Two years ago, Matthew Pilgrim—then 10—arrived at school to find no teacher in his classroom. It was up to the students to teach the day’s lessons, then hours later, to dissect the experience during a school assembly.
It wasn’t exactly a typical day at a typical school but his father, Tim Pilgrim, says it’s the sort of experience that helps set Voice Intermediate School in Toronto, Ontario apart from other alternative schools. The school’s global education philosophy aims to foster growth in the whole child, not only through academics, but with character building, creative pursuits, sports and language study.
“We wanted to find an atmosphere that had smaller class sizes and one with a commitment to exploration,” Pilgrim says. An independent learner, Matthew wasn’t given the chance to express himself regularly or to develop his own personal interests, he says.
Since arriving at Voice Intermediate in Grade 5, Matthew has “blossomed,” Pilgrim says. “You’re encouraged to thrive. You’re encouraged to express yourself,” he says. “You’re encouraged to really step up to the plate.”
Self-expression and exploration—core values to Voice Intermediate founder and Principal Marie Lardino—pervade every aspect of the school. A cohesive and consistent underlying philosophy is one of the strengths of alternative schools, says Rena Upitis, an education professor at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario. It’s just a matter of finding the right philosophy, and the right school, for your child, she says.
Within some other schools, though, a student’s experience may be almost wholly dependent on individual teachers—some might be amazing, some not so much, Upitis says.
At Voice Intermediate, classes follow the Ontario curriculum, but go further to integrate elements meant to give the child an all-encompassing education. Lardino says she wants to help students find out where their strengths are, learn conflict resolution and other core values, and prepare for life outside of the classroom. “You learn who you are as a person and as a learner,” says Lardino. “And then you go from there and you get to understand your role in the world.”