What I realized this week is that the best moments of my own K-12 school years all involved one thing – music. In elementary school, my principal played the guitar, and we would gather on the stairway leading to the gym and sing. In high school, I was in three musicals as well as the orchestra, but my favourite times were singing and dancing for the Christmas shows we created for our local seniors residence. I also think about singing at special events at the cathedral in Hamilton and the incredible sound up in the choir loft. I wish I could capture the feeling – the rush! – of belting out Chicago’s You’re the Inspiration. If I close my eyes, I can picture our choir director standing up from the piano and clapping with arms wide open.
I had that similar rush this week at Collingwood School. I arrived at the brand new senior school and Rodger Wright gave me a running tour. The incredible front foyer had kids everywhere – including 60 Aussies who were visiting for a rugby tour! – and a totem pole carved by the same artist who created one for the Olympics; kids played basketball in the triple gym; dancers rehearsed in the studio; the music room has big windows, which is inspirational for the 200+ students in the orchestra; each of the classrooms is different, with moveable furniture. I saw engaged kids and adults everywhere, alone and in groups large and small. Great energy in a great facility.
About ten minutes before we were to start the 2051 Student Focus Group, after literally running through the school, we entered the choir room. The choir was prepping for a day at Kiwanis and packing up, but the director got their attention, called a girl to the piano, and convinced the rest to do what they were not prepared to do – sing one more tune.
Soon I was surrounded by Bridge Over Troubled Water. The students moved into groups. Rodger sang along. The director called out, “You can’t help but clap!” and I felt I was living an episode of Glee. Only it was better. These weren’t actors; these were kids who got to squeeze in a beautiful song before 8:28 in the morning, before they rushed off to their day.
And I have to say…. for me? It was pure, deep joy. I could feel it, but more importantly, I could see it in the students.
In my job, I don’t get these opportunities regularly. Not many people do! So I was envious when I told my focus group about my morning. They were clearly proud, but they also surprised me with their reaction. One girl summed it up: “That’s a day in the life of Collingwood.”
I don’t mean for this to be a Collingwood advertisement! The fact is this – the arts are alive and thriving in all CAIS schools. I happened to be in Vancouver this week so I can report on Collingwood, but I also saw an inspirational Film Festival assembly at Crofton House and the grand piano at the front entrance at St George’s. Last week, I watched the award winning robotics program at Crescent; the art work at Albert College, and the new blended learning opportunities at Greenwood. Every CAIS school – and I mean every! – celebrates the arts, and I am proud that our CAIS kids are inspired by that energy.
When I read about the deficits facing our public school systems, I imagine that morale must be low with that kind of stress. I don’t know how they will balance the books, but I do hope this: preserve the arts so we can ensure that students experience creativity, the sense of community that comes from a shared accomplishment, and the pure joy that comes from both. We owe this to our students.