Connecting KCS with the World

How do you connect elementary students with the world?

You rethink elementary school.

At least that’s how we’re doing it at KCS, and it has led to relationships with experts from an unlimited array of fields, many of whom with a global reach, including journalists, artists, social entrepreneurs, edtech developers, and many more. Rethinking school includes stepping outside our walls (literally and figuratively), welcoming external experts in, and seizing opportunities when they appear to enrich student learning. Here’s a current example.

KCS has recently partnered with engineering.com, a GTA-based business that shares a newsfeed for “the global community of engineering minds who make a difference” (modelling the KCS Habits!). How big is this community? The site enjoys 2.6 million unique visitors each month, and its social media following includes 1.4 million on Facebook and 44,000 on Twitter. Eight thousand have gone one step further to embrace their newest initiative, ProjectBoard, where they can share the problems they’re solving and get feedback in return.

How did we meet?

Part of my role as Head of Senior School is to notably increase our KCS community of learning partners – individuals and organisations who bring learning to our students, in ways beyond what field trips and guest speakers usually provide. A significant learning partner we established over a year ago is the Centre for Social Innovation, a multi-thousand strong community of entrepreneurs, agencies, and charities sharing coworking and co-learning space in Toronto, New York, and London, Ontario. Engineering.com, like KCS, is a member.

The problem-solvers engaging with ProjectBoard form a community where we believe students belong. KCS is now the first school to join this global network of engineers who are using the online platform. This beautiful tool allows our StEP and Makerspace students to share their creative work, engage in dialogue in our KCS “Makerchat”, and receive comments on their creative process. As a desirable feature, ProjectBoard also allows us to share our student initiatives with the global engineering.com community and through our social media.

KCS is an amazing place to be. The world outside KCS is also amazing. Rethinking school is bringing the two together. What follows, we’re finding, is the unlimited learning students deserve.

Be the ‘I’ in Kind

“No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted.” – Aesop

Initiated in 1992 by the World Federation for Mental Health, October 10 is recognized in over 150 countries as World Mental Health Day. The purpose of World Mental Health Day is “raising awareness of mental health issues around the world and mobilizing efforts in support of mental health.”

Here at KCS, we have made it a priority to do just that by promoting student well-being and educating both our students and our families about mental health. By recognizing World Mental Health Day and other events that promote mental health awareness, we can broaden everyone’s understanding about the importance of taking care of not only our physical health, but also our mental health.

The focus of World Mental Health Day this year is suicide prevention. This is a topic of great importance as more than 800,000 people die by suicide a year, making it the principal cause of death among people fifteen to twenty-nine years old. While we know this is a troubling and complex issue, we must do our part to help remove the stigma that surrounds talking about suicide and its impact on all age groups.

However, we also know that this is a challenging topic for many of our learners to understand, so we wanted to address the issue in an age-appropriate manner. Therefore, we have chosen to help recognize World Mental Health Day 2019 by inviting all of our school community to share in one simple message – being “The I in Kind.” One simple act of kindness can brighten someone’s day, let them know they matter and that someone cares about them. This gesture can make a significant difference in one’s day.

To help share this message, we hung a banner in our school lobby and are asking everyone to literally be the “I” in kind. Of course, this is not a new topic in our school, but this week our teachers have spent a little more time talking to the students about what it means to be kind and how it shows others that you care.

Students are being encouraged to “catch” each other being kind and then write about it. As well, we are encouraging everyone – students, faculty, staff, and parents – to take their picture in front of the banner, share it on social media, and spread the word about how sharing acts of kindness can also help spread awareness about the importance of mental health education.

Kind acts are like a stone thrown into a pond. The acts ripple outwards and have impacts we may never even know about. Every single one of us will have people in our lives who will struggle with mental health issues at some point. But when we talk about mental health, we help those in need feel less alone. And if we make the world a kinder place, we create ripples that can ease pain, give hope, and maybe even help save a life.  I got caught being kindtamara i in kind

Orange Shirts & Student-Driven Leadership

As one of the 94 Calls to Action from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission reminds us, education is an important aspect of reconciliation. At KCS, we are working hard to educate ourselves so that the future looks better for everyone. On September 30th KCS took part in the nationwide Orange Shirt Day for the first time ever. It was all thanks to Liesl and Vivian, two young grade 5 students who decided to make a difference at their school and in their community. This is their story, told in their own words…

Liesl’s Story

My name is Liesl and I am 10 years old. My friend Vivian and I learned about the history of residential schools and the inequalities faced in education in Canada today. We made a presentation to educate our classmates last year, and this year we decided that it would be a good idea to think about Orange Shirt Day.

Our first job was to get our school ready for KCS’s first Orange Shirt Day, which is a day to remember the impact of residential schools on Indigenous people. We had to do a lot of preparation for Orange Shirt Day, but we got help from Ms. Gaudet and our parents. We got together during summer to work on a slideshow about Orange Shirt Day, which we would later present to grades 5 to 8 in Chapel. We also made a slideshow that wasn’t as intense for grades 1 to 4.

We then met up one weekend during the school year, where we made our own handmade orange ribbons for students and teachers to wear on Orange Shirt Day. We used orange ribbon and cut it 18cm long. Then we glued the ribbon to look like a breast cancer ribbon. Finally, we put safety pins in the middle of the ribbon, so students and teachers could wear the ribbon on their shirts. We also had a lot of fun making announcements on the P.A. system and at Chapel to remind students and teachers to wear an orange shirt school on September 30th.

I am so happy that I am able to help educate KCS about Indigenous peoples, their history, and their culture. I hope I can do this until grade 8, because it is so much fun!

Vivian’s Story

Orange Shirt Day is a day for honouring Indige

nous people. Indigenous people had to go to horrible schools, where their personality was unwillingly changed. Their long hair was cut, and they were forced to change their original names to English names. Liesl and I educated the grade 5 to 8 students about these terrible residential schools. For the younger kids, we talked about how amazing our school is and how lucky we are to be at KCS. We also created Orange Shirt Day colouring sheets to get everyone into the spirit, and to help everyone remember the date.

We realized that not many people have an orange shirt, so Liesl and I went through the process of making approximately four hundred orange pins. First, we had to decide what kind of pin we were doing, and decided on doing a breast cancer-shaped ribbon. We cut an enormous amount of ribbons, then we had to glue them all. Unfortunately, at our first get together we only made 77, so we had to make more at our houses. We ended up making enough for all the students and 27 extra ones for the staff.

Orange Shirt Day was an amazing experience for Liesl and me. It took a lot of work to research and plan the special day, but it paid off when we watched our work unfold. It was incredible when everyone came to school wearing an orange shirt!

Everyone at KCS is incredibly proud of Liesl and Vivian’s leadership. By taking on this challenge, they reminded us that we can all work together to do what is right. We’ve begun the good work that is required on the journey toward reconciliation. For example, our grade 3 students will soon benefit from a visit with Talitha Tolles, Community and Capacity Development Coordinator at the Toronto Aboriginal Support Services Council. We are proud that our students are passionate about learning more and are willing to take on leadership opportunities in this area. To read more about student-driven leadership at KCS, check out these blogs about student-led projects, the power of student voice, and student-run clubs.  

Your Answers to Our Questions

KCS Senior School Update 2

“GO DO IT! We are in.” – KCS Parent

From January 2018 to June 2019, the Senior Campus Committee engaged in research to build our school model, testing it with parent and student feedback as it was developed. Our effort began with a Task Force of 40 parents, past parents, board members, and staff to research exemplary schools throughout North America. That was followed with market research led by an external firm to hear from grade 7 and 8 parents and students on elements we were considering. Finally, last spring, a KCS survey invited all families to share some of their thoughts about high school, features we were exploring for our model, factors they’ll be considering for their children, and questions they had for us. 50% of families responded and generously shared their comments. It has been evident from the beginning that many parents are interested, see the need for a KCS Senior School, and see the value of the model we’re building.

Here is some of what we learned from the school-wide survey:

  • 82% of parents said they were interested in learning more about the Senior School and open to considering it for their children
  • 81% said location and ease of their child’s commute is a consideration in the choice of high school
  • 90% said they believe the high school experience needs to evolve from what they had to better prepare students for the futures they face
  • 88% said they believe the distinguishing features we intend to offer provide valuable learning: extensive engagement of external experts; regular offsite learning; a program that invites students to exercise leadership in their learning in an area of interest; and experiential learning (including field placements, collaboration with external organizations, entrepreneurship, travel, and opportunity for co-op)
  • 83% were interested after learning about what we expect to be a smaller population of students, potentially 160 at full enrolment
  • When asked about how critical exclusive access to green space and an on-site high school gym were in their choice of high school, 50 and 56% respectively said they were critical
  • After learning all of the above, and also learning that this model is expected to cost parents less than other independent schools and to provide a distinctly enriching learning experience, 64% of parents said they remain interested in our model

Then we asked parents for their questions. Here’s a sample:

  • How will it compare to other top secondary schools?
  • What will this school actually look like?
  • What’s special about these four distinctive features – partners, offsite learning, including student interests, and experiential learning?
  • What would a regular day be like?
  • How will it prepare them for university?
  • What kind of athletics and arts programs will it offer?

We are excited to see the high level of interest based on the number of questions we continue to receive. Our goal is to answer the questions as honestly and as quickly as we can through these updates.

Questioning has deep roots at KCS. It is a questioning mindset, one we directly develop, that makes rich student learning happen. That same mindset is at the root of our efforts to build the KCS Senior School. We welcome all who wish to add their questions. Welcome to the dialogue about how great education can be.

 

 

Building Leaders, One Recess at a Time

When we think back to our childhoods, many of us remember happily roaming the neighborhood with a pack of other kids, planning games and settling disputes with minimal adult assistance. But when we look at our own children and students, it’s clear that the way kids play today has fundamentally changed. And this change has led to many young people in this generation who haven’t been given the opportunity to build their own capacity for leadership and independence through play.

Here at school, we see the fallout of that new reality most clearly during recess. For many kids today, recess is one of the very few times when they are expected to take part in unstructured and undirected play. So it’s not really surprising that we see some kids struggling with social interactions during recesses. That’s why we need to proactively help our younger students develop the skills they need on the playground.

To do this, we’re turning to some of our older students. As Grade 6 teachers, we see a wealth of untapped resources in our grade 6 and 7 students. We know they can do good things and make their community better, but they can only do that if we show them how to build their own capacity for leadership. Because when they do, they end up seeing themselves as capable members of their community who can serve as agents of change.

This year, a number of Grade 6 and 7 students have stepped up and taken on the responsibility of becoming our first set of Community Recess Leaders. It’s a big job with a lot of responsibility, so we knew we had to help set these leaders up for success. The first step was a full day of leadership and conflict resolution training provided by one of our education partners, Playocracy, a local agency dedicated to helping kids develop social skills through the power of play. The training included team-building activities, role-playing, and exploring positive traits of leadership. The students also created their own games and spent the afternoon teaching their games to kids in grades 1, 2, and 3. Throughout the process, they reflected and iterated their games based on feedback and experiences.

The next step is for the leaders to put on their bright orange vests and head out onto the field during recesses. During recess, the leaders will help strengthen our community by mentoring younger students, leading games, and providing conflict resolution for students in grades 1-4. By being out there on a regular basis, all the leaders will be given plenty of hands-on experience in leadership and mentorship.

We know that this is a tricky job filled with potential pitfalls. That’s why the leaders will also participate in a weekly meeting with both of us (Ms. T and Ms. Phillips). During those ongoing support meetings, the students will reflect, debrief, and test out new games with each other. They will also work their way through a comprehensive leadership training manual that was provided to them by Playocracy. Of course, we will still have a full roster of teachers out on duty in the park every day to help our leaders and other students deal with issues that may arise.

We’re very excited about this new initiative, as we feel it will help build leadership and independence across the entire school in a very organic and child-driven way. The initial few steps have been very successful and heartening, and we are looking forward to a year of growth and learning alongside our first cohort of Community Recess Leaders. Watch this space and our social media channels for further updates throughout the year!

Lauren Phillips & Kirsten Tenebaum

If you’re interested in learning more about student leadership at KCS, check out our blogs on student-created social enterprises, helping at the Special Olympics, and student-led learning.

Making the Senior School Real

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” – Margaret Mead

In the late 1980s, a small group of parents made KCS a reality. Since that founding day, many others – parents, staff, and students – have built KCS into the special school that it is today, one that not only honours worthy traditions and tried-and-true teaching, but one that also forges ahead with innovative practice, because we can, should, and won’t accept less than our best.

This commitment in the junior school will now extend to a senior school. On Curriculum Night, we announced we will be opening as early as 2021, to be confirmed as soon as we secure our site. We are confident enough to say “will”, not “might”, because of the number of sites we’re visiting and finding both compelling and affordable. But it’s fair to ask what’s different this time.

  • Properties of 20,000+ square feet can be leased and our conservative financial modelling makes clear that a number of such properties are within our means
  • We will leverage external facilities, as many other independent schools do; pioneering schools, mostly in the United States, reveal that exceptional learning is possible with an urban location where teachers and students have a great school hub and easy access to quality external facilities and learning partners
  • Many schools are also making evident how a notably healthy and positive community can be built in a smaller school population that creatively brings them together for enriched learning

Work is happening on many fronts. Most importantly, the site search began over the summer. Since then, we’ve considered 10 sites with features we seek. The borders of our search are the Bloor Street corridor on the north, the lakeshore on the south, the Kipling corridor on the west, and the Bloordale neighborhood on the east (a 10-minute subway ride from Royal York). Several properties have already earned extra attention. We’re working with external experts to ensure we fully consider each one.

We are proud to make our mark in education, both in the junior school and by soon offering an exceptional learning experience up to grade 12. Our parents and students are excited and we have a big story to tell. Regular updates on our site search and details of our model will be shared on a biweekly basis in the KCS blog, in Stay Connected, and on our social media channels. Just over thirty years ago, our founders created the big story of KCS. We hope you join us as we create this new story of the KCS Senior School.

Knowing Our Place

“Wisdom sits in places.” – Apache proverb

Six years ago, KCS grew younger. In a fervent commitment to best teach our youngest learners, the teachers of our 3, 4 and 5-year-olds have created learning environments they consider the “third teacher”. Beautiful, nature-rich spaces both inside and out that inspire, provoke, engage, and support important learning.

At the same time, the rest of the school embraced similar principles of intentional classroom design. It started with comfy nooks, soft lighting, floor cushions, and wobbly stools. Then we began upgrading student chairs so they could support all kinds of positions and movement, and added desks tall enough for standing.

This summer, a transformation of our outdoor greenspace has yielded a striking play structure that all of our students from grades 1 to 8 can enjoy. It’s as delightful to the eye as it is inviting to the child in all of us. Complicated to navigate, students are using their minds and bodies at recess as they never have before.

And as we increasingly welcome and embrace external experts to help enrich student learning, the wisdom connected to our KCS space expands. It’s in fact, limitless.

We are committed to making KCS a limitless place. Wisdom is nurtured in the physical environment the KCS staff have created to convey respect, consideration, and confidence in our students. It is being developed when imagination and curiosity are inspired through invitations to question, lead, and pursue learning for the love of it. And it is found in a community that includes people from KCS and beyond, sharing experiences from their respective places with our students.

Knowing what matters includes knowing one’s place. Teaching what matters includes a place that is both right here and limitless. Designed with intention and limitless in reach, learning, and even wisdom, sit here.

Leading by Example

“The three most important ways to lead people are: by example… by example… by example.” – Albert Schweitzer

As Head of School, I’m very familiar with children’s uncanny ability to see and hear everything. Just like all of us, I have days when I get stressed out, upset, or frustrated. But whenever that happens, I have to take a minute and remind myself that I’m surrounded by young people who are listening and watching my every move. Because if I lose my cool or act unkindly, those kids will not only notice, they’ll follow my lead.

That’s the thing about modelling appropriate behavior. It means you have to hold yourself to a higher standard, for the sake of those looking up to you. Of course, I am not the only one doing this at KCS. Teaching children is a team sport, and our school is filled with all kinds of wonderful adults who spend their days setting a great example for our students by following the three school rules – Respect, Manners, and Try Your Best.

But as much as I believe in the power of great teachers and schools, I also believe that the single biggest influence in a child’s life is their family. To keep the analogy going, if teaching really is a team sport, then parents are the coaches, captains, and waterboys all rolled into one!

I know that we have great families at KCS, I also know that we can all do better. So as we ask of your children, we ask that all our families make an extra effort to follow our three school rules with each other, with our staff, in our parking lot and in the neighborhood. At times during the school year, I observe or hear about behaviour among some adults in our community that does not meet the standards we hold your children to each day. KCS is a learning environment, and it can be challenging for young people to follow our three school rules if they do not see the adults in their lives doing so.

With that in mind, I have a couple of asks for all the grown-ups in our community:

#1. Please be respectful of our volunteers at various events at KCS including the Welcome Back BBQ, pizza lunches or in our school store. Please thank them, appreciate them, and respect their efforts. As a community we are very fortunate to have over 4500 hours of volunteer time annually at KCS. Our school could not do all that we do without our committed volunteers.

#2. Please be partners with us in the parking lot and the streets surrounding the school. Our staff are doing their best to keep traffic moving at a safe and reasonable speed for the safety of everyone including the students, families and drivers.  Please do your part paying extra attention near the school and by driving slowly. At pickup, please do not park on the east side of Wimbleton, as it is difficult for teachers to see past your vehicles when they are crossing students into the park for teams and after school play. Unsafe and disrespectful parking also impacts our entire neighborhood. My first day of classes ended with a phone call from one of our great neighbors, who was understandably upset about a highly disrespectful encounter they had with a KCS parent who left their car parked on a corner for 15 minutes. We are part of a wider community here in Etobicoke, and our interactions with that community should be a reflection of our school values.

#3. Please help up lessen congestion in the parking lot at our busiest times (8:15-8:45) and (3:15-3:45). Consider organizing a carpool, or if you live near the school, think about walking to KCS for pick up and drop off. If you are planning to supervise your child in the Reading Circle or in the park after you pick them up, please park in the neighbourhood rather than the parking lot, as this frees up spots for families who need to pick up their child and leave immediately. And if your children are in the junior/intermediate grades, you can park on the other side of the Humbertown Park and have your son or daughter meet you there.

I know these seem like small measures, but they send a message of respect and manners to our entire community, and sets a great example for all our kids. I thank you for your support, and look forward to another fantastic year of partnership with all of you.

Please share this information with others who are helping with drop-off and pick-up of your children.

Derek Logan

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Unleashing Potential

“The best plans are those that liberate other people’s plans” – Jane Jacobs (1916-2006)

Jane Jacobs understood potential. An urbanist icon, she saw how cities, and in particular how they were designed, could have profound impact on the lives within them, for better or worse. Even the humble neighborhood had power and potential beyond what most in her time realized.

I spent much of my summer learning from and about Torontonians who are making (or helped make) this city remarkable. My classroom was Toronto, and my textbook was the diverse voices, sights, and activity of Torontonians making a difference. I watched what happens when plans liberate other people’s plans.

There are many reasons to appreciate Jacobs. What I most appreciate is her ability to see potential in people where others didn’t. And this is why she belongs in a school blog.

To what extent do we see the potential in children and youth? To what extent is education set up to unleash it? How might childhood, youth, and even the world, be better if we could confidently say, “Yes, we see it, and by design it will be unleashed!”.

Greta Thunburg, 16, just finished crossing the ocean on her international mission to get adults to adequately act on climate change. Many other youth this past year (and years past!) demonstrated impressive abilities to make a difference through activism, service, innovation, entrepreneurship, leadership, and more. While their schools have no doubt contributed to their abilities, their unleashed potential often had little to do with systematic efforts at school.

At KCS, we’re committed to unleashing student potential by design, and we’re committed to nurturing the intrinsic motivation needed to fuel it. The foundation set in our junior school will align with unprecedented opportunity in our senior school. We see their potential already, and look forward to seeing it blossom and fuel exceptional learning in grades 9 to 12.

If this post leaves you unconvinced, let this TED Talk by 12-year-old Adora Svitak do the job. She’s one of those remarkable children, and she speaks on behalf of the many others who want to be listened to, believed in, and challenged more.

We’re listening and looking forward to watching plans unfold.

P.S. Adora shares the difficulty she faced to get her books published as a child, because she was a child. KCS has been publishing student books through our YAKCS program since 2013. We have since published 11 books that sit in our library plus the Library and Archives Canada, in addition to those in various homes.

The World That We Design

Last week, we were treated to our annual spring concert – a wonderful showcase of our extracurricular bands and choirs. The arts do so much to make the world better. In fact, beyond the pleasure of listening to beautiful music, this concert included a message from our primary choir that struck a particular chord:

We can live in a world that we design.
A million dreams for the world we’re gonna make.
(“Million Dreams” by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul)

Part of educating students (and raising children) is preparing them for the world they will eventually face, independent of us. Much of that world is what it is, for better or for worse (sigh). Of course, we’re getting them ready for that. But the world is also what we collectively make it. At KCS, we’re teaching our students how to design the world they face for the better. Here’s one recent responsible risk where we did just that.

In May, Ms. Hooper, Ms. Gaudet and I joined our grade 8s on a trip to the WE Global Learning Centre downtown. This was the culminating event of a year spent learning about human geography, including forces shaping the human experience and our relationship with the planet. Against a backdrop of global challenges, they also learned about the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The SDGs were where our grade 8 students would both demonstrate and leverage their learning for the better.

At the WE Centre, our grade 8s pitched social enterprises to experts from the WE community, enterprises that they created from scratch to help address one or more of the U.N. goals.

They created enterprises to help address illiteracy, pollution, access to clean water, gender equality, health and wellness, climate change, poverty, education, plus life below and above water. One enterprise, Hakuna Njaa (meaning ‘No hunger’ in Swahili), was a proposed restaurant that would allow hungry Torontonians to help fund food and nutrition programs in areas facing a food crisis. “At our restaurant, people won’t just be paying for food, they are paying to make a difference.” Their pitch wrapped up with:

“We’re hungry for change. You should be too.”

We don’t know if our grade 8s will go on to further pursue their social enterprise plans. Their time at KCS is soon over and our Student Entrepreneurship Program (StEP) won’t follow them to their high schools. What they will take with them, however, is something that will follow them wherever they go. Here’s how one parent described her son’s reflection on the day:

“Listening to [my son] describe how inspired he was to be at the office yesterday and how meaningful it made it for the kids to have the “experts in the field” vote on the projects…the whole experience from start to finish has absolutely made an impact and a difference already. It made [him] think more deeply for example about believing he could actually make a difference, which I feel is an enormously empowering thing for kids to feel in this era of knowing so much about problems that affect the world, and yet not feeling like they can always help…or make an impact.”

Part of preparing students for the future is preparing them to design it, and instilling the knowledge and confidence that they can. We’re heeding the message. Our students are dreaming. And it’s music to our ears.

(Note – This partnership with WE, including an introduction to social entrepreneurship, instruction in making a strong pitch, and expert feedback and judging through the day, was supported by the KCS StEP Fund, thanks to the generosity of KCS parents and 30th Anniversary Diamond Gala sponsors)