North Van students to dance and shoot their way to graduation

Front row, left to right: Instructor Katie Gillett, Sonia Ellis, president of Seymour Dance and director of the future Windsor Dance Academy and instructor Emily Tellier with students of Seymour Dance. - Rob Newell
Front row, left to right: Instructor Katie Gillett, Sonia Ellis, president of Seymour Dance and director of the future Windsor Dance Academy and instructor Emily Tellier with students of Seymour Dance.
— image credit: Rob Newell

Some North Vancouver students will soon earn graduation credits by practising dance and playing hockey, as the North Vancouver School District looks to expand its academy offerings.

In October the North Shore Winter Club and Seymour Dance responded to the school district’s request for proposals for specialty programs.

By offering innovative programs that peak students’ interest and, at the same time, are sustainable, is how the North Van school district plans to keep enrolment numbers steady, said assistant Supt. Mark Jefferson.

“I think anytime a student can be engaged in an area of interest it enhances their education interest,” explained Jefferson.

Starting in September, two streams of students, 40 in total, will receive dance training in a variety of styles — including ballet, jazz and hip hop — and qualify for Royal Academy of Dance and PE credits.

Pilates, yoga, and Capoeira, a Brazilian martial art that fuses elements of dance, acrobatics and music, will also be practised by the students.

Open to those in grades 8 to 12, the dance academy is designed for serious performing arts students. The schedule, which has them in the dance studio every other afternoon for an hour and a half, allows the academy participants to remain in a traditional high school setting and study alongside their peers.

“This way they can balance their workload better,” said Jefferson.

Sonia Ellis, owner of the acclaimed Seymour Dance school with a 40-year history on the North Shore, is thrilled about her new partnership with the school district.

“I am excited about the opportunity this brings to students who wish to dance during school hours and being able to earn high school credits at the same time,” said Ellis, adding she sees many students struggling to match their schedules.

The dance academy, which costs $155 per month, will be offered out of Windsor secondary, located within walking distance to the Seymour Dance studio. In the next three years, 96 Seymour Dance students are scheduled to enter high school at Windsor.

Meanwhile, the NSWC and the school district are hopeful an elite Midget-level (E15) hockey academy will start in September.

NSWC director of hockey operations Jeff Oldenborger, who put forward the proposal, said the E15 league fills the void in player development between the Midget and Major Midget levels.

“Midget is the first year where they go to a three-year age gap,” said Oldenborger, explaining in some cases an underdeveloped 15-year-old might be going up against a mature 17-year-old on the ice.

Those in the minor hockey community are finding few Midget players bring the strength and size to compete at the next level.

The new NSWC hockey academy — which is affiliated with Hockey B.C. and Hockey Canada Sports Schools — allows Grade 10 Sutherland secondary students to join a highly-competitive league of strictly 15-year-old players.  Tryouts would be held in the spring with the top 19 players making the cut.

Academy participants would attend classes in the morning and then head down the road to the NSWC in the afternoon for hockey instruction in areas that include defensive tactical training, offensive skills and goaltender development. There is also dry land training and nutritional as well as career counselling embedded into the program.

Competing in the E15 league, the academy students would play 40 to 50 games per season against teams from Washington, Alberta and across B.C. Three short-listed head coaches have experience in leagues ranging from Junior A, the Western Hockey League to Europe.

Oldenborger, a WHL veteran himself, said there is no question the Sutherland academy will produce high-caliber hockey players.

Equally important to the success of the academy is ensuring the hockey players maintain their grades, specifically a C-plus average, added Oldenborger. PE credit is given to those participating in the academy.

E15 hockey programs are currently offered in the Delta, Abbotsford and Burnaby school districts. For its part, the North Van school district is hoping the E15 hockey academy, which carries an annual cost of $13,500 per player, will attract students from beyond its borders.

There is a hurdle the NSWC will have to overcome before the academy can be approved. At a public meeting on Nov. 26, the school board voted to support the partnership between Sutherland and the NSWC.

However, the board is also awaiting the outcome of the labour dispute between Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) members and the NSWC that has been ongoing since May, before they make a final decision on the academy.

The school district also has a basketball academy, to be offered at Seycove secondary, in the pipeline. Jefferson said, while they are just finalizing the details of the partnership, Seycove was given special consideration because of its position in the Seymour area where only 25 per cent of the NVSD’s total enrolment comes from.

Approximately 800 students are enrolled in “enhanced programs” in the NVSD. That educational smorgasbord includes a digital media academy, a culinary program, sports academies, as well as Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate programs — to name five specialized areas of study.

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