A low teacher-to-student ratio is meant to facilitate a personalized experience as teachers have more time to understand individual strengthens and weaknesses. Our experience at Oak Learners has been better than our high expectations. This is also in line with how our children like the school: they love it. Our daughter likes and appreciates the wonderful balance between work and play. She typically will focus on a writing or reading or mathematics activity for half and hour, and then "decompress" in the library for a few minutes before the next task which might be a physical one, such as walking to the nearby park for recess time. Our son loves how teachers are perceptive enough to match his interests with the task at hand. He is now learning to add and subtract with the vehicles he loves (such as toy trucks and backhoes).
School leadership is very close to the student body and understands not only individual students, but also the relationships and dynamics going on at school. When issues arise, reaction is immediate but thoughtful: let's gain a joint understanding of what is going on, delve into dynamics and potential root causes, evaluate options, and take the most appropriate one. We are also very happy to experience a new situation to us: we are now able to agree on action plans that are consistent across domains (school and home), which helps our children tremendously.
Teacher quality is homogeneously high and also very well-balanced as far as diversity (across age, gender, subject matter expertise) goes. Feedback is personalized, specific, constructive and actionable. Our children are always challenged and one good way to evaluate this topic is to observe that individual agendas usually change every few months or so. This is because working points are usually addressed, and new ones emerge. One of our daughter's first challenges was to maintain a sustained focus on activities such as writing and reading. Now that we have created and worked on a plan to address this, the issue is now moot and we are able to move to her next challenge: how to socialize with new children in her age group. She can be shy, and we are working on a plan to address this.
Oak Learners' strengths include personalized adaptations to the teaching curriculum, character building in the context of a positive values system, a good balance across areas of individual development (academic, athletic, artistic, etc), and application of techniques and ideas well-grounded to scientific educational research (as opposed to creativity without any scientific testing). A point that could be perceived as a weakness is the organization's limited size of the student body (whereas some parents might see this point also as a strength). A slightly larger student body would offer even more socialization options for all children. Both our son and daughter have met several new friends in summer school at Oak Learners and they both wish their summer friends came to Oak Learners during the entire academic year :).
Oak Learners has shown a great ability to leverage resources and opportunities that go beyond the school's organizational size. In this regard, the school packs a punch well above its size. The leadership is very well-connected and thus able to offer a very broad range of extracurricular activities: from sports to science, to arts and music, and beyond. Our little ones now are engaged in activities such as music, yoga, arts, and martial arts.
The student body is small, diverse and very cohesive. The atmosphere that parents sense in the mornings at drop-off time is one of excitement. Students are intellectually curious and high-energy. Students are encouraged not only to work on their own personalized plans but to also help each other achieve their individual goals. The atmosphere that parents sense in the afternoons at pick-up time is one of satisfaction as our children have worked hard and tell us they are tired. As with any other schools, student dynamics are never issue-free. In this context, one of Oak Learners' strength is that its small size and high teacher-to-student ratio enables the school staff to identify issues between students very quickly. This typically allows for the creation of action plans before student dynamics issues snowball into something much larger.
Our children love Oak Learners to the point of begging us to extend their presence there for the summer sessions. Both our children have also been making improvements in areas of personal development that now aligns with developmental markers unlike what we were unable to see before. As to how Oak Learners could improve the quality of life of its students even further, we as parents believe that a slightly larger student body size (without sacrificing the currently low teacher-to-student ratio) would offer broader socialization opportunities for the students. At the same time, a slightly larger student body size would also enable critical mass for extracurricular activities and perhaps facilitate closer relationships between students with similar tastes and preferences. As of now, we do not believe school size is a problem.
Parents are welcome and encouraged to participate in the life of the school as well as in the organizational development of Oak Learners. In any given term, there are typically several opportunities for parents to engage with each other and with the school staff. Parents are usually invited to participate in school social events on Friday afternoons, encouraged to watch presentations of school projects developed by the student body, or join school staff and students in weekend community events in Mimico. On a proactive side, when parents take the initiative to propose something new or in addition to the calendar in place, the school administration always reacts promptly and in a positive way. We feel that the school is providing more opportunities than all other schools we had the opportunity to observe up close.
Oak Learners could aptly be described as the polar opposite of an island. Students will perform at least one activity (each day; rain/snow or shine) outside of school premises. This can be a walk to the parks nearby, to conducting surveys within the community, to participating in community events in Mimico. This is clearly a school strength. On the other hand, we can also clearly see how the broader Mimico community appreciates Oak Learners very much.