Tuesday, August 18, 2015

My Reflections from YRDSB's Arts Camp 2015

Each May, York Region District School Board offers an educational experience called: Arts Camp, which takes place in northern Ontario. Students from grades 7 to 12, can attend Arts Camp for a week for a reasonable cost. The cost includes: accommodation, meals, snacks and programming. Students are exempted from their regular class and get to choose art programs and workshops which interest them. 
This experience has students completely immersed in art and nature alongside a new community of emerging and established artists and friends. The part I love most about my school board is, that this camp is not just for the “privileged”, meaning if financial constraints potentially limit interested students, the price can be offset! I really love that all students have equal opportunity to attend this camp.
This past May, I was one of the lucky teachers selected to take part in Arts Camp which means I was completely immersed in the Arts and Nature for a week’s time. This experience was nothing short of life changing. It was life changing not only for me as an educator, but also for me personally as an artist.
Arts Camp had a way of changing my teaching practice. I learned and explored alongside my students. We developed real connections. The space was gorgeous and invited us to learn, relax and breathe both figuratively and literally. There was something profound and spiritual about such a creative process.
I led a program in drama at the camp. Funny enough, one of our school board’s foci is in Mental Health and without any sway on my students at all, they organically decided to explore Mental Health. This focus inspired their final performance at the end of the week. My students wrote all their own original material and drew from their personal battles and experiences with topics ranging from the stigma of mental illness, depression, stress, anxiety, body image, alcohol abuse and so much more. The creative process became a place of therapy for my students and in ways for me as well. I am so lucky to be able to share some pictures and clips from their creative process below. Permission was gathered through the talented photographer and videographer: Randy Kirsh (Twitter: @RandyKirsh) on behalf of our School Board.

A Vocal Mask About The Stigma of Mental Illness:

A Monologue About Anxiety:

A Scene About Depression:

A Monologue About Alcohol Abuse:
The beautiful thing about YRDSB's Arts Camp, is that it breeds a culture of no judgement, inquiry, exploration, creativity, risk taking and celebration. A lot of students find themselves, their craft and passion at Arts Camp. I know I learned more about myself, than I ever knew before. Students at Arts Camp feel that they can be who they are. Arts Camp is a place where students wanted to learn and grow. Arts Camp became a place where I wanted to do the same. Students in my program referred to Arts Camp as “home” and I think I just comfortably moved right on in!

Please help promote and keep art alive! In all honesty, I believe that art can truly save lives. 

To see many more pictures from YRDSB's Arts Camp 2015, feel free to watch the below YouTube video which features music, live clips from performances and pictures by students and for students. Enjoy!


  1. Amy,
    Thanks for sharing your experience, and the story of your time at Arts camp. A few things struck home. First, it was a place of no judgment. It's amazing, once we suspend judgment, we can get by our fears, feel free to take risks, and embrace the joy of exploration. The second follows the first: "students at Art camp feel they can be who they are." You and your students were privileged to find a place, where you could just "be." Free from pretence, masks and the shield that we put up sometimes to keep others at bay. It's a reminder that, I need to create a space in my classes for students to be who they are, and to create that safe, inclusive and caring space. The place you called, "home."
    As always, your blog is thought provoking.

  2. Hi Amy,

    Thank you so much for documenting your Arts Camp journey and for sharing your thoughts on the experience. Taking off my superintendent hat now and putting on my mommy hat, the experience was truly 'life changing' for my daughter - her words, not mine! She returned to us having had that 'profound and spiritual' experience you referenced in your reflection. It's hard to articulate in words what that experience was, but it truly does happen when you are surrounded by people who share the same passion and energy. We truly do have a lot to be proud of in YRDSB and Arts Camp is high up on the list. The wonderful staff like you who make it all happen is another. Thanks for taking the time on your holiday to share your story. It took us back down memory lane and sparked excitement for Arts Camp 2016.

    Cheers to you on a successful school year!

    Rita Russo