REVIEW OF Académie Westboro Academy BY parent, Michelle Schira Hagerman
- Date of Review
May 27, 2021
Gr. 5 - 5
(4) Student Experience
This has been our daughter's first year at Académie Westboro Academy, which means that her experience, so far, has been framed by the global pandemic and all of the disruption that this has caused in systems of schooling. That said, in the face of extreme challenge, our daughter's experiences at AWA have been very positive. She is receiving a great deal of academic support from her teachers and through additional resource supports that the school put in place to meet her needs in math and French; she has made new friends, and has delighted in all of the ways that the school has tried to maintain some semblance of "normalcy" despite the pandemic context. She is part of a house, she ran for student government, she participated in the science fair; guest speakers have joined her classes via Zoom, and the academic program has continued to include visual arts, music and physical education even during phases of remote learning. Although our daughter has found the academic transition from her neighbourhood school to AWA challenging, she has also discovered new strengths that she didn't know she had, and is coming to know herself as a learner in important ways that will help her overcome challenges in the future. On balance, we think this has been a really successful year for our daughter.
(5) School Leadership
The leadership team have demonstrated many strengths. They are excellent communicators. At every moment during this extraordinary school year, the team has kept families informed of their decisions. They have been transparent and forthcoming about the complexities of issues such as indoor vs. outdoor instructional time, ventilation, health and safety protocols, and expectations of parents and students. They send a weekly newsletter to families, but beyond that they have hosted several online information meetings for families that have generated meaningful discussion and provided opportunities for the team to share their thinking on a range of issues. Additionally, when our daughter was really struggling academically the Director of Academics, in particular, was open, supportive and receptive to our concerns. He worked with her teachers to quickly implement a plan that has helped our daughter to feel understood and supported. During times of remote learning, I have also been really impressed by the way that the leadership team joins in to my daughter's classes regularly -- just to be a supportive and encouraging presence. I think that their presence in the lives of the students and the teachers in this way goes a long way to sustaining connection and a sense of community for everyone.
We are extremely appreciative of our daughters' teachers. She spends the most time with her French and English-language teachers but she also benefits from working with academic specialists in science, visual arts, music and physical and health education. This is our first year at AWA and I expect that during a "regular" academic year (i.e., with no pandemic) her teachers would have so many more options for the design of meaningful, collaborative, engaging learning activities for everyone -- but even during challenging times, they have managed to design learning activities that have engaged our daughter, and that have helped her to develop a range of important academic skills, competencies, and mindsets. It is clear that the academic expectations at AWA are very high -- but if students are able to achieve great things, it is because of the expertise that teachers bring to their work, and because of the incredible supports offered by the entire AWA instructional team.
Our sense of the academic program is that it is rigorous but also adaptable in ways that ensure every student is building from their strengths and getting the supports they need in areas that are more challenging for them. The French language curriculum is perhaps a little more traditional in its approach (e.g., worksheets, dictées) -- but much of the in-person methods of instruction observed this year may be due to the extraordinary limitations imposed by pandemic safety protocols (i.e., social distancing). Online, there has actually been a great deal more variety, and students are encouraged to use multiple modes (e.g., audio, video, drawings, infographics) to demonstrate their thinking and understanding. In the English-language program, which includes math and literacy, there is great variety and our daughter appreciates the often playful and practical applications of knowledge that are modelled for her. In all classes, students are encouraged to do their best and it is clear that students take pride in doing well academically.
This is impossible to judge this year. We do know that pre-pandemic, there were many opportunities for children to join extracurricular clubs, sports teams and to participate in school life beyond the classroom. We look forward to the return of these elements of schooling next year as possible. One of the great benefits of the school's location is that is situated next to a public park where, even during the pandemic, AWA students have been able to move their bodies. Although team sports have been impossible, I can see that having this public park close by is ideal for outdoor extracurriculars.
Our daughter is in a class of 18 students who bring many strengths and experiences to their learning community. The tone of the group seems very positive. The students understand one another and although COVID has been hugely disruptive for them, they are still able to find ways to collaborate online, and to even connect outside of class through group chats and online games to play and continue to invest in their shared friendships. It has been a really hard year for these kids -- but on balance, I feel that the students are intellectually curious, kind and respectful of one another. I will say that the teachers do an excellent job of creating systems and structures that allow every learner to contribute in meaningful ways, and to demonstrate their unique strengths. This is really important for social cohesion and for every student to feel a part of a community. The students are able to be their best selves, in my view, because they are supported by educators who understand how to help them make good decisions, and who encourage the children to be kind, understanding and respectful of their peers.
(5) School Life
We chose to move our daughter to this school because it is small, by design, and it therefore offers her the chance to know and to be known by everyone in the community. Our neighbourhood school is so, so big -- and she felt overwhelmed by it a lot of the time. At our neighbourhood school, she was anxious and she would regularly tell us that she didn't want to go to school. This year, however, even with the pandemic which of course, has interrupted regular social interactions and made it difficult to really play with friends in all of the ways that kids usually do...she has never once told me she has a tummy ache in the morning before school. This might sound like a "low bar" for judging the quality of school life -- but for us, it is the ultimate indicator of how supported and connected she feels by/to her new school community. She is a happier child at AWA than she ever was at our neighbourhood school.
Parents are certainly welcome and the entire team works hard to communicate regularly and effectively with the AWA parent community. I feel like a broke record, but the pandemic has disrupted all community events so there have been no in-person opportunities to gather and get to know one another. Online, though, there have been meetings for families to learn about school activities and certainly, this has helped us to feel a little more part of the community. We look forward to getting to know other families, and to being more actively involved as we slowly re-integrate once the pandemic is a little more controlled. I will note that I attended the board meeting in the fall and was generally impressed by the way that members of the school community have volunteered their expertise to support strategic planning for the school.
(4) School Location
The school is located in a residential neighbourhood, right beside a large public park to which the children have access during recess, and for outdoor learning and other activities. This is a wonderful asset to the school community. As possible, teachers take students out into the surrounding area to explore -- I know that in science, my daughter has ventured with her class to explore a nearby creek; they have also walked around the neighbourhood and explored walking/bike paths.
From start to finish our admissions process was excellent. Communications were clear and direct. The Director of Admissions provided helpful information and was very quick to answer any questions we had along the way. Our daughter met with the Head of School and the Director of Admissions as part of the process and she also completed a few diagnostic academic tasks. We felt the application materials were appropriate, given her age (10) and that the personal interview allowed our daughter to get to know the school leadership, and for them to get to know her as well. Although we were not able to have a tour of the school or have our daughter attend the school for a day to see if she really liked it (due to COVID) we felt that the admissions team did an excellent job of explaining the school to our daughter, and to us. The orientation that was provided in the fall (following safety protocols) was a wonderful introduction to the school.