The YMCA Academy is a Ministry of Education–inspected, alternative high school in downtown Toronto. Inspired and supported by the YMCA of Greater Toronto, a personal differentiated approach, specialized programs, and individualized use of assistive technology is ideally suited to students with mild learning disabilities or learning style differences.
“My daughter started in Grade 9,” says a parent of a student at YMCA Academy, “and it is the first time in six years that she loves going to school. Her self-esteem and self-confidence has grown immensely. Her motivation to succeed has skyrocketed.”
If there is a top level goal, that’s it: to take learners who are struggling in other settings, and to help them find success. The YMCA Academy offers an extremely unique program, especially beneath the Y umbrella, and it is the only one of its kind in North America.
An expanded curriculum
New this year, the program has been expanded to include Grades 7 and 8. The addition is primarily to offer support for learners prior to entering high school, preparing them for the challenges they'll encounter in the senior grades. “As parents come to me seeking a school,” says Don Adams, head of school at YMCA Academy, “they often speak of supports that are missing or underused in their child’s school. And they're asking if we can provide such supports.
And they can. Often the conversation focusses on assistive technologies. “We get students at Grade 9 who have never seen such technologies, but who have needed them for years.” Says Adams, “we’re arming students with appropriate assistive technologies before they get to high school” including the use of laptops loaded with speech-to-text and other real-time learning aids.
Equally important is the creation of an individual education plan, one that addresses both short and long term goals and strategies. The curriculum and teaching style are then adjusted for each student to meet specific learning needs. In addition, the school offers counseling support by its Student Life Counselor.
A community of peers
The very heart of private education is providing options for parents looking to support their learner, and YMCA Academy sits at the very heart of that concept. It was founded and developed to support learners with needs that may not be adequately met within other settings. Likewise, it comprises an academic environment in which those students aren’t constantly reminded of their exceptionality. Here, they participate in a community that is supportive, sympathetic, and socially oriented around their personal needs.
That, in itself—irrespective of the programs or the curriculum—can be transformational. This isn’t a school for others, making a concession for them. Rather, it is a school for them. The school provides, says Adams, “a sense of community and accomplishment … [of being] safe in a community. ... Once they begin to experience success it becomes contagious.” That’s huge.
YMCA Academy is located at 15 Breadalbane Street, Toronto, in the Central YMCA, near Yonge and College streets and College subway station.
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