We first enrolled our son Oscar at WillowWood School in 2015 after we saw him struggle both socially and with reading among other topics in jk, k and grade one at first public than another private school. Within the first month, we saw a dramatic change both in how he was interacting with other students but also in his ability to read. The first year there was called a foundation year and he was given a specialized learning plan that matched where he needed assistance in how to best learn. This quickly helped his confidence level which helped him socially and academically. Oscar has now been with WillowWood for his 7th year, making the honour roll every year. WillowWood's zero tolerance for bullying has allowed Oscar and all the students to be able to go to school in a safe and supportive environment. In every case where there have been issues to deal with, the teachers have been engaged and the senior staff consultative and responsive. We had thought of moving Oscar into the public system for high school but given how confident we are in how WillowWood is supporting Oscar, we have decided not to take the risk and stay the course. I have been waiting each year to see if we would see a different experience with a new year and teacher and can tell you all of the teachers have been amazing. They have been instrumental in helping shape Oscar into the great young man and leader we have seen him become and there is no price that can be put on that!
We have been extremely happy with all of the teachers but also the school leadership. We have had some "interesting" situations over the early years, especially with our son who was navigating socially accepted ways of acting at times and the leadership has quickly engaged us and been a partner to ensure that we develop and work a plan to get us through to the "other" side. The leadership team is not just spectators, they know my son and he knows them. Communication has been highly effective and responsive. They take advantage of online tools but are always there if you just need to speak with someone!
As also mentioned each year both Oscar and my wife and I have been super impressed with the quality and consistency. Especially over the past 2 years where we had to pivot to Online learning, the teachers at WillowWood ensured that they were still actively teaching and the kids were learning. When I compare what our experience has been to other parents and their kids both in the public system but also other public schools I am so happy we have our son enrolled at WillowWood. Whether it be his homeroom teacher, which has been so consistently solid or specialty classes like French, the experience but also the results have been best in class. There have been a number of situations where Oscar has faced challenges, the teacher not only has provided constructive feedback but also helped him develop a plan and approach that he could work through to make the necessary improvements. Our son has regular assignments, homework and requirements to prepare for tests that have enabled him to develop a solid work ethic.
Academics is the core focus of the program at WillowWood or at least that is what we have seen with the experience of our son. We have been very pleased with how our son has developed in the area of mathematics especially. Our son initially struggled with reading and the early approaches of the teachers in the core program were instrumental in accelerating his ability to improve his skills. This is still probably his own personal area where he needs to invest more time outside of school but the assignments and in-class reading have definitely helped. Science, Social Studies and French are classes where our son has really improved and know that were it not for the teaching approaches given by WillowWood he would not have done as well.
Extracurriculars really needs to be looked at in terms of pre-COVID and the last 2 years. The school offers a number of extracurricular activities, pre-COVID our son was really getting engaged in basketball and had joined the school team, competing against other private schools. This is likely an area that isn't as strong as potentially some other private or public schools. During COVID, it hasn't been a concern but now that we are getting back to doing these activities we do hope our son can engage here and have the balance we believe is important. Our son is also involved in sports outside of school and we do believe it is important to develop the social skills and team skills needed. The school does make a solid effort here.
What we have really loved about WillowWood is that the size of the school is large enough to enable them to provide a range of services while still maintaining smaller classrooms but overall school sizes to allow the students to get to know others. The school spirit is very alive and even during COVID the teachers, leadership and student body did an amazing job of getting people connected. The greatest strength I see at WillowWood is their inclusive nature and how at least they have helped our son become a caring young man who is taught to respect and thrive on the differences within the student body. If there are "cliques" or groups of students who act like they are better, we have certainly never seen or heard of it. The school has been very clear and responsive to immediately address any situations that could develop into problems with kids feeling isolated!
We regularly have discussion with our son as to whether he wants to continue his education at WillowWood or try a different school. So far he has been firm at wanting to stay the course at WillowWood. He has been able to develop very strong relationships with his classmates, which did take some time. He rarely if ever misses school and has really developed a strong proactive work ethic so that he is very prepared and excited to go to school. Some of this may be him or work we have done but I have to give the school major credit for how he has developed this lifelong skill and attitude. The school has been so encouraging and the teachers our son has had have consistently made amazing efforts to build strong relationships with him. They have also helped in developing leadership skills. I am confident that WillowWood will be able to continue to deliver the broader school environment of inclusion and acceptance while balancing this with a competitive spirit to ensure he feels proud of where he goes to school. Engaging with other schools in competitive programs is something we want our son more engaged with, both sports and academics! Anything the school can do to help market this to the students but also to us parents would be welcomed.
The last 2 years (COVID) has definitely had an impact in terms of the collective ability of the parents to be more involved and engaged but despite this, the school has a strong history of holding various events where we have met other parents and many of these have grown into personal relationships. A limiting factor here however has been the proximity of the school as compared to public schools in our immediate neighborhood. After-school play dates or getting together socially has required more effort and coordination. Many of the parents at WillowWood are professionals and as a result, have busy lives that I think is the greatest impediment to being more involved. I would encourage the school to continue to be creative and look for ways to engage and encourage us to be more involved. In today's age, it seems everything needs to be more planned out in advance!
My inability to accurately answer this, or at least the second part of venturing out beyond the school grounds, likely means this is an area that the school could look at improving. Unfortunately most if not all the kids live in city locations that are dispersed which makes the after-school environment less conducive to spontaneous social activities. In an ideal world, the school would be closer to where we live and the students also all live in the same or closer neighbourhoods but this is a trade-off we know we have for all the benefits we have described! I was surprised this year though how quickly my son was able to get home on public transit but still not ideal.