REVIEW OF Kanata Montessori BY parent, Tanja Puchala
- Date of Review
August 17, 2021
Gr. 11 - 12
(5) Student Experience
It had been a tough year in a large school with a cohort of students who were not motivated to make healthy choices for themselves and their peers, and so we made the decision to look at Kanata Montessori (The Ridge) as an option, to continue our daughter's journey in grade 11 instead. We remember the feeling when we walked in the door. We were warmly greeted by staff, students and the school stress relievers, the dogs. The school had a rich environment of promoting high academics with their innovative projects, community engagement, tailored extracurricular activities and supportive staff. Our daughter would come home, excited about the lessons, how the Educators were able to hone in on what her individual learning styles were, and having a sense of accomplishment in being able to manage her learning needs and find solutions with support and encouragement. The start of the school year focused on a sense of belonging for students and staff. They partook in an adventurous week of outdoor activities at a camp to help the students and staff learn to work as a team. They used each others' talents, skills and experience to benefit one another. They bonded like a family and from there, the foundation was set. Throughout the year, each student was motivated to share and celebrate the gifts of each other as individuals and as a group. Kanata Montessori allowed expression of thought and ideas, involving our daughter in contributing to some of the curriculum components. Accommodations were made to help our daughter's need for focus and a low-stress environment. Her grades improved, her self-esteem soared and the friendships she made with staff and students are sure to be lifelong.
(5) School Leadership
The Principal at Kanata Montessori (The Ridge) was an outstanding Leader. She was committed to encouraging the students and staff to perform their best and strive for excellence, leading by example. Every Educator and Administrative staff member had a variety of strengths and skills to contribute and took a keen interest in the same for the students. They worked as a team and did not seek to put hierarchy of status or education level above meaningful contributions within the school body. Many classes were made up of mixed grade levels to promote mentorship and collaboration. Every Friday the school participated in STEAM activities together ie: (Student-Teacher Experiences and Activities that Matter), a 'Ridge' term used to convey innovation, creativity, leadership, and community. Parents were frequently invited to participate and help celebrate the accomplishments of the students and staff during educational presentations, community fundraisers, social justice projects, and extracurricular activities.
There is not enough we could say about the Educators at KM. There is a wide range of educational backgrounds that give the school a unique flavor of diversity and interesting insight into many subjects. The students are allowed to explore their own interests within the curriculum so that each class is engaging and motivating. When the pandemic hit and the students needed to stay home for online learning only, KM (The Ridge) invested in the best online educational resources and soared far above the public education system in being able to keep the students engaged and learning at an advanced level, not missing a class and not missing an hour of educational opportunity. Our other two children were attending public school and we were very concerned that they were not getting enough curriculum lessons to meet the provincial requirements. The Educators were always available pre and post-class time to assist students. Whenever my daughter needed a reference to assist with employment or extracurricular opportunities, it was the Principal and Educators who were first to step up to support her. During our daughter's first year of University, she was invited by KM to take part in an online class to mentor the younger students preparing for university life. Preparing the students for the real world was always a key objective promoted by the school.
From the budget priorities to the staff educational backgrounds, it was evident that the school administration supported an environment of high academics and innovative learning. The school had a 3D printer and full science lab, virtual learning platforms and a wide range of extracurricular focus groups to enhance the provincial curriculum. There were many opportunities from camps, outdoor excursions, sport and performance art competitions, social justice projects, community engagement activities, international archeological and historical trips, United Nations forums and marketing entrepreneurship. The school created opportunities that were tailored to the students' broader educational interests and not just the provincial curriculum standard. The school encouraged students to attend special guest speakers like Michelle Obama and our city Mayor to help motivate and inspire them to think on a broader scale.
For a smaller school body, it was amazing how many unique and interesting extracurricular opportunities there were. There was a definite spirit of healthy competition but all in the name of fun and encouraging participation to do your best and take some risks. Some of the more unique groups that were inspired by the student organizations and school community support were: Musical Theatre, Improv Group, Ping Pong Tournaments, Chess Club, Relay for Life, Business Club, Canoe and Outdoor Adventure, and Dungeons & Dragons Club. There were other groups/clubs common to many schools as well, like soccer, badminton, student council, yearbook, and Model UN.
We walked into the school to a dog at the door happy we were there and another sitting on the lap of a student listening intently to the lesson. The dogs were a part of the student body, like anyone else. They contributed their gifts of unconditional love and care to the students, they were there to lend an ear, to cuddle if comfort was needed and a willing participant for anyone with ADD to 'fidget' with. The central part of the school is a kitchen with a large island for students to sit up at and do their homework, converge ideas in open conversation, and partake in a meal together, cleaning up and sharing responsibilities. It was a place of community building. The student population size was about 100 and class size averaged 10 students or less. Each week, there were activities that involved the entire student body to collaborate on projects and share skill sets, learning from each other regardless of age or grade. Many times our daughter could not tell us what 'grade' a student was in but could tell us what amazing talents, insights or personality traits they had. Before drama class, our daughter's Educator would have the students sit in a circle and share thoughts and feelings about a certain topic. The students were valued for who they were as people and not just what they could learn or do. The school had students from many countries, cultures, backgrounds, languages, gender identities, religions, and diet preferences and ability needs. Everyone was part of the school family and was treated with respect and care. A mosaic of beauty and strength in a world that does not always demonstrate the same. Conversations about injustices and alternative world views were always valued and open for meaningful respectful insight sharing.
(5) School Life
Our daughter mourned the loss of community connectedness when she graduated last year. Although the pandemic was raging on, The Ridge did an amazing job of celebrating each and every graduating student, holding true to the Public Health Directives and keeping everyone safe. During our daughter's first year of university, she was asked to contribute to a few online classes for discussions and experience sharing with The Ridge students. It was a lovely opportunity to reconnect, encourage the students and relive some wonderful moments with the Educators. Our daughter has a very high regard for this school and the people who uphold its values on a day-to-day basis. She aspires to be like her Educators; confident, caring, empathetic, motivated, calculated risk-takers, life learners, contributing community members, law abiders, change-makers and inspirational humans.
Parents/guardians were an integral part of the school as well. We were always welcome on the board, to attend administrative meetings, plan extracurricular events, volunteer or assist in-class presentations or STEM projects. My favorite parent/educator interviews were at The Ridge. Every Educator and even the Principal would take part in a group conversation about how your child was making out in the school learning environment. Each student was celebrated and unique ways to problem solve any gaps in their learning were identified and shared with the parents' involvement. One day our daughter came home and excitedly told us that one of the courses she would take next year, was modified to include some of her ideas and learning interests. She was so excited to plan for the next semester ahead. We had never witnessed that before. There were many opportunities throughout the school year, where the students or staff would reach out to community organizers, political or administrative figures to join the classes and support the learning. It was good to see our daughter be interested in the Ottawa City Council, know people by name and converse with Leaders and Entrepreneurs in our area. So much motivation to be a change agent and contribute to the greater community.
(4) School Location
The school location worked out well for us as it was close to one of our work locations. As far as amenities close to the school, there wasn't too much, but at the time there was a deli close by that some students would go to for lunch. It was a bit longer hike to get to Eagleson Road which had several places that the kids could go to. In some ways, this was good, though as I think that it did keep the kids closer to the school and there didn't seem to be as many distractions nearby.
When we were looking at putting out daughter into another school, we did interviews at several schools. Walking into The Ridge for the first time was very eye-opening. The students were scattered about the comfortable foyer area and were all independently working on projects. It was amazing upon being asked by our school host what they were working on, they all were able to articulate exactly what they were working on and show how they were collaborating with others on their projects. We got a very warm safe feeling from the environment and knew that it was going to be a good learning experience. As our daughter was looking at joining for the second semester of the school year, we were able to walk through all of the classes that she completed and the ones that she needed to make sure that it was going to work. They were very flexible and made sure that all of her mandatory classes and interests were going to be met. For advice to people, I would suggest checking it out for yourself and talking to the teachers and admin staff as it was very welcoming and we did not find the process difficult at all.
(5) University placement and counselling
One thing that we were most pleased with was the way that the school handled helping the students find post-secondary school programs. I think that at other schools it is mostly up to the students and the parents to go through mounds of information for each University and try to understand the best fit. The staff knew the students very well and were able to help each of them find programs and schools that would fit best for them. They knew all of the application deadline dates and made sure that the students got them in. As the staff had varied backgrounds, they were able to share their personal experiences at many of the schools and could give advice on many different programs. It was a very nice touch that the school would stop and ring a bell each time a student was accepted into a program. It was a great motivator!