Montcrest School KEY INSIGHTS
Each school is different. Montcrest 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
- Montcrest creates a safe space where neurodiverse and neurotypical students can learn alongside one another in an inclusive, supportive, and progressive environment.
- Montcrest is committed to nurturing relationships between staff and students in a community-minded space where every student is seen to have potential.
- The school's Small Class program allows students with unique learning profiles to access accommodations and modifications while also integrating with their peers for certain subjects.
Founded in 1961 as the January School, the mandate of Montcrest has always been to support students who are learning diverse, providing them with the support needed to succeed. But the school never limited enrolment to those in need of extra support. Being a vibrant community school where parents have always felt that their children are cared for and connected with, Montcrest continues to welcome students who are neurotypical, learning diverse, and those who excel in a variety of areas. “This is a school for families who want a deeply caring learning environment for their children,” says Interim Head of School Don Kawasoe.
Situated in Toronto’s east end, nestled on the edge of one of the city’s most elaborate ravines next to the expansive Riverdale Park, the school doesn’t have a huge property of its own, but takes advantage of these city-owned natural resources for recess, athletics, outdoor education and school-wide programming.
Kite Day—one of the school’s most beloved traditions, celebrated by current students, families and alumni since 1986—sees every student create their own kite in art class and then gather in the park to fly them. “It’s truly spectacular,” says Kerry-Ann Grant, a long-time Montcrest teacher. “That event really epitomizes the strong community feel of our school and the connection we share.”
ON THE PHYSICAL ENVIRONMENT
The campus is comprised of five buildings, historical homes and purpose-built buildings, stretching across Broadview Avenue and onto Montcrest Blvd. Shared outdoor spaces and a community garden connects the buildings.
Classrooms are vibrant and equipped with technology and learning resources to ensure student success. Because of its non-traditional physical structure, the school has a unique feeling, cozy and filled with character while also being modern and vibrant.
Hallways are occupied by students in costume working on a play, while hands-on learning appears to be the norm in classrooms throughout the school. The library is intricately decorated with student work and books line all available spaces. Inside Thomson House, the school’s largest renovation project completed in 2019, that connects two of the Broadview Ave. houses, we find a brightly-lit art room, a well-equipped instrumental music room, a brand-new Science Lab, and communal space for students to gather and work collaboratively. There’s an energy about Montcrest that’s palpable when you visit. It’s not a formal, quite learning environment—it’s full of life and there seems to be lots going on at all times.
ON THE SCHOOL COMMUNITY
After sitting down for a pizza lunch with a group of Grade 8 students, it’s apparent that Montcrest students are as passionate about the school community as their teachers are. Some of the kids have learning disabilities and chose the school because of the support it would provide. Others came to Montcrest because at their previous school they were being bullied or weren’t getting the enrichment they needed. Some live in the neighbourhood and some commute from across the city. Some began in JK and others came just for middle school. No matter when or how they came to Montcrest, they’re all getting ready to graduate with a strong sense of self and an understanding that it’s ok to be different, and those differences should be celebrated.
“I would say teamwork is really important here,” says one of the Grade 8 students. “This school is a community, it’s a 300-person family, we work together and grow together. And the more you grow and improve, the more responsibility the teachers give you.” The Student Leadership Program is an integral part of the culture at Montcrest, and roles and responsibilities are handed out readily to students of various ages. In Grade 8 students have the opportunity to take on specific titles such as Assembly Captain, Spirit Captain, Tech Support Captain, and the like.
Relationships are extremely important at Montcrest. That sentiment is echoed when we speak with faculty and students. “The families who do well at Montcrest are those who value these relationships, who want to see their kids engaged, happy, cared for, and known,” says Kawasoe.
Montcrest teachers seem genuinely happy to work at the school. “The collegiality among the adults who work at the school is pretty incredible,” says Emily Woolner, a Grade 1 teacher whose own children also attend Montcrest. “When we gather to talk about the students, it’s always how can we do better for this kid or how can we help that kid. As a teacher here you’re never working alone, there are always other colleagues who can step in and help you.”
Parent volunteers are welcomed and encouraged. The school seems to have an all-in mentality where everyone works together to raise great kids. “We have an outstanding parents’ association and they work above and beyond to support what the kids are doing in school,” Kawasoe explains.
ON THE SCHOOL’S VALUES
Two years ago, Montcrest brought on Geraldine De Fazio as the school’s Director of Learning, Strategy & Innovation. She’s been leading a deep dive into the school’s strategy with a focus on empowering personalized learning and fostering an inclusive community. She’s worked closely with staff and parents to develop a set of Learning Principles that outline the value the school places on relationships, purpose, diversity, personal responsibility, curiosity and wonder, and real-world contexts.
Most recently, Montcrest joined the Common Ground Collaborative, a nonprofit, global community of sense-makers, innovators, educators and partners who share a common goal. “We are working with like-minded schools who realize that the whole learning game needs to be shifted, to honour what we’ve done in the past, re-evaluate what’s working, and move forward in new and innovative ways.”
Montcrest has always been about putting the child at the centre of everything, leveraging their programming to help students make authentic connections with the world. Their goal is to graduate students who are excited to take on new challenges and possess a deeper understanding of how they learn and what they need to be successful.
“I have to share this story,” says Christina Tuns, a mother of six current and former Montcrest students. “One of my daughters truly had no athletic ability, but for whatever reason really wanted to join the basketball team. She tried really hard but the skill wasn’t there. Though we assumed she wouldn’t make the team, her coaches decided otherwise. They believed that her character was more important than her skillset. They said they didn’t just need good players on the team, but people who were leaders and team builders. The skills would come. Well, she joined that team in Grade 6, 7, and 8 and after she left Montcrest, she continued playing basketball throughout High School. They saw past what she was lacking and believed in her as a person. To me, that’s what this school is really all about.”
ON THE STUDENT POPULATION
“What I especially like about Montcrest is that the student body isn’t homogeneous,” says Alison Jelley, a parent of four Montcrest students. “My kids are all different learners and the school has the ability to cater to each of their individual needs. My son needed extra work to keep him engaged but my daughter needed help with reading to catch her up to grade level—they’ve managed to make all of it seamless—ensuring all kids feel like they really belong at the school.”
“If you’re looking for a school that’s really competitive you won’t find it here,” Jelley continues. “My son might be working on something harder than the other kids, but he’ll never think he’s better or smarter. The focus is collaboration, cooperation, and inquiry—and all of my kids are thriving.”
The students at Montcrest are all different—that’s something the school prides itself on. Despite the variety of needs, there’s the opportunity for everyone to thrive. The focus is helping kids understand how their brains work and how learning occurs, so they can improve and grow with practice and effort. You’ll find kids at the school who speak proudly about their learning challenges, who are open about their differences, and who celebrate each other’s successes.
“The ideal Montcrest student,” one of the Grade 8 students says, “is open to learning and willing to get involved.”
ON THE ACADEMIC ENVIRONMENT
Montcrest is a small school, with generally small classes (approx. 15 to 18 kids per class) which allow for personalized attention and a and student-led focus. The curriculum is adapted to each child’s needs and delivered in a variety of ways to ensure optimal learning and retention. Student-driven classrooms promote and celebrate creativity and innovation, encouraging students to ask questions and pursue areas of self-interest.
Montcrest has a strong learning support team and is in the process of promoting one of their Learning Support Teachers, Lisa McMeans, into the newly created role of Director of Student Success and Inclusion for the 2022/2023 school year. “All independent schools want to support students and many are beginning to do more to help those with different needs,” McMeans explains. “But at Montcrest it’s in our DNA, the school was founded to support a diverse population of learners to reach their potential, and it’s something we do very well.”
The Small Class program at Montcrest, which families opt into and pay for accordingly, provides more personalized attention for students who need extra learning support and accommodations and modifications to the Ontario Curriculum. The program typically starts in Grade 3 and sees classrooms with 8 and no more than 10 students paired with a Special Education-trained teacher. By integrating Small Class students into larger classes for some subjects, kids have the opportunity to access larger social circles while gaining the support they need in key academic areas.
“The small class is like its own magical world, and while I know this sounds cheesy, it’s truly a place where these kids who, because of Learning Disabilities or Anxiety or other needs, would find the larger classes too overwhelming, are able to really be themselves and thrive with the support of teachers who are so well-versed in providing the resources they need to be successful,” says Montcrest parent, Christina Tuns.
THE OUR KIDS REPORT: Montcrest School
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