Aboriginal students on reserves do not enjoy the rich programming those at publicly funded schools do. The majority of our 630 Aboriginal communities do not have the economic base — or geographic proximity — to offer dance classes, piano lessons, or graphic design instruction that enrich the education of other Canadians.

Meanwhile, 70 per cent never graduate from high school, a figure that is critically important considering we are the fastest-growing population in Canada, with half of our 1.5 million people younger than 25.

But there are possibilities to inspire and nurture Aboriginal students.

I was once teaching dance in an isolated northern Ontario reserve when I realized how proud the youth were to perform in front of their community. I thought: “What if I could get them performing in a huge theatre, with lights, and hundreds of people in downtown Toronto — how would those youth feel then?”

Hence, the founding of Outside Looking In (OLI). Now in our third year, we are the only national charitable organization that works with Aboriginal communities and organizations throughout the academic year to bring kids from reserves to Toronto to perform, all through the power of the arts.

Students are instructed by professional dancers from Canada and the U.S.

The important — and only — catch is this: All participants must be in good academic standing and attend all of our rehearsals.

It’s no easy task: These students are accountable to OLI and to themselves to earn every bit of success. The main event is the performance they worked so hard to create. Through that event they feel what it is like to be treated like true stars — to get their hair and makeup done by professionals and sign autographs after the show.

While every participant has said OLI has changed their life, in some cases it has saved their lives. The majority of Aboriginal youth are considered at-risk with a lack of opportunities.

Having these students succeed beyond their community boundaries gives them hope that they can succeed as long as they work hard, stay in school, and pursue their passion and dreams.

I tell them it is up to them individually on how bright they want their light to shine, and each day is a choice to make that happen.

To learn about sponsorship and donation opportunities with OLI, go to www.olishow.net or email info@olishow.net