REVIEW OF Oak Bridge Academy BY parent, Melissa Vardon
- Date of Review
July 28, 2022
Gr. 3 - 6
(4.5) Student Experience
All Students at OBA are accepted and welcomed just as they are. Unlike a traditional public school setting, they receive significant personalized instruction inside the classroom with academic expectations tailored specifically to their grade level. No two students are alike, and therefore their learning goals are unique and customized to their needs. They are well supported to make and maintain friendships and encouraged to try new skills and activities. Students are given rich and diverse opportunities for personal growth and emotional/mental well-being. For example, in addition to academics, our son has been able to try "Young Engineers" (STEM activities using LEGO), coding club, kung fu classes, horseback riding lessons, swimming programs, and social clubs. Our son looks forward to school every day to see his friends and teachers and he is never excluded because of his special needs. I truly cannot think of an example of when he has been disappointed in anything at OBA, it is a remarkable school.
(4.5) School Leadership
The principal of OBA has a track record that is second-to-none. Her level of expertise in development for kids on the autism spectrum is exceptionally high. The staff teams share almost daily updates on the class social media platforms with pictures of the students, monthly newsletters to describe the academic curriculum for the month, and extra activities. Any time I have had a question or a concern, it has been dealt with immediately and always to my satisfaction. OBA staff welcome questions, suggestions, and encourage open dialogue at all times. The only thing that I wish we had more of was information following Board meetings on more high-level, strategic plans for OBA. There is a very active and well-done social media strategy on LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram, and the school website.
Ms. Shaw has staffed OBA with talented educators and behaviour therapists with very high qualifications. Many teachers have significant experience working with kids who have ASD/ADHD and also have additional qualifications or pertinent experience in other therapeutic settings. It takes a very special type of teacher to work day in and day out with kids with special needs and at no time have we ever had a teacher that didn't give 110% to the kids. There is very little turnover in staffing, which is a reflection of a positive and productive work environment. The classroom staff are teams of one teacher and 2 - 3 behaviour therapists in each class. This allows the teacher to remain focused on academics while the therapists can manage other behaviour requirements as needed. Unlike traditional public schools, there are the supports needed in each class so that one student doesn't take all of the attention away from others. There is also staff who serve all the students such as a curriculum specialist, outdoor education specialist, and student therapists who do their placements for learning opportunities. Teachers are very communicative with parents and provide a lot of feedback throughout the year, not just at report card time. There are multiple meetings during the year with the teaching team and one can be requested at any time. The students have very customized learning programs with goals and expectations that are tailored to their individual needs.
The academic program at OBA is based on the Ontario Curriculum. It is the same information being taught as in traditional public schools, but it is being taught in a way that best suits the students. All students have an IEP that is prepared by the teacher and then discussed with the parents to go over learning goals, and modifications to the learning expectations. For example, a grade 5 OBA student might be taking grade 3 level math and grade 6 level language - the student's IEP is tailored specifically for this and the student might travel to another classroom for the math and/or language lesson. Some modifications are on the actual grade level and other modifications are on the volume of work. There are also accommodations such as extra time for tests, scribing/computer typing instead of handwriting, etc. At this point in time, there is a high school program that has just started, offering grade 9 this year, next year it will offer grades 9 and 10, etc. I would say that academics is certainly the main focus area of the school - this is not a therapy centre has happens to do a little math and spelling here and there - it is truly an academic-focused school. The extra supports are the extra benefit.
There are many extracurricular activities offered at OBA. Some of the offerings are tied to the academic curriculum, like coding club or Young Engineers (STEM with LEGO). Other activities are just for fun or enhanced physical activity (swimming, horseback riding, kung fu). Some of these programs are the result of grants from corporate/community organizations so it changes around every year. There are also regular field trips that complement what is happening in the curriculum - the children's museum field trip to support a science theme, and the end-of-year field trip to African Lion Safari, the butterfly conservatory (bio-diversity topic/lifecycle). There are no sports teams at OBA, so if you are looking for a volleyball or basketball team, that is not an option. I would say most gym classes/activities are more about cooperation vs competitive games.
The student body is quite an eclectic group of individuals!! The best thing about OBA is that the students develop TRUE friendships - they learn how to make and keep a friend and what they value about friendship. There is a lot of cheering for each other and cooperative, inter-personal activities are constant to foster social skills. For the last couple of years due to the pandemic, each student cohort has been kept quite separate, however, this is starting to ease and there is some mixing that happens due to academic placement for students who are at a higher or lower grade level who go to a different class for a particular subject. OBA spirit is high and there is spirit wear like t-shirts and bags and gifts you can purchase!! They are school-wide celebrations for things like World Autism Day or Earth Day, etc.
(4.5) School Life
My son LOVES going to school and he never complains about having to go to school - he just loves the teachers, his peers, and his activities. Like most of the other students, he benefits from the "point" system in place for behaviour - earn points for good behaviour and cash out at the end of the day for the last 15 min as reward. There are many opportunities to get involved as a parent volunteer - it could be setting up for a special event (like end-of-year play day or a car wash fundraiser) or helping to set up classes at the start of the year. Typically they do not ask for volunteers in the classroom during the day or on field trips - this is actually disruptive to the class routine. Bus costs are so expensive, so if you give your permission for a teacher to drive them to a field trip/offsite program, it's very easy! As for fundraising, as a not-for-profit charitable organization, fundraising is a part of school life. There are 2 or 3 standard, annual events (golf tournament, rock concert, etc.) that sometimes you are asked to volunteer if needed at an event to sell 50-50 tickets for example at the rock concert. There is minimal REQUIRED in terms of fundraising, they do poinsettia sales at Christmastime which is nice and maybe one other during the year. It is a reasonable amount. The therapists are part of a college of therapists, and so they are ethically not allowed to accept gifts. To keep the playing field level, the rule is that there are no gifts allowed for any staff at the end of the year or Christmas for example. Instead, each class has a "wish-list" of items that could be used in the class (eg: specific books, items for science projects, math games, LEGO, gift cards for craft items) and if parents want to buy something for the class, then that is allowed. There are also events such as an end-of-year concert, and a book fair too. There are before and after-school options for those that need them. There is also a car-pool map! The school is also good about advertising things like summer camp options or training for parents for behaviour management.
Notwithstanding the pandemic, the parent community is very strong at OBA. Having a child with special needs automatically makes you feel like "we're in this together, you get what I'm going through, I've been there, I understand" type of feeling with other parents. No one judges and if your kid won't get out of the car in the morning, it's no big deal, no parents stare you down or anything like that! It's very supportive and always "I feel for you, hang in there"!!! There are always opportunities to help out at fundraising events, and get the school ready to open in September by helping to organize the classrooms. There are very few in-class options as it is too disruptive to the kids' routines to all of a sudden have mom or dad in the classroom with them. Because of the pandemic, drop-off turned into a staggered system and kids just got out of the car in front of the doors. For example, the green class arrives at 8:45 am, the pink class arrives at 8:55 am, etc. and there is no mingling. I really hope that next year, all students arrive and enter at the same time - that is when you would be able to be standing outside with other parents, waiting for the doors to open, and visiting and really building community, making play dates, etc. I really missed that the last couple of years, it has really affected my ability to meet other parents outside of my son's class. It's also a great chance to share updates about good programs outside of school that you might want to participate in.