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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Top five reasons why you should get your gala on!

The KCS 30th Anniversary Diamond Gala is only a few weeks away, and tickets are going fast. So unless you want to spend an entire Saturday night on Instagram watching everyone have an amazing time without you, click here and get yourself sorted!

But if you still need a little convincing, here are five reasons why you should stop stalling and get yourself some tickets…

#1 – Five Star Food & Drink

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It wouldn’t be much of a gala without great things to eat and drink, and nobody brings the gourmet grub and cocktails better than superstar catering company 10tation. You can look forward to tons of delicious delights all night long, as they will be hosting lots of different food stations throughout the venue. There’s also premium bar service, because you’re going to need something to wash down all that truffle mac and cheese!

#2 – Bling Up Your Jeans

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The theme for this Gala is “denim and diamonds”, so it’s a great opportunity to break out your own personal style and take your fashion game to the next level. Most gala events can be pretty stuffy and formal, but this one is all about fun chic and variety. You can go full on glamour with gowns and suits, go comfy casual with timeless jeans and some simple accessories, or even embrace your inner rocker and show up in a bedazzled Canadian tuxedo. Anything goes! But if you need a little help getting started, take a peek at our own Pinterest inspiration page.

#3 – Shop ‘Till You Drop

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Two of the Diamond Gala highlights are the amazing live and silent auctions, both of which are laden down with some truly amazing events and items. Alongside such auction classics as glamourous getaways, premium sporting event tickets, and catering packages, there’s also a whole raft of epic KCS-themed experiences. Take in a TFC game with superfan Mr. Sawyer, have Ms. Russo read your little one a bedtime story, or – best of all – give your child a taste of power by having them usurp Mr. Logan so they can become “Head for a Day”! And if you want to make your daily drop-offs and pick-ups a breeze, there are reserved parking lot spaces up for grabs. Expect a lot of competition for those hotly contested spots!

#4 – Support the Next Generation of Entrepreneurs

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We all know that the working world is undergoing a seismic shift. The rise of automation, artificial intelligence, and other technologies are making many traditional jobs obsolete. So to help our students find success in life, we’ve focusing on teaching them the essential skills they need to think and act as entrepreneurs. That’s why this year, all funds raised from the Gala will go to support our innovative StEP program, which is designed to give our students the chance to create and develop their own entrepreneurial initiatives (you can read more about this innovative program here, here, and here). So you’re not just giving yourself a fun night out – you’re also helping your kids learn how to go out into the world and forge their own destiny.

#5 – Marvel at the Amazing Danny Z

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Speaking of StEP, don’t forget that our very own Danny Z was the first “graduate” of the KCS entrepreneurship program. Danny Z decided to take his love of magic to the next level by creating a set of KCS-branded playing cards, complete with instructions on how to master a few tricks yourself. Danny Z will be putting on a performance at the Gala, so you’ll get to wonder at his skills in person. Every guest will also be given a set of his playing cards to bring home, so you can learn his tricks and impress your own kids!

Great auctions, thrilling entertainment, fun fashion, and better food and drink then you’ll get anywhere else. And it’s all for a good cause. So what are you waiting for? Get your tickets here, before they sell out! See you on May 4!

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.

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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.

Top 5 March Break Staycation Tips

Who needs ski hills or Caribbean beaches? We live in one of the best cities on the planet, so if you’re spending this March Break at home, get on out there and experience all Toronto has to offer! But if you’re feeling a little low on inspiration, here are five family-friendly ideas to get you started. Have fun!

Canadian-Style Sugar Rush

Nothing says the end of winter like the arrival of maple syrup. So get the kids bundled up and head out to one of the many maple syrup sugarbush events around the city. Our two favourites are the super outdoorsy Kortright Sugarbush Maple Syrup Festival and the decidedly downtown Sugar Shack TO fest at Sugar Beach. If the kids give you any static about leaving the house, just remind them there’s plenty of maple candy waiting for them outside!

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Dinner and a Show

Toronto has tons of great theatre for drama fans of all ages, but this March Break is filled with shows specifically for the little ones. First-time theatregoers will love the puppet-filled version of the classic book, The Very Hungry Caterpillar. The Young People’s Theatre’s main stage is hosting The 26 Letter Dance, a rhythmic and poetic show for ages 4-8. For fans of the Junie B. Jones series of books, there’s Junie B. Jones the Musical. And for those a little too cool for such youthful fare, there’s Mirvish’s production of The Lightning Thief. Just don’t forget to grab dinner downtown afterwards!

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Strap on the Skates

If you want to get outside and active, nothing beats a good old fashioned skating rink. But give your local rink a rest and try out one of Toronto’s many unique skating options. There’s the Bentway under the Gardiner, the Natrel Rink at Harbourfront, and the Evergreen Rink at the Brick Works. For those who want to put a little boogie into their skating experience, the rink at Ontario Place hosts skate parties on Friday and Saturday nights, complete with local DJs. Of course, if you feel like staying a little closer to home, there’s always the local Colonel Samuel Smith skate path down at Humber College!

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Brainy Break

Just because school is out doesn’t mean the learning has to stop! If you want to keep your kid’s grey matter engaged over the break, there are plenty of brainy options. The Inventorium 2.0 exhibit at the Science Centre is designed to spark creativity in kids by providing them with lots of hands-on STEAM activities that are based around coding, making, and experimentation. As always, the ROM is putting on a ton of special March Break events, along with a great collection of new exhibits (the wildlife photography display is a real standout!). And if your little one loves creepy crawlies, there’s the Spiders Alive exhibit at the Royal Botanical Gardens in Burlington.

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Family Game Night

In this age of screen-dominated entertainment, it can nice to unplug and enjoy an hour or two with a few good old-fashioned board games. The board game café scene in Toronto has taken off in the last few years, so there are plenty of options to choose from! The most family-friendly choice is probably Snakes and Lattes, which boasts three locations throughout the city. There’s also a couple of upstarts in the west end of the city, including A-Game Café in the Annex and Manapool in Bloor West Village. Just remember to be a good sport when your ten-year-old cleans your clock in a spirited game of Settlers of Catan!

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So there are a few ideas to get you out of the house and into the March Break staycation spirit! We look forward to hearing all about your family’s Toronto adventures after the break!!!

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.

Five Things KCS is Thankful for in our 30th Year!

1) The one and only Ricardo – salter of icy sidewalks, handyman extraordinaire, and our foremost class clown!

2) Our alumni are now grown up enough to work here!

3) Foula’s big smile and bigger heart! Whether she’s looking after a sick student, helping a new family find their way around the school, or simply greeting everyone who walks through our doors, she does it all with a seemingly endless supply of happiness and joy.

4) Three additions, one amalgamation, lots of renovations, and (coming soon) a new park too!

5) The visionary and dedicated founders of KCS. Because if they hadn’t followed their dream thirty years ago, we wouldn’t get to be a part of this amazing school that they built for all of us. So from the bottom of our hearts, THANK YOU!!!

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Grounded in Tradition, Driven by Innovation

“Although so much of KCS has changed, there is still so much that remains the same, and that’s one of the many things that makes this school so special.” – Laura, a KCS parent and alumna, reflecting on her children’s first day of school this September, thirty years after her own first day as a Grade 1 student at KCS.

Last weekend was KCS’s Welcome Back BBQ, an annual event we’ve been celebrating since the school began thirty years ago. In many ways, it wasn’t that different from our very first BBQ, held back when we were just a small school with only 50 students. Both of them featured hamburgers, hot dogs, sunshine, and (most importantly) families and friends joining together to celebrate the start of a new school year.

But this year’s BBQ wasn’t a total time capsule. Along with the classic traditions, the 2018 iteration also featured climbing walls, airbrushed tattoos, and kids showing off their best Fortnite dance moves. Because while traditions are important, you can’t let them completely define you. You have to be open to new ideas and innovations that build on a strong foundation laid by years of thoughtful traditions.

This holds true for everything at KCS, not just BBQs. For example, our academic program is built around a strong core of traditional direct instruction. Our youngest students learn the basics of reading though teacher-led small lessons on phonics and decoding. Older students are formally taught a wide range of study skills to help them find success in exams and tests. And students of all ages spend time practicing and memorizing core math facts that help them make complex computations more quickly and easily. In many ways, all of these would have felt very familiar to the students and teachers at our first BBQ.

However, we also know that tradition must be partnered with brave innovations and experimentation. It’s safe to say that nobody in the late eighties was talking about the importance of young students developing an entrepreneurship mindset, but that’s exactly what we’re doing with our new StEP initiative. Our innovative electives program encourages passion-driven learning and gives students the chance to explore their own big ideas. We’ve also got our students creating wearable technology with Arduino, writing code with Scratch, and learning the process of design thinking. All of these exciting programs go to show that thirty years into our story, we’re balancing traditional teaching and learning with a healthy dose of revolutionary ideas.

Some things – like hamburgers and hot dogs – will stand the test of time. But that doesn’t mean you have to be bound by tradition. After all, a nice gluten-free bun and a side of quinoa salad can make that burger taste even better!

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A message of love

In the 20 years I’ve known her, I’ve never heard my 92-year-old (honourary) Oma speak about the war. She will never bring it up, and skillfully diverts conversation when it happens to come up. She’s a blunt woman, so that usually means she leaves the room. To this day, I have no idea what Oma experienced living in small-town Germany during the war and I completely understand her approach. It’s not something pleasant to relive for the casual historian like me. That’s why it’s so important to have women like KCS Great Aunt Paula Marks-Bolton to share their stories with us.

Paula is a Holocaust survivor and her message is to love. Taken from her family at just 13 years old, Paula survived the Lodz Ghetto, Auschwitz, Ravensbruck, Muhlhausen and Bergen-Belsen concentration camps. She watched two of her three older brothers taken away to Posen concentration camp and was ripped from her mother’s arms before being sent to the Ozarkow Ghetto with hundreds of other children. The difference in Paula is that she recognizes the love. Paula credits her neighbour, Hans, with her survival. During her childhood, he watched Paula grow up and play with his own daughter. During the war years, he was a member of the Gestapo. Despite orders against showing sympathy, she believes he may have intervened to send her to the Ozarkow Ghetto and help her remain alive. He saw Paula’s humanity and for that she loves him.

During her time at Muhlhausen, Paula worked in a munitions factory making bullets for the German army. A grandfatherly foreman helped her survive. He brought her bread and crab apples and covered her with a blanket to keep away the chill. For Paula, her only regret is not learning the man’s name. She reminds us that one person can make an incredible impact on someone’s life. “It’s so easy to be kind to another person,” Paula says. “He recognized my humanity.”

She was just 18 years old when the war ended. Sick with typhoid, she was finally liberated at Bergen-Belsen by the British soldiers who helped her and the other prisoners in any way they could. They provided food and water, gave the sick medication and set up makeshift hospital tents for the seriously ill. Every act was an act of love for a stranger in need.

Under the harshest of circumstances, Paula came out remembering humanity. Her warmth and care for everyone around her remind us that we always have a choice. Despite reliving the worst years of her life, Paula was comforting the students with whom she shared her story by giving hugs and wiping tears. She reminds us that even in the toughest times we can always choose love and compassion.

Keeping the Conversation Going

It’s an astounding statistic that one in five children and youth will experience some form of mental health issue. That’s 20 per cent of our young population fighting a battle against their own mind. What’s more distressing is that five out of six of those children and youth will not get the help they need. For many of these children, it’s because they don’t know where to turn to ask for help, or don’t understand how to vocalize the problems they’re having. For many adults it can be a struggle to identify our emotional needs and feelings, so for children and teenagers it, understandably, becomes a nearly impossible task without help.

Thankfully, Dr. Joanna Henderson, Director of the Margaret and Wallace McCain Centre for Child, Youth & Family Mental Health at CAMH, Dr. Sandra Lee Mendlowitz, Founding Partner of the Clinical Psychology Centre, Dr. Taylor Armstrong, Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist at the George Hull Centre for Children and Families and Joshua Miller, Youth Engagement Facilitator at CAMH shared their expertise in youth mental health with more than 250 guests at the Kingsway College School annual Encouraging Dialogue Speaker Series, generously presented by the KCS Parent Network.

Our very special guest panel for the event titled “Mental Wellness: Guiding our Children From Stress to Strength” discussed trends in mental wellness, mental health identifiers, community support resources and strategies and tools for helping to recognize and support our children in times of stress and anxiety.

We are happy to share the video of the full panel presentation from the evening on our YouTube Channel at youtube.com/kcsmatters. Additional resources and speaker presentation slides are also available on our website at kcs.on.ca/speakerseries.

As a nation, Canada is taking great strides towards reducing the stigma that surrounds mental health. Through initiatives like Bell Let’s Talk Day the conversation has started, and KCS is proud to continue to lend our voices in support and encouragement. Let’s keep talking.

Top 5 Work-Friendly Social Events

There’s a real sense of community amongst the faculty and staff at KCS. Even though we spend over forty hours a week together, we still love to hang out with each other once the school day is done!

That’s why the wonderfully creative minds at the KCS Faculty & Staff Social Committee regularly put together fun evening activities for their co-workers. Every month they organize at least one event designed to get us out on the town as a group.

So if you want to nurture a passionate community at your own workplace, why not take a page out of the KCS Social Committee playbook? After all, there’s no better way to build team spirit than by meeting up after work to share a few laughs and adventures! With that in mind, here are our top five after-work events that are guaranteed to wow your co-workers…

CASA LOMA ESCAPE SERIES
With an emphasis on teamwork, puzzle solving and imagination, escape rooms are a natural fit for any large group outing. But why go to an industrial park in Scarborough when you can spend an evening figuring out how to escape from Toronto’s very own gothic castle? Casa Loma offers a rotating selection of themed experiences, meaning you could end up doing anything from cracking WW2 secret codes to evading the law as a Prohibition-era bootlegger. History has never been so exciting.

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We didn’t quite make it out in time, but we had fun trying

AXE THROWING
Get in touch with your inner lumberjack/jane by bringing your officemates to one of Toronto’s many axe throwing venues. You’ll start off laughing at the surreal nature of it all, but it won’t take long before it turns into a spirited competition to see whose axe skills reign supreme. Just remember – it’s more about skill and timing than simple brute force, so anyone can win the bragging rights of a champion!

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The science teacher won, showing physics has an edge!

PAINT/PLANT NITE
If your work crowd is more of a bohemian bunch, take them out for an evening of guided artistic creation. There are a slew of places in the West End that offer group lessons in painting or flower arranging. Afterwards, feel free to offer your colleagues some feedback on their creations while you bond over pub grub and beverages.

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This group created their own gorgeous succulents

VIP MOVIE SCREENINGS
Sometimes after a long day of work all you really want to do is shut your brain off and enjoy some popcorn-fuelled entertainment. But bring along a bunch of your co-workers to one of Cineplex’s snazzy VIP screening rooms, and you veg out together in style. Best of all, nobody will feel left out during the next day’s watercooler movie talk.

 

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Nothing beats a movie night with friends

 

THE GOOD OLD LOCAL PUB
Sometimes you’ve just got to go with a classic. Pick a nearby pub (preferably one with good burgers and wings), choose a night (preferably a Thursday or Friday) and just sit back and wait. Before you know it, you’ll have a crowd of happy colleagues swapping stories, telling jokes and talking about something other than this quarter’s targets.

So there you have it. Five simple ways to get your work family to turn off the email, ignore the office politics and just spend some quality time together. Because just like any friendship, passionate communities don’t just happen on their own – they take a little effort. So be the one to put out the call and organize a night out. You’ll be amazed at the difference it makes!