REVIEW OF Toronto STEM School BY parent, Vanessa M
- Date of Review
June 24, 2020
Gr. 9 - 9
(5) Student Experience
Toronto STEM School is a real STEM school. Before enrolling at TSS, my son went to a large public school. High school is a transition for most, but the experience and large class sizes did not work well for him. We switched to TSS in October of Grade 9. It was a great decision. He is very happy, does well in his classes and like the other students. My son's favorite classes have been Technology, Design, and Computer Science. He really enjoys the small classes (as low as about 5 kids). He has become close with the other students and has developed great relationships with his teachers. Because the school is small, he also has some classmates/friends from the older grades. The school is quite close-knit. We joined TSS in the fall of grade 9 and look forward to the next years.
(4.5) School Leadership
The principal at TSS communicates regularly with parents by email. We receive school updates and summaries of any events. I have also met in person, spoken by phone and emailed the principal. The teachers are available to meet before and after school. I meet with my son's teachers every semester. The teachers are available to help students after class, I think this may be on specific days or by appointment. There haven't been any discipline issues within the school that I am aware of.
My son has only completed Grade 9, but so far the teachers at TSS seem great. The teachers are young and have a good energy with the kids. Some teachers are permanent staff and others are hired, part-time per class. I've noticed the teachers are specific to each subject. For example, the Math / Science teacher is one person and the language-based subjects like English / History is another teacher. Technology, Computer Science, and French have part-time teachers. The teachers are dedicated to subject areas. Unlike with other schools we've attended, the school teachers are specialized (the French teacher isn't going to teach Math for instance). For my son's French class, he had a lovely teacher who had just moved to Canada from France. I was told that the teachers are all qualified with degrees.
There seems to be a debate about whether semester schools or non-semestered schools are the better program. At TSS there is a mixture. All subjects are split into 3 semesters except Math and Science which run all year. I think this is a good solution. It is important to keep constant with these subjects, especially at a STEM school. Having only 4 subjects per term is more manageable for my son, he would find 8 at a time overwhelming. We chose TSS for my son because of the focus and specialty in STEM. This was the right decision for him but would not be right for every student. My daughter, for example, is an arts student and will go to a high school with choice in drama, music, art and language. The school does not have much in the arts and languages. My son has only completed grade 9 so far. I understand in later grades Toronto STEM offers AP level classes. I don't believe there are any general level academics offered.
TSS is a small school. They offer a few after school clubs per semester. There has been 3D printing, art, and sports days. My son only did 3D printing and loved it but I can't speak to the other clubs. More clubs would be great, but in a small school, there has to be interest from the students otherwise they can't offer many at once. I would love to see something outside of STEM for extracurriculars, a music class would be great. Around February or March, TSS arranges university visits. Even the grade 9's and 10s are allowed to attend these excursions. Last year, they toured McMaster where they spent time learning about microbiology. It was hands-on and I think the kids did an experiment with splitting atoms. For fun and team building, the whole school went bowling and out to lunch to celebrate just before the winter break.
The student body at TSS is around 30 kids. Because of the small numbers, there is a crossover, and students from different grades interact with one another. The kids seem friendly and well behaved. I always tell people that my son has found his people. He really likes the other kids and connects with the other "techies". Prior to high school, my son had a lot of girl friends. He went to the same school from JK to grade 8. In kindergarten, his best friend was a girl and he grew up with a tight group through his primary years (girls and boys combined). At TSS, the student body is partly made up of international students. My son isn't close friends with any of the girls. I suspect this could be due to cultural differences. I hope this changes in later years.
(3.5) School Life
My son is very happy at Toronto STEM. He likes the other students and teachers. My son first enrolled at a large high school. It was very big and he had problems making friends. In class, he just felt like a number. He was very unhappy and struggled to fit in. At TSS, it feels more like a family, everyone knows each other. The school fosters a positive environment and the kids and teachers all seem like they enjoy being there. My son tells me none of the kids are lonely and they have friends. In a small school setting, there isn't much opportunity to socialize with different kids. To expand my son's social network, he has kept up his friendships from his primary school on weekends.
The community at TSS is student to teacher/principal. As a parent, I have communication and relationships with the staff. I do not know any of the other parents. There are no parent groups. I know many students are international and their families are not with them. For Toronto based families, there could be benefits from parents interacting together. There may not be a need for a parent council, however, curriculum nights or a night where students show achievements and work could be an opportunity to build the parent community. There could also be ways the parents could help out with extracurricular events. As my son gets older, I would very much like to be part of the university/college process. Perhaps there is an opportunity to host parent information nights closer to graduation.
(4.5) School Location
The school is in a convenient location. It is very close to the Eglinton subway station and my son commutes by public transport. He packs his lunch and eats at school most days. The lunch break is 45 minutes which is tight to go out, buy and eat. There are many students who do this though, there is a Loblaws and many fast food options. TSS is an alternative school. It really feels more like an office, it is located in a building with an elevator. (Update: Toronto STEM School has since moved locations into their own facility). We haven't yet enrolled in the gym class, due to COVID-19 this has been postponed until next year. I understand that the school uses Eglinton park and the gymnasium of another nearby high school for gym and sports days.
In our case, the admissions process was more about thoroughly assessing if TSS was the best fit. Choosing a high school is a tough decision. The summer prior, my son took a math class at TSS. He was familiar with the school and knew the principal. So that he could meet some current students and try out a few classes (before making our decision), the principal let my son shadow another student for a whole day. After this, TSS handled all the paperwork to officially transfer from his old school. I am not sure what the admissions process would be typically but I don't think it takes too long. In our case, the principal knew my son and his academic level from the summer math program.