We chose Howlett for 4 reasons. (1) My daughter (then 7) loved the feel of the classroom: students were generally very well-behaved, self-driven and hard-working, but the environment was also warm and supportive, not competitive. (2) We were blown away by the quality of work we saw coming from the upper year students (grades 6-8), particularly their writing; (3) relative affordability compared to other private schools; (4) central location close to a subway. There is no question that the workload is intense, there is a lot of homework, and a lot is expected of the students. This has been a struggle for us at times. But we are continuously impressed by the teachers, who are passionate, dedicated, energetic, and uniquely able to support each individual student's needs academically and socially. They really work with each student to conquer their personal challenges or anxieties and reach their personal best. My daughter loves her teachers and her peers, and has learned an astonishing amount in the year and a half she has been there -- even if she gripes about the homework!
Absolutely the administration is responsive and positive. The admin and teachers all work closely together, and act as the kids' biggest chearleaders. I have frequent informal chats with our teacher and the principal, and they respond to email within an hour every time. They are always communicating about ways to work through the daily challenges of school and life. We have not had discipline issues, but I know the school's philosophy is deeply rooted in creating an environment of mutual respect and kindness among the students, and it shows in the friendships and cooperation among the students.
The quality of teaching is absolutely one of Howlett's greatest strengths. The teachers are all very enthusiastic, friendly and accessible. It is such a relief, as a parent, to send your child off in the morning to a place where you know they are truly cared for and supported. There are 2 teachers in each classroom, and usually a ratio of about 1:8 or 1:9.
The academic program at Howlett is intense. They are training kids to work hard and always do more. Sometimes we wonder if kids should be kids more, but at the same time, the students seem able to soak up all the information presented to them, and they typically reach the high goals set for them. Students are learning to think critically, ask questions, and articulate their ideas. There is a lot of emphasis on developing skills to write in different formats, and presenting clear, organized, grammatically correct work. Students are also encouraged and supported to advance in mathematics far ahead of the Ontario curriculum. There is instruction in art, music, health and phys ed that occurs outside the classroom, but the other subjects are covered by their primary teachers (2 per classroom). This year the curriculum includes quite a lot on Canada's First Nations, and the students have been supported to think critically about Canada's history in that context. There are also many field trips built into the school year so students can learn more about different subjects outside the classroom: they went to the CN tower to talk about physics and forces, for example, and to the art gallery to talk about representation of different subjects.
There are many extracurricular activities offered at Howlett, including "clubs" you can sign up for that meet from 3:30-4:30 each day, the option for additional musical instruction, and a few sports teams (soccer, basketball). Howlett does not have sport facilities on site, but they have arrangements with local churches and community centres to use their spaces.
There are fewer than 100 students at Howlett, so it is a small and intimate environment. There is a great deal of warmth and support among the students, no competitiveness and absolutely no bullying that we have seen. Students sit at tables of two, and the seat mates rotate regularly; they also do group projects, so they learn to work together with everyone. We are very pleased with the interpersonal relationships among students at Howlett, and the work the teachers and administration do to foster that. I think it is one of the schools great strengths.
There are many things our daughter loves about Howlett: her teachers, her friends, the small classes, the opportunity to try new instruments and sports, the field trips and guest speakers. She hates homework, and there is a lot, so we are working through that. But she is learning study skills that even many university students lack, and she has made amazing strides in knowledge, skills and confidence in her abilities.
There is open and frequent communication between parents, teachers and the administration, but there is not a lot of opportunity for parents to create community together at the school. The school is small and run out of a brownstone in the Annex, so there really is no space for events at the school. Pick-up takes place at 4:30 in front of the school, so there are short, informal interactions then, and parents are generally very friendly. And there are seasonal concerts, and a spring art exhibition. But yes, there probably could be more opportunities for parental involvement.
The location works well for us, because it is very accessible to public transit (Spadina subway, streetcar or bus), but there is also an adjacent Green P lot if we need to drive. There is a decent area behind the school for running around at recess, and the kids make use of it. It is an older residential area, so there is plenty of tree cover. It would be nice to have a gymnasium, but there isn't really space for it in the neighbourhood.