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)

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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Building a strong foundation in grade 1

Grade 1 is an essential year for academics. It’s the year when students develop a set of core skills that lay the foundation for future success in the elementary grades.

Throughout their time in Grade 1, students are given direct instruction in reading, writing, and mathematics, to ensure that they have a strong understanding of fundamental academic concepts. These lessons are supported by a number of daily routines that give the students opportunities to regularly practice their skills and solidify new concepts.

Reading is a huge priority in Grade 1. Every student participates in their own ability-leveled reading group for 50 minutes a day. For some students, this means a strong focus on phonics and decoding words, to help build their ability to read longer texts independently. For those needing more enriched work, this means more challenging books with a focus on comprehension, basic research skills, and responding to texts with detailed writing tasks.

The Grade 1 students also participate in weekly “writer’s workshops”, where they are taught the conventions of writing, ranging from spelling to grammar to punctuation. To build on those lessons, the students take part in daily journal writing. After they have written their journal, they work with a teacher to edit and correct their writing. This editing process not only reinforces key lessons, it also consistently raises the bar for each individual student’s writing.

When it comes to mathematics, our Grade 1 teachers blend hands-on exploration work with direct instruction in addition, subtraction, word problems, and place value. These lessons are supported by follow-up assignments that are designed to help students practice their basic facts and develop their problem-solving skills.

Any engineer will tell you that the strength of a structure depends on the strength of the foundation. In Grade 1 at KCS, we build the strongest foundation possible!

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.

Cohort21

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.