REVIEW OF Oak Bridge Academy BY parent, Mark Shiffer
- Date of Review
August 05, 2022
Gr. 5 - 8
(5) Student Experience
My child felt welcome at Oak Bridge Academy. He loved going to school which made it easier on all of us. Ilon thrived in the smaller classes and individual attention given to students. One of the things Ilon liked best was the “cash out” rewards for working hard and behaving well. Students earned screen time which is something Ilon always looked forward to. The only disappointment was that we moved to Toronto, making it a long daily commute. Despite this, Ilon hated the occasional days he had to miss school. It was amazing watching Ilon grow academically and socially during his four years at Oak Bridge Academy. His teachers were always supportive and helpful. They understood his strengths and weaknesses, working to bring out the best in their students.
(5) School Leadership
The school administration was always responsive to our questions and our son’s needs. Questions were answered promptly and communication channels always remained open. Parent/teacher meetings were comprehensive and informative. Teachers worked with us to send extra work when needed and coordinated with outside help such as tutors. The school environment was always positive. Discipline was done when necessary and in consultation with parents. Ilon was always comfortable talking to his teachers. As a bonus, a notebook was used between us and Ilon’s teacher to dialogue ideas and tips on getting the most from Ilon.
The teachers at Oak Bridge are special. They always went to extra effort to make sure Ilon’s needs were met. We were thrilled with the quality of instruction by the teachers. They were passionate and knowledgeable about whatever they taught. Feedback was always constructive. Teachers went out of their way to talk to us if there were academic or behavioural issues. As mentioned, a notebook was kept in Ilon’s backpack to keep communication lines open. There was also an app where we could direct message teachers and other staff. There is no question that Ilon was constantly challenged and supported when needed. Often, Ilon needed prompting in his academic work or socially. Teachers were always there to offer redirection. In a sometimes difficult environment with special needs students, teachers at Oak Bridge always rose to the challenges.
Oak Bridge has to keep a difficult balance between academics and social/emotional learning. The school in my opinion did an admirable job at it. I believe students were challenged academically at their levels. This was accomplished through modified learning based on education plans. Kids learned in peer groups based on their needs and academic levels, rather than age and grade. It worked well. Just as important was social learning. As adults, these kids will need social skills to navigate their world just as much as they will need their academic skills. Ilon struggled in some academic subjects. But he did make steady progress at Oak Bridge. Still, I worry that Ilon will face a steep learning curve entering high school. The great news is that Oak Bridge has just started a high school program for the upcoming year, which will give students an easier transition to higher grades.
Due to COVID, extracurricular activities were very limited. However, when allowed some activities were provided such as coding. With a gym and a field nearby there were lots of opportunities for fun things to do. Hopefully, more will be offered in the future. It is difficult to provide extracurricular activities to such a diverse student population. As things opened up, more field trips were taken, allowing students to broaden their horizons.
One of the aspects that make Oak Bridge great are the class sizes. Each class has no more than ten students with multiple instructors. The class size is perfect. Each class has spirit as well. There are holiday and end-of-year assemblies where individual classes show their skills. This can also be seen outside of school where birthdays are celebrated together and friends hang out on their own outside of the classroom setting. The atmosphere is generally positive. Students are taught to show respect for each other. Friendships are encouraged and celebrated. This is evident when students are working together. There is a sense of companionship and working together for a common goal. In a special needs school like Oak Bridge, it’s a major accomplishment.
(4.5) School Life
Oak Bridge Academy is a high-quality school. My son loves going to school there. So much so that despite moving an hour away, he asked to continue at Oak Bridge and graduate there. The quality of life for students is wonderful. I can’t think of anything that needs to change. Maybe some further extracurricular activities could be offered during the day or after school. Due to the commute, Ilon sometimes attended school through online learning. As a testament to the positive student life there, Ilon asked, really insisted, on attending classes in person whenever possible. Another item that is great for student life is the earned “time outs.” Students can earn time to do activities they like during the day, increasing their happiness and contentment.
Parents are most welcome at Oak Bridge Academy. They are encouraged to get involved in school life and participate whenever they can. There are numerous volunteer opportunities during the year. Parents are asked to help with some programs. There are a number of fundraisers throughout the year, such as a golf tournament or rock concert. Parents can help out or just attend. Much of the credit for parent involvement goes to the principal, Kathy Shaw. Kathy frequently reaches out to parents, seeking their input and thoughts on various ideas for the school. There is also a parent rep for each class. The rep keeps other parents informed on issues or items that come up. Of course, there are also informal gatherings where parents can discuss their specific situations raising children with special needs.
(4.5) School Location
The school is located in a nice quiet neighbourhood. Oak Bridge Academy is actually located within a church. The church allows Oak Bridge to use its classrooms and other facilities. It’s a modern building with lots of room for creativity, including a gym and a stage area for concerts and assemblies. There is also an adjacent field for students to play or learn. This year some students took golf lessons in the field as part of their physical education.
Applying to admissions was a painless experience. Staff sit down with parents one-on-one to discuss their child’s specific situation. Multiple consultations will occur if needed. There was little stress involved. In fact, it was a relief to find this gem of a school. Some advice would be to look around at your options first. I believe that if you live in Waterloo Region or close by, Oak Bridge Academy is the best school for kids with special needs. They truly care about each student and push them to succeed. Another tip is to apply early if possible. Spots fill up quickly as this type of quality school is in high demand with limited supply. Even if a year or more away from attending, it’s best to check it out to see the opportunity available for your child.