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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Schools and Teacher Turnovers

In Canada, teacher turnover rates mainly refer to the public school education system. This is when teachers leave their school after only a short period of employment, essentially resulting in a conveyor belt of new teachers arriving and then leaving schools. New, younger teachers are mainly responsible for the growing turnover rate in schools. Professor Rob Tierney from UBC’s Faculty of Education says this is because new teachers often “burnout” in their early years of teaching, being unaccustomed to the workload and hectic school environment. Newer teachers also seem to be unprepared at dealing with behavioural and discipline problems among students, especially teenagers who are more likely to challenge authority. Teacher turnover rates are even higher in rural areas where new educators are viewed as “outsiders” to the community.

According to 2004 figures from the Canadian Teachers’ Federationaround 30% of Canadian teachers leave their teaching job in their first five years of employment. Why is this an issue? Take the successful Finnish school system for example. In the majority of Finland’s schools, students are taught by the same educator for many successive years. That is because students benefit from developing a lasting and meaningful relationship with their teacher. This arrangement helps students feel more comfortable in the classroom, leads them to ask questions during lessons, and the teachers have experience with each of their pupil’s needs. With a high rate of Canadian teacher turnovers, public school students are unable to building a relationship with their educators and each new teacher must try to learn about each student’s needs and personalities within a limited timeframe. Students may also be more easily overlooked in class, putting them at risk for absenteeism and falling grades.

What helps teachers from leaving their position? In 2006 Cassandra Guarino, Professor of Education and Public Policy at UC Riverside, and her co-authors found in their review of the teacher attrition literature that “schools that provided mentoring and inductions programs had lower rates of turnover for new teachers. As well, schools that gave teachers greater autonomy and support from administration had better success in keeping their teachers”. This helps explain why IB World private schools in Ontario do not experience teacher turnovers (at least not to the degree of the public school system). Teachers at IB private schools already have years of teaching experience under their belt, and they have undergone additional training to become IB certified educators. This means they have the experience and training to succeed in a rigorous teaching environment. In conjunction with guaranteed small class sizes, our private school IB teachers are able to build meaningful relationships with their students, whose academic future they take to heart. Furthermore, at St. Jude’s Academy, our professional development program ensures our teachers have a great support network.

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Best Educational Apps for Learning

During summer vacation when kids typically have an open schedule without having to attend private school every day, parents usually witness a spike in their child’s screen time. For those inevitable summer days when your child doesn’t have camp or a soccer game scheduled, you can introduce some meaningful computer usage by recommending these great educational apps for your child to try out! Please note: I am not being sponsored to promote any of these apps.

1. DUOLINGO. 5/5 iTunes rating and Apple’s iPhone app of the year. Available in iOS and Android. Cost: free

This is a fantastic language-learning tool for your child to use. Duolingo makes it easy to learn a new language for beginners with its intuitive user interface and  game-like progress that makes it addictive to learn each new lesson. Duolingo provides written lessons and dictation, and categorizes each new word learned in a special vocabulary section for easy viewing. Duolingo does not provide boring grammar lessons, but rather depends entirely on user interaction; your child will learn a new language simply by translating hundreds of fun and relevant sentences. There are 19 languages to choose from, and your child can pick as many as they want to learn, from French to Swedish to Vietnamese and everything in between. This app can serve as an additional learning aid for your child during school, or as an affordable way to learn a new language which boosts cognitive functioning!

2. GOODREADS. Available in iOS and Android. Cost: Free

GoodReads is quickly becoming a popular app and website for bibliophiles of all ages. Parental supervision may be required as this is technically a social media site, but as with all internet usage parental supervision is recommended. GoodReads has become the best friend of book-lovers everywhere. It is a place to categorize, document, and rate all the books one has read, as well as utilize the site’s excellent recommendation software to find their next favourite book or author. You can read book reviews from fellow users or real librarians, keep up-to-date with new book releases from your favourite authors, and even track your annual reading progress with GoodReads’ highly popular yearly “Reading Challenge“. This is a great way to motivate students to read more, as you can compare your progress with friends in a spirit of friendly compeititon. I also like to use this site to find my next great read, because it is much easier to search for books than with the Mississauga Library Catalogue.

3. SKYVIEW. 4.5/5  iOS and Android. Cost: Free or $2.79 for the extended version.

This is Apple’s extremely popular astronomy app. If you are in the country, it acts as a guide for stargazing by providing a virtual realty overlay that labels the stars in real time. Simply open the app, calibrate the compass, and point your phone or tablet up at the night sky. If you live in the city, have your child do the same, only the app will project the location of the stars on the screen so that as you are looking through your phone’s screen, you can see the location of all the stars in the sky even though you can’t see them with the naked eye due to light pollution. Tap on a star or planet, and a pop-up provides detailed information about the planetary body you selected! This is a great learning app that also works during the day to show you where the moon and stars are on the other side of the Earth!

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Private Schools: Parental Involvement

Parental involvement can be defined as: “the participation of parents in regular, two-way and meaningful communication involving student academic learning and other school activities” (107th Congress, 2002). Students whose parents take an active interest in their school activities generally have fewer behavioural problems and exhibit better academic performance, but this only works if schools encourage parental involvement.

Child Trends reported on a meta-analysis by N. E. Hill and D. F. Tyson that revealed “parental involvement in school life was more strongly associated with high academic performance for middle schoolers than helping with homework”. That is why private schools provide the ideal conduit for parental involvement because parents are viewed as a critical component of the private school experience. Parents are our “accountability partners”. You have invested a significant portion of your hard-earned income towards a private school for a reason: you expect your child to receive a high-quality education. If a parent feels that a private school is lacking in any way, the administration is accountable. They welcome parental involvement in order to ensure they are meeting the high expectations of their clientele. Private schools are built around open communication between parents and the administration, providing opportunities for frequent parent-teacher meetings and the participation of parent committees in fundraising initiatives and social events. Direct accountability to parents results in private schools being directly accountable for the well-being of our students.  

In the public school system, the perception of parental involvement is markedly different. The duty of  a parent is often limited in scope, constrained to the singular annual parent-teacher conference and evening shifts as your child’s homework helper. Public school teachers can be difficult to get a hold of with so many students assigned to one educator in overcrowded classrooms, making it difficult to receive a progress report for your child before its too late (i.e. final report cards).

Fun Fact: St. Jude’s Academy has a webpage listing all of our teachers’ classroom blogs. They are regularly updated so that parents can view homework assignments and other pertinent information to their child’s daily education progress.

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If You’re Reading This, Stand up!

“Sitting is the new smoking”. Each year, smoking kills around 39,100 Canadians. On average, people who smoke lose 9 years off of their life expectancy, and lung cancer from smoking accounts for 27% of all cancer deaths in Canada (and that’s without getting into the added phenomena of second- and third-hand smoke). So to say that sitting is the new smoking is a momentous remark indeed.

And yet it is true. Our normalized sedentary lifestyle of the twenty-first century is plaguing society with familiar ills. People who sit for more than just 4 hours a day are at an increased risk of cancer, diabetes, and heart disease; they have a 125% increased risk of events associated with cardiovascular disease and a  nearly 50% increased risk of death from any cause. And the scary part? These increased risks exist regardless of how much a person exercises during the rest of the week.

But the analogy between sitting and smoking was not just created by Dr. James Levine to express the similar dire health effects of prolonged sitting. It was also coined to allude to the widespread social acceptance and practice of this new health scare, similar to the social attitudes towards smoking and its normality in the early twentieth century. A sedentary lifestyle is our norm. Students sit for around 5 hours of the school day, employees sit for 8 hours of the work day, and both children and adults retire to the comforts of their home to sit for even more hours on the couch or at the dinner table. If someone is getting up constantly at the office to walk around and stretch, eyebrows will be raised. Students are expected to sit still for entire lesson plans.

The issue isn’t just the total number of hours we sit for, but also the number of uninterrupted hours. You are at an even greater risk of the aforementioned diseases if you do not get up and walk around every once and a while. Doctors and clinical researchers recommend people walk around after 20-minute intervals of sitting. This is also beneficial for eye health as well, as it relieves the strain of constant screen time. The goal is to reduce sedentary behaviour overall, as well as to punctuate long periods of sitting with small breaks of standing.

By now you may be wondering how this is relevant to my education news blog. Well, besides from wanting to generate awareness about this social and health issue, I am also proud to say that St. Jude’s Academy cherishes our students’ health. We actually let our students get up and move around in class! And we serve the interests of kinesthetic learners because we understand how difficult it is to shackle children to desks and expect them to demonstrate the same levels of concentration and attentiveness. That is one aspect of traditional learning that is proving to be a detriment to children’s health.

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Necessity of Good Nutrition at Schools

Students eat about a third of their daily food at school. In conjunction with the fact that at school students are expected to be mentally present and attentive for approximately 5 hours of lessons, it is clear how important it is that students are eating healthily while away from home. But this is easier said than done. There is no uniform, national policy in Canada regulating childhood nutrition at school. Schools are also the venue for easily accessible cafeteria food and unhealthy vending machines, the latter which has become a hotly contested issue between school administrations and concerned parents’ committees. Especially during the morning rush, it is easy for children to forget their lunch box and instead resort to acquiring their midday meals from the cafeteria, a routine that can easily become habitual.

The Journal of School Health has published time and time again the positive effects of eliminating certain victuals like soda and fast food from a child’s diet. These small dietary restrictions lead to improved academic performance among surveyed students by improving concentration in the classroom. In January 2011 researchers from the world’s first multidisciplinary Open Access journal, PLOS ONE, reported a 48% increase in the risk of depression among students who consumed the most trans fats. Food regulation has a direct and observable correlation with mood regulation, from which we can assume that students exhibiting a better mood in class are more likely to retain information better and contribute to classroom learning.

In addition to protecting their own health in the long run, students who are encouraged to eat well at school and are discouraged from buying lunch at vending machines perform better academically and on standardized tests.

Aside from adopting a national policy that is yet to be created, what do you think Canadian schools need to do to help children eat well?

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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.