The Junior School at Elmwood School for girls is a bright, cheery place filled with the sounds of young students from preschool to Grade 5 happily going about their daily activities.
Whether they are expressing their views on new subjects of inquiry with their teachers, or lifting themselves through song as they rehearse for the annual musical, these students are learning the value of their individual voices within the framework of one of the very best foundation educational systems in the world – the International Baccalaureate Primary Years Programme (IB-PYP).
Simply being heard at all might be a strange experience for some of the new girls, but they soon learn that at Elmwood their voices count. As Headmistress Cheryl Boughton points out, non-apologetic assertiveness – empowered leadership, in other words – should be the right of every girl.
"Elmwood teaches girls to speak for themselves, to be heard, and to advocate for themselves," she said. "We want to develop girls who have a sense of agency to learn, to accomplish things, and to see that they can change the world."
The school's record of success is outstanding, and the way they achieve this is through the wonderfully effective, inquiry-based structure of the International Baccalaureate programme. Elmwood is still the only school in Ottawa that offers all three levels of the IB from pre-kindergarten up to Grade 12.
The foundational IB Primary Years Programme is guided by six transdisciplinary (cross-subject) themes that speak to the IB's goal of teaching students to become productive global citizens. Throughout the school year, students in every grade explore a number of in-depth, integrated units of inquiry that relate to each of the themes.
Christine Blackadar gets a unique perspective on this as Deputy Head and Librarian of the Junior School. She said the IB-PYP is "ahead of the curve" in elementary education by allowing children to follow a more natural, less linear style of learning that is better matched to their individual stages of development.
One of the activities she helps oversee is the student action proposals for creating new school clubs, or the occasional fundraiser for a worthy cause beyond the walls of their school.
"It's about teaching the girls to be active citizens, and empowering them through the framework of the International Baccalureate," Blackadar said. "Sometimes one student's idea will inspire another student to action. They influence each other and become role models for one another, which is fantastic. They feel they can bring something forward and be listened to. Giving the girls a voice is an overriding benefit of the PYP."
Curriculum Director Meagan Enticknap said that what makes the IB-PYP stand out is the level of engagement. Teachers, she said, empower young girls' voices in the classroom by asking students to answer their own questions about the things they are passionate about.
"It's very organic," she said. "We teach through the use of transdisciplinary concepts that help students connect ideas so that they can understand the bigger issues, and we build in engagement through relevance. The role of the teacher in a PYP classroom is not to be a sage on the stage, but to be the guide on the side."
Headmistress Boughton added that Elmwood's small class sizes and professional teaching staff make all the difference in her students' IB education.
"Our teachers have the time and the expertise to observe what's going on with their students, and to give them what they need to grow and develop," she said.
University might seem a long way off for a girl just entering preschool, but the moment she joins the Elmwood community she is taking her first steps toward a world-class education that will ensure she has the very best opportunities open to her by the time she finishes Grade 12.
"We feel it is important that girls start developing their voice and sense of agency early," Boughton said. "Even at a very young age they are learning leadership skills. What we say to families is that it is important they make this investment when their daughters are young. Our mission is to inspire each girl to reach her full potential, and I think we deliver on that promise. The world needs great female leaders, and that starts in their formative years."
Elmwood School is located at 261 Buena Vista Rd. in the heart of Ottawa's quiet Rockliffe Park neighbourhood. Parking is available at the west end of the school.
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