HCDSB newcomer students rehearsing at St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Secondary School Auditorium for their production Break Through the Darkness and Christmas Madness. Photo from Luz-Elena Arias

A breakthrough during Christmas madness

  • December 22, 2023

The Halton Catholic District School Board’s Welcome Centre, Settlement Services team is helping newcomer students to Canada unleash their creative voice and muscles this Yuletide season.

More than 20 high school students enrolled in the LET’S SWAP Production program executed the welcome centre’s first ever theatrical production Break Through the Darkness and Christmas Madness at St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Secondary School Theatre in Oakville, Ont., Dec. 15.

LET’S SWAP stands for Let’s Say It, Write It, Act It & Produce It. During the process of mounting a play, HCDSB staff strive to grow students’ facility in performing arts, leadership, self-confidence, language and cooperation.

What is the best way to nurture all these skills and attributes? In this context, following the advice of Mark Twain, who once said “write what you know.”

“We are interested in sharing the stories of newcomer youth,” said Luz-Elena Arias, the supervisor of settlement services for the HCDSB. “We want to hear about the struggles and happy moments since they came to Canada. Integration and adaptation into a new country has challenges. We want to give them a chance to write and perform a script based on their story.”

HCDSB then hired a professional to help the students realize their vision. They rehearsed and fine-tuned their skits over 10 practice sessions before the big night. The group took on all roles: designing the stage, managing props, overseeing audio or directing their peers.

“I was at a rehearsal, and it is wonderful to see them use their different skills,” said Arias. “They are so talented.”

Eduardo Rady Morales, 15, is directing Christmas Madness, which enacts the tale of a family struggling to acclimatize to Canada.

“Things get a little bit problematic when the family’s Dad goes missing,” said Rady Morales. “They have to figure out what happened to him and get him back in time for Christmas.”

Based on that brief plot line, it sounds like Rady Morales, who immigrated to Canada from Mexico two years ago, is directing a serious drama, but he said this story is peppered with hilarity.

“It is a comedy,” said Rady Morales with a light chuckle. “It is sprinkled with funny moments, but it has a really emotional core. I hope people take away the importance of family during Christmas.”  

Both Break Through The Darkness and Christmas Madness are roughly 30-minute productions. 

Arias said her hope is spectators gain empathy for the trials many students experience when they arrive in Canada with their family.

“I hope they see that youth are not making the decision to immigrate,” said Arias. “It is the parents making the decision. The kids come and face all kinds of barriers. They leave behind their friends, peers (and) maybe boyfriends or girlfriends. They experience challenges making new friends, learning the language and understanding the culture. Even though they face all these difficulties, they work hard to integrate into the culture. That is the message: there is always hope and that they deserve the same right to be happy and at peace as anyone else in society.”

Beyond the LET’S SWAP production, the HCDSB Welcome Centre seeks to empower students to feel proud about expressing their culture. Schools observe Hispanic, Asian and Pacific Islander, among others, heritage months with special cultural projects. The centre also hosts field trips in HCDSB communities with families during the March break and summer holidays to become more familiar with some of the local landmarks.

Rady Morales is very complimentary of how HCDSB has helped him adjust and thrive in his still relatively new life in Canada.

“I think it is amazing this program exists to help all these students from around the world work on these skills through these workshops. I love the community, being involved in activities and seeing what opportunities are available. I just think it is fantastic.”

Perhaps in Rady Morales’ case, LET’S SWAP may have given him a lifelong vocation. He now dreams of being a director of motion pictures one day.

Please support The Catholic Register

Unlike many media companies, The Catholic Register has never charged readers for access to the news and information on our website. We want to keep our award-winning journalism as widely available as possible. But we need your help.

For more than 125 years, The Register has been a trusted source of faith-based journalism. By making even a small donation you help ensure our future as an important voice in the Catholic Church. If you support the mission of Catholic journalism, please donate today. Thank you.