Prestige School - Toronto Campus KEY INSIGHTS
Each school is different. Prestige School - Toronto Campus's Feature Review excerpts disclose its unique character. Based on discussions with the school's alumni, parents, students, and administrators, they reveal the school’s distinctive culture, community, and identity.
What we know
- The small, close-knit school community works closely with families.
- The student body is diverse, both culturally and linguistically, something that is rightly seen as a strength of the offering.
- There’s a strong foundation in core academics, with ample opportunity for student enrichment.
Our editor speaks about the school (video)
Prestige sets a high bar for its students, academically, as well as socially and ethically. The program is designed and delivered to meet the needs of students functioning at the top of their peer groups. There is a close-knit feel within the student body, and an ongoing attention to the needs and development of each student as he or she progresses through the curriculum.
The belief that young people are capable of much more than is often expected of them is embedded in the school’s teaching philosophy and rooted in its origins as a family-owned tutoring service. After experiencing success with one-on-one tutoring and having students flourish with the aid of the specialized programming that she and her family provided, the school’s co-founder and principal, Olga Margold, transported the spirit of individualized learning to the private school environment.
“For me, the ideal is to perfectly balance an advanced curriculum tailored to each student’s needs with lots of personal attention,” says Margold. To provide that individualized care, the teachers regularly ask two questions about each student: Where is this child now? And where can they go? Given how well they know the kids, answers to the first question are easily found. That’s the small school advantage. When it comes to the second, the response is a personalized learning plan for each student that also expresses the school’s overarching theme: much further than they think.
ON THE ACADEMIC PROGRAM
The math and science programs are particular strengths. Students respond well to an advanced math curriculum (“They get bored if we go too slow,” says Irena Hryncewicz, math teacher) and are introduced to biology, chemistry, and physics as distinct subjects as early as Grade 4. By the time they reach the high school, they are very familiar and comfortable with topics and units of study that their peers in many other schools have yet to encounter.
The school’s approach to enrichment in all grades is to increase depth and complexity as students master the material rather than provide additional practice or assignments at the same level. In other words, busy work is out and intellectual challenge is in.
ON THE PHYSICAL ENVIRONMENT
While Prestige provides the array of clubs and athletics expected of any private school, it stands out for what parent Marina Garvey describes as an “agile and highly responsive academic program within a warm and friendly atmosphere.” Or, as one student put it, “You learn better when school feels like home.”
ON SCHOOL LEADERSHIP
Olga Margold has been principal since 2003 and is a graduate of the business faculty at the University of Toronto. She’s open and easy to talk to, something that is seconded regularly by staff, students, and parents of the school. Her passion for education is based in the opportunities she has crafted the school offering to provide.
ON THE SCHOOL’S VALUES
The school promotes three core values: wisdom, courage, and integrity. While those are excellent ideals in themselves and modelled in the classrooms, hallways, clubs, and teams, it’s interesting to hear Margold talk about why they matter as guiding principles. She wants Prestige students to be able to make meaningful choices, rather than have choices made for them. In other words, one of the primary aims of the school is to graduate young adults who have attained a high degree of intellectual freedom.
Parents appreciate the role that high expectations play in their children’s lives. They witness what educational research has proven: With the right supports, young people will rise to the level established around them. “The approach to teaching is very personal. And at the same time, the academic work is challenging. The whole atmosphere is both highly caring and highly demanding. It’s a unique balance.”
ON THE STUDENT COMMUNITY
With class sizes ranging from 12 to 18 students and a commitment to enriched education, Prestige School is well suited for students and families focused on academic achievement. As Margold notes, the school “prides itself on a student body that reflects the multicultural city of Toronto” and, indeed, that’s something that inflects the life and culture of the lived experience of the school. “We want our students to be well equipped to thrive in today’s global economy.”
It helps that homeroom teachers in Grade 1 through Grade 8 move up with their students year after year. Closeness and constancy provide a big pay-off as students advance through the school. They not only feel known and understood for who they are but also achieve their post-secondary dreams, with 98% of graduates attending the university program of their choice.
ON THE ACADEMIC ENVIRONMENT
Although there is some adjustment to the advancing curriculum for students newly entering the school, with the support of the school’s highly trained teachers, they are able to progressively become just as proficient as their peers. The school’s math, science, and language programs work well for motivated students who are eager to learn. “We have our particular areas of strength and specialization, and it works for our families,” says Margold. Parents told us that they value the family feel of the school. In some ways, that’s a by-product of its size and, in others, it’s by design. Older students often mentor their younger peers, and parents are involved in many events and activities. For example, the school prides itself on the elaborate, multi-grade drama productions it puts on twice each year. Students of all ages come together on the stage and behind the scenes, and parents play a supporting role from home.
In setting high expectations and then working closely with students to meet them, teachers send a clear message: You can do this. You have the ability. Walking through the hallways, the focus on academic achievement is clear. There are displays of student achievement in academic competitions and scholarship programs. They include certificates from the Royal Canadian Legion annual public speaking competition, and from the Pascal, Cayley, and Fermat mathematics contests run by the University of Waterloo. As Hryncewicz puts it, “When you show kids that they are more capable than they think, that they can go further than they believe, you see something wonderful happen. You see them start to think of themselves as mathematicians and scientists and artists. No, they can’t do everything. But they begin to think more and more about what’s possible. They keep going until they reach their absolute limit—and that is a long way. They take a lot of pride in what they accomplish.”
Put simply, “I find that kids can do so much more,” says Margold, and the school gives them the latitude to do that. “Our Grade 1 is using the science textbook that typically will be used in Grade 3. But kids are capable of learning at that age. If you look at the development, what they can understand and learn at a certain age, that’s what we’ll look at. Can they learn this curriculum? Will it excite them?” Parents appreciate the role that high expectations play in their children’s lives. They witness what educational research has proven: With the right supports, young people will rise to the level established around them. “The approach to teaching is very personal. And at the same time, the academic work is challenging. The whole atmosphere is both highly caring and highly demanding. It’s a unique balance.”
ON THE ASSESSMENT AND REPORTING
Teachers are available at drop off and pick up times every day for casual conversation, regularly email and call home with any questions or observations, and provide a steady stream of academic reports. Daniel Robinson, who has a daughter in Grade 5, notes that the individualized nature of instruction carries over to communication: “The school is very responsive to parent input and also provides regular, clear feedback on student achievement.”
Throughout the school, students work a year ahead. For example, Grade 5 students are immersed in the Ontario Grade 6 curriculum—or, more accurately, in “Grade 6 plus,” with a mix of provincial and Prestige-developed materials. Head of the elementary department Catherine Ng explains that from that accelerated baseline, students then have their work tailored to their ability. Teachers engage in a daily feedback loop that tells them where each student is now and where they can go next. “We can adapt and be very flexible in the classroom. Our teachers are ready to offer further enrichment or continue working at the current level until a student has gained greater mastery.”
ON CO-CURRICULAR PROGRAMS
The annual international café fosters a similar feeling of community. Each class draws a different country and then explores its culture in depth. Parents become involved in areas like helping prepare regional dishes and fashioning traditional dress. All of this research and activity culminates in a day—the café—when students visit each country to gain a greater understanding of cultures around the world. This extensive project connects to the value the school places on diversity.
ON PASTORAL CARE
The size of the Prestige School means that no student falls through the cracks when having a tough day, facing conflict with friends, or experiencing difficulties in any subject. “Being in a smaller surrounding, the teachers can really see each and every child and attend to them,” says one parent. “It’s a very tight community in that it’s a small school. You know, if one person is absent, then everybody knows that. So nobody goes unnoticed.” She adds that, “I just want to know that my child is safe, my child is attended to both while on campus and when taking part in field trips, and I know that’s something I can rely on the teachers for … there is safety there.
Teachers regularly check in with students when they seem “off” and call home to chat with parents before small issues blow up. Having the same homeroom teacher year after year in the elementary school and the same subject specialists for several years in a row means that every teacher is well positioned to occupy an advisory role as well. “It’s amazing what’s possible when you know every child,” says Yana Abramov, vice-principal of the Toronto campus. “You will not be alone. Whether you’re shy or not, you’ll always find a person to talk to. If you’re sad, people will see it, teachers will see it, staff will see it. Every single person is taken care of.” The teachers and principals have access to a shared, online behaviour log where they track how students are doing and where trouble might be arising.
Academic counselling is done on an individual basis. The high school coordinator coaches students through their university applications. Discussion around academic goals begins for most students as early as Grade 9. That said, there’s an understanding that not all students know at that point, or even much later, what kind of post-secondary program they might like to enter. But nothing goes unnoticed, and students who show interests in certain areas are given opportunities to follow them.
“It definitely changed me in a way,” says one alumna when I ask about her experience of the school and the support she felt as a student there. “I think I became a bit more confident than I was before. I was very, very shy at the beginning. But when I came to Prestige it was just so easy. You don’t have to be shy. It’s like, ‘Why would you have to be shy?’ So that made me more confident.” Confirming the tone of the delivery of the academic program, she said that “the teachers always care about your opinion … they will always ask for your opinion.” I reached her at college, and she added, “Here they don’t do it, which I found very surprising.” Fair enough.
THE OUR KIDS REPORT: Prestige School - Toronto Campus
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