MAD turns 20

This Friday is the Whitehorse opening night of Cats, the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical being put on by the Wood Street Centre's highly successful high school Music-Art-Drama program. Cats is a good choice for MAD's twentieth anniversary.

This Friday is the Whitehorse opening night of Cats, the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical being put on by the Wood Street Centre’s highly successful high school Music-Art-Drama program.

Cats is a good choice for MAD’s twentieth anniversary. Besides being a fun night out, the back story of Cats illustrates why it is such a good idea to have programs like MAD.

It turns out that Gillian Lynne, the brilliant choreographer of the original Cats in London, struggled severely in school. Sir Ken Robinson recounts the episode in his famous TED talk on creativity in education.

Gillian’s mother took her to a number of specialists to seek treatments to deal with her fidgeting and inattentiveness in class. Finally, one doctor left Gillian alone in a room with a radio playing. Unaware she was being observed by her mother and doctor, Gillian got out of her chair and began to move to the music. The doctor observed, “Your daughter’s not sick, she’s a dancer.”

Today it is a well-researched fact that there are many different facets to intelligence and capability, and that people have many different learning styles. Different capability profiles are required to be successful as a lawyer, police captain, dancer, diamond driller or entrepreneur. High achievement in traditional classroom settings is not strongly correlated with success in all of these roles.

MAD, as well as Wood Street’s sister programs in outdoor leadership and experiential science, represent an alternative educational experience that Yukon students and parents seem to like. The Wood Street programs regularly receive more applications from Whitehorse and the communities than they have openings. The Fall 2013 MAD program for Grade 9 and 10 students received well more than twice as many applications as there are places.

There are lots of other ideas for intensive programs that could be successful in the Yukon. One suggestion has been an intensive trades program. Students would take packages of courses that start them on the path to apprenticeship and red seal certification, as well as important topics like workplace safety. This could be combined with co-op summer job placements at Yukon companies and later programs at Yukon College.

Another good idea I have heard suggested is an intensive sports program, as offered at schools across Canada. Participants spend around half the day in regular classes, then half on things like conditioning, strength training, biology, nutrition, sports psychology and so on.

Sports programs are often aimed at both high-performance athletes and other sport-oriented students, including some with low engagement in regular school and deemed “at risk” of dropping out. In addition to sports education, these students also learn about time management, discipline and how to juggle academic demands with their sports commitments. As MAD brings in prominent local dancers, singers and improve actors to coach the students, a Whitehorse sports program could bring in experts and role models such as our local Olympians and the elite coaches we are fortunate to have in sports like skiing and swimming.

We have the students who want these programs. Most of the physical facilities and gear needed already exist. Then, as with MAD 20 years ago, what’s needed are some passionate educators with a specific proposal, and people at the top with enough vision and leadership to approve it.

But it is common for non-traditional programs like these to face tough sledding. Proposals from frontline teachers, even those with lists of students and parents keen to participate, may not line up with the priorities of education central planners at headquarters. Some politicians, education bureaucrats and business people criticize the school system for not producing “practical skills” or “job-ready” graduates. Many of these critics view arts programs as “flaky” non-essentials.

However, listen to the words MAD teachers Mary Sloan and Jeff Nordlund used at last week’s MAD information session to describe the kind of students they were looking for. They used phrases like “enthusiasm,” “ability to work alone and in teams,” “act independently” but “also take direction” and “meet deadlines.” They emphasized how students need to show up every day and work together, because the show opens on opening night whether you are ready or not.

If the chamber of commerce designed an education program to prepare young people for the workplace, these are exactly the outcomes they would be shooting for.

The same goes for experiential science and outdoor leadership at Wood Street. You want to hire the student who can work in a team to organize a multi-day winter expedition, get his or her part of the job done in field conditions, and deal with team conflict appropriately.

As a taxpayer, it is also interesting to note how relatively inexpensive some of these programs are. While we debate spending more than $50 million on a new high school (without a theatre, I would point out), MAD goes from strength to strength in a decrepit former elementary school building dating from the 1960s. In terms of operating costs, next fall’s MAD semester will have around 15 students per teacher, which is not out of the range of many other high school classes.

Whether you agree with me or not on special programs like MAD, you should still treat yourself to a night out at Cats. It’s playing from May 3-11, with tickets available at the Wood Street Centre.

Keith Halliday is a Yukon economist and author of the MacBride Museum’s Aurore of the Yukon series of historical children’s adventure novels.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Jodie Gibson has been named the 2020 Prospector of the Year by the Yukon Prospectors Association. (Submitted)
Jodie Gibson named 2020 Prospector of the Year

Annual award handed out by the Yukon Prospector’s Association

A number 55 is lit in honour of Travis Adams, who died earlier this year, at the Winter Wonderland Walk at Meadow Lakes Golf Club in Whitehorse on Nov. 24. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)
A new take on holiday traditions

Winter Wonderland Walk, virtual Stories with Santa all part of 2020 festive events in Whitehorse

Eric Schroff, executive director with the Yukon Fish and Game Association, poses for a portrait on Feb. 20. Schroff says he is puzzled as to why the Yukon government is cutting back on funding for the association. (Jackie Hong/Yukon News file)
YG cuts Yukon Fish and Game Association funding, tried to vet outgoing communications

Yukon Fish and Game Association says 25 per cent government funding cut will impact operations


Wyatt’s World for Nov. 27, 2020

Premier Sandy Silver during a live update on the COVID-19 situation at a press conference in Whitehorse on March 27. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)
Total Yukon COVID case count increased to 42 cases

Premier urges patience after national meeting on vaccine roll-out

Black Press Media and BraveFace have come together to support children facing life-threatening conditions. Net proceeds from these washable, reusable, three-layer masks go to Make-A-Wish Foundation BC & Yukon.
Put on a BraveFace: Help make children’s wishes come true

Black Press Media, BraveFace host mask fundraiser for Make-A-Wish Foundation

Whitehorse City Hall. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
City hall, briefly

A look at decisions made by Whitehorse city council this week

Karen Wenkebach has been appointed as a judge for the Yukon Supreme Court. (Yukon News file)
New justice appointed

Karen Wenckebach has been appointed as a judge for the Supreme Court… Continue reading

Catherine Constable, the city’s manager of legislative services, speaks at a council and senior management (CASM) meeting about CASM policy in Whitehorse on June 13, 2019. Constable highlighted research showing many municipalities require a lengthy notice period before a delegate can be added to the agenda of a council meeting. Under the current Whitehorse procedures bylaw, residents wanting to register as delegates are asked to do so by 11 a.m. on the Friday ahead of the council meeting. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Changes continue to be contemplated for procedures bylaw

Registration deadline may be altered for delegates

Cody Pederson of the CA Storm walks around LJ’s Sabres player Clay Plume during the ‘A’ division final of the 2019 Yukon Native Hockey Tournament. The 2021 Yukon Native Hockey Tournament, scheduled for March 25 to 28 in Whitehorse next year, was officially cancelled on Nov. 24 in a press release from organizers. (John Hopkins-Hill/Yukon News file)
2021 Yukon Native Hockey Tournament cancelled

The 2021 Yukon Native Hockey Tournament, scheduled for March 25 to 28… Continue reading

Lev Dolgachov/123rf
The Yukon’s Information and Privacy Commissioner stressed the need to safeguard personal information while shopping this holiday season in a press release on Nov. 24.
Information and Privacy Commissioner issues reminder about shopping

The Yukon’s Information and Privacy Commissioner Diane McLeod-McKay stressed the need to… Continue reading

Keith Lay speaks at a city council meeting on Dec. 4, 2017. Lay provided the lone submission to council on the city’s proposed $33 million capital spending plan for 2021 on Nov. 23, taking issue with a number of projects outlined. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Resident raises issues with city’s capital budget

Council to vote on budget in December

Most Read