Passages Centre for Self-Directed Learning logo

THE OUR KIDS REPORT:
Passages Centre for Self-Directed Learning

Grades Gr. 6 TO Gr. 12 — Toronto, ON (MAP)

Passages Centre for Self-Directed Learning:
THE OUR KIDS REPORT
REPORT CONTENTS:

Pages in this report:

  • Grades
    Gr. 6 — Gr. 12
  • Gender
    Coed
  • Class Size
    3 — 10 students
  • Tuition
    $7,900 to 12,300/year
  • Language of instruction
    English
  • Associations
    AERO,
  • Enrolment
    18 day students
  • Curriculum
    Progressive
  • EBROCHURE
    N/A

School address

  • 310 Danforth Avenue, Toronto, Ontario, M4K 1N6 (MAP)
  • Busing not available

Our Perspective

How we see Passages Centre for Self-Directed Learning


Passages Centre for Self-Directed Learning stands out as an alternative centre for its commitment to empowering students with a passion for learning and a sense of autonomy and community participation. At the heart of the centre’s approach is personalized, interest-based learning, guided by one-on-one mentorship and coaching. The centre operates with a flexible schedule from Monday to Thursday and prioritizes a supportive community environment that affirms neurodiversity and inclusivity. A key feature of Passages is its democratic, youth-run community meetings, which allow students to voice concerns and participate in decision-making processes. Classes and workshops are student-driven, which gives students the chance to develop their sense of autonomy and active engagement. Embracing the Sudbury Valley and Summerhill educational philosophies, the centre aims to provide a safe space where students can thrive. Recently, the centre moved to a larger facility in East Toronto, enhancing its community spaces and introducing a Passages Restoration Circle for conflict resolution. The centre is committed to maintaining a small, close-knit community.

School's Perspective

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How Passages Centre for Self-Directed Learning sees itself


The school administration answered our questions

Who are you, as a school?

"Passages is a truly alternative approach to education for young people ages 10-18. We know that when one feels good, they do good. Many of our youth haven't felt very "good" for much of their school life, and now that they're able to be in community with others whom they connect with, the healing begins. We offer an inclusive, personalized education with one-on-one mentorship, classes and coaching. The young people's education is centred around their unique interests and curiosity. Open Monday to Thursday 9am-3pm"

  • Individualized education based on interests
  • 1:1 mentoring and coaching
  • Support to obtain credits
  • Flexible attendance and schedule
  • Youth-run democratic community
  • Neurodiversity affirming - ADHD, ASD (low needs), LDs
  • 2SLGBTQ+ inclusive safe(r) space
  • A safe community that cares for one another
  • Respect for individual and diverse learners

What do you do differently and uniquely well?

"We know everyone wants to feel seen and valued as an individual – centring youth voices is key.

Our 1:1 mentoring is at the core of the Passages experience. This weekly meeting focuses on the individual and their needs through discussions with their Mentor. It is a time for learners to reflect and discuss challenges and achievements, roadblocks and breakthroughs, goals and action plans. Mentors support them in creating schedules and timelines and gain a better understanding their learning needs.

Our Weekly Democratic Meetings are a cornerstone of Passages. At this youth-led, staff-supported meeting, Learners bring forward ideas or concerns, practice public speaking, listen to opposing views, learn consent-based democracy, and think creatively to support one another. Each voice carries equal weight, and we use consent-based democracy (Sociocracy).

Classes, workshops, and initiatives are Learner-inspired rather than adult-driven, which allows young people choice and autonomy."

What tradeoffs has your school made to serve families in this way?

"Many young people who join us feel the traditional model of education hasn't met their needs. They are highly creative, gifted/2E, ADHD or ASD (low needs) and have a strong sense of justice and need for autonomy. We empower them to take the reins of their education, understanding that facts and information are so readily available that the core focus needs to be on how one learns, how to communicate effectively and many other soft skills needed for next life steps. While Learners are supported to do high school credits if they desire, our goal is to preserve or rejuvenate their deep love of learning and curiosity. This can only happen when one has choices, and we support them in forging new paths.

This approach does not limit entering post-secondary institutions as there are many paths that do not require an OSSD. When Learners express an interest in attending post-secondary, we work backwards with them, from their end goal, to help lay out the steps."

What key junctures in your school's history have most shaped its present?

"Inspired by the philosophies of Sudbury Valley School and Summerhill School we opened in 2020 with one student enrolled and have grown to reach almost 50 families – families who felt their child wasn't thriving in the traditional model of education and could see the spark in their child dimming. As we've fine-tuned our community, many of the families who join us have children who are neurodiverse (ADHD, ASD-low needs), struggle with their mental health and who may identify in the 2SLGBTQ+ community. The youth who join us embrace their differences and are welcomed as they are. We pride ourselves on being a safe(r) space, providing room for youth to create the environment they wish through our weekly democratic community meeting."

What type of student is a good fit for your school?

"Passages is not for every family, but when families are struggling with school resistance and arguments in the home about attendance and homework, tests and grades, it's a good time to consider an alternative. Our approach to education is about non-coercion and freedom so the young person can feel empowered and supported in what they want for their life and education.

Many youth who are neurodiverse or have mental health challenges can feel burned out by the grind of classes at school which can "feel pointless" or have no direct meaning to their life. For learning to stick, topics need to be in context to their lives, they ask themselves, "Is this important to me?"

Families have commented they feel we're the best of the homeschool world and school world. Personalized learning and support, flexibility and a community of peers and friends with similar goals of leading their education."

Under what conditions would you advise a family against choosing your school?

"While we value a rich and diverse education, we do not use coercion, awards or grades to essentially convince young people to participate in their education. We want them to be fully invested in their own goals.

We do not offer grades, credits, or a high school diploma, but we do support youth who have made the choice to get their credits or diplomas. We are about choice and autonomy, so if this is their personal desire, we support that.

Many families who feel we aren't a fit are families who want their child to "just get through school" or to "just get your diploma." We want to preserve a love of learning and curiosity, and those two ideas are at odds when a child is forced to do homework and tests.

When families join a centre like ours, where youth voices are centred, that can feel challenging since most of us come from a top-down system. Much of the work of letting go of society's pressures, expectations and judgement will be the parent's work during their time with us."

To your knowledge, why do families choose your school over others?

"The story we hear again and again after their child has joined us is "I finally have my kid back." Many parents had witnessed the light and spark in their child dim over the years as they worked through the school system. Many kids flat out refused to attend and parents felt lost as to what to do. Because we have flexible attendance young people make the choice to come. Some think that because of this choice they will choose NOT to come, but the opposite happens. They get up for the day, excited to join us and they spend their days engaging in learning, conversations and making friends.

For many young people, simply having full choice allows them the space to reduce pressure or self-criticism and shift their thinking toward who they are and what they want.

Youth at our centre become very skilled in group decision-making, empathy, planning and taking control of their education. They deepen knowledge about themselves and what will make them successful on their terms."

How would you characterize your school's image amongst the public?

"When people think about Passages they envision what their education could have looked like. We often hear "I wish this was around when I was in school." This is because as people have grown into adulthood they see how much time they were in school being required to focus their time and energy on information that either didn't prepare them for adulthood, or wasn't something they felt they needed at that time in their life. They can see the power of a self-directed education that allows one to focus on interests and strengths and how that combination creates a rich learning experience."

What aspect of your school is underappreciated?

"Our focus on community is not just for the Learners - parents and siblings are also very much included in the centre and all we offer. Each week we send current families a weekly update sharing stories from the week, photos, and upcoming important dates. We consider these updates a bridge between the Centre and home, understanding that it's hard for parents to get a lot of info from their child/teen at the end of the day! Offering these weekly updates allows parents to springboard off what they read and to have deeper conversations with their child.

We also offer monthly parent community gatherings to discuss life and self-directed learning challenges and gather advice on how to resolve any challenges they may be experiencing in the home.

The self-directed learning world is vast with workshops and training, so we are sure to keep parents up to date with all the goings-on."

What might families find surprising about your school?

"When people learn about Passages and the self-directed philosophy the attitude is usually that their child "would only play games all day" or that their child doesn't have interests. Their experience of their child may only be who they see at the end of a long day of school or during weekends recovering. After a time of having choice and autonomy at the Centre, many young people start to take more risks, try new ideas and engage in their learning at a deeper level. They start to bring their ideas to the Community Meeting and feel valued when others support what they've proposed. They can then form a small committee to make it happen.

A surprising piece that new families learn is that many of our youth choose to attend Math and English classes without an adult telling them to. The young people recognize they like certain aspects of subjects and want to expand their knowledge at their own pace."

What improvements or changes has your school made recently?

"In August 2023, Passages Centre moved to the East End of Toronto on the Danforth into a larger space complete with three rooms—a common room, classroom, and art room—as well as a full-size gym and an outfitted courtyard for sunny days spent working outside.

As our community has grown, so have our processes. Through youth decision-making, we created our Passages Restoration Circle (PRC), which is used for conflict resolution and group empathy building. The PRC is facilitated by Learners who have been trained in mediation to support their peers through issues they may be struggling with. Staff support the facilitator in having a successful circle where young people can express their needs and come to an agreement peacefully."

How will your school change in the next 5 years?

"As Passages has become more established, our community has grown to include more families, volunteers and staff. This has allowed more options for our Learners as they embark on their projects within Passages but also outwards in the surrounding community. Our goal is not to become a large populated school, but rather the size of about 40-50 Learners. Should demand exceed this number, the board has considered that a new location would open. This would be a welcomed challenge!"


School Facilities

Photo-tour of facilities


Athletics facilities


Arts facilities


Campus


Classrooms


Shared spaces


School Videos

Insider Perspectives

How people from the school’s community see Passages Centre for Self-Directed Learning


Written reviews of Passages Centre for Self-Directed Learning

(4.8)

Parent, Tara Turner (2024)

Gr. 7 (current) — For my son, Passages is his community. He enrolled in the Centre when he was 11, after being homesch...

School leadership

Top-down influence on the school’s direction and tone


Message from school leadership

Kristina House, Founder/Executive Director

As the founder of Passages Centre and a long-time homeschooler for my children (now teens!), I could see the need for an alternative education in Toronto where young people can come together within a community to work on what is meaningful to them. 

Passages is a unique space full of creative young people who have a strong sense of justice and challenge themselves to be more aware of social issues that impact their lives. They embrace the democratic nature of our space, taking ownership of decision-making, committees, financial planning and the culture of the space. 

As young people choose to take the reins of their education, it takes a special kind of staff to support them without taking over or letting our egos get in the way. It takes support from below to trust that these young people know what they need for this moment in their lives or are capable of finding the answers or asking for help. 

Allowing someone to flourish on their own timeline is far from the typical approach to education where the expectation is that everyone has the same knowledge because they’re in the same grade. We allow space for people to flex and grow, or dive deep into an interest because they have an innate desire. 

It is an honour to witness young people move through their days and learn holistically. On a typical day, conversations throughout the space can range from art techniques to world religion to forming committees to address needs within the Centre. We flex and adapt and work within our democratic approach to try to meet everyone’s needs. 

As we’ve moved through the years, the people who join us are typically neurodivergent, struggling with mental health challenges or feeling ‘othered’ in their school community because of their sexual/gender identity. They are people whose traditional approach to education just didn’t feel right, and they may already be fully resisting attending school. 

Focusing on the individual to create a connection centred on autonomy and choice, respecting young people, and providing community within a safe(r) environment allows for an unmatched learning experience in the city. 

I feel privileged that we have provided a space for all kinds of neurotypes where they can feel accepted as who they are. This acceptance bleeds into their self-image which then positively influences their learning goals. 

Heading into our year five we look forward to more families joining us and growing our small but mighty community! 


THE OUR KIDS REPORT: Passages Centre for Self-Directed Learning

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