Produced by Robin Stevenson with files from Tim Johnson, Yuki Hayashi, Danielle Harder and Mary Teresa Bitti
Schools sure have changed since you roamed the halls. Chalky blackboards have given way to interactive whiteboards, fundraising now takes place year round (remember when you hit up your friends and family twice a year, tops?) and the phrase “green school” does not refer to the colour of the building’s walls. Sometimes it can be tough to keep up with the issues and educational advances taking place in Canada’s schools. Consider this your cheat sheet. You don’t even have to hide it.
Looking for ideas that will have folks racing to your bake sale table at your next fundraiser? The moms we asked say cozy and familiar sells. So do treats that can be consumed immediately. But don’t skimp on the presentation — ask yourself, “What would Martha do?”
Kathryn Whaley, a Toronto mom of two and bake sale veteran, also suggests asking volunteers to keep donations nut-free. “If things arrive that you’re not sure about, designate part of the table for treats that are not guaranteed nut-free.” — RS
Here are three ways to make your child’s transition easier
1. Keep your cool Some kids (surprise!) aren’t fazed by change, so don’t plant anxiety by constantly asking if they’re nervous. If your child is worried, ask him for ways you can help.
2. Enroll her in activities Sign her up for sports classes or clubs popular with local kids her age. She’ll make new friends and, same school or not, she’ll feel like less of a newbie.
3. Go location scouting Before his first day at the new school, check it out together. Walk the main route and, after getting permission from the office, explore the school, locating the homeroom, washrooms, lunchroom and office. — Yuki Hayashi
Split grades (also known as “combined classrooms”) are usually created to cap student numbers in primary grade classes at 20 and to balance class sizes across a school. Splits are a real love-or-hate prospect for many parents.
Pro-split-grade parents say:
Anti-split-grade parents say:
Talk to your child’s teacher and principal each spring. “Generally speaking, if you were going to make a [classroom placement] request, it’s way better to make it before school starts in September,” says Jeff Kugler, executive director of the Centre for Urban Schooling at the University of Toronto’s Ontario Institute for Studies in Education. Keep in mind your request is just “one piece of information administrators take into account,” when placing kids, says Kugler, so don’t be devastated if you don’t get the outcome you wanted.
The formula’s the same as for a single-grade class, says Kugler: read with them, encourage their own solo reading, show an interest in what they’re up to at school and make homework part of the daily evening routine in your household. — YH
“Get to know your child’s friends. It’s also important to become friendly with their parents and to touch base with your child’s teacher on occasion.” — Janet Loo, Grade 5/6 teacher, Toronto
We asked students to give some of their best school advice
on how to get your parents to sign a test that you did poorly on (as is the practice at some schools):
On how to tell your parents about a bad grade:
On how to deal with bullies:
are two breaks better than three?
For most kids, school days are broken up by the standard recess/lunch/recess format. But research has shown that kids benefit from long, uninterrupted periods of learning. As a result, some school boards are departing from the traditional three breaks for elementary schools to something called the balanced school day.
The Waterloo Region District School Board in Ontario was one of the first in Canada to institute the new format in all of its 100 K-8 schools in 2005. The day consists of three 100-minute learning periods and two 40-minute nutritional breaks (each of which is, in turn, halved into eating and play periods). In addition, by having only two breaks rather than three, the board estimates a gain of eight to 10 minutes per day in instructional time that would have been otherwise lost in the comings and goings of coatrooms—which adds up to a whopping 40 hours over the course of a year.
And the second nutrition break helps eliminate the late-day drag. “Our teachers found immediately that kids were much more attentive and focused in the afternoon,” notes Bob Cassidy, the board’s superintendent of education. “I hear teachers say, “Before, I would have never taught any new concepts at the end of day. Now, the students are alert and can handle it.” — Tim Johnson
The average spent by full-time teachers on classroom materials and class-related activities (food or drinks, school supplies, books) from their own wallet each year, according to the 2005 Canadian Teachers’ Federation National Teachers’ Poll.
The fine print of consent forms
Like most parents, you’ll likely be inundated with permission forms from your child’s school. It seems children can’t do anything without parents agreeing not to sue should something go wrong.
Some schools aren’t content to limit environmental studies to an in-class terrarium. Here are three deep-green schools that practice what they teach.
Chase, B.C.’s Haldane Elementary School has completed more environmental projects than any other in Canada—3,000 and counting. Recent activities have included planting 1,900 trees in one day (40-70 trees per two-student team!), planting flowerbeds and picking up litter throughout the town’s public spaces and painting anti-pollution reminders on 70 of the city’s sewer grates. The school holds litterless lunch challenges and is also raising money to build wells in India.
Dr. Arthur Hines Elementary School in Summerville, N.S., grow corn, onions, carrots, potatoes, squash, parsnips and tomatoes in a schoolyard garden. Come fall, Grade 6 students help a food supervisor prepare nutritious daily lunches using bounty from the garden. With mentorship and assistance from the local Slow Food chapter, this project lets students sink their teeth into science, biology and nutrition in a literal way.
Toronto’s Jackman Avenue Public School has a 90-square-metre garden on its main floor. By growing native flowers like white coneflower, daylily, goldenrod, liatris, wild columbine, Autumn Joy sedum and more, it helps cool the climate, beautify the view from the second floor hall, and provide nectar to butterflies and bees. The school also has schoolyard gardens, and the student-run Green Team manages its recycling and composting program. — YH
Starting this month, Toronto police officers will, for the first time, be based in the city’s schools. A total of 30 School Resource Officers—22 in the public board, eight in the Catholic—will police the halls in full uniform, which includes their side arm. Officers will not spend the entire day on campus, but will also branch out to the surrounding neighbourhood. Schools were selected on the basis of a perceived need, and the idea, says John Campbell, chair of the Toronto District School Board, is that the presence of the officers will help reduce incidents and crime, which often goes unreported in a school setting. “It’s a relationship-building effort. We want the students to feel like they can trust the police and that the police are not the enemy, and similarly it’s important for officers to understand the backgrounds of these kids.” Similar programs are in place in other Canadian cities, including Ottawa, Edmonton and Vancouver. — TJ
For decades, the (seemingly) natural order of high school sports has remained largely undisturbed: those who are good get to play, those who are bad get cut from the team, and those who are just okay, well, they ride the pine. But some students and their parents are now demanding more equal playing time on school teams.
Here are the arguments, for and against, according to Ian Reade, a coaching expert at the University of Alberta.
1. Players should have a chance to develop. If you never play the game, you will never have the opportunity to improve, and great potential — especially amongst those who experience growth spurts through the year — could be squandered by perpetually benching selected members of the team.
2. It’s a basic issue of fairness. Everyone contributes to the team, and it’s simply not fair to sit some players at the expense of others.
3. The goal of amateur sport, at every level, is adherence. The experience needs to be positive for students to continue to play all through their lives. This generally involves getting off the bench and onto the floor. Most teams will not win the championship, but every team can provide a great experience.
1 You earn playing time. If you want a spot on the court or on the ice, work hard in practice and prove that you deserve regular appearances in the game.
2 At its heart, sport is not fair. There are always winners and losers, starters and non-starters, and not everyone who tries out can make the team.
3 It’s fun to win. If you play your best players and win, then the non-starters will be unhappy. If you play everyone and lose, your starters will be unhappy. Which is why coaches just opt for their best chance to win. Someone will always be unhappy. — TJ
Blackboards and chalk, psshaw! These digital tools are quickly becoming commonplace in classrooms, and are making your normally intelligent child super-smart.
What is it? Commonly known by their brand names, SMART and Promethean boards work with a computer and a projector and are touch-sensitive, can be connected to the Internet, and video streaming, as well as Word, PowerPoint and a number of other applications.
How it’s used Teachers can utilize it like a traditional blackboard — with the advantage of saving and returning to pages. These also allow users to interact with Web pages, drag and move graphics around the screen and perform a wide variety of other interactive tasks.
How it makes your kid smarter The boards appeal to multiple intelligences — visual learners can see, kinesthetic learners can touch, auditory learners can hear music files and podcasts, and so on.
What is it? These devices, often used together with interactive whiteboards, allow students to give real-time feedback in class.
How it’s used Teachers throw questions or quizzes out to the class and have students respond anonymously, allowing them to gauge the level of understanding of the material and collect immediate data to determine whether to proceed with a lesson and, if so, how.
how it makes your kid smarter The ability to save data and refer back to it means that teachers know exactly how well your child has progressed through the year, shedding light on the next appropriate educational step.
video conferencing station
What is it? Sometimes mobile and moved around in a small suitcase, these stations include a camera, microphone, computer and monitor (desktop or interactive whiteboard).
How it’s used Students can have face-to-face conversations with one or a number of others equipped with the same technology, or a guest speaker can speak to multiple classes simultaneously.
How it makes your kid smarter The presence of these stations in places like museums—already a reality—means your child may someday be able to take a field trip every day, sans permission forms and lumbering school bus. — TJ
“Never give your kids answers to homework problems. Help with problem solving, but if your child can’t complete the work, send it back unfinished with a note requesting extra help.” — Ernie Ourique, Grade 3 teacher, Toronto
According to the Retail Council of Canada, the average amount spent by Canadians on school-related items in 2007. Back-to-school is the second-busiest shopping season behind the holiday season.
Need to talk with your kid’s teacher? Here’s how to get her attention — not her goat — for three common situations.
Bad grade Phone in the morning and leave a message with the secretary. Ask the teacher to call you back to schedule a 10-minute phone chat.
Behaviour issues As above, only the interview should run 15″“20 minutes, in person, with the student present.
You want to volunteer in the classroom Leave a message any time.
Tip: Make an appointment to talk. Don’t drop by or call unexpectedly. You may be keeping your child’s teacher from classroom prep, coaching or a much-deserved break. — YH
If it’s Wednesday, then you’ll find Debbie Elliott in the office at Our Lady of Peace Elementary School in Oakville, Ont., going through the attendance lists, calling home if the school hasn’t been notified about a child’s absence and doing any photocopying or collating required. The mom of two is as close to a professional parent volunteer as you’re likely to find. “I’m at home and I want and like to help.” Of course, volunteering is not an all-or-nothing proposition. You can volunteer as much or as little as you’d like. Elliott breaks it down:
You’ve got: 2 hours a week — Way to help out: Parent council member: Members chair specific committees that may require more time than others. There are also monthly meetings to attend.
1-2 hours a week—In-class helper: Everything from working with pupils who may need help in a given subject to assisting with craft projects. Reading program: Providing children with extra reading experience.
1 hour a week—Library duty: Labelling new books, checking books in and out, filing.
3 or 4 times a year—Field trip or event volunteering such as fundraisers, book fairs, Terry Fox Run or Jump Rope for Heart. —Mary Teresa Bitti.