Find a “Healthy” Private School

Similar to my previous post on child nutrition, today I am composing a checklist of useful questions to ask your prospective Mississauga private schools in order to determine which school is best for the “health” of your child.

Students will spend at least 16,000 hours of their childhood—up until the age of majority—in school. Schools are therefore crucial centers of activity to promote good health and nutrition habits for their students. Regardless of the level of care children receive from home, because students spend so much time at schools, these institutions of education must recognize the significant role they play in students’ lives and act accordingly as good role models for health and nutrition. As of 2011, Canada ranks 21st out of 28 countries for child well-being and 27th out of 28 countries for childhood obesity. European kids also walk an average of 2,400 more steps per day than Canadian children.

While searching for a private school with an excellent academic reputation and top quality educators will be your primary concern, it is also important to regard Mississauga private schools that promote the well-being of their students. As is well known, a student’s academic performance is directly affected by their mental and physical health. So here are some questions I recommend parents consider during their private school search:

  1. What organized physical activities are arranged for students, both during and after school?
  2. Do students have access to a range of athletic equipment during recess or lunch break?
  3. What extracurricular programs are hosted by the private school for kids to enrol in?
  4. What is the private school’s attitude towards extracurricular and student participation?
  5. Does the private school have a cafeteria? If so, what types of food are made available to purchase?
  6. Does the school work with community partners to promote activity? For example, St. Jude’s Academy recognizes the guidelines of ParticipACTION to encourage student wellness, as well as the Canadian Physical Activity Guidelines.

These are only a few questions you may want to ask, but I hope they will help parents considering which private school to enrol their children in! 🙂

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Embracing Wrong Answers

“Embracing wrong answers”… it seems completely at odds with our intuition, no? Isn’t school supposed to be about teaching children the right answers? Well, not anymore. More and more educators are realizing the importance and benefits of spending time learning about wrong answers to a lesson’s content. Take a look at the pointers below:

  1. Embracing wrong answers increases students’ confidence and classroom participation. When teachers take the initiative and teach students about the wrong answers, it prevents the learning experience from originating with a student answering a question incorrectly. Instead of exploiting a student’s mistake, the opportunity to learn a valuable lesson needs to be redirected and instead originate from the teacher. Now, this isn’t just some pre-emptive strategy to prevent students from saying wrong answers out loud. Rather, it makes these occasions seem less glaring and prevents students from being afraid to answer questions in class
  2. It is conducive to three-dimensional learning. You are analyzing all sides of the same problem, tackling it from multiple perspectives and seeing the same issue in a different light. It forces you to ask questions instead of passively taking the correct answer for granted.
  3. It reinforces the logic behind why the correct answer really is the correct answer.

Good Teachers Critical for Student Success

The role of a teacher in determining an institution’s academy quality, a student’s personal drive, or a classroom’s collective success is unequivocal. Teachers are arguably the most important factor in shaping a student’s education and school experience.

One study that has been instrumental in proving the correlation between teacher effectiveness and student achievement was conducted by Dr. William Sanders, an American statistician,  who is known for developing the Tennessee Value-Added Assessment System (TVAAS). He and his colleagues studied a group of teachers and students over the course of many years and looked at what happened to students whose teachers produced high achievement results versus those whose teachers produced low achievement results. His study revealed that when children in the third grade were assigned to different high-performing teachers for three consecutive years, they scored on average in the 96th percentile on Tennessee’s statewide mathematics assessment at the end of grade five. When the children from the other group with comparable achievement histories were placed with three low-performing teachers in a row, their average score on the same mathematics assessment was in the 44th percentile. Because the study’s children had been assessed beforehand to have comparable skills and intelligence, this led Sanders and his research team to conclude that the identifying variable was the different quality of the teachers. It is hard to argue with a massive 52-point differential!

So what does this have to do with St. Jude’s Academy? Aside from recognizing the importance effective teaching has on our students’ success, St. Jude’s requires all of our teachers to undergo additional professional certification because we are an IB World school. Our educators must become IB certified in order to teach, and this works to ensure that students will receive a high level of effective and attentive teaching. The qualities of effective teachers include:

  • undergoing continuous professional development
  • possessing additional certification
  • holding high expectations for themselves and their students
  • understanding students’ struggles and knowing how to reiterate difficult concepts in a meaningful way
  • being passionate about their lesson material
  • demonstrating genuine concern, interest, and personal investment in their students’ academic success

I leave you with this powerful quote:

“That’s what education should be,” I said, “the art of orientation. Educators should devise the simplest and most effective methods of turning minds around. It shouldn’t be the art of implanting sight in the organ, but should proceed on the understanding that the organ already has the capacity, but is improperly aligned and isn’t facing the right way.” —Plato, The Republic

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Benefits of University Campus Tours

Beginning in grade seven at St. Jude’s Academy, students embark on campus tours during the year for around four to five local universities, namely: the University of Toronto, Ryerson, Waterloo, and McMaster. This early exposure to university culture encourages students to become aware of their future options, begin thinking about what they would like to do in life, and gain valuable experience vising other cities. Because these campus tours occur during the school year, university classes are in session, thus providing our students with a realistic experience of undergraduate life. They witness the hub of college activity, faculty are on hand to answer questions, and most buildings are open for exploration.

At the University of Toronto Mississauga, our students participate in STEM competitions; at McMaster they witness DNA extractions; Ryerson offers robotics and application creation seminars; and at Waterloo our visiting students engage in chemistry and physics science labs. How cool is that?

It is difficult to overemphasize the importance of attending campus tours in general, but to experience university life at an earlier age is even better. University websites and brochures cannot compete with actual in-person visits, which truly reveal the culture and milieu of the university in question. You learn so much about student life, the food scene and meal plans, dormitory styles, academic resources. . . Campus tours provide a tangible reality to a student’s possibilities and are great for motivating children to begin thinking about their dreams for the future.

Please let me know in the comments, what was your best campus tour experience?

About the MYP from IB

The International Baccalaureate (IB) Middle Years Program (MYP) is for students aged 11 to 16. The MYP builds on the knowledge and skills imparted in the Primary Years Program (PYP) and prepares students for the rigors of the Diploma Program (DP). But the MYP is not merely a stepping stone between the two. Studies show that MYP students routinely outscore non-MYP students on the IB diploma, as well as surpassing non-IB students on critical academic skills. While schools looking to acquire IB certifications have the option to choose merely one of the four IB programs, enrolling your child in a school that offers all three of the main IB World school programs is highly advisable. Although technically independent, each program tier builds on the knowledge and skills acquired throughout all the years of an IB World education.

The MYP in particular has demonstrated its capacity for instilling in students important non-academic qualities, like global awareness and civic-mindedness. MYP students complete one long-term project, the significance of which resides in the fact that they develop university-style skills: academic research, proposal writing, and individual thinking. With little teacher interference, students develop their own topic and are responsible for not just knowing their subject, but also knowing what they need to know to complete the assignment. Developing the cognizance to identify what they do not know is an important academic competence for developing research skills.

So there you have it! I hope you understand a little more about the MYP and about what I do 🙂 I love being the MYP Coordinator at my school, because I love witnessing the critical transition the students make in their learning and personal growth. Please let me know in the comments: what would your project proposal be about for your long-term project?

The No Homework Movement

In 2012 French president François Hollande vowed to abolish homework as part of his education reforms. Many individual high schools in Germany and the United States are also experimenting with a ban on homework. And St. Jude’s Academy already has a “No Homework” policy in effect. This means that during class after the lesson, students are assigned follow-up questions to reinforce the understanding and learning of the concepts covered in class, which also allows teachers to evaluate which students require additional assistance. Students will not be assigned additional homework unless they did not use their time effectively during class.

So why is the international “No Homework” movement gaining momentum? Because administrators and educators are finally listening to science: studies frequently reveal that there are no academic benefits from homework for children. In fact, assigning homework can actually have negative implications. At best, homework wastes time for the high-achieving student who already understands the concepts being taught in class and is merely being assigned an additional redundant workload. At the worst, it frustrates and demoralizes struggling students who are condemned to spend hours alone at home fighting their way through problems they cannot receive assistance on until the next time they see their teacher. Homework is not productive, nor is it conducive to meaningful learning. Homework has been cited as an “energy zapper”, making children resentful towards learning, demoralized about their progress, and generally more stressed out. It can also burden parents, who are suddenly expected to take on the role of teacher when their children present them with an insurmountable set of math problems.

Abolishing homework frees up more time for children to de-stress and to engage in other noteworthy pursuits, like extracurriculars and sports outside of school. Reducing the length of a lesson and increasing time for in-class work provides students with the opportunity to ask their teachers instead of their parents or paid tutors for help, and effectively reinforces the learning of new concepts.

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Benefits of Non-Semestered Classes

In Ontario public schools since 1976, semestering has reigned supreme. It is when the school year is split into two semesters, and students attend four courses in the fall season, each lasting 75 minutes, which ends with a week of exams before the next four courses begin sometime around February in the spring of the new year. This status quo is now the subject of debate and is being studied by OISE researchers to see whether or not public schools should make the switch to non-semestered classes. A school with a non-semestered timetable has students enrolled in all eight classes all year around with shorter class times and only one exam season at the end of the school year in June.

But why are some researchers recommending a standardized switch for all Ontario public schools to non-semestered classes? The biggest reason: continuity. Let’s imagine a scenario. Abigail is enrolled at a public school with semestering. In the fall in grade 9 she has math class for the next four months until she takes four new classes with new teachers in February of the next year. But then Abigail enters grade 10 in September, and this time she has math in her second semester in the spring thanks to her randomly assigned timetable. Because she last had math class in the fall of last year, in her first semester of grade 9, she will be entering grade 10 math without having taken the subject for one year! This will make it much harder for her to learn new material that builds on the foundation of last grade’s curriculum (as opposed to another student who had math in grade 9 semester two and then in grade 10 semester one. This student only has a learning gap of two months, from summer vacation).

Another issue with semestering is how it affects students involved in extracurriculars and sports. When students have to miss school every week for sports commitments and away games, they often miss the same class every time because their schedule only has four subjects held on every day. Missing school is much more manageable with non-semestered classes because the greater variety and number of classes results in a mixture of subjects being missed. This makes it much easier for students to catch up.

Another benefit of non-semestering is how it affects students’ attention spans. With semestering, having only four very long classes each school day does not promote active learning. With shorter classes and more variety of subjects, non-semestering is conducive to attentive learning by students. Non-semestering also encourages multi-tasking and organizational skills because students are responsible for eight classes instead of four. This also better prepares children for the rigors of university life, where students must take at least 5 courses per academic year. Semestered students therefore have an added challenge when acclimatizing to university life because they only have experience taking four courses at one time, or even three if they took a spare in grade 12.

So there you have it, all the benefits and reasons why it is a good idea to support the movement towards non-semestering. That’s why I am proud to say that where I work, at St. Jude’s Academy, non-semestered classes are offered to help our students reach their ultimate learning potential.