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Reviews of CaST School

Toronto, ON  |  Grades 9 - 12  |  Shortlist

 

Review by: Susan Sim - Parent (Jan 05, 2021)

"Her teachers will hold her accountable not just for getting the work done, but also to engage deeply with the content."


Student Experience

My daughter is bright and dances to the beat of a different drum. It's been a challenge to find a place that stimulates her intellectually, and at the same time gives her enough space to be a quirky character. We've found that in CaST. The classes are like fascinating dinner parties led by your favourite professor-- no death by worksheets, no work for work's sake. The idiosyncratic as well, so we found a tribe for her. R enjoys the mix of learning locations (online, in person, and off site). She especially likes the 10am start. As a small school, there aren't many clubs, but that's OK because R is not a joiner. There are only three students in her grade, so it would definitely be beneficial to have a few more.


School Leadership

The leaders are all experienced school administrators. They all came to CaST from Dragon Academy. The Head of School, Dr. Kelvin Sealey, has a doctorate in education. Vanessa Alsop, Assistant Head of School, was previously a guidance counsellor, as well as administrator at teacher's colleges. Stephanie Bushnik, Assistant Head of School, was previously a registrar. Dr. Sealey has been my primary point of contact for school matters. He is erudite and takes great care to over-communicate. His email missives are long, detailed, and a pleasure to read. He was instrumental in creating a culture of kindness, both at CaST and Dragon. We have worked collaboratively to deal with disciplinary issues, especially to ensure positive outcomes. At Dragon, professional mediation was used to resolve conflicts among students.


Teaching

The teachers at CaST are very capable. Many of them have Ph.D.s or are practicing artists, or both. The seminar-style classes allow them to tailor the content to the student's interests. Assignments are a good balance between instilling the fundamentals and exploring the boundaries creatively. To illustrate this point, there was a series of art assignments that involved building a chart for creating colour palettes, which was then used to make a series of drawings and paintings. The fundamental being taught is colour theory. The creativity is the manner in which it was taught. Their comments on report cards are accurate and on point. It is easy to communicate with teachers, in email, through videoconferencing, and in person (when that was available.) Teachers are always happy to receive feedback, positive and negative, on their assignments and curriculum.


Admissions

R joined CaST from Dragon Academy. The admission process for the two are the same, so I'll write about that experience. Our paediatrician recommended Dragon Academy. We applied through their website. The process was straightforward. I did not require any assistance from an admission officer. R went for a trial day, and she never wanted to leave. She went back for a couple more visit days, because she wanted to participate in particular activities. My husband and I met with the Head of School twice, once before her first trial day and again after. Once we knew that R would be happy at the school, we wanted to make sure that the school was prepared to take her on. Our concerns were more non-academic than with the curriculum. We were persuaded that the teaching staff had the experience and attitude to hand an exceptional student. The trial day is key to ensure a good fit. Your child will let you know if this is the right place for them. With the mix of online and in person classes, this should be easy to arrange.


School Location

CaST, as the name implies, uses a variety of locations. Its primary local is in the Annex and there are a couple others that are in easy TTC distance. All of these locations are urban, with all that implies. Your child needs to be comfortable taking public transit and walking to locations. At the start of the school year, I showed R how to use Google Maps, how to plan a trip, and how to establish rendezvous points. There was some trial and error and R has got lost more than once, but she has always been able to recover. These are good life skills. Not all of these locations are meant to be classrooms. For the most part, this isn't a problem; all you need are tables and chairs to have a seminar. When a meeting room is insufficient, the teachers are not shy about striking out to a ceramics school, High Park, an arboretum, or gallery.


Community

There is a Parent Association, which provides opportunities for involvement. The Parent Association fundraises to support social activities, teacher recognition, and to purchase supplementary teaching equipment and supplies. As is the case at many schools, there is a small core group of parents that does most of the organizing, and a few other parents who help out with specific activities. Until this year, I have not been involved in the Parent Association. My biased impression is that parents tend to be involved in their child's education, but do not volunteer. I attribute this to the age of the students (high school) and the parents tend to busy. The school could provide more opportunities, but I don't know who would respond to the call. I would characterize the parents as creative professionals. It is easy to find common ground for conversation at various school events.


Extracurriculars

At this point, the extracurriculars are minimal. As a new school, the leaders have focused on getting the basics right. As well, the pandemic has limited many activities. Plans are in the works for an outreach project on the environment, and a community-based arts fundraiser. Previously at Dragon, there was a wide variety of activities, including a drama club, a model UN, an opera club, monthly pizza lunches, a senior-year trip.


Academics

The academic program at CaST School is excellent. The liberal arts are covered extremely well. Non-traditional topics such as computers and digital media are also handled well. Math and science are above the bar, but could be improved. Math contests are finally being offered. I'd love to see hands on science labs in second semester. Whatever a student's ability, the teachers nudge them to go further. R picks up the material easily and has an uneven relationship with homework. Her teachers will hold her accountable not just for getting the work done, but also to engage deeply with the content. I don't know what my daughter will be doing after high school, but I'm satisfied with the intellectual training that she is receiving at CaST. The ability to think deeply, reason articulately, and make connections will serve her well regardless of where she lands.


Students

During the pandemic, there have been fewer whole-school events. I mention this to provide context on my answer, but there's a definite gap here. I haven't had much opportunity to see the work of other students or witness their interactions. My observations will be based on R's time at Dragon. The student body felt like a family. There was a lot of caring, for example, older students looking out for younger students. It flowed forth from the teachers, but among the students too and back to the teachers. When R was in grade 8, some high school students persuaded her to act in Romeo and Juliet with them. Many of the kids were atypical in some way, so know what it means to make room for other kids like them.


School Life

The school year started with several days of whole-school activities. These were important community-building events. Another week of whole-school activities will kick off the second semester. Small online classes are simultaneously very intimate and limiting. It's intense to be spending so much time with a small cohort on a screen. At the same time, the communication channel is limited, especially for social and contextual cues. The in-person and off-site gatherings are absolutely necessary to making this work. Once social distancing requirements are reduced, I suspect many of these arrangements will remain (they are well thought out), but likely augmented by activities with more of the school. R adores this school. She would rather go here than anywhere else. She likes the teachers and students (some more than others), and is willing to do the assignments (with many reminders).



 



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