Roundtable Q&A Discussion About Toronto STEM School (2021)
Toronto STEM School alumni, current students, and parents shared their insights on the school’s culture, values, strengths, and weaknesses. Hear what Fernando, Timothy, Vanessa had to say about the school.
- 0:37 - What did you appreciate most about the schools during your time there? And how is your perspective on that change now that you have some distance from the school?
- 6:19 - Why did you choose the school originally? In what ways is the school what you expected? And in what ways is it not?
- 12:00 - What would you say to the best of your knowledge most differentiate the schools and others?
- Show Full Video Contents
Highlights from the Q&A discussion
Fernando — alum
Fernando attended Toronto STEM School. He took advantage of a STEM education and is really grateful for his teachers caring for him throughout his academic years at the school.
- “If I were to pick a single thing that I appreciated the most during my time [at Toronto STEM School], I would definitely have to go with how the school helped me settle into a new country at my own pace, making it an experience that is as close to seamless as possible. Despite all the obvious roadblocks and struggles that come with emigrating and moving away from your parents into a faraway land, my school has definitely been helping me since the very beginning, starting from getting a debit card up until the whole university application process, such as writing college application essays and choosing the appropriate university that fits my interest.”
- “To kind of point out the thing that already stands out the most about the school and I think that brings in most of the parents towards TSS is probably the school size, the small school size. … The school size makes it possible for us to connect with other students way faster and makes it possible for teachers to know their students better and know where they struggle the most, which will be far from possible in larger class sizes.”
- “I also think that engaging activities outside of the classroom that they provide that make the learning experience more interesting, but at the same time tests your knowledge on concepts learned, is also something that really stands out. This is also due to the school's focus on STEM, which directs the attention of coordinators towards formulating interesting activities that are not only fun for students, but also, like I said, test your knowledge on concepts learned in class.”
- “The school can create a welcoming environment for all of its students, independent of their nationality and caring for their academic performance and overall health and wellness. And taking a school on a few trips and trying to interact directly with them makes it possible to create a sense of community between students and teachers.”
- “The school has always been quick to make changes if necessary, and always looking for feedback from both parents and students and looking for ways on how to improve. The school’s small size makes it possible to react faster to feedback and to make the necessary changes for a more pleasurable learning experience … .”
- “The school also tries to create a community between students and teachers through extracurricular activities, such as school trips, gym classes, math and computing contests, etc. And these create a more relaxed environment in contrast to what you generally see in larger schools, where there is this almost bureaucratic atmosphere between the school personnel and students, which is understandable, but inevitably this leads us back to the main problem in the larger schools where students are generally treated as just another number or just another student and teachers don't seem to truly care for the the success of the students.”
- “To parents, I think one thing that will definitely surprise them the most is how reliable the school staff can really be for any kind of academic difficulty and sometimes any difficulty at all. Being able to rely on someone to give your children the best possible advice is truly remarkable and comforting.”
- “Another benefit that comes from being a student at a STEM-focused school is the wide array of applications that come with the knowledge you get in class. Of course, you have the Ontario curriculum, but the school’s focus is on STEM and that helps you to see how the school uses 3D printers which help the application of design and math and science projects … that used your knowledge of physics and chemistry, or the math contests … or computation contest from Waterloo, which is the best place to showcase your mathematical knowledge and computation knowledge.”
- “You'd be surprised to see how some things you learned in a course may be applicable in something else, and it truly is remarkable. So learning new things, trying out something that you found interesting in class and applying somewhere else already tests your knowledge and is very important for your learning experience in general … . The ability to keep going even after the early excitement fades, it shows your interest in the topic, and luckily you could even turn that into your career.”
Timothy — student
Tim is a current student at Toronto STEM School. He claims that the school has motivated him through personalized learning and teacher support given to every student.
- “Well, some things that I really enjoyed about the school overall through the one year that I've been here and stood out the most were the teachers. There's a big difference between the teachers at a public school and the teachers at this school. First of all, I feel like you connect with the teachers at this school a lot better. So I had a very easy time going through difficult courses, courses that normally I would have a lot of trouble with and courses that have very confusing material. I feel like the teachers are there to sort of guide you and give you the sort of right process to go about those courses. There is a very high level of involvement that the teachers provide in classes, so I feel like no student is left behind. ”
- “The school in general ... makes for a very valuable, in my opinion, social dynamic. So I remember on the first day the school wasn't even open, and I had already made friends with someone sitting in the hallway waiting for it to open. And I feel like, you know, with such a small size for the school it's very, very easy to make friends with everybody. And it's sort of very easy to have a lot of people to fall back on and ask for help.”
- “The school has a lot of focus on STEM, and I think one of the best ways that the school sort of puts that into motion is how it involves students in extracurriculars. So the school is very tightly knit with the University of Waterloo, and they run the computing and math competitions. And that's actually, in my opinion, one of the most valuable things that the school offers because these competitions really help to not only give students an opportunity if they wish to go to Waterloo or other computing or math-related programs, but it also just sort of provides relevant practice to students who are interested in the STEM field because computing and math are very important. So I'm really glad that the school sort of pushes students to involve themselves in these extracurriculars.”
- “Another standout feature of the school is the principal in particular. I think Hamed sort of makes the experience so much more personalized for every single person. At this school, every student before they come into the school gets to sit down with the principal and talk about what their expectations are going forward, how they want to start the year, how they want to finish the year, what their goals are. And so it really serves to answer a lot of questions that students might have going into the year.”
- “I feel like in general, you know, the extracurricular involvement allows a lot of us to grow closer together. So before COVID had begun, we had a few clubs and they were all very fun experiences to sort of connect with other students. I really couldn't compare to any other school. It's so unique in all the different things that it does.”
- “I feel like I could describe this school as knowledgeable … . I mean, there really isn't a lot of confusion when it comes to learning courses. I feel like it's not really difficult to learn courses at the school because you have teachers who know so much. And it's funny I never would have seen myself enjoying physics, but here I am because there are so many resources to learn from.”
- “Overall, I like all the people that work at the school. So every teacher that I've had this year has been absolutely fantastic and really [provide] just an enjoyable experience. I will say from experience, I've had high school teachers that I've really disliked, and none of the teachers here even come close to fitting the bill for that. Learning is made very, very simple. And the teachers are not like public schools who tell you that they're not going to be holding your hand and they tell you that you're on your own learning this course. There is a lot of support from the teachers.”
- “And another thing that I think was really surprising to my parents is the sort of drastic improvement in motivation that I feel like a lot of people have coming from public schools. I had a lot of trouble in my old school getting good grades and staying motivated and doing all the work. And I can tell you that from the first year of studying here it was like a drastic change. I had a lot easier of an experience interacting with the other students, had a lot easier of an experience just learning all my courses in general and my marks doubled.”
Vanessa — current parent
Vanessa’s son, Bruce, has been attending Toronto STEM School from Grade 9. She says that her son has developed school pride and gained self-confidence at TSS.
- “He liked the other students because the school is so small. He got friends from older grades which I really liked. And I guess I didn't really hope or expect that you would get the sense of belonging, but that was the big thing that the school provided and that's why we chose it.”
- “He was always confident with technology, but not like an overall academic confidence. And so he just thought of himself as good at one thing. And that's it. When he came to the school, he did really well. And I think it was the tech design and the computer science, those types of classes. The thing I noticed is that … he became more confident in all his classes. I think because he was like in his world of tech, he sort of felt like he thought he was smarter than he was before.”
- “He just thinks he's really good at all the subjects or he really doesn't feel bad about any subject. And it doesn't matter if in some of them he isn’t getting good grades. The teachers connect with the students when it is such small groups. I hope that kind of continues as the school develops because I imagine when you're in such a small group, the students can't just check out because it's so collaborative. You can't just not be involved in the classes.”
- “He just has a lot of school pride. I hear him describing this school to his friends from these other high schools, and he's almost like boasting, you know.”
- “The school is close-knit and everyone's on a first name basis, and it kind of makes it feel like a family.”
- “TSS is focused because it is also so goal-oriented to the kids' future to set the kids up for. There's a lot of effort to set the kids up for success in post-secondary … . So in Grade 9 you're invited to go to these speaker things about the universities or even on a field trip. So it's kind of instilled in them right away from school. They get to watch the graduating students get things, like the school has a lot of kids getting scholarships and the younger kids get to see that. I think that they start thinking this way really early and I think that is just automatic, naturally going to keep you kind of focused.”
- “I think the values of the school are academic success. They want all their students to be successful. I like the way the school customizes [learning]. It's really about their strengths.”
- “And I think preparing them in STEM is a good education model because it opens a lot of doors and a lot of different programs, a lot of different schools and colleges and universities. So it prepares them really well.”
- “You can get parents volunteering time and helping out with the other stuff, so that could be a benefit to the school. But I don't think that parents need to be involved in the academics and how the school is run because that's just fine.”