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 is committed to nurturing relationships between staff and students in a community-minded space where every student is seen to have potential.
- Montcrest creates a safe space where neurotypical and neurodiverse students can learn alongside one another in an inclusive, supportive, and progressive enriched learning environment.
- The 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 inclusion. Montcrest is a family school with a vibrant community; a school where parents feel that their children are known, cared for and connected with. Montcrest serves a range of children and learning profiles and seeks to meet students where they are, providing them with the challenges and support needed to succeed. “We have taken to calling ourselves a ‘yes, and’ school,” explains Patti MacDonald, head of school. “Yes we are a school that values a full and enriching educational experience—a school where every child gets the opportunity to do art, and drama, and explore athletics, and debating, and robotics—and, if a child needs specific supports around developing skills, if they need explicit instruction to help spell or decode or memorize math facts, then we can provide that as well. We are neither a progressive school nor a traditional school. We meet every child where they are at and support them to be their best selves.”
Situated in Toronto’s east end, Montcrest is nestled on the edge of one of the city’s most elaborate ravines next to the expansive Riverdale Park. The school takes advantage of these local natural resources and facilities for recess, athletics, outdoor education and school-wide programming to complement its own campus.
In fact, Kite Day, one of the school’s most beloved traditions, takes place annually in Riverdale Park and is the origin of the kite as Montcrest’s logo. Kite Day has been celebrated by current students, families and alumni since 1986 and 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 Montcrest campus is made up of five buildings, both historical homes and purpose-built complexes, stretching along Broadview Avenue and onto Montcrest Boulevard. Shared outdoor spaces connect each structure. The school’s outdoor footprint is cozy and well-maintained, and feels like an urban backyard with lots of greenery and natural spaces.
Classrooms throughout the school are vibrant, well-lit, and equipped with technology and learning resources to ensure student success. There are many windows, especially in the newer buildings, which give the school an open, spacious feeling. Because of its nontraditional physical structure, the school has a unique vibe that’s both cozy and modern.
During one of our visits, the halls are bustling with students in costume working on a play and hands-on learning appears to be the norm in classrooms throughout the school. Drama holds great importance at Montcrest. There’s a purpose-built dramatic arts space equipped with everything you’d need to put on a live performance or bring a film to life. The school’s library is intricately decorated with student art and books line all available spaces. Inside Thomson House, which was renovated in 2019 to connect two houses along Broadview Avenue, we find a beautiful art room, a well-equipped instrumental music room, an expansive science lab, and communal spaces for students to gather and work collaboratively.
ON THE SCHOOL COMMUNITY
After sitting down for a pizza lunch with a group of Grade 8 students in late 2022, it was apparent that Montcrest kids are as passionate about the school as their teachers are. Some live right in the neighbourhood which made the school an easy choice, while others commute from across the city because of what Montcrest offers in terms of a learning environment. Some of the students have learning disabilities and chose the school because of the support it would provide. Others came to Montcrest because at their previous schools, they were being bullied or weren’t getting the enrichment they needed. Some started in JK and have
never looked back, while others joined just for the middle school years. No matter how or when they came to Montcrest, they were all, at the time, getting ready to graduate with a strong sense of self and an understanding that it’s okay to be yourself. In fact, individuality 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.
So what does an ideal Montcrest student look like? According to Andrea Mercer, Director of Enrolment Management, “It’s a student who wants to be involved in the life of the school beyond the classroom. We look for children who take risks, and are willing to try something they haven’t done before. We also look to build strong relationships with teachers and peers.”
Relationships are extremely important at Montcrest. That sentiment is echoed when we speak with both faculty and students. “The families at Montcrest value these relationships, who want to see their children engaged, happy, cared for, and known,” says Natalie Hollinshead, Head of Community Relations.
Montcrest teachers are 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 leadership and involvement are also valued at Montcrest. There’s an all-in mentality where everyone works together to raise great kids. The school has an active parents’ association (the MPA) which has been in place since the early 1980s and there are a number of opportunities for families to get involved in the school if they’re interested and able. “Every parent is a member of the MPA by virtue of being a Montcrest parent and then there are those who volunteer to be on the executive committee, and we really lean into that community not only to be involved with their own students but also in the development of the school as well,” says Natalie Hollinshead. “The many fundraising and friend-raising events wouldn’t be possible without our fantastic parent volunteers.”
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. Students have a variety of profiles and 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.
Inclusivity is a big part of the Montcrest community. “We strive to always make our school an open and safe space where kids can come into their own,” says Karen Tanod, a Grade 5 teacher and member of the Equity and Inclusion Task Force. “Change is a work in progress, but students at Montcrest are leading the way. The books we read are changing to represent a variety of voices and perspectives, students are free to talk about their pronouns and preferred names, and our washrooms are now for all genders.”
ON THE ACADEMIC ENVIRONMENT
Montcrest is a small school, with generally small classes (approximately 15 to 18 kids per class) which allow for personalized attention and a student-led focus. The curriculum is adapted 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 led by director of student success, Lisa McMeans. “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.”
“We believe that learning happens best in an authentic, relevant, and real-world context,” says Matthew Barry, head, education program. “Our teachers focus on making connections with students’ prior knowledge and then deliver impactful learning opportunities across disciplines and experiences.”
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, accommodations and/or modifications to the Ontario curriculum. The program typically starts in Grade 3 and sees classrooms with eight and no more than 10 students, paired with a special-education-trained teacher. By integrating students from the Small Classes 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 OUR KIDS REPORT: Montcrest School
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