Starting 2022 at the KCS Junior School

Happy new year! It was a big first week back full of new and exciting things – of course, being online presents its own set of new opportunities and experiences. 

It’s in times like these when the Habits of Mind, Body and Action become so important in our work, play, and interactions with each other. 

Despite not being able to be together in the school in person, activities resumed in each class swiftly last Wednesday online. While there is much to cover and many plans ready to be rolled out, I’m glad that students were able to take the time to reconnect with each other in their first Meets of the year. I know that we were all excited to see everyone again and to see what teachers had planned for the day. 

For many of us, this switch to online learning has become more familiar over the past couple of years, but for others, it is a brand new experience. It takes time to establish new routines and to learn how to mute, unmute, and listen, and be patient online. Persist and it will come together. I must thank each student, parent, and of course all faculty and staff for adjusting to online instruction this week with such a positive mindset. 

The beginning of the new year is a great time to set some goals and it will come as no surprise that this was a focus of some class discussions. The story Squirrel’s New Year’s Resolution provided a discussion point for the SKs – if you are looking for a resolution, you might be inspired to follow Squirrel’s lead and resolve to be kind to someone each day.  

And a class discussion in Grade 1 prompted some writing about goals for 2022 and some reflections on favourite parts of 2021. Students thought about some positive changes they would like to promise to themselves in the upcoming year. What are some things that you want to get better at? What are some things that you may want to learn how to do? 

Students have begun their math and science lessons as well. In Grade 2, students have begun to explore states of matter, and there has been lots of activity on Google Classroom regarding math practice and homework across the grades.  

Our intermediate students have begun to focus on Black History Month. They have also engaged in a lesson to help them think critically about the role technology plays in developing countries. In Language Arts, a project on song analysis will call on students to focus their attention on identifying poetic devices in song lyrics and identifying tone, mood, and theme.

Virtual clubs also began last week! I have the opportunity to lead a Makerspace club on Wednesday afternoons with a great group of Grade 7 and 8 students. As a starting point, we began with a discussion about inspiration. What are you passionate about? What inspires you to want to explore your passions further? Lucky for these students, the club time is dedicated to exploring their passions, deciding on how to act on them, and sharing them with others.

A special shout out goes to the Grade 6s –  Happy Favourite Mug Funky Friday! What a fun class event to end the first week back.

While we all look forward to being back in the building together soon, I want to encourage everyone to keep trying their best each day as you always do. Remember to reach out for help, ask questions, and persist. Whether we are at the school, or at home, keep trying your best. 

Place-Based Learning at the KCS Senior School

With the launch of the new KCS Senior School comes the opportunity to show what Place-Based Learning can be in the heart of Canada’s biggest city. Admittedly, Toronto is blessed with ample greenspaces, a wide variety of mixed-use neighbourhoods, and a population full of passionate community builders, artists, and changemakers. We are spoiled for inspiration and learning opportunities. This is all the more reason to launch a school that will connect student learning with such an enriched environment. Here’s how school can be.

Our year began last Thursday. After a walk along one of Toronto’s longest, mixed-use streets, our students spent the day in High Park: 399 acres of native flora and fauna, sports facilities, trails, and more. As befitting the first day, our students and faculty engaged in tone-setting dialogue and team-building challenges, all under the watchful gaze of a hawk who chose to spend the morning with us, even perching on a nearby tree when we stopped for lunch. In the afternoon, our students were introduced to the new responsibility they had as students in a place-based high school. They were paired up, given a scavenger hunt challenge, and a map with a wide range in which they could wander for the following 90 minutes to find the many items on their list. This was their introduction to the trust we had in them, and the trust they would want to maintain. All returned when expected, with the task complete. When told that offsite learning would be a regular part of the school experience, one student responded “I like that. That’s how I remember things.” Yes, we know.

Imagine what’s possible if learning were to regularly happen outside a classroom. Imagine what’s possible if learning included the sights, sounds, smells, artifacts, emotions, physical activity, and engagement with external experts that are available by stepping outside of school. This is intellectual and life-shaping enrichment that no textbook nor Google search can provide.

Our second day included two hours with an expert from High Park Nature Centre. Our guide began with the intriguing question: how does place hold time? We learned about the origin of the name Toronto (Tkaronto, where trees stand in the water) and the 5,000-year-old fishing weirs (those trees) created by the Haudenosaunee and Huron-Wendat nations that are still visible underwater north of Toronto. Our tour included an introduction to the white pine, also named the Tree of Peace, and the story of Hiawatha and peacemaking dating back 600 years. Another activity blended math and history by challenging the students to create a 30-foot timeline of local events, from the ice age to the 2010 resolution of The Toronto Purchase. We saw a decades-old photo of a sewer that stood 20 feet tall, which we erroneously guessed was a smokestack, before the ravine of Wendigo Creek at the northeast corner of the park was filled in to make for smooth road-building and community development. Those two hours introduced the students to the stories behind the neighbourhoods we inhabit. Those stories will support curiosity, humility, and an appreciation among our students for the role they can play in shaping their corner of the world for the better.

Learning immersed in our surroundings will continue beyond these first days. English class will include free writes that focus on characters and setting inspired by observations on walks such as these. French class will see students developing their vocabulary by commenting on their varied surroundings. Science is already planning a canoe trip on the nearby Humber River that will include an introduction to water sampling led by Swim Drink Fish, a charity committed to engaging citizens as active contributors to data collection and water quality oversight. All of these activities connect to the curriculum.

The theme that will weave through all grade 9 courses is “knowing our place”. Our collective effort as teachers will support deep insight into the nature, people, economy, challenges, history, accomplishments, and secrets of the streets and trails we’ll walk upon. Becoming intimately familiar with our small part of the world will set the stage for appreciating the depth and complexity of the unknown neighbourhoods around the globe.

Our students are regularly outside, they are active, they are learning in unforgettable ways, and they are growing as independent learners and leaders. This is the beginning of place-based learning at the KCS Senior School. This is the start of our story of what high school can be.

“Can We Start Reading Now?”

It’s a Friday afternoon in the KCS Library, shortly after the Silver Birch program has begun.  There are swarms of children racing to the library after school to sign out books…..Silver Birch books!  Some of these students already have a book checked out for the weekend, but are worried that they may finish it early and not have anything else to read the rest of the weekend.  “Could I borrow a second book, just in case?”  How can I say no to such enthusiasm for reading?

The OLA’s Forest of Reading® Programs have been a tradition at KCS for over ten years.  Passports and reflection sheets, sharing thoughts and opinions through blogging, author visits, house competitions, and impromptu discussions in the hallway and classrooms are all part of the Blue Spruce, Silver Birch and Red Maple programs.  And like all traditions, enthusiasm for the program is passed from sibling to sibling.  I am often asked, the first week of school, when will it start this year?

I just love the BookBuzz around the whole school! Some things I’ve overheard:

  • “Did you like Space Raiders?”
  • “I liked The Swallow: A Ghost Story better than I thought I would!”
  • “Are there any more books by David Skuy?”
  • “My goal was 10 books last year, but this year I’m going to try to finish all 20!”
  • Clover’s Luck is here!  I can’t wait to read it!”
  •  “I’ve read all the books!  What else can I read?”

Not surprisingly, this tradition is my favourite time of the year.  There is an increased enthusiasm for reading, and even the most reluctant of readers can be found sitting on a beanbag chair in the library with a book in their hands.  At KCS, we are continuing to grow our culture of students who read for the love of it.  And there are many additional benefits. As People for Education published in a report, “Students with a more positive attitude towards reading tend to be more successful in all subjects”. (Reading for Joy, 2011.)

The Forest of Reading Program – It’s the Super Bowl of Reading!

Judy Dunn-Hoggarth
Teacher Librarian

Where Was This Thirty Years Ago?

KCS_Where-Was-This-30-Years-AgoLast week, staff and students were asked to fill in a thought bubble about what mental health meant to them. After reading many of them, a flood of emotions and memories came to me as I have a brother who lives with a mental illness. Words like “brave” and “hero” put a smile on my face because that’s how I would describe my brother. These were not words I heard when I was a young girl dealing with this issue in my family.

People did not understand that my brother was sick. Maybe if he were in a wheelchair, people would have been more supportive. It is hard to understand something that you cannot see.

We have come so far with raising awareness and decreasing the stigma surrounding mental illness, but we still need to continue with these conversations, not just on Bell Let’s Talk Day. Here, at KCS, teachers encourage these dialogues with their students to promote good mental health. As uncomfortable as it may be for some, we embrace it.

KCS instills in our students key habits such as Act with empathy, Do what is right, and Make the world better. These children will carry kindness and empathy towards others for the rest of their lives. It makes me hopeful that this next generation of students will do their part to end the stigma towards mental illness. This makes my heart happy and it made my brother’s heart also very happy when I told him about what our students were saying!

Lucy Rizzuto
Senior Kindergarten Teacher

Practising the Hard Part of Listening

soundOne of our Habits at KCS is Listen to Understand. Hearing comes easily for most of us. Listening requires a bit more effort but we usually try our best with that. It’s the ‘understand’ part that is trickiest. Some cool things are happening here with that Habit and they’re a reminder of why it matters.

Understanding means stepping out of our old opinions, assumptions, and even otherwise-justified practices to fully understand those of others. It requires another one of our Habits, Flexible Thinking. Cognitive science Daniel T. Willingham helps explain why that makes it so tricky. In his book Why Don’t Students Like School:  A Cognitive Scientist Answers Questions About How the Mind Works and What It Means for the Classroom, Willingham explains that the brain, surprisingly, is not designed for thinking. That’s right. For all its smarts, it’s actually designed to avoid thinking. When listening, the unmotivated and undisciplined brain will work to hear what it wants to hear, or rapidly defeat what it finds contradictory and therefore too much trouble. Hmm. Does that sound like some conversations you’ve heard (or even had) before?

The KCS Habits are not just for students. Listening to our senior students recently, we introduced a modified timetable during the week of exams so grade 7 and 8 students had choice in how they spent their mornings: either in subject-specific extra help or an open-study session. Earlier this year, when our senior students asked for more independence, numerous other new practices based on student suggestions were introduced (some examples include: freedom to eat lunch with friends from the other class; grade 8s being allowed to eat lunch in the Student Lounge; Special Lunches for 7s and 8s in their corridor instead of Canada Hall; more choices for students who want to stay in to work during recess). Readers of “Stay Connected” are learning direct from the students about some of the changes they helped make happen. We listened and understood. The result has been a breath of fresh air for us all.

“Respect, manners and try your best” are school rules that we all strive to follow. Figuring out what’s best is tricky. Listen to Understand is the first big step. Students and faculty are showing they can take it from there.

Andrea Fanjoy,
Assistant Head, Academics
You can follow Andrea on Twitter @afanjoy.

How a Tradition Was Born

It’s funny how things come to be.

KCS has quite a few traditions. Many are from before my time so the story of how they began will have to be told by someone else. There’s one young tradition, however, that some of us have had the good fortune of watching from birth. It’s unique to KCS and both the result of and engine for much of what’s special here. It’s called Compliment Friday.

As the name suggests, this tradition takes place every Friday and is the community service project of a group of five to six students every year.  At assembly, these students come forward and announce to the school that it’s Compliment Friday, to which the school responds with a resounding cheer. Yes, it always starts the same way, predictability being a hallmark of tradition. Other students are then invited to come to the front and publicly share a compliment, or thank you, to one or more people. Each week, the theme changes. Last week, compliments were for teachers and classmates. The week before, pets. Over the years, there have been all manner of public outpourings of appreciation.

Contrary to what you might expect, Compliment Friday didn’t emerge from Shangri-La. Though there’s much that’s wonderful here, KCS remains part of a real world that sometimes includes conflict, missteps, insecurity and poor judgment. Despite our many proactive efforts, social bumps continue to be part of growing up.

This tradition began with a group of students who had been struggling with getting along. Friendships started, ended abruptly, then started up again. Feelings were hurt, sometimes healed, then, sadly, hurt again. When it came to our attention at the end of their grade 7 year, many steps were taken. One was the introduction of class meetings.

Now taking place in all grades throughout the school, class meetings have three parts. Students and their teacher usually sit in a circle, and the meeting begins with an “around-the-room” sharing of compliments. After this affirming start, the students collaboratively discuss and problem-solve an issue that needs attention. The final part of a class meeting is another “around-the-room” where students and teacher share something going on in their lives that others might not know about. It’s a powerful way to build connections and encourage empathy. The class meeting proved very effective in turning around relationships in this group of grade 8s. They were so pleased with the exercise that these same students came up with Compliment Friday as their community service project for the school. It has taken place practically every Friday since then.

An environment of regular, public gratitude is as wonderful as it is rare. These students turned a negative situation into a unique legacy of positivity.

And for that, this is a heartfelt public thank you.

Andrea Fanjoy,
Assistant Head, Academics
You can follow Andrea on Twitter @afanjoy.

Volunteers

Last week was a rather busy week at KCS.  We held our 10th annual Terry Fox Run on Wednesday, our 5th Annual Grandparents Day on Friday, and our Welcome Back BBQ on Saturday for about 800-1000 of our closest friends, families and alumni.  In addition to those events, we held a couple of grade parties, a number of committee meetings, and various activities throughout the school.  And that was just last week.  All of these events were successful due to our staff working with our many amazing volunteers.

Our school has been a success for 25 years because of the outstanding commitment by many to give of their time for the current and future students of KCS.  As I said to many of the alumni families who returned on Saturday for a visit, KCS has always been a great school.  Throughout our history we did not always have the first class facility that we have now, but one thing we have always had in abundance at KCS were passionate and committed people, both staff and volunteers.  For those of you who have volunteered to help us out in so many ways over the first month of the school year, you have my sincere thanks.  Your time and efforts ensured we had a very successful first month of September.

Derek Logan
Head of School

Christmas Came Early

A joint post by Derek Logan and Andrea Fanjoy

Over the last few nights, both KCS and St. George’s on-the-Hill Nursery School held their Annual General Meetings. Voting on the amalgamation of the two schools was held, and we are excited to announce that the amalgamation has been wholly supported by the parent communities of both schools. As a result, the next few months will be full of new opportunities as we come together and go about the business of aligning our programs.

Those of you who know KCS know that there is something special about this place. To work here is to experience the proverbial 1 + 1 = 3. We all love what we do. We gratefully learn from and collaborate with each other, day in and day out. We’re frank about the challenges we face. And we’re determined to do our absolute best, pushing our boundaries so our best keeps getting better.

With the amalgamation of St. Georges and KCS, we will all have new colleagues. Faculty and staff from both schools are keen to meet, learn from each other and collaborate. Each of us bring experience and perspective that the other may not have, and that will make our best better.

GiftAs we head into the holidays, as adults, we can reflect how Christmas has changed for us since we were children. We now tend to experience the joys of the season through the eyes of little ones while we reflect on the year past and the year to come. However, the excitement of new experiences and the things we appreciate hasn’t changed – the appreciation of a meaningful gift hasn’t changed either. In the staff room the other day, chatting with our new colleagues from St. Georges Nursery School, it became apparent that Christmas had come early for us grown-ups as we received the gift of new opportunity.

We look forward to a big new year. And we look forward to all the time we’ll spend getting better, together.

Derek Logan
Head of School

Andrea Fanjoy,
Assistant Head, Academics
You can follow Andrea on Twitter @afanjoy.

KCS: Known In Ottawa

Last night, my wife and I attend a fundraiser for CAMH (Centre for Addiction and Mental Health).  I had the opportunity to speak to Dr. David Goldbloom, the newly appointed Chair of the Mental Health Commission of Canada.  You may recall our school was very fortunate back in January to have Dr. Goldbloom lead our Encouraging Dialogue panel on Mental Health and Our Children.

On Tuesday, he was attending a conference on Anti-Stigma and Mental Health in Ottawa.  As he came out of the conference, our grade 6 students were getting off their bus.  Our students are in Ottawa for four days as part of their end of the year trip.  He asked them where they were from.  One of our students said, “KCS”.  His response was, “You mean that great school in Etobicoke, Kingsway College School?”  The student was incredulous that he knew about KCS, but in his words, the “group were obviously very proud of their school.”  As Head of School, I love to hear these stories about our students and school.

Derek Logan
Head of School

Heroes Pop Up When Least Expected

Last Friday we held our fourth annual Grandparents Day at KCS.  Grandparents were invited to KCS to listen to the music from our bands and choirs, view the amazing Heroes art displays throughout the school, and visit their grandchildren in their classes.  With the exception of the torrential rains that hit the Etobicoke area, it was shaping up to be a great morning on Friday.

About 8:10 that morning, as I was downstairs reviewing the remarks I would give following the music presentations in Canada Hall, someone came down to see me to let me know there was a police officer in the main lobby.  As Head of School, there are few words that bring a knot to my stomach more than, “Derek, there’s a police officer at the front desk.”  I get the same feeling when being stopped by a R.I.D.E. program when I’m not drinking:  I know I haven’t done anything wrong, and yet…

As I arrived at the front desk, I realized that it was Officer Rick, our area’s Community Relations Officer.  He explained to me that there were PD days in both the public and Catholic schools so he felt that this would be a great day to stop by and visit KCS; my initial reaction to hearing this is not printable.  Needless to say, as the parents and grandparents were coming into the school, they saw not only his cruiser, but Officer Rick standing with me greeting the students.  I can only imagine what was going through their minds.  If I had been sharp, I could have explained he was here as part of our Heroes display, but that thought didn’t cross my mind until one of our parents planted the idea in my mind after the musical performances.  At KCS, as in life, you always need to be ready to deal with the unexpected.

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Derek Logan
Head of School