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Specialized Programs

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Based on student interest, some schools offer specialized programs in a variety of areas. Programs will be of interest to few students at a limited number of school sites. These programs require specialized facilities, equipment or funding.

HWDSB offers interested students transportation to these programs if they live out of the school catchment. Specialized Tier 3 programs (including SHSMs) open to students beyond the school catchment based on their geographical location. Each specialized program will have a program boundary beyond the school boundary.

We have three categories of Specialized Tier 3 programs: Specialized Non-SHSM Programs, Specialist High Skills Major (SHSM) Programs, and Intervention and Support Programs. Ask your guidance counsellor for more specific details and locations of these programs.


ArtSMART is a partnership with Theatre Ancaster as a valuable theatre co-op destination. Students can act, sing, dance, create, and perform while learning a full-scale musical. They can choose to focus on set design, costumes, prop creation, and performing in whichever capacity they are interested in. This program is hosted by Sir Allan MacNab Secondary School during second semester and is a perfect way to fulfill credits for other programs as well. By learning under a professional theatre company students learn valuable industry skills while contributing to the local theatre community.

Audition-based Program of the Arts

This program trains students in all aspects of the Arts, including Foundations of Theory and Technique, Individual and Collaborative Creation and Performance, and Critical Analysis. Students major in one of eight disciplines: Dance, Drama (Performance and Production); Music (Contemporary & Instrumental including Guitar, Strings, Vocal); Visual or Media Arts.

In addition to required credits, students have experiential learning opportunities, such as career exploration, professional certification, discipline-specific training, opportunities beyond the classroom, and seasonal collaborations on large-scale stage productions, as well as small-scale studio productions and informal studio productions that invite broader school participation.

Graduating students receive a Certificate of Recognition in the Arts and Additional Qualifications such as industry training, a professional resume and headshot, and a professional portfolio.

The program is located at Glendale Secondary School and is open to Grade 9 to 11 students from across the Hamilton and surrounding areas.

Click here to learn more about Audition-based Program of the Arts.

Construction - Building Careers from the Ground Up

The “Building Careers ” program is intended to provide career preparation for students with an interest in Residential Building Construction careers.  Students will have the opportunity to work with a Construction Technology teacher building homes with Habitat For Humanity.

Students will also complete Co-operative Education placements with building trades doing work at various building sites in the region. Placements could include electrical, plumbing, framing, bricklaying, general contracting etc.

This program is available in both semesters, and requires students to commit for the entire day, all semester.

Course Outline

Note: Pre-placement course work occurs at Hill Park Learning Centre.

How to Apply

Application Deadline:
May 1 for the following school year.


Students gain hands-on experience in hairstyling techniques and aesthetics that meet industry standards, using industry standard materials and equipment.
Offered at Waterdown and (after opening of New North and New Nora Henderson secondary schools) at Sir Winston Churchill and new Nora Henderson.

English as a Second Language

HWDSB’s Secondary School ESL Program teaches children in grades 9 to 12 to communicate in English effectively. A strong command of the English language will help make your child successful in Canadian society. Secondary aged English Language Learners (ELLs) work to complete 30 credits needed for graduation and can substitute up to three ESL or ELD credits for compulsory English credits.

The goals of HWDSB’s ESL/ELD programs are to:

  • Assist the Newcomer with English language acquisition;
  • Provide orientation to Canadian society and culture;
  • Develop basic interpersonal communication skills in English;
  • Enable students to graduate from Secondary skills with the academic language and skills needed to be successful in Canadian post-secondary institutions and workplaces.

ESL programming is offered at Bernie Custis, Glendale, Nora Frances Henderson and Westale secondary schools. Learn more about our English as a Second Language program.

French Immersion

HWDSB offers French Immersion to help secondary school students achieve educational goals set forth by the Board and the Ontario Ministry of Education, while also developing French abilities to:

  • Communicate easily with French-speaking people
  • Understand and appreciate Canada’s Francophone and Anglophone heritage
  • Continue their educational development in French or English
  • Accept employment that requires French or English or a combination of the two languages

HWDSB awards a Certificate of French Immersion attached to the student transcript to show a student’s involvement in French Immersion at the secondary level. Students earn the certificate by successfully completing four secondary courses in French Immersion and at least six courses in other subjects taught in French. Located at Sherwood and Westdale secondary schools.

Click here to learn more about French Immersion.

Healthcare Support Services Program

The Healthcare Support Services Program is intended to provide preparation for students with an interest in pursuing health related careers. The program design enables students to gain the necessary knowledge, skills and behaviours they will need to participate in related cooperative education experiences in a Hamilton Health Sciences hospital (5 sites) or West Lincoln Memorial Hospital in Grimsby, under the guidance and supervision of a Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board teacher and Hamilton Health Sciences staff.

To be eligible for this unique Grade 12 program, students must:

  1. have successfully completed a minimum of 20 credits (less than 20, consideration will be given on a per case basis)
  2. have completed a Grade 11 science course
  3. submit all required application information by the due date
  4. attend an interview session

Download and complete the following Healthcare Support Services Program Application.

International Baccalaureate

This is a Grade 11/12 university preparation program recognized in over 140 countries, including universities in Ontario and Canada. Students concurrently study up to six challenging subjects that instill a global perspective with cross-cultural understanding. IB students learn through inquiry, and gain a sense of social responsibility, independence and critical-thinking skills vital to university studies. IB students can apply for university credit, based on their results in IB examinations. IB graduates gain both the Ontario Secondary School Diploma and an IB Diploma. The program is located at Ancaster High Secondary School and Westdale Secondary School.

Click here to learn more about International Baccalaureate at HWDSB.

You can find the catchment areas for HWDSB IB schools online. If you have questions, please contact your home IB school’s co-ordinator:

Self-Paced, Self-Directed Programming

Westmount Secondary School (WSS) is a system school at which students from across HWDSB strive to develop skills in the areas of goal setting, effective time management and independent learning in a self-directed, self-paced learning environment. Westmount’s graduation requirements and course offerings are consistent with all HWDSB secondary schools.

In this self-directed, self-paced learning environment, launched in 1990, Westmount students are expected to manage their learning time and determine with teachers how to demonstrate their learning. Enriched programming does not lead to additional or different course credits than a regular academic course as defined by the Ministry of Education. Students are provided enriched tasks for their learning but it is based upon a common set of overall learning expectations and is the same in all streams.

Please note there is no transportation provided for this program.

Click here to learn more about Self-Paced, Self-Directed Programming.


Students in the Strings program study the performance, creation and analysis of classical music into the 21st century. With beginner and advanced courses, the program builds on strings instruction at HWDSB elementary schools or in the community. It is offered in partnership with the Instrumental Music Program, which includes offerings in vocal, instrumental, guitar, keyboard and the performing arts. This can lead to a Specialist High Skills Major (SHSM) designation in Arts and Culture. As a Tier 3 HWDSB program, students from any HWDSB secondary school can attend. Located at Glendale Secondary School.


Work In Progress Program (WIPP)

WIPP (formerly OPS) is hosted at Hill Park Learning Centre but welcomes students from anywhere within Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board. Students remain registered at their home school, and are cross-enrolled to WIPP courses at Glendale.

WIPP is an experiential learning program with a goal of preparing students for, and connecting students with, employment opportunities (such opportunities may be paid, but this is not guaranteed). Learning opportunities are delivered through a combination of in-class and remote lessons, and independent experiences in the community.

There are a maximum of twenty (20) positions available each semester. Students must be 16-20 years old and there is no credit minimum to apply. Please review the WIPP Overview 2021-22 for detailed information.

Updated on Wednesday, December 20, 2023.
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