Olivet nurtured my academic talents and helped to grow my social confidence. I became part of a true community there--a village that helped to raise me. This school introduced me to religion in an age-appropriate way that set the stage for a lifetime of spiritual growth. I was able to ask questions and learn about a moral and theological system that makes sense; it was integrated into the curriculum in a way that promoted a sense of wonder and intellectual curiosity. In very small classes, I was able to work exactly at my own level; sometimes this involved going beyond grade level, and other times in meant engaging with a broader curriculum. I was encouraged in my interests, especially writing, and supported in taking on independence and responsibility.
Every educator at this school has the opportunity to get to know every student. Students are treated as full human beings with attention paid to their minds, bodies, emotions, and spirits. Skill development is encouraged in teachers and administrators are organized and also very involved. While I was there, discipline was sometimes still a little bit old fashioned (for example, I remember writing lines for having a messy desk). Still, disciplinary issues were dealt with promptly and fairly with an emphasis on character building, and the related systems in place were generally effective (such as a classroom-level behaviour points system), ensuring good behaviour was acknowledged as well. Parents were involved to an appropriate level and communication between administration, teachers, seemed parents generally effective from my perspective.
Teachers were all passionate about their work and encouraged students to be independent thinkers. They were generally very well liked and passionate about the subjects that were their specialties. They would adapt curriculum to current events and ensure it stayed relevant from year to year. Particular emphasis was placed on discovering the natural world, analyzing literature, learning about world and Canadian history, and exploring spiritual/religious topics. Good grades were a challenge to obtain, but expectations of individual students were reasonable relative to their abilities. Formality of address of any elders was encouraged, but teacher/student relationships were caring, with teachers very invested in student success. Students had the chance to learn from a variety of teachers with different styles, as subjects such as French, music, and religion were taught by teachers other than the homeroom teacher.
Since classrooms were often mixed grade, and within grades teaching was customized to individual learning needs, classroom culture was generally not very competitive, though there were exceptions at the class and individual level. Grammar was taught explicitly, a rarity, which I found greatly supported my natural language and writing skills, as did typing classes. Homework was sometimes a bit heavy, limiting leisure time after school, and formal exams began in Grade 5 or 6. Sources had to be cited in essays from this level onward as well. I went from Grade 7 at Olivet to Grade 8 in a public school program for "gifted" students; I was ahead in some subjects, including French, and behind in none, with a broader or more traditional knowledge base in some areas than my peers.
Due to the small size of the school, extracurriculars are somewhat limited. However, the school's "Broader Horizons" program, which ran a few weeks every term, drew on the talents and resources of teachers, parents, and community members to teach various skills and run a wide variety of fun activities. I recall particularly enjoying a pottery course and also participating in indoor soccer, while some friends took a knitting class. Participation in theatre and music productions was embedded within the curriculum, and these productions were labours of love that were carefully produced and well attended. Winter and summer sports days were another source of excitement and involved getting together with students from a sister school in Kitchener. I know that today there is after-school care available, including various enrichment activities.
The school is in a good location near a natural areas with trails that lend themselves to organized hikes, sledding, and exploration of the nearby creek. Students did not venture off the grounds for lunch unless something special was planned and a teacher accompanied them. Going home for lunch was discouraged even for students who lived nearby, which I found helped to build community. The area is safe and pleasant, but unfortunately becoming too expensive for many young families to live nearby. I remember going on runs through the neighbourhood in gym class, and the neighbours did not mind seeing students. The location is near enough to downtown Toronto that field trips to the Ontario Science Centre and Young People's Theatre were readily possible, as were trips to natural areas to the west, such as Heart Lake, Rattlesnake Point, and Kelso conservation areas.
Olivet fosters effective communities at the classroom, school, church, and neighbourhood levels. As the school is connected to a church, church members are involved members of the community, often volunteering to do things with the school and share their time and talents. Parents are also welcome to get involved in school life and events, and school families are made very welcome at church events. Every year there is a fall picnic to which alumni are invited, and students who have graduated have the opportunity to stay connected with each other through participation in youth groups at the church. I am still in contact with many of my former Olivet classmates many years later, some of whom have continued to be involved with the church and others who have not.
I greatly enjoyed my time at Olivet, although I was ready to move on to a larger classroom with more peers when I left. The upper grade limit has decreased since my time there; the familial environment serves younger students particularly well, although it also gives older students opportunities for leadership that they might not experience in a large public school classroom. Students generally returned year after year because they enjoyed Olivet and were engaged in school life. I recall sometimes being stressed by the workload, but this could also have been due to my own expectations of my own performance. However, there were always special events to look forward to, including field trips and special projects. The more students discover what Olivet has to offer, the more it will be able to offer.
The student body was very small but tightly knit. Out of necessity, students of varying ages spent time together, rather than only socializing with those in their classes or grades. Commitment to academics, as well as fairness and inclusion in the schoolyard, were generally respected and valued among students. Students were from varied ethnic backgrounds and various quirky personality characteristics were typically accepted. In hindsight, I think a variety of socioeconomic backgrounds were represented as well (financial aid is available), but such differences were not very noticeable among students. Students with particular learning needs tended to thrive in the smaller classrooms, although more severe impairments or behavioural concerns could be difficult to accommodate given the small size of the institution. Every student had an impact on classroom and school culture.