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Reviews of Junior Academy

Toronto, ON  |  Grades NS - 8  |  Shortlist

 

Review by: Andrea Charlton - Parent (Mar 09, 2022)

"We have consistently found the administration to be pragmatic and responsive."


School Location

Junior Academy regularly makes use of the green space belonging to the Canadian Film Centre on the other side of Bayview Avenue for both their Outdoor Education classes as well as special school events, such as the Winter Carnival. For those in the middle school grades, end-of-year outings to the nearby shops at Bayview and York Mills have included buying lunch or ice cream.


Community

From the very first event we attended with other parents, it become clear that everyone had chosen the school for their children for authentic reasons: they, too, value the small community, the commitment to differentiated learning, and the reality that their children are known. The annual parent gatherings each fall are designed to forge relationships - many of which we have maintained over many years. An emphasis is placed on welcoming and supporting new parents - something which we benefitted from ourselves. Parents are regularly invited to help with preparing for school concerts, pizza lunches, and special events such as bake sales. Some parents have contributed by offering rides to track meets and coaching school teams. That said, the school understands entirely that working parents cannot volunteer as much as some: there is no pressure to contribute in this manner if you are not able to.


School Life

Neither of our children, even after those inevitably tricky chapters which unfold, has ever dreamed of going to school. They have always felt welcomed, never shamed for mistakes they have made. Bullying is addressed promptly and very effectively, as are any behavioural issues. Students know that there are consequences for poor choices and are given concrete opportunities to learn from their mistakes. The school has demonstrated a renewed commitment to the enrichment of its middle school program by ensuring the academics are challenging enough and that there is the opportunity for everyone to contribute as a leader. Both of our children have been given various responsibilities since @Grade 5/6...and they now understand the importance of welcoming visitors and ensuring the logistics associated with special events are taken care of.


Students

Given its uniquely small population, Junior Academy is an authentic community. Each class size is limited to 14 students, and some classes are for as few as 5 students. From their very first week in Grade 1, our children detected that they were welcome and that everyone, regardless of their unique personalities, belonged. After a very tricky JK/SK experience at our local school, we immediately detected that they were more confident and calm within their first month at JA. One of our children had some specific needs when we first arrived, the other child is a typical learner. However, the deliberate provisions made for differentiated learning make it evident to all of the students that everyone has unique needs - whether addressed through the excellent STEPS program - or one-on-one sessions designed to greater challenges to others. This shapes a very accepting and healthy culture. Of note: the availability of OT and speech pathology support (at an additional cost) onsite keeps weekly routines calm if your child needs either of those supports. We have found that this has enabled both of our children to genuinely have compassion for everyone as they now know we all have unique needs. This has proven a terrific foundation for the development of their own character.


Extracurriculars

Our family has deliberately chosen to avoid over-programming, so the availability of a variety of after-school clubs as well as a handful of school athletics teams more than met our needs. The school makes excellent use of the teen space across the road for their cross country, soccer, and track teams; the generous gymnasium was wonderful for the basketball team to use. If your child is interested in joining a school team, they will have the opportunity to participate.


Academics

Although Junior Academy has addressed the turnover of their French teachers a few years ago, that has proven to have an unfortunate impact on one of our children, in particular. They follow the Jump Math program, which has provided continuity over the years, and a consistent approach to math instruction. That said, we have supplemented at home with a little more practice of computational skills. Aside from those two concerns, both of our children have developed sound literacy and numeracy skills, along with excellent approaches to research motivated by their own curiosities. When our son's written output was lagging several years ago, he was able to benefit from the assistive technology recommended as well as a targeted approach for two years while part of their STEPS program led by an exceptional teacher: his writing skills are now excellent as evident in his most recent essay and, in particular, his ability to pursue the entire writing process independently. Finally, we have sincerely appreciated JA's commitment to keeping politics out of the classroom as much as possible; empathy for specific perspectives about Canadian history has been fostered without the adoption of critical race theory. As JA is a genuinely multicultural Canadian school, we think this has been a very wise approach to adopt.


Teaching

As parents, we were not interested in having our children attend a school that might be described as a "hothouse". We decided that a sound focus on literacy, numeracy, and character development were our priorities for their elementary years. JA's emphasis on inclusion keeps an overly competitive culture from developing: crucial for developing children's confidence. JA's strategic advantage is its genuine commitment to ensuring that every child's needs are met - whether they need stretch or support. Teachers consistently provide specific feedback and give each child suggestions for what they need to focus on next. Communication with parents is a top priority. Their middle school program is designed to prepare students for the heavier workload expected in high school: we have noticed an increase in homework and long-term projects since Grade 7. Homework is regularly assigned from Grade 1 up, and focused on practice of skills learned, or completion of tasks already started at school.


School Leadership

We have consistently found the administration to be pragmatic and responsive. The deliberate design of a consistent daily schedule which provides for differentiation and calm - along with a school calendar that is not overloaded with social events - has proven the right fit for our family. The administration sends out a weekly email that gives parents notice about anything special on the horizon, as well as reminders. While communication is their priority, they have not overloaded our inboxes (-: On the rare occasion we have had concerns about brewing bullying dynamics, the school has acted immediately and with compassion. They have shared their discipline policy and asked that parents and students acknowledge their understanding of expectations prior to each school year. They have ensured that both of our children have felt valued throughout their time at the school.


Student Experience

Our children sincerely enjoy authentic relationships with every adult in the building, feel known, and understand what is expected. They know there are boundaries in place and expectations to be met. They feel secure due to the consistent routine and motivated by the program. They have each been patiently guided through tricky ups and downs with their peers and benefit from the genuine confidence fostered in their early years at the school by its emphasis on belonging. Since the school is smaller, we anticipated that after being at the school for so long, they would start to crave a broader social circle as of middle school. While this has been true, the other fundamentals in place, such as the invitations to frequently contribute as leaders, have helped them to remain patient as they await new adventures in Grade 9.




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