Interview with Montcrest School PARENT, Carrie Weston
Carrie has two children who attend Montcrest School, Abby and Claire. Abby, the elder, joined the school in SK and is a focused, independent learner. She has become more confident and takes on more risks since joining the school. She likes the leadership opportunities that she takes part in. Claire enjoys learning in a collaborative, group environment. She has made many friends through the many different clubs that she has joined. Both children love to go to school each day.
Highlights from the interview
My daughters have very different learning styles. Abby is more of a focused, independent learner. She likes a very structured atmosphere where she can really understand what the measures of success are and what those goal posts are and really thrives in an environment like that, whereas Claire benefits from smaller, more collaborative group-type environments. One of the great things about Montcrest is that they're actually both getting those needs met in the same place, which is terrific.
I remember my husband and I going to one of the kids’ expos in our early research stages and we looked at a few different schools. I remember meeting a few Grade 6 or Grade 7 students at Montcrest. I remember being so impressed with how confident and how articulate and how genuine those kids really were. Those were traits that I wanted to foster in my kids. When we toured the schools and had individualized visits, Montcrest had a very warm environment. We were looking for a smaller, coed school, so that already narrowed our choices in terms of private schools that are available. In addition to having a balance between the arts and math and sciences, it just felt like the right fit for us.
I remember the admissions staff being really helpful during the process. So, obviously, we would fill out a paper application, just like we did at three schools in total. And then Abby went for a half-day visit with the Senior Kindergarten class because that was the year that she would be joining, just for her to get a sense of the environment and for the teachers to have a chance to meet her and get to know her a little bit. Then came a bit of a waiting game where you wait to find out if your child's been accepted. I did feel that it was a pretty seamless process and that Montcrest and the other schools as well were quite helpful during it.
Abby and Claire have definitely had a positive experience at Montcrest School. This time of distance learning, they were really enjoying it, but they were desperately happy to get back to school and be with their friends and just be in that environment. So definitely, overall, very, very positive.
A really good example of the individualized approach at Montcrest is the reading groups, and I believe they go from Grade 1 through Grade 5 where the children are paired or grouped across the grade with other students who are at a similar reading level. It creates this really positive, really supportive approach to learning where they'll read aloud and gain confidence. But it also has lots of flexibility which allows them to move as they progress as readers throughout. So that has been something I think that they've both really benefited from.
Abby has always been a little more introverted, a little shy, and takes a little bit of time to warm up to new situations. I find that her time at Montcrest has really helped her break out of that comfort zone in a lot of scenarios and take more risks and feel more confident. So definitely, I think that the Montcrest environment has helped her in that aspect. And then when I think about Claire, she is a little bit shy as well, but a little more fearless. And so, again, there's lots of opportunities for her at school to really try new things, try new sports and new clubs. I think that does translate to home life and being willing to stretch yourself and put yourself out there in new situations.
There's so many clubs! Sometimes they have to actually choose between two or three that they want to do just because they happen to fall at the same time. So they both experimented with sports, be it basketball or volleyball or soccer. But they are more interested in the creative arts side of it. So there are clubs that are related to dance. There are clubs related to drama. Montcrest Singers is another club that they have both joined, which is just a small choir that travels around a little bit and gives performances. They also sing in assemblies. Gosh, there's probably so many that I'm forgetting. They're really endless.
Abby has really liked some of the leadership opportunities, so a chance to really put herself in situations where she can lead. An example of that is the Peacemakers Club that the school runs. It's a chance for students to learn conflict resolution between their peers, and then they get a chance to put that into practice during shifts at recess. It's a source of pride for her to have gone through that and be able to help her friends that way. She's also been involved in the Student Ambassador program, where she's part of a select group of kids who meet with potential families who are coming and visiting the school or students that are visiting for a half a day, and she'll be asked to pair up with them and give them a tour and share her experiences. And again, I think that's a source of pride for her to be able to share that. And for Claire, she really loves just the friend aspect of school, having so many different friends that she can participate in those clubs with and spend time with at recess. She's been involved in some of the drama productions as well, and she really loves to dance.
I personally appreciate that the focus of the staff and the faculty is not just on the academic side of things. They look at the children as a whole and really focus on that social and emotional aspect of being at school. I think at every parent-teacher interview that I have attended, there's the normal discussion about how your child is progressing and the academic side of it, but then there's always discussion about dynamics with friends and how my children are coping with workload or the expectations of school. And I feel a partnership with the teachers in creating the best atmosphere and supporting the kids where they need it.
Gosh, there are so many projects that I’m proud they were a part of. Just this past year, Claire was chosen as one of the finalists for Speak Out Montcrest. So starting in Grade 4, the children are learning how to write a speech and deliver a speech. So a really robust public speaking exercise. And she worked really hard on writing the speech and preparing it and rehearsing, and she delivered it to her class. And then she was chosen to go on to the next round. So she was so extremely proud and so happy to have been chosen and really threw herself into that activity.
I have fond memories from when we first started at the school. Abby was joining SK, and that entire environment felt really magical to us. Like the children in those grades were tucked away in a slightly separate part of the school. Everything about each day was so inquisitive and really fostered curiosity and exploration. She would just come home every day so happy to be there. And so from the beginning, it was just such a positive experience. Since then, there have just been so many fond memories. I also think about each year’s Fall Fair, which is more of a social event where they've transformed the entire school grounds into a bit of a Carnival field. There are games and activities and popcorn and face painting and all those kinds of things. It's a chance for the whole school community to get together. And I always look forward to those events as well.
I think one thing I was a little bit surprised about was how much time off they have. It's something that logistically you don't think about until you're in the situation. But at the same time, it has benefited us. Like there's extra time at Christmas. It gives you time to spend more time with family and friends. The summer is a little bit extended.
I would say a key value at Montcrest School is that individualized approach to learning. So acknowledging that children learn in different ways and then providing alternate ways of teaching in order to solidify those concepts, that's a key one for us. The community and leadership portion, I do believe, is a strong value as well. I talked a little bit about some of the leadership opportunities that Abby has had a chance to participate in, and it really spans through even from some of the earlier grades. There are opportunities for some of the older students to have a reading buddy in a younger grade. I think the Grade 5s and Grade 2s are paired together. There's lots of house spirit activities. So again, a chance for kids across the school to come together and participate in activities. So that sense of community and leadership, I think, is key. And then the nurturing part that I talked about before; looking at the child as a whole, both the academic and the emotional side of being at school.
The values and goals at Montcrest definitely align. I feel that the families that we have had a chance to meet and become friends with definitely share those values. It's hard to describe what a typical family is like because there's so many different dynamics that are represented, which I really enjoy, because it's truly representative of what communities and our culture is like.
There are a lot of opportunities for parent involvement, such as the Montcrest Parents Association. All parents are actually technically part of that association. There's obviously an executive committee for people who would like to spend a little more time volunteering, like the President, the Vice President role. But there's lots of opportunities within the classroom, even just on a day-to-day basis. There are parent volunteers who come and participate in academic activities, field trips, and larger social activities like the Fall Fair. There are lots of chances for those who choose to be involved whether you have a little bit of time to give or whether you have a lot.
I find that Montcrest School welcomes and encourages communication. Parents are encouraged, obviously, to use the homeroom teacher as our first touch point for questions or concerns. But there's definitely an open-door policy in terms of reaching out to the head of school or head of teaching and learning. So they're very welcoming and open to having that dialogue with parents.
Montcrest School has a welcoming and inclusive atmosphere and they foster an environment where long-lasting friendships can be built. Abby, in particular, gets excited each year when she knows that there are new students who are joining. She obviously has friends who she's known since she started in SK and Grade 1 and those friendships have carried throughout the years. But students come and go. They might just move or switch to a different school. So there's always new students joining each year. And she is always excited about getting a chance to know those students and making them feel welcome. So I definitely feel that Montcrest has that warm, welcoming environment.
The typical classroom size, I think, is somewhere between 16 to 20. It's varied a little bit from year to year. They also try to maintain a healthy balance between girls and boys. So it being a coed school, sometimes in a particular enrolment year there will be more applicants for boys, but they really do try when making those decisions to keep that balance. So it's not heavily weighted one side or the other. I would say that 16 to 20 is a bit of a sweet spot. It's large enough that there's lots of different voices and different opinions coming through in discussions, but it's small enough that both Abby and Claire are getting the individual attention when needed. So I think it's just right for us.
I think one area that I would like to see some growth in is some more robust programming in terms of a Stem platform. A couple of years ago, Montcrest introduced a maker space, which is like a physical classroom where kids are introduced to technology and robotics and how things are made. I would love to see that grow into more coding opportunities, even more robotics. I think it's just such an important skill for kids today to be learning that I really hope that they continue to build on that starting foundation.
I think that there are some unique aspects in terms of where the school is positioned physically. We live in downtown Toronto, so the fact that Montcrest is nice and close to home really benefits us. But the fact that so many families travel from all over the city is a real testament to the school's reputation.
One of the things that we've always loved is the focus on maximizing time outdoors. Being right next to Riverdale Park gives the kids the opportunity to really expand the space that they're learning in. Normally, they have three 30-minute recesses where they're spending time outside in the winter. They have an opportunity to skate on the skating pad at Riverdale Park, and the ravine is close by. So I find it's really a unique setting.
I would definitely recommend Montcrest School, and I have recommended it to lots of friends. We've had so many positive experiences there that we are happy to share those with others. In terms of advice, I would say just to be open and honest about your children's needs and the type of environment that you feel that they will thrive in. At the time you're applying, obviously, faculty and staff don't have a chance to know your child just yet, so you really are the best advocate for that. And then your children will get a chance to come and experience it for themselves. But I do feel, being there for as many years as we have, that sometimes they actually know better what's best for Abby and Claire than I do! They see them in that environment every day. It's nice to develop that trust with the teachers and really have that partnership in your child's learning.