Our son had an excellent experience at Astolot. Previous to starting the school in Grade 6 he had attended public school, been homeschooled and also gone to an alternative school. In all those situations it was challenging to meet his academic and social needs. At Astolot he really enjoyed the big ‘family’ aspect of the school ( pre-COVID restrictions especially). The kids from different grades get to know each other and it created a very inclusive and healthy experience. He enjoyed helping the younger kids with events like pumpkin carving. He felt very safe as there is a big emphasis on respect, and behaving appropriately which makes for a safe and kind environment. Where Astolot really shone for him was in their ability to meet his need for enrichment in math in particular. They were flexible and creative in their suggestions and also super responsive to his needs which was such a welcome change. He flourished and had some excellent successes. The one challenge for him was that the classes are very small and with the COVID restrictions it meant that he didn’t have the same ability to mingle with other kids in the school, so he missed that social aspect.
The school leadership and administration are very good. The founder of the school, Jennifer, sets a tone of firm leadership with good boundaries. She expects a good standard of behaviour from the children and holds them accountable in a firm and fair manner. She seems to know what is going on with each and every child, and is very preemptive in her communications. Just as we are thinking that our child needed some help or a change in how an issue is approached, we get an email from her addressing the same issue with ideas for solutions. I’ve heard other parents say the same. There is no tolerance of bullying in the school. The children are supported in being their best selves in a positive and no-nonsense manner which seems to really work. We found the administration good. It’s a very small school so the administration is quite personal which I liked. They were effective in their communications and quite open as well. Especially with all the changes during COVID, we found them clear and communicative. It’s a very positive school environment.
The teachers at Astolot are excellent. They are truly dedicated educators. We were very happy with the quality of the instruction. They seemed very passionate about what they do and extremely hard working. They are truly on the side of the kids and it was never a problem to support our child with his learning needs, even if they differed from classmates. They had good suggestions as to how to meet our child’s needs and followed through on the proposed strategies very thoroughly. The teachers were very communicative with lots of emails home and extremely thorough school reports. Our child just loved all the teachers he had and enjoyed good friendships with them. They were a big part of what he loved about being at Astolot.
Astolot excels in supporting each student to achieve the most positive outcome in terms of academic achievement. Each child is evaluated on an individual basis and much attention is given to providing that child with the support necessary for them to do the best that they can do. The school has a big range of students dealing with a variety of learning exceptionalities and is excellent at providing clear goals for each child and also providing support in terms of learning strategies that have been individually designed with each learner in mind. Our child was supported in his giftedness and was encouraged in his exploration of mathematics in particular. He became quite an independent learner and felt very supported academically in the classroom. Their approach is unique.
When our child started Astolot there were several clubs in place but unfortunately due to the pandemic, these were suspended. The children do have access to a local park which provides a good area for outdoor time and the school did continue with its 'fall walk' and some other outdoor trips which are held on a regular basis. I think before the pandemic there were several clubs held...chess, robotics, coding, etc.
Astolot is a small school, I think there were approximately fifty students or so from Grade 1-12. Having that small number does create a family feel which is enhanced by the way the school is run. It's common for the older kids to use their skills to facilitate activities for the younger ones. For example, our child helped the young ones with Halloween activities and also with some supervision of games at recess. This was a very positive experience for him. The kids also clean the school together which really fostered a great community spirit and I loved the way each child had their responsibilities to carry out and it also gave them the sense of taking care of their environment. Our child developed friendships with older students as he did some learning with them due to his advanced math, and also spent time with them during recess. The dynamic is very positive and nurturing which was a wonderful thing.
Our child did very much enjoy his time at Astolot. He felt included and welcomed by teachers and students alike. It is a very safe and inclusive environment which is so needed by many kids who have not fared well in the public system. The teachers and all staff are so on the kids' side which creates a very positive environment. The kids at Astolot are quite diverse and I think that many probably have come from quite difficult experiences in the public school system where their sometimes complex needs have not been met. The reason our child left Astolot after nearly 3 years was that his social needs had changed and he wanted to be in a larger group. But especially the first two years were exceptional at restoring his lost sense of belonging and also gave him a good opportunity to take on more academic challenge.
I enjoyed the potluck breakfast held at the beginning of each year where parents contribute food. Also, we really enjoyed the Christmas potluck lunch which was followed by the school performing 'A Christmas Carol.' I also attended a singing performance by the children at a local retirement home. Overall though the parents are not particularly involved in Astolot. There is no parent council. I had the feeling that the staff had things handled and the communication was so good that if parent input or help was needed, then it was easy for them to reach out. But overall my involvement was less than in the public school system which I kind of enjoyed. I felt that my child was in capable hands and I was happy to let the staff do their thing. I always felt very welcome and that the staff were very open and communicative if I reached out to them.
I found the location of the school very handy as it is on a major bus route and also near a bike path, so my child rode his bike or bussed himself there. I think that before COVID older students could venture beyond the school for snacks or whatever, but that was ended with the COVID restrictions. The school is in Old Ottawa South on Bank St. so is easily accessible from many parts of Ottawa. The nearby park is lovely and the children went there every day.
I called the school after a few different people recommended it and directly had a conversation with Jennifer Cowan. I felt immediately understood and that she got the situation of our child which was a wonderful experience. We then went to the school and met with two staff members to discuss the possibilities for our child. They were very helpful and positive and we found the process of enrolment very straightforward. I think if you are interested they invite your child for a day to try out the school which is a great idea. We applied in the very last week of term so that wasn't an option, but I think it's normal procedure. They are extremely helpful and easy to deal with in terms of the application process.