Taking arts at an Okotoks high school has helped a member of the class of 2020 believe in herself and pursue her dreams.
Meanwhile, just down the hall, a classmate’s passion for hockey helped him get down to business when it came to academics.
Foothills Composite High School’s Nathan Fox hopes to play Junior A hockey next season as he strives to play at the post-secondary level.
Catherine Mitchell is going to college next year – landing a spot in arguably the top art school in Alberta.
“I have worked really hard to get where I am and have been accepted to the Alberta University of the Arts,” said Mitchell, a graduate of the Alberta High School of Fine Arts. “I didn’t start out as a top student. I kind of struggled. I worked hard to get involved in school and talked to a lot of people to help me achieve my dreams of going to university.”
She plans to study graphic design in university with a career goal of going into advertising.
It’s a dream that didn’t seem realistic as she grew up.
Mitchell struggled in the early part of her education as she had undiagnosed ADHD and dyslexia.
“I wasn’t very good at literacy and math. The only thing I excelled at was art class – art was the only thing that helped me cope,” she said.
She was diagnosed in her Grade 6 year and began getting passing grades at Dr. Morris Gibson Elementary School.
“In Grade 6, I had a teacher, (Liv) Jacks, and instead of doing tests that I really struggled with, she gave me projects that would express more of my creative side.
“That allowed me to excel in my science projects and English language projects,” she said.
The turnaround began and she was soon an honour student.
“I began to enjoy school and got motivated,” Mitchell said. “My junior high year I improved immensely and started to win academic awards.
“This year, I am going to graduate with honours with distinction.”
It wasn’t a calculator or laptop that helped her get through the difficult years, it was paintbrushes, crayons and guidance from teachers.
“In elementary, I would just get lost in my art – I would feel like I was myself and I didn’t feel like I was going to fail,” Mitchell said.
Choosing to go into the Alberta High School of Fine Arts, located at Foothills Comp, was a natural choice when she entered Grade 10.
“When I did the Grade 9 tour, I saw that they had this amazing arts program,” she said. “I knew in my heart I wanted to attend the Alberta High School of Fine Arts.”
Her art teachers were Paul Rasporich for the first year and a half and then Michelle Smyth.
“She is an amazing teacher – she went to AU-Arts and helped me get in there,” Mitchell said of Smyth. “She was just a huge help all the way around.”
She also credited her graphic arts teacher Florlyn Doyle.
“She helped me get used to graphic design and went above and beyond for my work,” Mitchell said. “A lot of people that go into graphic design can’t practice at home because the equipment is very expensive.
“I was fortunate to go to a school that had the resources and had amazing teachers.”
Mitchell said it was the Alberta High School of Fine Arts that made it possible to get to the prestigious post-secondary school. (Another Mitchell also attended the Alberta University of the Arts. Joni Mitchell attended the school when it was known as the Alberta College of Art and Design).
Catherine has already been in contact through Zoom with the university teachers.
“I am so excited to be going to college,” she said.
Icing his education
A Foothills Composite graduate is hoping to hit the ice for a couple more years before going on to post-secondary school.
And Nathan Fox is delighted he hit the books to ensure he has the opportunity to attend university in the future.
“My plan for next year is to play Junior A somewhere,” Fox said. “And then from there to hopefully get a scholarship and go down and play somewhere in the States for school… use hockey as a vessel to get my education.”
Fox had a hockey stick and skates to go along with his calculator and books throughout his school years at Okotoks Junior High School and Foothills Composite.
He was a member of the Global Sports Academy at both schools.
“I just thought as a hockey player that was the best option for developing my skills,” Fox said. “Not only on the ice, but off the ice as well as a person.
“It was a really good opportunity to get on the ice during the day all the way to Grade 8 to Grade 12.”
He said while being on the ice obviously helps build up his hockey skills, the off-ice portion of the program was also key to his success.
“The off-ice components were really good – teaching leadership skills and how to be a good person, a lot of practical life-skills that you need to go with your life,” he said.
When he’s on the ice, he’s a Comp student playing hockey. When he’s off the ice, he’s a Comp student period.
“It’s important not just to be with the hockey players and all that, but branching out and becoming friends with a wide variety of the kids at the school,” Fox said.
“This school hosts a lot of different kids and a lot of different talents what with the trades and the different sports programs there.
“I just tried to be friends with a lot of them.”
Fox started last hockey season with the Okotoks Bow Mark U18AAA Oilers, but decided to make the jump to the Airdrie Thunder of the Heritage Junior B Hockey League.
The travel for practices and games made him place a higher emphasis on watching the clock.
“I made sure I used my school and study time wisely,” Fox said. “I was often driving to Airdrie so I made sure I managed my time well in class and any opportunity they could give me.”
He also used his time on the ice wisely.
Fox ended the year with 21 goals and 14 assists in 29 games with the Thunder. He had two goals and an assist in four games at the start of the season for the Bow Mark Oilers (Fox would also play two games with the Drumheller Dragons of the Alberta Junior Hockey League).
More importantly the honour student scored well in the classroom.
He said the Comp staff was accommodating in helping with his busy schedule as a student athlete. Fox plans to study business or political science at university.
“I hold myself to a high standard and work very hard to achieve my goals,” Fox said. “The Comp was very accommodating and the teachers were great to help me excel.”
While fond of the Comp, it’s time to move on.
“It feels good to be done with high school,” Fox said. “Looking back on the past at Foothills, I smile and think of the good times there.
“But it’s exciting to get on with your life and move on to bigger and better things.”