Bond Academy KEY INSIGHTS
Each school is different. Bond Academy's Feature Review excerpts disclose its unique character. Based on discussions with the school's alumni, parents, students, and administrators, they reveal the school’s distinctive culture, community, and identity.
What we know
- Bond is a school that, after a period of growth and development, has truly come into its own.
- The school offers a balanced approach to learning and physical fitness across all grade levels.
- It offers experienced leadership.
Our editor speaks about the school (video)
All schools grow and develop over their lives, and that’s particularly true at Bond. It was created in 1978 to serve primarily international students who were learning English, completing high school requirements, and intending to enrol at Canadian universities. They arrived to prepare for university entrance, acclimating to the North American context and attending the school for one or two years. The offering grew, though, to include a broader set of learners, and to offer a more comprehensive program, first with the development of the high school program, and then in September of 2002, with the creation of the junior and middle school programs. Today, Bond provides students a full Kindergarten to Grade 12 experience and then some.
ON THE ACADEMIC ENVIRONMENT
In 2010, all three divisions—elementary, secondary, and international—moved into the current location on Birchmount Road. With the move, the school conceptually became a complete whole, both in practice and in name. Known from that point on as Bond Academy, the school also had values that were as clear as the name. While leadership was still distinct—there was a principal of the lower school and one for the upper—administration worked closely together. The intentions, too, became consistent across the levels: young students benefit from a diverse population, with cross-generational mentorships to encourage their experience of it. The upper grades would benefit from feeling a part of a larger whole, and an even broader, richer student experience. If the school was once a place for international students to prep for the move to post-secondary study, today, Bond is very much centred on offering that, as well as a full academic and social experience.
“Why are you doing drama? I’ve had that question asked of me. And I think it’s one of our more critical skills. Where else can you learn to think on your feet, improvise, project your image the way you want someone else to believe in you? Are those not the skills, for instance, you would need for a job interview?”
—John Healey, head of the elementary program
ON SCHOOL LEADERSHIP
Phil Davies arrived at Bond in 2010 as a teacher and had served as curriculum leader and vice-principal before becoming principal in 2018. One of the things that attracted him to the school was his predecessor, Jeffery Farber, whom he had worked with in various capacities within the local public board. The approach Farber took in his leadership was one intending to balance all areas of student life, both academically and socially. Says Davies, “There was a very intensive program, in terms of arts and sports, which I really liked. And I could see that every day [at Bond]. People living that life.”
John Healey has been head of the elementary program since he helped found it in 2002, providing a nice continuum to the program. He brought a lot of experience, including that of working closely with populations of at-risk students. Before arriving at Bond, he was a principal within the Toronto public school board, marking a career that spans decades since his first position as a teacher in 1968. “I came here for five years, just to open the school,” he says of his arrival at Bond, “but I really enjoyed what we’re doing here, so I stayed around.”
Healey is old-school, as it were, in all the best ways. When he talks about education, you get a sense that he’s seen it all, and has a long experience with forming best practices. Which, actually, he has. When discussing the security measures—all students enter the school using an electronic key fob—he’s matter of fact, having deliberated intently on the operations of the school. His approach to the academic experience, and the life of the school, follows in kind. “I’ll be honest,” he says of the preschool, “we don’t truly follow every nuance of the Montessori programs.” Indeed, parents appreciate that kind of honesty as well as the approach. Montessori isn’t perfect, developed at a different time within a different cultural and social context. To be flexible in its application, as Healey is, is a strength, allowing important adaptations for the students who are here, now, rather than blindly expressing an abstract curricular ideal.
“The centre of our approach is very holistic,” says Healey. “I don’t see education as simply what happens in the classroom.” As in physical fitness, “you can’t be working out only one arm. You’ve got to work on the whole body. We look at things that allow children to build up their self-confidence and self-esteem, which I think are critical to learning.”
ON THE PHYSICAL ENVIRONMENT
The current location is somewhat recent, and the last of four locations the school has had over the four decades since its founding. Each has been incrementally larger, inside and out, with this last the largest by far. The building was once occupied by a chocolate manufacturer, though all signs, perhaps sadly for some, are gone. The school has made the building its own, and the spaces are modern, open, and bright.
ON THE ATHLETIC PROGRAM
Some athletic facilities are available on-site, including sports fields and a full-sized gym. Beyond that, and to provide the full breadth of activity, the school looks to local resources, including the pool at its old location on Midland Avenue, now home to Midland Avenue Collegiate Institute. All grades attend swimming lessons there, making use of an Olympic-sized pool that includes an Olympic-grade diving platform. Parents and students love it, and indeed there may not be a school in the GTA with such dedication to aquatics. The focus is recreation and safety, though some students have gone on to have success in national and international competition.
In building out the elementary program, the administration seized upon the opportunity to provide a better balance between physical fitness and academics, given that the provincial curriculum has consistently chipped away at physical education programs. “If you feel good physically, you feel good mentally. So the approach is ‘healthy body, healthy mind,’” says Healey. There is some form of compulsory physical education every day, five days a week, for all learners, from Kindergarten to Grade 8.
ON ELITE ATHLETICS
The recent creation of an elite basketball program nicely continues the theme. It was formed in partnership with the Scarborough Basketball Association (SBA) and Phase 1, both longstanding local athletics organizations. In addition to the expertise and experience, the partnerships also bring another interface between the work of the school and the community it sits within. Wayne Dawkins, a former NCAA basketball player and coach, leads the program. “It’s important that we create these opportunities for our young people,” says Dawkins, “to know if that passion and that fire … is something that can be real. And I think, for kids, that’s it. We’ve just got to try and help make it real for them.” The words he uses—passion, fire, making it real—are telling. This is a program rightly centred not on wins and medals, but on aspiration and personal development, alongside like-minded peers and quality coaching. Which is just as it should be.
ON THE SCHOOL’S VALUES
“Basically, I look at our school as meeting our community needs,” says Healey. Supervised before- and after-school programs are an element of that, giving families the flexibility to pick up and drop off knowing there is not only supervision but also active engagement with peers and teachers. Parents are welcome into the school after 4:30 p.m., free to visit with teachers, sit and watch children in the gym, and visit with other parents. “It’s got to be inclusive,” says Healey. “To me, that’s the energy you can feel when you walk into the school. It’s a friendly place.”
“Knowledge we can get. It’s not important to memorize the knowledge—it’s more important to know what to do with it.”
ON THE STUDENT COMMUNITY
The school attracts local students from a broad catchment area, from downtown Toronto to as far away as Ajax and Pickering to the east, and Markham to the north. The boarding program supports international students, including a language centre offering ESL classes in addition to the core curriculum, as well as provisions for foreign credit equivalency.
THE OUR KIDS REPORT: Bond Academy
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