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How schoolwork is integrated into the fast-paced lives of teens training in the arts, or pursuing early vocations

Most people launch their careers after high school or some form of postsecondary education – but some start much earlier, even before high school is over.

For those students, regular schooling may not be an option, and specialized private schools may provide the answer to their needs. Two exceptional students and their families give us a glimpse into their private-school decisions.

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Atticus Phoenix, a Toronto resident, divides his time between home and the National Ballet School, spending six days a week studying and dancing, as well as participating in the intensive summer program that runs each July.Cailin Collett/National Ballet School

Student: Atticus Phoenix

Age: 13

School: Canada’s National Ballet School

After showing an early affinity for dance, Atticus Phoenix started attending a dance class at a local Toronto studio simply because it was close, and his younger sister could take a class there at the same time.

Unexpectedly for the Phoenix family, Atticus flourished in dance. His lessons then became a family priority, as the Phoenixes started to explore how to integrate this new love into their lives.

Make it possible

“We knew we had to find a way to make this possible” his mother, Stephanie Phoenix, says.

Atticus flew through the beginning stages of his dance training, and quickly attracted attention from key players. With a few years of experience under his belt, he auditioned for the summer intensive program at the National Ballet School of Canada – the training ground for world-famous dancers such as Karen Kain, Frank Augustyn and Rex Harrington.

To no one’s surprise, the summer intensive, which was also an audition for the school, went well and Atticus was invited to attend the school full-time. With his family’s support, both his academics and dance training transitioned into the hands of the school.

Established in 1959, the National Ballet School is a unique institution marrying dance training and education from Grades 6 through 12. Students gather at the school’s downtown Toronto location to undertake the significant commitment required for a shot at becoming a professional ballet dancer, if that’s their goal.

While many of them live on-campus, Atticus, a Toronto resident, divides his time between home and school, spending six days a week studying and dancing, as well as participating in the intensive summer program that runs each July.

Changes afoot

Atticus is now entering his third year at the school, and the changes for his family have ranged from subtle to significant. “There’s so much that goes into training a dancer that we never knew of in advance,” his mom says. “Like how much food a dancer needs! They are doing the work of an Olympic athlete, without being allowed to show it. They have to perform intense feats of physicality while looking happy and totally at ease.”

The challenges of elite training aren’t just physical, however, as academics must fit into the demanding physical training schedule, too. This means not even traditional weekends survive intact. This high level of commitment is needed as students must be invited back to the school each year in order to continue in the program.

But for Atticus, the challenges of dance training at this level are worth it. “Once we saw him in action at the school,” dad Graham Phoenix says, “we knew it was perfect for him – so the decision to continue seemed not like a distinct choice, but really just the next logical step in our son’s development.”

Student: Emm Arruda

Age: 18

School: Blyth Academy Online

Emm Arruda was a typical 16-year-old, attending public high school in her hometown of Oakville, Ont., when Toronto modelling agent Chantale Nadeau spotted her photo on a friend’s phone – and in an instant, Ms. Arruda’s life changed. Ms. Nadeau immediately knew what Ms. Arruda didn’t yet realize: her face would get her far.

Within days, she boarded a plane to New York to meet top casting directors; after signing with a New York modelling agency, Ms. Arruda walked her first show in New York’s Fashion Week, followed by a whirlwind trip to Paris and a coveted first appearance for the House of Dior.

Since then, she has racked up an impressive number of shows and editorial appearances, taking her to runways as far afield as London, China and Russia. She’s one of Canada’s most recognizable models, lauded as the 2017 Sephora Fresh Face of the Year by CAFA, the Canadian Arts & Fashion Awards.

School in a kit

As Ms. Arruda’s career blossomed, the question for her family quickly became how to fit high-school completion into her new circumstances. The answer? A bigger bag, one that would incorporate a laptop for schoolwork.

Her mother, Liz Arruda, says that “Emm’s laptop became her constant companion on the road. Every place she went, her computer followed.”

She was able to integrate her schoolwork with her fast-paced career by enrolling in Blyth Academy Online, a private Ontario high school geared toward teenagers with exceptional education needs as a result of their early-onset careers or other high-intensity pursuits, such as athletics or working in the arts.

But it wasn’t just the online accessibility of high-school courses that made it possible for Ms. Arruda to complete high school. She needed the support of her family and, her mother says, “her outright determination, day in and day out.”

Flexible scheduling

In a world of unknowns, and grappling with a schedule that could, and often did, change at the last minute, Ms. Arruda’s online school was able to provide consistency. This meant she was able to graduate with her fellow students on schedule in June this year.

“We didn’t know what was going to happen with Emm’s career, or how fast. We took it day by day, but Blyth was able to accommodate our need for flexibility,” her mother says.

In addition to their online offerings, Blyth also delivers in-person, on-campus courses like any other school – but it's the "virtual" component that really shines when a student has exceptional needs for flexible scheduling.

As for Ms. Arruda? These days, she’s living in New York, and still racking up the frequent-flyer miles. And with high-school completion behind her, she’s ready to pursue the world of high fashion wherever it takes her.

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