REVIEW OF The Giles School BY parent, Lauren Dade
- Date of Review
May 21, 2020
Gr. JK - 8
(5) Student Experience
My two children have attended from Kindergarten through to Grades 6 and Grade 8 (final grade offered at Giles). When I asked them what they thought about their experience at The Giles School, they said: "we love the atmosphere, we love that the teachers love and care about you, and that they make sure you are learning". The atmosphere is welcoming, loving, thoughtful, not judgemental, and no one is afraid to ask questions or engage with the teachers. When asking them about their earliest memories (from kindergarten), my one child said she remembered her first-day visit and, at the time, she thought it was the BEST DAY EVER, she said she didn't want it to end - and she said it has never really changed since she first walked in there.
(5) School Leadership
We now have the dynamic duo - Principal Dr. Barbara Smith, who comes with a wealth of experience in teaching and leadership of schools in Canada as well as the United States. Dr. Smith brings a great deal of energy and innovative ideas to the Giles School, she doesn't want to follow the lead, she wants to BE the lead in creating thoughtful and engaging learning experiences for children and families alike. Vice Principal Madame Caroline has been with the school for 25 years and her love and dedication to the students and their families have bestowed on her the loving reference as the "heart of the school". Not only is she caring and thoughtful of the children's social and emotional development, but she is also focused on ensuring the children have the best academic programming and one that teaches children to an advanced level without overwhelming them. All schools have issues that arise, and this administrative duo is focused on hearing people's concerns and addressing them in a developmentally appropriate way with children, with an open discussion involving parents, keeping the Giles values in mind. Unlike some other schools that emphasize rigid rules, and use techniques to outwardly identify kids who have not complied, The Giles school uses education and common values to help children to understand why behaviors or interactions were hurtful or problematic and how to move forward in the right direction.
Both of my children are learning all their subjects to a very high level (including Mandarin, which we don't speak at all at home). It is amazing to me that my children are fluent in English, French, as well as having Mandarin classes where they learn reading, writing, and speaking. The teachers are all amazingly dedicated. I have been with the school for many years, so it's not to say that they have not had some teachers that turned out not to be a good fit, but when that happens, the administration immediately steps in to take appropriate steps to improve the situation - and as such things are not left to fester. The children LOVE to learn, and love and respect their teachers. With this being a small school with relatively small class sizes, children have many opportunities to engage with their teachers and receive extra support should they need it. The instruction is excellent, as evidenced by the overall high performance of the students on the standardized Canadian Test of Basic Skills (often 2-3 grades ahead). In these times of Covid-19, the administration and teaching staff have done a FANTASTIC job of engaging students and continuing to not only have the children learning, but to have their learning move forward! My child is having face to face online classes, and building her offline learning independence. She is more independent in her schooling and organizes her learning experience. The teachers have not only picked up all the technology pieces for video conferencing and online teaching, they continue to engage the children both intellectually and emotionally.
The Academic program at The Giles School is very strong. When my older child applied to her secondary grade nine schools, she was accepted to all that she applied to (including UTS, SC, BH), and I attribute her academic success to her learning at the Giles School. Subjects are taught in a thoughtful and caring way, and the children learn to an advanced level. Children are still sent home with work that is appropriate to their grade and current abilities. Parents have a chance to see what their child is learning and how their child is progressing. The Giles School is open to all children, but it doesn't mean it is a perfect fit for all children, so this environment may be more challenging for a child who struggles with their learning. All areas of French, English, Math, and Science are very strong (children are typically grades ahead when assessed on the Canadian Test of Basic Skills). Children learn public speaking, both in French and English, through preparing and presenting individual speeches, as well as through formal debate in the upper grades. The best of worldwide teaching approaches and materials are used across subjects. I'm in the area of education, and whenever I have tried to bring Vice-Principal's attention to a new teaching approach or curriculum, she is already familiar with it! It is a small school, and although it is more challenging to offer a breadth of Arts classes, they manage to bring in specialists to teach Art (focusing on indigenous topics or environmental issues for example), Drama in French, and there is a regular music program. The children learn how to read and play music, but it is certainly not an "arts" school, and sometimes the focus on the instruments change from year to year, so my children played different instruments over the years, including ukulele, recorder, guitar, drums, saxophone, trombone, and violin - so exposed to many instruments, master of none. We were happy to have the continued inclusion of music and arts within our children's learning experience, even with the variability. My children said the music learning went from beginner to high level, depending on the musical knowledge and expertise of the student.
The school participates in the "small schools" track meets and sports tournaments, giving the children the opportunity to engage in sports with other schools. Both my children enjoyed this and I don't feel they would have had this opportunity to be part of a "school team" at a larger school. Different opportunities have been provided for after-school activities and their availability has depended on family participation/engagement. As they are a small school, it is sometimes challenging to have enough students sign-up for a specific after-school activity on a specific day of the week. As the students get older many students participate in activities outside of school at a high level (e.g. hockey or dance teams) and with diversified interests, so there is less engagement in after-school activities then. That being said, with new Principal Dr. Smith - there have been several very exciting new extracurricular programs - including a science of sound club (where the kids are learning and building a soundproof music recording room), a music club, stamp collectors club, and a chess club (with a teacher of chess award winners- my kids love his class) to name a few! The students also, fortunately, have a study period afterschool and this has been WONDERFUL - as they have an additional opportunity to ask teachers questions if they are unsure about homework, they can work on assignments, and finish some of it before they get home.
The school is small, but the heart is HUGE. My children have always talked about how they have loved the atmosphere at the school. It is collaborative, supportive, respectful and fun. When children have big conflicts the students are supported to help resolve them. There are spirit days that students are engaged in; creating the yearbook, leadership initiatives, as well as annual family events like the Gala and Fun Fair. When looking at the school, one might be led to believe that the social circles are small, but what I've come to realize is that ALL the children socialize together. They are not restricted by age, they know each other, and the younger children love and look up to the older students, and the older students look out for and engage the younger children. I heard from a parent who left the school - and found that their child missed the Giles students - "I didn't realize she was friends with so many kids at the school and not just those in her grade". My own children continue to be in regular contact with all their former classmates as a group, which really speaks to the bond that the school helps to create.
(5) School Life
The Elementary years are busy ones for students and families. Although it was sometimes a challenge dropping off and picking up kids from school - it has always been worth it. My children have been happy, engaged, and learning. They have developed into thoughtful, articulate, and academically adept students. Every year, I have enquired with them if they would like to investigate other schools to which I have always heard a resounding "NO". They have always said they want to stay until the LAST available year. The challenge with the school is that it is small and also French immersion, and as with all schools, students leave for different reasons (e.g. moving, not the right fit, family demands), and as the grades go higher, it is more difficult to have new students join as there are fewer upper-grade students with a French background maybe. Fortunately the school is now offering a new beginner French immersion stream for the upper grades - which I think is an amazing opportunity for new children who don't have a French background, to join the Giles experience.
Parents are welcomed and ENCOURAGED to participate in the community and life of the Giles School. There are many committees, both for school and community-focused endeavors. They are longtime supporters of community food drives, holiday toy drives, and have done regular annual Fundraising for Second Harvest (even been awarded a fundraiser award). Committees are also involved in school building improvement, library support, gardening, parent events, and fundraising to name a few. In the Giles community, events for parents include Moms' and Dads' night out events, and for Giles families, there are regular school BBQ's, an annual Family Gala (that always sells out), holiday parties, and an end of year Fun Fair event at a local camp, where families can picnic, play games, go canoeing and swimming. Not only have my children made lifelong friends, but we have also made lifelong family friends.
(3.5) School Location
The school has two good age-differentiated play structures for recess, as well as green space for them to run and play sports in. The children do not go off the school grounds unless it is for one of the many school educational trips. The older students have sometimes gone with their teacher for an organized lunch at one of the restaurants at the local mall, which is always fun for them.