to Claremont Secondary, offers instruction and experience in four areas of fine arts: visual arts, music, drama, and dance. When students graduate from this program, they receive a school-developed diploma that recognizes successfully completing at least 40 credits of school-based Fine Arts courses. Stelly’s Secondary school offers the same diverse performing arts program offering dance, musical theatre, concert band and choir, orchestra, voice, guitar, stagecraft and an extensive line-up of visual arts courses. The Creative and Performing Arts Program at Parkland Secondary provides a full range of opportunities in drama, dance, musical theatre, vocal music and jazz band, as well as a wealth of visual art courses.

Whatever the school, these fine arts programs all can be integral to preparing students for living in the real world.
“Students in these programs work toward a common goal and create strong bonds of friendship. They learn to deal with disappointment, success and with others,” shares Alicia. “This helps them prepare for the work force.”

“We want students to develop into good citizens who go out into the world and make it a better place,” comments Colin.
While nobody knows what the future holds for these students, for now, they’re finding their voice, identity and place. Engaging in the fine arts can give them the tools, the support and the experiences to equip them to be capable and creative members of society. Now that’s something to notice and applaud!

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