Crescent School KEY INSIGHTS
Each school is different. Crescent School'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
- Character programs and staff development illustrate Crescent's commitment to building positive relationships as the foundation for learning.
- Innovative programs give life and breadth to its strong core academic program.
- Its academic program is demanding, yet flexible and supportive.
Our editor speaks about the school (video)
Crescent School was founded as a kinder, gentler alternative to the boys’ private schools of the early 20th century, a place where building character was as important as sharpening minds and strengthening bodies. Today, that commitment is as strong as ever. “Men of Character from Boys of Promise,” the school’s mission, resonates inside and outside the classroom.
ON THE PHYSICAL ENVIRONMENT
Set on 37 acres in midtown Toronto, Crescent School backs onto a lush ravine shared with York University’s Glendon campus. The first building that comes into view after the turn off Bayview Avenue is the Manor House, a gracious historic home that now serves as the school’s administrative hub. Behind this building, there’s a formal garden for special events (and recess). The overall impression is of being surrounded by green (or gold and red, depending on the season), and of being in a place firmly apart from the concrete city.
ON SCHOOL LEADERSHIP
Attending a boys’ school was transformative for Michael Fellin in his youth, boosting his confidence and offering him a newfound sense of self, and he’s made it his life’s work to give other boys the same extraordinary experience. Fellin became Crescent’s 10th headmaster in 2014. From day one of his career, Fellin has worked with boys. Before joining Crescent, he spent over 10 years at a public Catholic boys’ school in Toronto as a teacher, chaplain, department head, and vice-principal. In 2009 he received a Premier’s Award for Teaching Excellence. “I’ve always seen my career as devoted to supporting young men,” he says. “I moved to Crescent because I wanted to be part of a school that was not only a leader in boys’ education but had a clarity of mission in developing boys’ character.”
When it comes to upholding the school’s commitment to building positive relationships as the foundation for learning, Fellin walks the walk. He makes a point of consistently connecting with students, seeing what they’re working on, and watching their games and competitions. This past year he returned to mentoring after a hiatus from the Upper School mentorship program and realized how much he’d missed it. “Listening and sharing with the boys was one of the highlights of my year,” he says. “I got as much or more out of it than I gave.”
The academic program is demanding, yet flexible and supportive, in keeping with the school’s “kinder, gentler” roots. Character education is explicit in the Lower School, with specific themes throughout the grades such as personal responsibility and managing relationships. As the boys get older, the curriculum is intentionally infused with character-building moments and conversations. There’s an expectation that every student will keep pace with the curriculum, but they don’t have to go it alone. And boys don’t have to excel in every subject area or conform to a rigid learning style.
Crescent is in the middle of a curriculum redesign process, where one of the driving forces is a shift to even more interdisciplinary learning opportunities. It’s reflective of the school’s consistent effort to keep its academic programs responsive to the latest educational research and societal trends. “In our high-tech, globalized world, people need to be agile and adaptable in their capacity to straddle different areas of expertise and knowledge,” says Nick Kovacs, deputy headmaster and former head of the Upper School. “Interdisciplinary learning prepares students for that reality.” A new course on big data analytics, for example, is in the works for the near future.
All the arts teachers have worked in their fields of expertise, and many continue to do so alongside their teaching careers. Within the music faculty, for example, one teacher plays in a rock band, one plays professional piano, and one is a professional opera singer. The Lower School drama teacher was a professional dancer, and all the teachers in the visual arts program have private studio practices. “We all bring a passion for our discipline to our teaching and very much stay active as performers and creators,” says Godric Latimer-Kim, head of performing & visual arts.
ON THE STUDENT COMMUNITY
While it’s a mid-sized day school with about 770 students, Crescent has the feel of a close-knit community. Teachers, parents, and students often refer to the “Crescent Family,” and the boys call one another “brothers.” Despite having Grades 3 to 12 in a Lower, Middle, and Upper School, there are no hard physical divisions on campus. Many facilities are shared, and the dining hall is smack in the middle of the school, so the youngest boys regularly cross paths with the oldest. Leadership opportunities in extracurricular activities also bring the different grades together. The result is a one-family, one-school approach. While everything is optional, participation runs high across all the grades. This is not a school for boys who just want to go to class and make a quick exit at the end of the day. “These programs help students find a place where they feel at home, where their contributions matter,” says Gavin Muranaka, director of business and entrepreneurship.
ON THE ACADEMIC ENVIRONMENT
While staff members readily admit that the old “chalk and talk” teaching method is essential in certain circumstances, it’s always accompanied by active learning experiences such as labs, debates, role-playing, or just lively discussion. “It comes down to giving the boys opportunities to take their learning and demonstrate it or apply it in a practical way—that’s when the neurons really get firing,” says Kovacs.
The Middle School program is based on the latest research into how young adolescent boys learn best, says head of lower school Ryan Bell. “Offering personalized teaching and learning goes a long way to enhancing the experience of boys at this age, so we aim to provide pathways of choice and specialization. It makes them feel more empowered, which translates into more effort and commitment on their part.”
“We’re not about siloing or streaming the boys at Crescent,” says Bell. “We give them opportunities to augment their academic experience based on their inclination and abilities.” The school’s strategic academic plan, called “The Crescent Way,” lays out a commitment to active, relational, experiential learning. There’s ample evidence that Crescent teachers take those instructional values to heart.
Women make up more than half the faculty and leadership team at Crescent, which distinguishes it from most boys’ schools. “I think it’s really important that we surround our boys with both women and men that they can look up to, learn from, and respect,” says Dr. Sandra Boyes, head of the Lower School and executive director of professional learning and research. Fostering the teacher-student relationship is paramount at the school, which takes a relational learning approach across the student experience.
The Grade 12 tech design course is emblematic of the school’s values and academic strengths. A collaboration with Sunny View Public School, which serves children with disabilities, requires Crescent students to work alongside Sunny View students to design and adapt toys and equipment for accessibility.
ON CO-CURRICULAR PROGRAMS
Athletics are much more than a physical and competitive outlet or a vehicle to build school spirit at Crescent. Instead, everything that happens on the field, court, or rink is a potential teaching moment. “In sport, boys are naturally exposed to so many character lessons, whether they’re about friendship, perseverance, or heat-of-the-moment competition,” says Fraser Bertram, director of athletics.
Sheryl Murray, director of outreach, wasn’t surprised when many Crescent alumni, students, and families launched support initiatives for people affected by COVID-19. But she was impressed by the scale of some of the projects. Three Grade 11 students raised more than $14,000 for personal protective equipment, for example, and a Grade 12 student raised nearly $7,000 to buy groceries for families in a subsidized housing development in his neighbourhood. “These students came up with their ideas, researched them, and executed on their own,” says Murray, whose role involves reviewing students’ outreach proposals and helping them make the right connections. “What happened at the beginning of the pandemic just shows that Crescent’s core values of compassion and responsibility live in an inner place within our students. They really want to make a difference.”
It’s not often that high school boys get to manage a $45,000 investment portfolio, for example, but they do exactly that on the Investment Team. They deal with real money—the investment portfolio rolls over and (ideally) grows each year—and the real consequences of their decisions. The team is part of the broader Crescent Business Team, whose members participate in business competitions up to the international level. “The boys build leadership, communication, analytical, and critical thinking skills while stoking their passion for business,” says Muranaka. “They go into high-pressure competitions where they not only have to think on their feet but perform and present to an audience.”
ON THE SCHOOL’S VALUES
In 1913, J.W. (“Jimmy”) James welcomed about 20 boys into his home at 43 Rosedale Road for the first day of a very different kind of boys’ school. His vision was to offer boys in Grades 5 to 8 a first-rate education in a caring environment. The purpose of the school, according to James, was “to train boys in character, in knowledge, and in games. It is the aim of the school to develop right and vigorous characters, at an early age, and to guide boys in their responsibilities to their fellows.” The repetition of the word “character” was no accident, and James would be pleased to know that the school’s emphasis on character education (alongside an enriched academic education) is its most salient characteristic today. The school remains steadfast in its commitment to Jimmy James’s goal of cultivating boys’ minds and characters in a warm, family-like school environment. The parents we spoke to felt Crescent staff truly knew their boys and were attuned to their changing needs over the years. “The teachers don’t just care about our sons’ academic achievements but also about their mental health,” says one parent of two sons in the Upper School. “The staff played a significant role in supporting them in their transition to the teen years, which can be a hard time. To me, this is what sets Crescent apart from other boys’ schools.”
THE OUR KIDS REPORT: Crescent School
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