Cambridge International Academy KEY INSIGHTS
Each school is different. Cambridge International 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
- Cambridge International Academy offers a personalized educational experience so that students successfully transition to the next higher grade level.
- Tuition includes daily academic support in the after-school Homework Club, supervised by teachers.
- Student interests directly shape the wide variety of extracurricular activities.
Cambridge International Academy is a ministry inspected, coed private school in Ajax, which customizes and enriches the Ontario curriculum for students from grades 1 to 12. Using customized planning, which caters to the aptitudes and interests of students, they lead and guide students to achieve their academic and personal potential.
For elementary school, Cambridge personalizes the educational pathway and offers Reach Ahead credits to prepare students to successfully transition to high school. For high school, students have the option to take Advanced Placement courses to enrich their learning and gain a competitive advantage for university admissions.
Class sizes in the elementary and high school range from 10 to 15. “No one can fly under the radar here,” says Yasmin Sinanan, head of academics. “Our teachers are always aware of exactly how each student is keeping up - or not keeping up - with curriculum expectations and ensure they receive the right challenges so that they can thrive in their educational studies.”
ON THE ACADEMIC PROGRAM
Cambridge International Academy is a university preparatory school with small class sizes and a high university placement success rate, but its key differentiator is the “customized learning” program. This signature teaching method means students can blend one-on-one instruction in key subject areas with regular classroom learning.
Cambridge elementary students also benefit from an enhanced coding program that exceeds the new coding requirements in the Ontario curriculum. Instead of only integrating this 21st-century skill into math classes, the school has integrated coding into every subject at every grade up to Grade 9. “We’ve embedded it across the entire curriculum to give our students a sense of coding’s possibilities,” says head of academics Sinanan. “Coding doesn’t exist in a silo in the real world, and it doesn’t here.”
The parents we spoke to all listed Cambridge’s customized teaching as their top reason for choosing the school. “We initially enrolled my daughter at Cambridge to take advantage of the personalized instruction, but after we saw what a positive difference it made in her progression, we moved my son over, too,” says one. “The personalized teaching is 100% why we chose the school.”
ON CO-CURRICULAR PROGRAMS
“When we plan our extracurricular clubs and groups each year, we take our cues from our current students,” says principal Sandra Arff. “It’s a bottom-up process, where they tell us their interests and areas they’d like to try out, and we then work with them to create clubs.”
Some of the clubs offered at Cambridge include DECA, Model UN, Toastmasters, Eureka Club, math club, Lego, yoga & meditation, reading club, master chef, robotics, art, music (the focus varies annually, but this year the students were learning to play violin one morning each week), badminton, basketball, chess, photography, kickboxing, calligraphy and more. “We can just ask our teachers to start whatever kind of club we want,” says one Grade 9 student. “They almost always agree, and then we get to control the budget with them to buy the stuff we need. It makes school life a lot more fun.”
One unique feature of extracurricular life at Cambridge is the student council, which rotates its members every few months. Over the course of the year, there are four different presidents and supporting members. “This arrangement gives several groups of students a chance to be leaders,” says one parent. “Both my daughter and son have been on the council and were enriched by the opportunity.”
ON THE SCHOOL’S VALUES
There’s a large body of pedagogical research that shows students learn best when they have trusting, positive relationships with their teachers. At Cambridge International Academy, this relational method of teaching informs every aspect of the educational enterprise.
The school’s commitment to ongoing character education and relational teaching combine to create a climate where social-emotional well-being is a priority. “Almost all of the teachers here have an open-door policy when it comes to students popping in to ask questions or seek help with issues that may or not have to do with academics,” says math and business teacher Eiger Tolledo.
ON SCHOOL LEADERSHIP
Director Lin Lin took over Cambridge International Academy in 2012 when the previous owner of the international high school retired. Principal Sandra Arff joined Cambridge six years ago.
Parents appreciate Arff’s approach and admire her devotion to students. “She understands kids,” says one parent. “She taught both of my kids last year, and she really gets how they learn. She’s also always accessible to us. We can fire off a text or call, and she’s very responsive.” Says another: “She’s one of the top reasons why the school continues to bring in new students. She knows students and she knows education, and she’s clearly deeply committed to both.”
ON THE STUDENT COMMUNITY
Cambridge International Academy’s student body is rich in diversity for its small size. The school’s history as a destination for international students lives on, with a handful of students from other countries attending Cambridge along with students from and outside Durham Region. The local student population represents the racial and cultural diversity of the area.
The school promotes inclusiveness of diversity in all its forms, says Arff. “When students from different cultural backgrounds come together, it enhances the learning experience for everyone. We teach our students to be respectful of different perspectives and opinions, and we model this approach as teachers.” In our conversations with both elementary and high school students, we found strong consensus on the fact that Cambridge is a welcoming space for everyone.
ON THE ACADEMIC ENVIRONMENT
In our observations, the teachers at Cambridge take fierce pride in their school and their students. Their collegiality is readily apparent, something they say is a product of the small faculty and strong sense of community. “Normally there’s a bit of division between elementary and secondary teachers at a school,” says Tolledo. “But here we know all of our colleagues and interact on a daily basis. We’re not shy to ask each other for teaching help because someone is always willing to share suggestions or resources.” Shathusha Paval, a Grade 7/8 teacher, echoes this: “We know all the students across the grades, so if we need advice on one who’s having problems, it’s easy to find other teachers to collaborate with and problem solve. It also helps that the faculty are all friends and very supportive of each other.”
There’s no single teaching approach at Cambridge. Instead, the school takes a flexible stance, fostering a mix of methods that promote personalized learning, academic growth, and strong student-teacher relationships. “We believe there’s no such thing as the best new methodology,” says Arff. “It’s a concoction of whatever works best for each student.”
“We developed customized programs in response to the learning loss students experienced during the pandemic, though it’s also designed to enable students to accelerate their education,” says principal Sandra Arff.
In our conversations with Cambridge students, we found a genuine appreciation for their teachers’ willingness to bend their instruction according to what’s most effective for each student. “When you’re in a small class, the teacher knows exactly where you’re at and adjusts to your place,” says one Grade 8 student. “You don’t have to wait until 30 other people have gotten it. You can just move forward and go in-depth on the things that interest you.” Another Grade 12 student added, “It’s not like other schools I’ve been to where they just keep teaching their lessons no matter what’s happening with us. They actually care about which parts you’re liking and whether you’re understanding it.”
ON ACADEMIC COUNSELLING
Every Cambridge student can access the Homework Club, which operates from Monday to Friday from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. The club gives students a safe space to work on immediate assignments and long-term projects, or seek help with certain concepts, under teacher supervision. “We know that it’s often hard for students to concentrate when they’re in their home environment with all thedistractions,” says says principal Sandra Arff. “Taking an extra hour or so at school to do what they need to do, in a suitable environment with the proper support, allows them to go home and enjoy the rest of their evening.”
Parents appreciate that the Homework Club is there when their children need it. “When my daughter starts to coast and is in danger of falling behind, we’ve used the club to get her back on track,” says one parent of a student in Grade 6. As for the students, they seemed to recognize the value of having direct assistance always available. “A lot of kids use it, which makes sense because it’s easier than trying to figure things out alone once you’re home and tired,” says one Grade 12 student.
Cambridge also delivers academic skills seminars and workshops after school. From organizational strategies to essay-writing and presentation skills, teachers and administrative staff share practical tips and tricks for getting the most out of courses.
ON PARENTAL RELATIONS
Cambridge International Academy treats parents as critical members of their children’s academic team. When new students start at the school, their parents receive daily teacher reports. Strong parent communication is a pillar of the school, says principal Arff. Parents told us they were happy not only with the school’s frequent reporting (via the Remind app, emails, newsletters, calls and text) but also with its transparency and receptiveness to feedback.
THE OUR KIDS REPORT: Cambridge International Academy
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