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I am a student at Canterbury High School in Ottawa. I came to Canterbury in Grade 9 from the National Ballet School in Toronto, where I spent my junior-high-school years. Coming home to Ottawa was not easy, as I feared entering a new school, particularly a high school that would be vastly different than the small ballet school I was used to. I was overjoyed to find out about the Arts Canterbury program, and even more so when I was given the opportunity to be part of it.

Canterbury is a special place: It's an arts-oriented high school where students can push themselves to reach their full potential under the direction of professionals in dance, drama, literary, visual and music. It saves many students from having to move away from home to a city like Toronto or Montreal in order to develop their talent while receiving a high-school education.

The Arts Canterbury program is excellent and inexpensive. The arts classes are government funded, with students paying only for certain supplies. This allows students with the most potential to improve themselves, whatever their financial situation. If the Arts Canterbury program did not exist, many talented students would not be able to afford the classes.

The arts play a vital role in the life and development of teenagers. They allow teens to develop self-confidence and motivation, inspiring them to take risks. Canterbury allows students with a passion for their art to work with other students who share the same talent and passion as they do. As a result tight bonds are formed between the students.

The Arts Canterbury program also enables students from different art areas to work with each other. Visual students often visit dance and drama classes to gain inspiration for their paintings. Dance, drama, vocal and music students often work together on large main stage performances

. It is very important to have the arts students in one school, so that they can both learn and work with one another, as well as have a school where every one shares the same passion for art.

My school has an impressive list of alumni who perform on stage at Stratford, dance with Les Grands Ballets Canadiens and the Royal Winnipeg Ballet, or who are living and painting to acclaim in New York. We are especially proud of Tyley Ross, who won a Dora award for his lead role in the musical Tommy and has also recently starred in Miss Saigon.

I have not yet mentioned the one thing that holds the program together. Such a large program needs a overseer. That person is Judy Kirsh, who has been doing the job for 12 years. Kirsh co-ordinates all aspects of the audition process, which involves visiting 35 elementary schools within the Ottawa Carleton District School Board each year, and fielding numerous phone calls from parents. In addition, Kirsh auditions more than 600 students hoping for a place at Canterbury. She acts as manager and vice-principal, guiding arts students in the right direction and mentoring at-risk students. She is very supportive and it is nice to know she is around whenever we need to talk to her.

Some people suggest that, because of Canterbury's emphasis on the arts, regular academic subjects suffer. They could not be more wrong. Part of the arts co-ordinator's job is to monitor students' academic progress. As arts students, we must maintain high standards in all of our courses to remain in the arts program. If grades are low, parents can expect to hear from Kirsh.

As Arts Canterbury students, we keep up those standards, while putting in long hours on the bus, in the car and in the studios, computer labs and practice rooms, all because we love the school.

Ontario's schools are facing massive cuts right now, and as a direct result of this, our arts program has been hit hard. We have lost a lot of crucial funding. It is only because of the drive and support of the students in the school that we have been able to maintain all of our arts classes, while losing relatively few of our arts assemblies, dance performances, literary soirées, visual-art shows and music nights.

But what will hit us hardest of all is the Ottawa-Carleton Board of Education's decision to cut the arts co-ordinator's job at the end of this school year.

The board doesn't seem to realize the importance of what Kirsh does. Removing this vital position would be the equivalent of removing the principal from a regular high school and expecting it to be run by the remaining teachers as smoothly as it did before. We all know that this isn't possible.

It's simple: Without the arts co-ordinator, the Arts Canterbury program cannot continue to exist. The program can't maintain its excellence without this one person to bind together the efforts of many fine teachers. Canterbury not only attracts dedicated students from the greater Ottawa area and Eastern Ontario, but also from Northern Ontario, Quebec and Nova Scotia. For such a distinguished high school to fall apart because of the board's decision to cut one position is ridiculous.

The importance of the arts stretches far beyond the classroom. If we deprive students of the arts now, it will have a huge impact on the future generations of Canada. Everything that we look at, use, listen to and wear has been designed by someone.

Television is a prime example. We often turn on our TV sets without any thought of what has happened in order to put together the shows we are watching. Before anything else, you have writers who create a script. Next the director will take the script and put his or her own concept behind it. Sets are designed, choreographers create special scenes and composers and musicians create background music. Finally, actors are put to work. This is just one small example of the arts at work.

Another excellent example is clothing. Everything that we wear -- from pajamas and slippers to jeans, sweats and formal evening wear -- has been designed by someone. Without arts training, there would be no one to design our clothes, bed spreads or book covers. We would live in a world without music, movies, novels or dance.

Training in the arts also prepares students for jobs outside the traditional arts professions. The arts teach students how to communicate clearly, how to solve problems and work with others. They push students to take the initiative to get the job done, and have a positive attitude toward change.

Many large corporations (specifically in the high-tech industry) use the expression "think outside the box." This is the key to success in such industries, and creative thinking is exactly what the arts help students to do. Arts and culture represent who we are as Canadians and how we define ourselves. Canadian television shows such as This Hour Has 22 Minutes, Royal Canadian Air Farce and Road to Avonlea are prime examples. Radio stations like the CBC depend on Canadian artists. Canadian novels, such as Lucy Maud Montgomery's Anne of Green Gables and Robertson Davies's Fifth Business, have become famous all over the world. So, too, have such dance companies, such as Les Grands Ballets Canadiens and the Royal Winnipeg Ballet.

One of Canada's biggest accomplishments is Cirque du Soleil, which brings together artists from all disciplines to put on breath-taking performances around the globe.

For Canterbury to lose what has made it so well known would be devastating to its students and the arts community across Canada.