Fieldstone School KEY INSIGHTS
Each school is different. Fieldstone 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
- The school's parents are drawn by the rigour of the Cambridge curricular program and assessment.
- Fieldstone's small student body imparts a sense of shared community.
- The school has impressive music, Shakespeare, and arts programming at all levels.
Our editor speaks about the school (video)
Fieldstone School was started by David Butcher, who after more than a decade of teaching became disillusioned with what the educational system was offering, and frustrated by the things he felt were not being offered. He decided to step away from teaching to pursue other interests, though even then he never lost his interest in education and what he felt, in a better setting, it could ultimately do. He encountered the writing of E. D. Hirsch, an educator who, in the 1980s, began developing a curriculum called Cultural Literacy and Core Knowledge, a back-to-basics approach to primary and elementary education. It was a reaction to what was happening in education at that time, namely a move toward more progressive forms of instruction, and away from the tried and true.
For example, while rote knowledge was increasingly denigrated as a means of instruction, Hirsch suggested that, in fact, it was essential, and that pure content—times tables, names, dates, definitions—was necessary for children to grow a facility with higher-order concepts and a more substantial, authentic engagement with them. In Hirsch, Butcher felt he had met a kindred spirit, and in 1997, he created Fieldstone Day School in order to provide an environment that matched Hirsch’s instructional ideals.
“He felt that he could do more,” says Ginie Wong, the current head of school, of Butcher’s impulses. “He felt, and he still feels, that students aren’t as challenged as they should be in most schools. That the teachers aren’t as passionate as they should be. And that’s why he wanted to open a school of his own.”
Butcher based the school’s curriculum on the best of Hirsch’s Core Knowledge curriculum and also set about Canadianizing the topics included within it, including the addition of French. In so doing, he created Global Knowledge, a new program that would instill students with sufficient self-esteem to allow them to confidently master difficult academic challenges amid a caring, warm, and supportive environment.
ON THE ACADEMIC ENVIRONMENT
Fieldstone’s aim is to provide an inclusive, supportive, 360-degree student experience, and both curricular and extra-curricular programs have been created with that goal in mind. Class sizes are kept small, and the relationships between instructors, administrators, and students are close. The feel is nurturing, yet the academic gaze is wide.
Character education is woven through all aspects of the school. Says Susan Johnson*, former assistant head of JK to grade 8, “We’re also going to make sure your child is going to be a good person—that they’re going to be a person of integrity—and we consider that one of the responsibilities we have in educating our students.” Parents told us that the school’s Character Counts Program, where students work hard to earn pins, is a great motivator. The dedication to character education is continued into the upper grades with the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award.
Over the life of the school, Butcher built on his Global Knowledge system by adding spiral curriculum, Saxon Math, and Cambridge Education and Examinations to school academics, which all build and strengthen the delivery of the school’s foundational principles.
Fieldstone is the only school in Toronto that offers a dual Cambridge-Ontario curriculum, following the Cambridge curriculum in English, math, science, information and communications technology (ICT), and, as of June 2018, the new Cambridge Global Perspectives (Elementary) program. This system offers a framework for students to develop a range of transferrable skills, including expository writing, practical examinations, oral examinations, case studies, written examinations, and coursework. The Cambridge Assessment, too, is a draw for parents in that it lends an objectivity and transferability to the results, and that it is an international standard recognized throughout North America and even more in Europe.
When we toured, Devon Henderson, a former art instructor, showed us some paintings that elementary students had done in the style of the cave paintings at Lascaux. They learned about the techniques used there, the style of representation, and used them to create their own images. Learning this way isn’t just mimicry—some students took their work further by outlining their images in glow-in-the-dark paint. They had clearly been speaking not only about what the paintings showed, but also where they were (in a cave without lighting). Students, then, found a modern solution to the problem of how the images could be viewed. Similarly, in the hallway were pieces that the JKs had done in the style of Piet Mondrian, something that formed the basis for interaction with primary colours. That means of delivery—relating student work to the traditions, yet within a contemporary context—is a constant throughout the arts programs.
Every day begins with Morning Music, a half-hour of classical music played throughout the halls and classrooms. Morning Music intends to informally acquaint students with the canon of western musical works, and to begin helping students distinguish between the musical eras, from medieval plainchant to recent compositions. All students learn to play the violin, along with music theory and note reading. Students in JK to Grade 3 also take part in the Orff music program. As they grow as musicians, students can join a number of ensembles (some are open to all, while others require an audition). There are also some nice incentives to ongoing participation, including an opportunity to play the American and Canadian anthems at a Blue Jays baseball game each year.
Fieldstone’s vibrant dramatic arts program focuses primarily on the study and performance of Shakespeare. It can sound grand—and to its credit, the school doesn’t shy away from the heft of it all. They present an entire Shakespeare play each year—the full text—and are as apt to produce King Lear as they are Romeo and Juliet.
ON THE PHYSICAL ENVIRONMENT
Fieldstone operates out of a leased, former Toronto District School Board (TDSB) high school in North York. The school sits on a sizable property, something that Wong rightly notes is rare for schools in the area. In most schools, space—indoors and out—is at a premium. Here, the spaces are ample, comfortable, and allow for dedicated program areas, as well as appropriate divisions between the primary, elementary, and secondary levels.
Fieldstone is part of the Small Schools Athletic Federation (SSAF) and competes against other schools in the Federation as the Fieldstone Grizzlies. The focus within the teams, as is the case with all co-curriculars, is on participation and personal challenge. If a student is willing to make a commitment, they can participate on the team in some way. Johnson acknowledges the school’s approach may not be for everyone. “Some parents may like the inclusivity; other parents say, ‘well, it’s not a big deal when my child makes the team, because everyone makes it at Fieldstone.’ But I think it’s important that children have the opportunity to participate.”
ON THE STUDENT COMMUNITY
Most Fieldstone students live locally and are either driven by their parents or by transit. As is the case with most private day schools in Toronto, there is significant cultural and national diversity within the student population. The international feel is substantial, something that is seen as a strength of the program. Students arrive from Asia, Europe, and South America. Conversely, the school has established partnerships with secondary-level institutions— they refer to them as sister schools—in China, Mexico, Cameroon, and Japan.
The school rightly sees cultural diversity as a strength. It allows for a sharing of cultures, adding an important dimension to the students’ cultural literacy, and reinforces the welcoming atmosphere that is championed within the school. Families new to Toronto and the GTA often report that, thanks to Fieldstone, they are able to establish connections and feel comfortable in their new home.
While every school is one of a kind, Fieldstone is more unique than most. To date, it has been rare to see an institution fully given over to a program based on canonical or core knowledge. While core knowledge is gaining some traction in the UK, in Canada it’s most typically used in concert with other forms of delivery, or used only in certain subject areas, such as social studies. At Fieldstone, it provides a compelling backbone for program delivery across the grades and across disciplines. Adoption of the Cambridge Assessment, too, is rare, as is the development of a completely tailored, ground-up curriculum based on a conviction of how best to address the needs of a certain kind of learner.
THE OUR KIDS REPORT: Fieldstone School
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