SPECIAL GUEST BLOGGER: Justin Leung, Co-Founder | CanYouth
Before even beginning this article, I encourage and challenge every single person who reads this article to leave a comment and state his or her opinion on the issue below. At CanYouth, we are committed to creating and channelling a strong voice for all youth across Canada and we really do value what you have to say. Thank you!
It all started when Unionville High School first opened in 1985, as the newly created Arts York Program began and stood beside the school right from the very start. The commencement would mark the beginning of 26 years of unparallel excellence in the disciplines of drama, dance, visual arts and music. In this time, the Unionville High School Arts York program managed to establish themselves as a staunch advocate for the arts and was able to spread their influence in the artistic world to virtually all around the globe.
Beginning with the intensive selection process in order to gain admittance to the school, students enter a positive working environment that fosters individual growth and creativity. As a result of all this, the Arts York program has managed to produce alumni that have gone off after their time at Unionville to pursue their passions and make a difference in the world; the most notable being national champion figure skater Emmanuel Sandhu, Hayden Christensen from the Star Wars trilogy and Emmanuelle Chriqui from Entourage.
The program serves as an artistic incubator for youth all across York Region as it encourages talented teenagers to take advantage of the opportunities Unionville offers by auditioning. However, a few years ago the York Region District School Board cut the buses and eliminated all means of school transportation for students attending the Arts York Program. Almost instantly, students within the school who relied on the school buses to get to school were put in jeopardy and the dropping rates began to show. This would mark the beginning of a nightmare for students already attending the school and also to many prospective students who wished to attend. Naturally, the school, the community and many parents and students rallied and protested against the school board’s decision for quite some time. A group of parents took the school board to court and after a significant time period, eventually won. Not long after, the school board succumbed to the public pressure and in an act of appeasement, resumed the bussing. Just one year later however, they slashed it again.
This was the first significant move that the school board initiated and as a result of this, damaged the school’s reputation. Students who wished to attend the school but lived too far would be forced to make the lengthy trek to school every single morning themselves. I was one of these unfortunate students who needed my parents to drive 45 min with me to school every single day. Many others gave up their opportunities to attend the school because of the distance factor.
Just two years ago, the YRDSB school board made another significant decision to restrict the boundaries of the students attending Unionville. New arts programs began to pop up around York Region and students living in areas not around Unionville were required and expected to attend their own respective arts schools. To Unionville’s Arts York program, that meant fewer students, which directly constituted to less talent. When asked about their motives to restrict the boundaries in the region, the school board stated that their intentions were to enrich and spread the arts all around the region.
However, my question that I pose to the school board is this: “to what cost?” To all readers who are viewing this article, I hope you understand that by no means am I saying that the arts shouldn’t be spread around the region. In fact, I am saying the exact opposite and I want more arts school in York Region, BUT I believe that there should be a certain degree of choice revolving this issue. Why can’t we let students choose where they want to go? If the school board’s intentions were to spread the arts, then wouldn’t it benefit the board more if they had students all across York Region diversified and were not being forced to attend their boundary schools? The fact that Unionville’s Arts York program housed students all across the region was a motivating factor in the success of the program. When students from all around gathered together in one place, that was when the real magic happened. Every arts school would experience a rich and diverse representation from all over the region and would effectively create one community, as opposed to the segregation from one boundary to the next. Let’s think about that.
Just as it seemed as the program was adjusting and recovering from the blows that struck them, the arts program, now called Arts Unionville gained word and news of yet even more advancements, or should I say declines. I still remember how my entire class erupted in anger when my teacher notified us about the changes that would take place next year. It was not a great feeling at all and within seconds, the whispers began and the news began to spread. Apparently, the Arts Unionville music class sizes were too low and so certain adjustments had been implemented. The regular separation of grade 9’s and 10’s from the grade 11’s and 12’s would no longer be happening and instead, one huge class of all grades would take place. For those who are unfamiliar with the logistics of the program, the school has prided itself on its small classes and low student to teacher ratios. It is how the program is so effective because individual student attention is given and as a result, fosters individual growth. That now, has been tossed into the trash. The problems do not even stop there.
Imagine a piano major waking up every single morning for school from far off places like Aurora, only to be awaited by a class of 30 kids and not enough pianos. That poses a serious issue and strain on the equipment the school offers. While the school already has filled every single empty space with a piano, how are students expected to share instruments? What do we do if there aren’t enough? Is the school board responsible for supporting all the changes in financial needs the program now requires? What are the differences in the Arts York Program and some other standard and basic music classes in some other schools? We must congratulate the school board for these changes because they have effectively smothered 26 years of artistic excellence and contradicted their own original intentions for their program. I wonder if the people that work for the school board have even considered the implications and consequences of their actions. Let me walk you through a few.
The school board will have effectively created an environment brimming with inequality, as different majors will receive different levels of opportunities. As pessimistic as this sounds, the school board will have successfully began the tilt of the general downward slope of the program. All teachers and students would have to struggle and work extra hard just to maintain the caliber of the program. Why risk everything? Next up, as petty as this may seem to some, 30 kids armed with instruments doesn’t exactly sound or look pleasant. In fact, the very though itself frightens me. The level of noise created would resemble going to a rock concert for 4 years straight. I’m sure we’ll manage to NOT blow our brains out in 4 years. Finally, these changes will decrease the productivity and efficiency of the program, and ultimately cause the program to suffer as the large class sizes will directly hinder the regular speed and progress the program abides by. What is the point of having the program in the first place then?
How do we solve this issue? Well for starters, students need a voice. It’s as simple as that. If the school board wants to create eventual responsible adults, they first need to listen and consult the students. In my humble opinion, I believe that if the YRDSB school board had maybe taken the time to perhaps sit through some classes, attended some of our performances or even listened to what we have to say directly, they would have thought twice about this. To me, it makes sense to ask the students, teachers, parents and community who are related to the program how THEY want their program to run. Their opinions do matter. I’ve had friends that have unsuccessfully made any impact after sending numerous letters and emails to trustees, superintendents and even directors of education. However, this isn’t the way we should do it. As youth, we are harmless as individuals. It is only when we unite to create one voice where we have a chance to create an impact.
Ending on a positive note, if these changes are to be in effect, I hope we all understand that the way we view these changes will directly constitute to how they will happen. If we go to school next year with a negative mindset, we will only be hurting ourselves even more. So I say we embrace the change and try to see it as an alternative way of operating. We should focus more on the advantages as opposed to dwelling on the negatives. Nevertheless, this should serve as an important lesson for both the administration and students. The school board needs to pay more attention to the student voice and we as students, need to step up and make sure that we are heard so that in the future, instances like these don’t happen.
As Mary Engelbreit once said, “If you don’t like something change it; if you can’t change it, change the way you think about it.”
Special thanks to Tiffany Chan. Photo Creds to Haley Ma.
Justin Leung is one of the co-founder’s of the youth organization CanYouth. He is a grade 12 student currently studying at Unionville High School in the Arts York Program specializing in percussion and drums. In addition to his presence in CanYouth, Justin is also affiliated with Youth Volunteer Markham and the Mayor’s Youth Task Force. Justin hopes to pursue a career in law, politics, international relations and finance. Please check out his organization and read all his other blog posts!
Co-Founder | CanYouth
firstname.lastname@example.org | CanYouth.com
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