Creativity blossoms at St. Pat’s

The basement of St. Patrick Catholic Secondary School feels cavernous. The area, filled with computer labs, studios and workspaces, seems vast compared to the relatively small number of students who occupy it. But starting this September, these impressive facilities will see a surge in inhabitants — and the St. Pat’s community couldn’t be happier.

As of this coming September, St. Patrick will become a Centre for Arts, Media and Technology — a designation bestowed by the Toronto Catholic District School Board this past June. The decision comes after a provincial governmental review process determined that the school — currently sitting below student capacity while other area schools are oversubscribed— could better serve the community with increased enrolment. Accompanying the new designation, neighbouring Catholic schools Neil McNeil, Cardinal Newman and Notre Dame will now impose hard caps on student enrolment, and St. Patrick will be able to accept students from all over the city.

St. Patrick’s arts department head, Vaughn Perusse, says that the development has taken nearly two years.

“In an effort to strike a balance in terms of school populations, through the entire process we determined in committee with (area TCDSB schools) the best idea that was tabled was to set up a new program here at St. Patrick to attract more students,” explains Perusse.

The new program at St. Patrick, which will cater to disciplines such as drama, visual arts and music, will be phased in starting in the new school year, with Grade 9. The following year will see another grade level added.

“The program won’t exist in its entirety until 2014,” Perusse said. “That will be the first group (of students) in their fourth year. So in September we will have all of the programming deemed necessary to run it.”

Perusse believes that the breadth of the program will expand with each successive year.

“One thing that will happen, as we get more students, it will allow us to broaden our teaching staff,” Perusse said, “and that will allow us to increase the number of courses that we can offer…. We may be able to offer some things that we aren’t even aware of yet, because we’ll have that opportunity with more students and more staff.”

To enter the program this fall, prospective Grade 9 students will face an audition process in whichever discipline they choose. The staff already has an idea of what they will be looking for in those auditions.

“For each subject area, we have things that we’re expecting,” Perusse said. “For example, for visual arts, students will have to submit a sketchbook. They will have a panel interview and they’ll answer specific questions and then we’ll run a group activity to see how the students respond to and how they operate in a classroom.”

While the St. Patrick’s community has exerted much effort already — and with more on the horizon — there remains a palpable sense of something special in the air at the school.

“It’s pretty exciting,” said drama and Spanish teacher Rossana Cossaro. “I think the whole process is going to reenergize the school and the staff. It’s going to be great.”

For Perusse, the daunting challenge ahead is welcome.

“Between sitting on the committee last year to this point in time, I think it’s been one of the busiest stretches that we’ve had at the school,” he said, “but the prospect of what lies ahead is so exciting that it’s worth every ounce of energy that you put into it. You can feel it. There’s a tangibility in the air.”

Registration will be held on March 8 and initial auditions will be held March 28-April 1. Prospective students can call 416-393-5546 for further information.