Shanda Lee Exults in National Choir Competition with Exultate Chamber Singers

National Champs! Our very own Shanda Lee, along with fellow choir members from “Exultate Chamber Singers”, recently won First Prize at the National Competition for Canadian Amateur Choirs, in the category of Mixed-Voice Adult Chamber Choirs.

Shanda has been singing with this talented group for three seasons. Exultate recently won the national competition for amateur choirs this past summer which was open to all ages and sizes of groups.  Earlier this year, Exultate, along with the other competing choirs, submitted four songs to their chosen “Adult Mixed Voice Chamber Choir” category.  The choir learned at the beginning of June that they were selected as one of three finalist choirs, and at the end of June CBC radio announced them as the winner in their category. One of our competition submission tracks was played on the radio during the Sunday morning program Choral Concert.

Link to music here.

The choir also submitted an entry to perform at “Podium” the National Conference for Conductors which happens every other year, and were chosen as one of the groups to be featured during the concert at the conference in Montreal in May.

Since 1981, Exultate Chamber Singers has become known for sensitive, precise singing, richness of tone and blended sound throughout a wide dynamic range. Founded and led for 30 years by conductor and organist John Tuttle, the choir form a passionate, committed ensemble with a wide-ranging repertoire. Exultate gained a reputation throughout Canada for excellence as a result of its pattern of success in the CBC National Radio Competition for Amateur Choirs, frequently appearing in the competition finals: in 2000, and again in 2004, Exultate won both First Prize in the Chamber Choir Category and the Healey Willan Grand Prize from the Canada Council for the Arts.

We are incredibly proud of Shanda and her achievements outside the walls of KCS. We also consider ourselves very lucky to have her as part of our Arts team, as her passion for and commitment to excellence in vocal music sets a wonderful example for our entire community!

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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.

A Day of Service at the Special Olympics

In many ways, citizenship is all about service. It starts by recognizing that you are part of a community, which means you have a responsibility to step up and help your fellow citizens. This is particularly true for those of us who have been blessed with great opportunities and advantages in life. As the old maxim goes, to those whom much is given, much is expected.

I was reminded of this simple truth when I accompanied our Grade 8 students to the Special Olympics Youth Games earlier this week. This event brought together 2,000 young athletes with intellectual disabilities from across Canada and the United States. Thanks to the efforts of Shelley Gaudet, our Citizenship Coordinator, our Grade 8 students were given the opportunity to spend a day at a 42 team floor hockey tournament held at The International Centre in Mississauga.

But we weren’t there to watch. We were there to serve. Each Grade 8 student was assigned a floor hockey team for the day for whom they would serve as team ambassadors. They spent all day helping the players and coaches by getting water, carrying equipment, leading warmups and helping the athletes find their way around the facility. Perhaps more importantly, they were also there to provide support and encouragement through conversations, high fives and cheering.

To help prepare them for this experience, Ms. Gaudet facilitated a number of very positive and open conversations with the Grade 8s. The students talked about the importance of inclusive and respectful language, patience and getting out of your comfort zone. That last point was essential, as many of the students were a bit nervous about what the day would look like.

They were obviously well prepared, because on the day of the event, all of us in attendance (Ms. Gaudet, Mme Lacroix, Mr. Schroder and myself) could not have been prouder of them. They got off the bus with a positive attitude and a willingness to get involved, and things only got better from there. By the end of the day, every student had opened themselves up to the experience and had become dedicated cheerleaders for their own team. I was particularly impressed with the students who had been assigned francophone teams from Quebec, as they really had to go outside their comfort zone and speak French all day!

For myself, the entire day was one big reminder about what really matters in life. I watched a player spend part of a game pushing his teammate’s wheelchair, just so that player could be a part of the team. I watched a player from Humboldt, Saskatchewan, turn to his coach during his game and ask, “Did I do good?” And I watched our students – all of whom have had the chance to be a part of their own school or community teams – spend a day in service to a group of athletes who do not always have the experiences and opportunities our students get every week.

Much has been given to our Grade 8 students. This week, they proved to me that they understand just what is expected of them.

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KCS Faculty are Lifelong Learners Too!

At KCS, we focus on developing lifelong learners. It makes sense that each year our faculty embrace new and challenging learning opportunities so that they can continue to support each student in this goal. With the goal of each student becoming lifelong learners, each faculty member is also actively involved in learning that is relevant not only to their teaching practice, but also their ongoing commitment to learning. Many teachers choose to take courses, read, share, and attend conferences to support their professional learning and their students’ needs. KCS’s commitment to lifelong learning is not only evident at the student level, but at the teacher level as well.

One particularly relevant professional learning experience is offered each year through CIS Ontario. Now in its seventh season, Cohort 21 brings CIS Ontario educators together for a year-long professional learning opportunity. Working collaboratively with some of the most passionate educators in the province, participants share innovative ideas, connect with experts in the field, plan for change in their schools, and engage in Design Thinking workshops to help develop a focus of a personal project called an Action Plan.

As a veteran of Season 4 in 2014-2015, I can honestly say that my learning experiences through Cohort 21 played a role in my decision to continue to research learning for six more years. Having a good understanding of student learning, I wanted to better understand teacher learning, and of course as a lifelong learner I am still figuring it out. Since then, KCS has supported three more faculty members throughout their own Cohort 21 experience. Last year, Season 6 involved our grade 2 team. Lisa Woon ventured out to discover new technology and Keri Davis went on a ride through project based learning. This year, Bob Hayes is exploring how to solve the world’s greatest problem and I’m back as a coach, still learning about learning.

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Lifelong learners tend to be those who are well supported in their learning efforts and this is something that KCS models across the entire school community. We’ll never stop learning because we are supported in both our efforts and our passions. We know from experience that this is what drives us to learn along with our students and our students know from experience that no matter what we are along for the ride.

Remember, be kind to yourself

Throughout my years as a teacher I have found that I am often learning as much from my students as they are from me. Working with the youngest students at KCS I am continuously taught to enjoy the little things in life. To appreciate the first snowfall of the year, and the second, and the third, to revel at the intricacies of an insect’s body, and see the beauty in every flower or weed. However, the biggest lesson I have learned came from a group of students I do not often see.

This year the grade 4s have been amazing anti-bullying heroes (as deemed by Mrs. Drummond). Recently they were visited by Jason from MLSE (Community, Alumni & Educational Program Specialist, Toronto Argonauts) for a pre-assembly workshop for the upcoming Huddle Up assembly. He spoke to them about how being proud of who you are and being part of a strong community helps to deter and diffuse bullying.

Out of this conversation came a great initiative from the grade 4s. They asked that each person in the school make their own trading card. This card would have a list of two to five positive qualities about yourself along with a picture. Once done you could show others your card in the hall, at lunch, or during recess.

Dbowes

As I sat down to complete this task I realized that bullying is not just an external force. That more often than not it can be an internal one. We often think of a bully as someone else who may say or do things to hurt us. We don’t often consider the fact that we can be our own bullies.

If asked to write a list of positive qualities for anyone here at KCS I wouldn’t skip a beat. I could rhyme off a number of things without hesitation. However, when it came time to write my own list I sat there for a very long time considering what to write. It wasn’t because I thought there were too many things to choose from. In fact, it was quite the opposite. I had no idea what to write. Ultimately, being a huge Harry Potter fan I went with some qualities used to describe my Hogwarts House.

Once again I ended up learning just as much from the students as they do from me. Whether intentional or not, the grade 4s have taught me that I need to stop being my own bully, and remember to be kinder to myself. This is a lesson I will take with me through the good days and the bad and I will be forever grateful to a group of 8 and 9 year olds for teaching me this very valuable lesson.

Science Club Helps to Save Monarch Butterflies

Traditionally, students of the first term Science is Fun club for grades 1 to 3 at KCS learn that monarch butterflies are a threatened species. They also learn that they can take action and create awareness by participating in a program called Symbolic Monarch Migration. This is a program promoting international cooperation for monarch conservation between Mexico, USA and Canada. Together eager KCS students turned a file folder into a large, beautiful, group butterfly, and they also made personalized, life-sized butterflies. These paper butterflies, along with pictures of our school and a message of cooperation, were all sent early October to coincide with the real monarch migration to the Oyamel Forests in Mexico. The first destination of our butterflies was Georgia, home of the Environmental Education Alliance of Georgia who works in partnership with Journey North, which is a large citizen science program for educators and the general public. Two of the largest monarch sanctuaries, El Rosario and Sierra Chincua are in central Mexico and provide shelter for the many thousands of butterflies that hang in clusters from the trees during the winter season. These monarchs become sedentary and live off the fat stored in their bodies before migration. Why they migrate to these cool mountain forests where they can get knocked out of the trees by hail or snow is a mystery. Only the monarchs born in late summer make it to Mexico.

Estela Romero is a program coordinator in Mexico for Journey North. She receives the symbolic butterflies from Georgia and delivers them by car to schools around the sanctuaries. Our KCS butterflies were received recently by a student at a private elementary Catholic school called Colegio Corregidora which is near one of the protective forests. This student will take care of our package of butterflies until it is time for the monarchs to migrate north again and will prepare a letter thanking participating students for taking care of the monarchs after they leave the protection of the forests and promising to help preserve the vital Oyamel Forests for overwintering.

We will not get our own symbolic butterfly back. Instead, it will be sent to a participating school from either Canada or the USA, and we will receive an exchange butterfly from another school.  Each student will also receive their own small butterfly from somewhere across the three countries. That will happen in the spring to coincide with the migration north.

The wintering monarchs will make it to Texas in the spring where they will lay their eggs and die. It will take two more generations for the offspring to make it back to Canada. The latest reports say that the monarchs are hyperactive now and show signs of early migration due to an unusually mild winter in the mountains of Mexico. They are a month ahead of schedule. Roosting monarchs are actually counted and the good news is that the monarch count in Mexico has increased by 144% this year despite the declining numbers over the past several years. The bad news is that the monarchs overwintering in California have hit a record low count. As a side note, monarchs do not cross the Rocky Mountains, so there is an exclusive western population of monarchs.

Congratulations to our KCS students for helping to make a difference! We can all do our part by protecting and planting milkweed, the only host plant for the monarch caterpillars. Pollinator gardens are a boost for hungry butterflies, and KCS does a great job providing that element in our Learning Garden at the front entrance. Expect to see more monarchs greeting you this spring as you arrive at school and flitting around the community.

As a further note, this past summer I had the honour of raising a monarch from a tiny caterpillar, and it was indeed a very rewarding experience. I received the caterpillar from Carol Pasternak, author of How to Raise Monarch Butterflies: A Step-by-Step Guide for Kids, who was putting on a workshop at Christie Pits. I was able to obtain a signed copy of her book for our KCS library for any family interested in pursuing this adventure over the summer. The book was an excellent guide to prepare you for the signs of impending metamorphosis, which could be easily and quietly missed.

I will be following up with the first term Science is Fun students when our exchange butterflies arrive sometime around early May. Take a responsible risk, plant some milkweed; the monarchs will come to you.

Sharon Freeman RECE

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The Second School Rule – Manners

I love our Three School Rules, but I sometimes think we should just call them “The Three Rules.” Because they’re not only meant for students or kids – they’re meant for all of us. In my own life, I use them as a set of golden rules to help me navigate challenges, triumphs, and setbacks. In this series of three blog posts, I would like to reflect on what each rule means to me and our community, and the ways in which they can enrich our lives.

A few years ago I was on a class trip to Quebec with a group of Grade 7 students. At one point along the 401, our bus pulled over into one of those big rest stops so we could all grab a snack and visit the washrooms. As I watched our students enjoying their hot chocolates and donuts, one of the cleaning staff walked over to me.

“Are these your students?”

“Yes, they are,” I replied warily, preparing myself for what might come next.

“Well… I want you to know this is the best group of kids we’ve ever had here.”

He looked around at the KCS students, nodded approvingly, and then walked away. I looked back at our kids and realized that what I thought was typical behaviour was actually anything but. Our students were saying please and thank you to the staff, they were walking respectfully through the crowd, and they were even holding doors and giving up their chairs to families and seniors. To me, that kind of behaviour isn’t going above and beyond. It’s just the right thing to do. But it reminded me that not everyone feels that way.

Now, I think I’m getting close to the age where I’m allowed to start grumbling about how everything was better back in the “good old days”. However, I don’t really feel the need to grumble, because I believe that in most ways, the world keeps on getting better and better. Except for one thing – manners.

Good manners are getting rarer and rarer. Some people I’ve spoken to think this is because today manners are considered old-fashioned or unimportant. But I think the reason is actually pretty obvious. People don’t have good manners because we don’t go out of our way to teach the next generation good manners.

That’s one of the reasons why I think teaching our students manners is absolutely essential. Because we can’t expect them to just figure them out on their own. We have to model good manners, take the time to correct bad manners, and make it a priority to regularly go out of our way to teach simple social graces. And it’s worth remembering that we’re all part of that teaching team. Teachers model manners by the way they speak to each other in the halls. Parents model manners by the way they navigate the parking lot. I model manners by the way I greet students at the door. The kids are watching us, and they will copy what they see.

I know we’re doing a pretty good job. I know this because of what our visitors say to me when they come to KCS. Potential families visiting our open houses regularly comment on the fact that our students hold the doors for them. Special guests like our yoga instructors and Scientists in School tell me that they “hold lotteries” over who gets to come to our school because they love working with our polite students. Admissions Directors and other Heads of School always comment on our graduating students’ manners when our Grade 8s visit their open houses in the fall. Even the guy who makes my burger at Magoo’s tells me they love having KCS kids in their restaurant because our students clean up after themselves and treat their staff with respect!

In the end, while I love that other people think our students are great and well-behaved, that’s not really the point. The point is that our students go out in the world believing that the way they treat other people matter. That will help them find success and happiness, but more importantly, it will make them kinder and more compassionate people. And to me, graduating outstanding citizens with manners is the foundation of our school and what matters most to me.

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WHAT WILL YOU BE TALKING ABOUT ON JANUARY 30?

When we talk openly, accurately, and without judgement about mental health, we are making a difference for those who are affected by it.  Who are those that are affected by mental health?  As the tag line for Bell Let’s Talk Day has said for the past two years “Mental health affects us all.”  Just like we all have physical health, we all have mental health.  Just like we can all get physically ill or be in physical distress, we can all experience mental illness or mental distress. The more we know about mental health and the better we understand it, the more that we can help ourselves, our friends and family, and society at large access the supports and resources needed from both a prevention and an intervention standpoint.

As part of their message, Bell Let’s Talk promotes five ways to help end the stigma around mental illness:

  1. Language matters
  2. Be kind
  3. Educate yourself
  4. Listen and ask
  5. Talk about it

One way we help promote such an understanding is through our Encouraging Dialogue speaker series.  On Tuesday, January 29, we will be hosting Dr. Greg Wells, author of The Ripple Effect: Sleep Better, Eat Better, Move Better, Think Better. His talk is focused on the four stages of physical and mental wellness, how they are interconnected, and how simple changes can create a ripple effect that improves overall functioning.  He will share this message with our grade 5 – 8 students in the afternoon, and then address our parents and the wider community that evening.

Talking about mental health is not something that we shy away from here at KCS. We understand the need to reduce the stigma around mental health and help everyone better understand that if you are experiencing a mental health issue you are not alone, you will not be judged, we will listen, and we will work with you and your family to get you the help and support that you need. Through avenues such as our Talk That Matters series for students, our above mentioned Encouraging Dialogue Speaker Series for parents and the wider community, Children’s Mental Health week, and Bell Let’s Talk day, we are able to educate and promote an understanding about mental health and overall wellness.  But we aren’t going to stop there. We purposefully embed wellness, physical health, and mental health into what we do every day in all of our classes at every grade level. Discussions and learning about a variety of topics take place. Some such topics are: being active, healthy eating, getting enough sleep, and taking time for ourselves. Our students also learn about mindfulness, yoga, movement, other stress-reducing strategies and who we can talk to and what we can do if we aren’t feeling healthy.

To strengthen our understanding about mental health and how we can help someone who is in distress, beginning in 2013, all of our faculty and staff have been certified in Mental Health First Aid, a 16-hour course provided by the Mental Health Commission of Canada. This past August, we completed a refresher course. We are also all certified in Red Cross First Aid; however, ask any of our faculty or staff and they will tell you that they use what they learned in their mental health first aid far more frequently than what they learned in physical first aid.

To continue our students thinking about mental health, and in support of the important initiative of Bell Let’s Talk Day, we asked all of our students from PK through grade 8 to think about what they could say, what they could do, or how they or someone else might feel if they were experiencing a mental health issue. They shared those ideas by filling in a speech bubble, a hand, or a heart. Take a moment to look at the display in our front lobby and you will see our students are doing their part to reduce the stigma and understand that mental health matters.

On Wednesday, January 30, there will be a lot of talk about mental health. Please join the conversation and help raise awareness about and funds for mental health. However, I challenge you to keep the conversation going and make mental health part of what you talk about every day.

The First School Rule – RESPECT

I love our Three School Rules, but I sometimes think we should just call them “The Three Rules”. Because they’re not only meant for students or kids – they’re meant for all of us. In my own life, I use them as a set of golden rules to help me navigate challenges, triumphs, and setbacks. In this series of three blog posts, I would like to reflect on what each rule means to me and our community, and the ways in which they can enrich our lives.

It’s becoming a bit of a cliché to say that the world is getting meaner. But some days I can’t help but feel that way.

One of those days happened to me over the Christmas break. As usual, I spent time during the holidays watching the annual World Junior Hockey tournament. I really enjoy that particular tournament, as I’m always so impressed by these young teenagers who are able to get up in front of the world and compete on behalf of their country. To me, it’s a testament to not just their physical strength, but their emotional and mental strength as well.

But this year’s tournament left me shaking my head in disappointment. Not because the team lost, but because of the way in which some people responded to that loss. In their quarter-final game, Canada lost in overtime to Finland. During overtime, Max Comtois, the 19 year-old team captain, missed a chance to score the winning goal on a penalty shot. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the loss brought out the social media trolls, and within hours this young man was being pelted with vitriolic insults and hate on his own Instagram account. A 19 year-old was asked to take on the job of leading his country’s hockey team, and rather than respect him for his efforts and courage, many people decided it was better to go out of their way to treat him with disrespect and contempt.

It seems to me that for some being negative and disrespectful has become a badge of honour. In a world filled with information overload, it appears that many have decided the best way to cut through the noise and get noticed is by focusing exclusively on other people’s perceived faults and missteps. I see it in politics, the media, online, and – most distressingly – the ways in which many young people talk to one another.

This is why the first school rule – “Respect” – is so important to me. Because respect simply means treating others like they matter. I keep a sign in my office that says “Be Good To People For No Reason”. To me, that’s the essence of respect. You pause before you say something because you never know what’s going on in that person’s life. You take a minute to understand their point of view. You give people the benefit of the doubt. You treat them the way you would want to be treated.

I believe that our community is a deeply respectful community. I see our students respecting the views of others as they listen to classmates’ ideas during group work. I see our families being respectful to each other in the parking lot as they wait patiently for a parent and small child to cross the road. I see our basketball players show respect for the feelings of their teammates (and opponents too!) as they cheer them on, even if they missed the game-winning shot. And I see our teachers showing respect to their colleagues when they jump in and help out without a word of complaint.

Treating others with respect is the key to success in life. Successful people are the ones who know how to both lead and follow, and you can’t do either unless you start by treating everyone (including yourself) with respect.

I think we do an amazing job of living and breathing respect at KCS. But I also believe we can do better. We need to keep raising our expectations for our school and each other. We choose what our school is by our behavior. And to me, that means treating each and every person who walks through our doors with the dignity and compassion that we all deserve.

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Just Call Us ‘Guides on the Ride’

Thirty years ago I started teacher’s college. ‘Sage on the stage’ was how we were taught to teach back then. Thanks to 30 years of students, that practice has been humbled into one role among multiple others. This summer, all KCS faculty and I learned about a promising new option, that of ‘guide on the ride’, from the book Empower by A. J. Juliani and John Spencer. I’m strapped in with my helmet on. My current ride? Cryptocurrency.

Yes, cryptocurrency.

In September, we launched our new StEP entrepreneurship program. StEP invites students with entrepreneurial ambitions to pursue their big ideas, learn the basics, access mentorship, and potentially acquire seed money for viable ideas. As soon as this new opportunity was announced, a student stepped forward. His passion? You guessed it.

My role in this program is to support all grade 6-8 students who take the same first step, connect them with mentors, and provide basic instruction in value propositions, minimum viable products, design thinking, prototyping, customer interviews, and prepping pitch decks. What I provide is significantly enhanced by our partnership with Future Design School and a growing list of established entrepreneurs in the KCS community who are willing to speak, entrepreneur-to-entrepreneur, with our students.

Thirty years ago, cryptocurrency didn’t exist (that was still 21 years away). Now I get a front row seat in this and other budding areas of potential entrepreneurship at KCS. Guiding students on journeys they chart is full of unforeseeable learning, accented with bumps and hidden curves. Like the up and down of a roller coaster, it’s impossible to know where the journey will go and much scarier than the experience of a lecture. Though just one month into the year, multiple other teachers at KCS are telling me of their own trips into the unknown. The excitement and trepidation expressed in my office evoke summer memories of Wonderland. We’re strapped in and hanging on. This year promises to be an interesting ride.