Metropolitan Preparatory Academy KEY INSIGHTS
Each school is different. Metropolitan Preparatory 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
- The values of individualism, non-conformity, risk-taking, and curiosity animate the whole community and are cultivated by school leadership.
- The school provides an accepting, family-like environment, one where previously disengaged students thrive.
- The academic program prepares students for university.
Our editor speaks about the school (video)
Metro Prep will confound visitors expecting to see ivy-covered walls, uniformed students gathering in the quad, and all the other stereotypes of private school.… Unlike some schools that were created to reflect the English ideal, Metro Prep was founded on a desire to do things differently: to provide students a more authentic relationship with staff, in a shared community—a community focused as much on curiosity, risk-taking, and self-discovery as on preparations for future studies.
“I’m very much into individualism among kids,” says Wayne McKelvey, founder and principal. “There aren’t too many schools, private or public, [that] encourage young people to really question things—that encourage young people to think the impossible.”
There is a striking diversity among the students, one that goes beyond the obvious cultural and economic indicators. There’s a diversity of interest, too, which many students clearly revel in. In our round-table discussions, many students talked about the freedom they felt when they entered the Metro Prep environment, at times exhibiting significant emotion. This includes not just an ability to try new things, but also to fail, and to otherwise simply be themselves.
ON THE PHYSICAL ENVIRONMENT
There’s a very cool vibe in this new space, and it’s easy to see why teenagers want to be here. “We’re really proud of how this building turned out,” says Sue Dhilion, the school’s guidance counsellor. As we wander through the halls and take in a few of the learning spaces, it’s apparent that a lot of thought has gone into making this school feel comfortable while promoting productivity. “Students spend a lot of time at school and we want them to feel like they’re at home,” Dhilion says.…Other classrooms, however, are so exquisite and intricately decorated that it’s almost hard to believe they’re classrooms at all. Inside the History classroom, Joanna Johnson is putting the final touches on student art projects. Her room is stunning, furnished with antique tables and chairs all mismatching but chosen purposefully. Stenciled dates are painted on the back wall of the room, and posters and collectables adorn every other free space. It’s certainly not a traditional classroom, but there’s no question that students would find the space inspiring.
The spaces meet the students where they are, both as learners and as people. That close alignment between the spaces and the students—allowing students to feel engaged, included—is emblematic of the Metro Prep program.
On looking for a school for her daughter, one parent said, “We wanted a school that was coed, small, but we didn’t want uniforms and a school with that sort of stuffiness about it.… We were looking for a very inclusive community.” And that’s what she found at Metro Prep. “It’s not a school, it’s a community.… The physical environment itself gives a lot of cues: the pictures on the walls, the fish tank, the open doors.… It’s just very warm and welcoming.”
ON SCHOOL LEADERSHIP
Since he founded it in 1982, Metro Prep has been led primarily and indelibly by McKelvey’s vision, created in part by the frustrations of his prior experience. “I was just fed up. I had had enough,” he says of his break with the public system. “That’s why I decided to leave and to do my own thing.”
He’s a political thinker, and many meetings in his office can veer at points to the politics of the day. He has strong opinions, to be sure, and the strongest of those centre around education. From day one, he led the school to be a model of best practices and to create a shared, supportive culture of learning. He also has worked to really underscore the school’s independence, its freedom from the things that bog down public institutions.
Teacher Joanna Johnson tells a story that is as good a description of the culture of the school, with its questioning spirit, as you could hope to find. “When I got hired,” she says, “I sat down, and in the first 20 minutes it was just a regular interview. And then Wayne found out where I went to school and where I did my master’s, and then we fought for about 45 minutes. And I walked out going, ‘What happened?’ I didn’t know how it went sideways so quickly. I’d always gotten all the jobs I’d applied for when I was a student, but this was my first career interview. And we fought.” He called her to offer her a job, and she’s now been at the school for 16 years. “That’s his passion. He likes to surround himself with intelligent, passionate people. And they don’t always have to fall in line with his beliefs. He appreciates the diversity of thought and academic engagement, which to me speaks to what any academic institution should look like,” says one parent, “Wayne hires people [who] think differently. They think differently from each other and think differently from him.”
“Knowing Wayne over the years,” says parent Robert DeMaria, “it’s like he is the icon of Metro Prep. He’s the identity for us.… I’m amazed how he knows so much about each student.… I think that comes from the kids hanging out in his office soaking up his rhetoric, his mannerisms.”
ON THE SCHOOL’S VALUES
Each member of the faculty that we spoke with talked about values, but often using different terms or expressions. “Until you learn how to deal with people compassionately and understand what diversity and equity truly mean,” says Johnson, “you can make all the money in the world, but it’s always going to fall short.… [Our message to kids is] to be passionate about what you do.… Find out what drives you, find out what you’re passionate about. Stop trying to get to an end game.… Keep your options open, and experience as much as you can possibly experience, here and at university.”
Faculty, in our experience, speak frankly about the need for students to try new things, to take some calculated risks—they’ll encourage an athletic student, for example, to try out for a prominent role in a play or a musical event—and to make the most of their time at the school, just trying things out. “A lot of kids, and a lot of adults, just don’t do what they think they’re not good at,” says one teacher.
“They really inspired me to be creative,” says a student, something that he admits he found surprising. He arrived in Canada from China, perhaps having a set plan for the arc that his academic career might take. The school gently challenged some of his assumptions, encouraging him to try new things, if only to confirm his original thinking. “I’m planning to go to film school.”
We asked McKelvey what he hopes to send graduates out into the world with, and he answered: “The ability to say what you believe; that you know that you’re not a number.”
ON THE STUDENT COMMUNITY
“There’s a Metro vibe, and it’s not like anything I’ve felt anywhere else,” says one student. “It’s an accepting environment, and it doesn’t feel like school when you’re here. It feels more like a family, as cliché as that sounds. The relationships that you build here are unique.… There [have] always been opportunities to switch schools, but the reason I stayed is because of the people here.”
Students at Metro Prep clearly feel less of a need to conform and are comfortable expressing who they are without any fear of reprisal.
“The key is being comfortable in your environment,” a student told us. “I think at Metro, this is the most comfortable I’ve ever been in front of a group of people.… [At other schools] you’ve got to play it cool, you’ve got to keep some things inside, or part of yourself at home. I think that here I can be myself. I’m one person; I don’t have dual personalities.… For example, if I have an idea … in some schools I’d be afraid to talk about it, that I’d be shut down. Here I feel I can say whatever I want, to talk about what I believe in.”
For some parents and students, this acceptance of individuality is the primary draw. “I think it comes to a point where your child won’t go to school,” says Bettina Kayser, a parent of a recent graduate. Her daughter was anxious about school, something that was hampering her success. While enrolled in the public system, she was “having a hard time with the number of kids, and how big the school was,” and was feeling lost and apart. At Metro Prep, “everybody was an individual, everyone was special in their own ways.” That, together with the size of the school, was transformative.
Students each take a wealth of roles—from those in student productions, to filling out athletics teams—as opposed to focusing on just one area of interest.
ON THE ACADEMIC ENVIRONMENT
In some senses, the academic program is similar to what you’d find in an International Baccalaureate environment: instruction is hands-on and often formed around projects; there is attention to all the various domains of learning, including extracurricular programs, service learning, and educating students to understand their place in the wider world; there is an attention to transferrable skills and cross-disciplinary engagement; there is an emphasis on inquiry, with students actively framing their learning and considering the core concepts through the lens of a global context.
Instructors are free to follow their instincts, creating new programs or alternate forms of delivery, something they are delightfully keen to do. One day students may be involved in a Harkness-style discussion, though on another, the lesson may follow a lecture format. This gives students first-hand experience with the various kinds of classroom skills they’ll need when they move on to university.
THE OUR KIDS REPORT: Metropolitan Preparatory Academy
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