PALMERSTON ‒ When Maggie Moore heard the Norwell District Secondary School’s Grade 9 APP theatre class was one of six being cut from the curriculum this fall, she didn't want to believe it.
A mother of two theatre children: a 25-year-old who helped start the program in 2015 and a 15-year-old who is in the midst of finishing it, Moore first heard the news through the parent grapevine when the 19 Grade 8 students taking the program this fall were notified of it being stopped.
The school board says the program could return in the future if there is more interest.
Moore said she spoke with the school's principal and Upper Grand District School Board (UGDSB) superintendent Matt McCutcheon. Moore was told that while McCutcheon doesn’t feel the program is gone forever, he didn’t know when it would return.
“That’s 19 kids who've missed out on how many opportunities in school and how many opportunities for connection over the last three to four years and here they are losing out again,” said Moore. “Once you start taking infrastructure and things away, it dwindles. So, in terms of the longevity of Theatre Norwell, I'm concerned.”
A four-credit program that allows students to focus on performance within school time, APP feeds the school’s theatre program, Theatre Norwell, which has been running for over 10 years.
Starting a petition to have the UGDSB administration “take a second look” for solutions that meet section-cutting needs while preserving APP, Moore gathered almost 900 of her 1,000 signature goal in less than a week.
“It’s interesting to me that (the school board’s plan) seems to want more courses to be like this one and yet they’re cutting the one that’s already running,” said Moore. “It makes me want to force them to put their money where their mouth is.”
The UGDSB provided the following statement on the program's status:
"The grade 9 APP program at Norwell District SS has not been cancelled. Rather, the difficult decision to close sections across several different subject areas has been made this year due to low enrolment through the course selection process.
"The amazing staff at Norwell DSS will continue to provide students with a wide variety of curricular and extra-curricular opportunities in the Arts, including performances, experi
"Going forward, if significant student interest occurs through the course selection process, this course could be offered again in future school years."
The theatre recently held a performance of Beauty and the Beast, selling over 1700 tickets.
“Nineteen kids picked APP without having seen (performances) because of COVID,” said Moore. “So now after (more people have) seen Beauty and the Beast, I'm sure they'd easily get six more kids that would want to participate in something like that.”
While both the principal and superintendent assured Moore that the grade 11 APP and the grade nine drama class would still run, she feels that it’s like saying “We can’t run a hockey program anymore, take gym.”
“Obviously I have a personal connection to (the program) since my children are both theatre kids, but the fact that no one else after my daughter might get this is upsetting to me,” said Moore. “We all know high school can be a very cliquey place but Theatre Norwell has always offered real family and a real safety net for a lot of marginalized kids (in the community).”
On the last night of the Beauty and the Beast show, Moore “commandeered a microphone and amplifier” and spoke to over 430 people about the program, gathering about 200 signatures on paper, while trying to spread the word.
“In a very small town, there's not a lot of options for kids to get somewhere else and access these creative resources,” said Moore. “Unfortunately, another high school in the northern part of our county, they don't have a music program anymore.”
Moore’s next steps will be to write a formal request on behalf of the petitioners for the school board to review their request and consider offering the program again next year or consider less permanent options.
“I'm afraid for this program with that type of example so nearby but also because I care so much about what the teachers have done for our kids,” said Moore. “Each group mentors the next group of kids...and I can't speak for every high school, but it feels like it's extra special.”
Isabel Buckmaster is the Local Journalism Initiative reporter for GuelphToday. LJI is a federally-funded program.