Ottawa, ON | Grades 1 - 12 | Shortlist
My child appreciates the individual attention afforded by small class sizes as well as the flexibility and creativity of the teachers in accommodating different learning styles. She/he is very social, and has expressed disappointment that there is not greater access to a larger student population (i.e. more opportunities to make new friends), but understands that an effective learning environment is important. She/he has commented on some areas of the fairly old building that need repairs. She/he sometimes gripes about the "uniform" (simple t-shirt), but I think it's a good idea, and makes getting ready in the morning simple! Having access to a library would be nice. Perhaps the students could visit a library once a month so that they can have access to a range of books and learn to appreciate all that a library has to offer.
The school's administration has responded to problems and disciplinary issues appropriately and with compassion and empathy. Communication is frequently good, but at times, has been spotty. This is partly because they are placing more emphasis on making older students accountable for their own school work. This is appropriate. However, for students with difficulties organizing their work, meeting deadlines, etc., it is important to continue to communicate with the parents so that they can support their students at home (and to trust the parents that they won't take over). It's nice to be able to contact the teachers directly. Schools in the public system don't tend to want to provide email addresses, which can make it difficult to contact teachers. Heritage provides email addresses of each teacher to facilitate easy communication. From an administrative perspective, the school appears to be well run, but some elements (e.g. financial management) can, at times, seem a bit disorganized.
Overall, we are happy with the quality of instruction. Teachers are generally passionate, knowledgeable, and creative. One of the most amazing teachers in the school (a math teacher) unfortunately left the school last year. We are hopeful that he is replaced with someone of equal calibre, as math can be a difficult subject for many students. Some teachers at Heritage are better than others at explaining things, and some are more interesting and dynamic in their approach to teaching the material. My child has mentioned that some teachers seem more confident and engaging in teaching the material than others. This is normal in any school. Extra support is available when needed. Assignments are designed very creatively, and look like they would be fun to do (from a parent's perspective!).
The focus on practical and experiential learning is excellent. Students are encouraged to think about their future and plan their academics accordingly. In later years, they are encouraged to advocate for themselves, which will serve them well in their futures. Teaching the children to be independent is a key aspect of the academic culture at Heritage. I think the academic program will prepare them for life's next steps, but am sometimes concerned that postsecondary school will be a bit of a culture shock. Because it is a small school, there are fewer elective choices available for high school courses, which is disappointing at times for the students. That said, it is more important that the few teachers at the school teach the available subjects well than if they tried to spread themselves too thinly across more subjects.
I am not aware of many extracurricular activities (e.g. clubs, teams, etc.), but that could be because my child is not particularly interested in organized activities. Additionally, because most students require transportation by parents (no buses, and school not within walking distance), pick up can be an issue for coordinating participation in after school programs. There are some clubs and sports teams. My child said that the physical education class at Heritage was the first one that actually challenged him. The end of year trip and ski club are usually big hits for the students. This year, the students are taking an exciting trip to Toronto to visit a variety of venues and participate in some fun activities. The field trips occur fairly frequently, and take the students to fun and interesting places to enhance their learning experience.
The students seem happy, polite, and respectful. When we first stepped foot in Heritage for our child's trial day, we were struck by how friendly and welcoming the students were. They were smiling, holding open doors for us, and being very outgoing. Similarly, the teachers seem happy and fulfilled in their jobs. They also treat the parents like partners in supporting the students. I have not seen any significant cases of bullying or physical fights. This is likely because discipline is handled effectively, and class sizes are small enough to see and catch problems before they bubble to the surface. They appear to support each other, and are empathetic of those with significant learning and other challenges. The students are mostly boys, which can make for boisterous classrooms, but the three strikes system and focus on positive reinforcement seems to work well.
My child likes it some days, doesn't like it other days, and is indifferent most of the time. School is school. She/he doesn't really remember what it was like in the public system, and sometimes wonders if the pastures would be greener back there. Overall, she/he likes that children are accepted at Heritage, no matter what their backgrounds, abilities, strengths, or weaknesses are. My child appreciates the diversity of students at Heritage, and is learning to be very accepting of those who are quite different from her/himself. This will be a skill that will serve her/him well in life. I would tell prospective families not to judge Heritage by its cover. The building is not as esthetically beautiful as other private schools, but the quality of the teachers and the accepting and welcome nature of the environment makes it worth exploring. My child has been very happy there.
I always feel welcome when I go into to the school, and I'm sure other parents feel the same way. The staff and teachers always smile and know who I am. It feels like a family. I don't have much experience with the broader parent community. I went to one meeting, but didn't find it particularly useful. It is possible that it just is not my thing. That said, I have, however, made friends with other parents, and it's nice to have the similar bond of having children with learning challenges - children who have not had as much success in the public system. One thing that I don't think works very well is the parent teacher interview process - at Heritage or anywhere. I would rather have a more substantive discussion with my child's teacher(s) as issues arise, rather than a five minute timed conversation once a year.
The school is in a vibrant residential part of town, and there is access to parks and places where the students can get a sandwich at lunch if they choose. A few streets over, they can access Little Italy, where there are restaurants and cafes for them to get a snack and feel part of the community. Dow's Lake is also nearby, and the students went their once to go fishing. The older students are free to venture beyond the school during their breaks, which is good, so that they can get a break for the school environment, socialize with friends, exercise their independence, and feel a part of the community. Field trips are fairly frequent, and convenient given the school's central location. Downtown is close, as are museums and other attractions. As well, the school integrates well with the broader community by inviting in external speakers to allow the students to experience things beyond the walls of the school.
The application process was simple and welcoming. It was not stressful at all. We were never made to feel like our child might not be "accepted". The trial day is a very effective way of letting students and parents find out if the school is right for them. What stands out to me about that day, apart from how happy and welcoming the staff and students were, was my child's reaction at the end of the day. He emerged from the school with a giant smile and said, "THIS school is where I belong". Based on his reaction, we knew that our long search for an appropriate school to address his/her needs was finally over. Most aspects of the school (staff, processes, etc.) are flexible in accommodating parents and students with special circumstances (e.g. joining half way through the year, etc.).