Inch by Inch, Row by Row

“Mother Earth will make you strong, if you give her love and care.” – John Denver

You may have noticed some striking wooden planters freshly built in the front yard of the school; it seems that spring has finally sprung and construction for the brand new KCS Teaching Gardens is well underway.  Over the past several months, Ms. Tenebaum has graciously led an initiative with Mrs. Mosun and Ms. Russo to bring an exciting opportunity for outdoor education to our blossoming school community.  Special thanks to our Annual Giving supporters and Plant World for their generous contributions.

KCS has enlisted the help of a master gardener, Alexis Yanaky, to design the gardens in tandem with the Early Learning Program, the Primary Division, and some of the Junior/Intermediate learning buddies.  They have carefully curated the soils, and each section of the garden is planned around a theme:  the PK/JK Harvest Garden, the SK Butterfly/Pollinator Garden, the Grade 1 Love Garden, the Grade 2 Diversity Garden, and the Grade 3 Indigenous Garden. All of the gardens are sure to yield plenty of food, flowers, and fun!

Following the continuing successes of our Outdoor Classroom, it is no doubt that these special gardens will be a popular space for authentic outside learning experiences.  While our students tend to the soils together, they will naturally learn about healthy living & eating, environmental sustainability, community growth, and so much more.

A grade one student said, “We’re going to plant lots of different flowers and we’re going to learn about unity and how to share stuff and be thankful.”

Our KCS Teaching Gardens will produce more than fresh roses, kale, and gourds- we will cultivate rich opportunities for learning.  It is already clear that the harvest will be bountiful!

Someone is watching over you!

Separated by 6,071 km and nearly 73 years, two strangers meet to remember and honour a fallen soldier…..Let me start from the beginning!

Every two years, grade 7 and 8 students have the opportunity to spend part of March Break with teachers and interested parents on a group tour of the Canadian battlefields of Europe. Ms. Biljetina and I are the teachers who lead the trip. What I’m about to share began after my third battlefield trip, when my grandmother told me the story of her first cousin, Leslie, who died while serving in the Second World War.  His body was never recovered and his name is among those of the missing on the memorial at Groesbeek Cemetery in the Netherlands.  With my involvement with the Kingsway College School battlefield trip, it meant a great deal for me to be able to visit this site for my family.

Fast forward to March 8, 2015 when I finally had the opportunity to return to Groesbeek Cemetery, but this time it meant much more to me.  Upon arrival, I immediately looked for Leslie Roherty in the register, and there in black and white was his name, the division he served in, his place of birth, age, family information and the panel number (10) where his name is engraved.  Instantly something came over me. What was I feeling?  It is incredible how emotional I felt considering I never knew him.  While hard to explain, I felt an undeniable connection to him and it gave me a new appreciation for how difficult it must have been for my cousin Hazel and her family, my grandmother, and other family members when the message was delivered explaining that he would not be returning home from the war.  It made me think about all of those families who lost loved ones and how heartbreaking it must have been.  I was quite choked up by this experience and decided I needed to write something in the visitor’s log.  What does one say?  For someone who always has a lot to say, I found myself relatively speechless.  In the end, I wrote, “RIP Leslie Roherty” and signed my name, Jenn MacDonald.  I took many photos of the register, panel 10 and the cemetery to show to my family.  Little did I know that this was just the beginning.

Nearly one year ago, my cousin Mark Roherty received a letter from Alice van Bekkum, president of the Faces to Graves Foundation.  Alice received my aunt’s obituary and it listed Mark as her son. From there, she started her search to find the relatives of Leslie Roherty.  Last year, my cousin passed along this letter to my grandmother and asked if I had visited Groesbeek Cemetery.  Since I had not left my address, Alice was at a loss in her search for information.  Finding my cousin was the break that she needed.  In the months leading up to our recent 2017 battlefield trip, I got in touch with Alice to let her know that Groesbeek Cemetery was on our itinerary.  We were both extremely pleased that we would get to meet each other.  All of my family and I were so touched to see that there are people out there like Alice who make it their mission to put faces and stories to these brave souls.  They want people to know who they were so we can always remember the sacrifice that they made.

To understand Alice’s motivation, here is some background information on her involvement and the connection with my relative.  In 2002, Alice visited her parents’ grave where she discovered one lone Commonwealth war grave in a general cemetery in Gorinchem.  On the headstone was the soldier’s name and a date.  This piqued her interested and Alice decided to look into it.  She found out he was a Canadian soldier who was killed in the battle of Arnhem.  After doing further research and speaking with contacts at Liberation Museum, she had a clearer picture of who he was and where his body was discovered.  Alice was also in contact with this soldier’s family back in Canada.  This story picked up a lot of momentum in the news and this soldier’s family was able to get answers that they waited decades to hear.  The connection to my family you ask….this soldier was in the same storm boat as my cousin.

After many emails and text messages, the time had finally arrived for me to meet the wonderful woman who has taken such an interest in my family.  When the KCS contingent reached the cemetery, Alice was there smiling and greeting us in the parking lot.  She came with poppies for everyone on our tour, a candle to light, and a beautiful homemade heart wreath made of moss from her own garden.  Again, I found myself emotional that a complete stranger took the time to prepare all of this for my cousin.  We spoke for over half an hour while we walked around the cemetery.  As we were leaving, we placed our poppies on the wreath that she made and left it there by Leslie’s name.

There are moments and people in your life that will stick with you forever. Meeting Alice will be one of them for me.  Her compassion and dedication are remarkable and very much appreciated by my entire family and me.  The work that she and her organization do is significant.  We will never be able to thank the thousands of young men and women who gave their lives for our freedom, but with Alice’s help, we will never forget them!

– Jenn MacDonald
Grade 5 Teacher

The five-minute challenge

What can five minutes do? It can help change the world. This is the main message that went home with 160 members of the KCS community after the Encouraging Dialogue Speaker Series presented by Kingsway College School in partnership with the KCS Parent Network.

Volunteerism: Choices That Make a Difference featured a panel of non-profit leaders sharing their experiences and engaging in lively discussion with the audience. Alex Robertson, CEO of Camp Oochigeas, Kristine Gaston, Executive Director of The Leacock Foundation, Martha McClew, Provincial Director for The Terry Fox Foundation, James Noronha, Program Director for Special Olympics Ontario and Gohulan Rajalingham, Special Olympian were joined by keynote speaker and host of the evening, Canadian football legend Michael “Pinball” Clemons.

With a focus on instilling the habits of volunteerism in our children early to follow them through life, panelists encouraged the audience to help children find their passion and to teach by example. Feel uncomfortable and feel nervous. Show your children that is how you are feeling and show them that volunteering can be hard. And show them that it’s all worth it.

Pinball and our panelists issued a challenge: start with five minutes a day. Just five minutes to make someone’s day better. Soon, those five minutes turns to twenty, then an hour. Before you know it, a habit has formed that will help our children become volunteer leaders of tomorrow.

What is truly remarkable about our passionate KCS community is the level of volunteerism we see at the school every day. This event, for example, was made possible by the generosity of two volunteers from the KCS Parent Network. Parent volunteers who devoted hours of their time to ensuring that this annual event was the best one yet and provided our community with an unforgettable experience.

It just takes five minutes to help change the world. What will you do with your five minutes today?

A Dialogue on Volunteerism

Electric. Motivating. Inspiring.

These are just a few of the words that could be used to describe Tuesday’s fantastic assembly in Canada Hall. Thanks to the generous support of the Kingsway College School Parent Network for the Talk That Matters Speaker series, KCS proudly welcomed an impressive panel of guest speakers whose message of volunteerism electrified our students, staff and faculty. Canadian Football legend, Michael “Pinball” Clemons, Program Director for Special Olympics Ontario, James Noronha, and Special Olympian Gohulan Rajlingam shared uplifting stories of how they came to embrace volunteerism.

With his energetic and engaging style, Pinball Clemons asked the students to pause and reflect on what it means to be in the service of others. Like The Good Samaritan or Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Pinball reminded the audience of people who believed in the goodness that comes from standing up for others. He spoke eloquently of his own mother, who worked very hard to raise him by herself and instill in him a deep understanding of giving back to the community.

James Noronha and Gohulan Rajlingam each shared personal stories of how the Special Olympics presented them with many opportunities to build community spirit, celebrate exceptional athletes in multiple sports and cultivate a tightly knit network of friends and families whose generous spirit connected them forever. James also explained how he was drawn to volunteerism as a thirteen-year-old student. By typing and mailing a simple letter to the Trillium Hospital, James began his lifelong journey of helping others.  After listening to these wonderful stories, what may be holding you back from reaching out and making a difference?

What makes a community great?  Without a doubt, it’s when we stand up and help others with the gift of time. Whether it is investing 5 minutes a day to make someone’s morning brighter, or five hours filling the Wall of Service, these simple gestures have the power to make a big difference. We all win when volunteerism becomes a part of who we are.

A very special thank you to our Parent Network volunteers, Mrs. Alison Bell and Dr. Christina Semler for their tremendous support of this unforgettable event. Now that deserves a Pinball Clemons high five!

The Benefits of Outdoor Education

I was first introduced to Outdoor Education as an international student completing my teaching degree in New South Wales, Australia. Although I was familiar with “Environmental Ed,” it was not until I experienced The Earth Keepers program that I acquired a deeper understanding of experiential learning. For one, I discovered that traversing the Australian back country is very different than bushwhacking through Canadian forests. The abundance of poisonous snakes, arachnids and spiny plants required a deliberate mind shift. Luckily, my Aussie instructors were quick to correct my “Canadian style hiking.” When the program concluded, many of my classmates agreed that exploring unfamiliar territory in an unfamiliar country was a learning experience that would be remembered forever.

Every September, KCS students participate in our longstanding tradition of outdoor education. Led by outdoor specialists and KCS faculty, Grade 6, 7 and 8 students are immersed in many unforgettable experiences. Each three-day program is uniquely tailored to help students reconnect with classmates, engage in team-building exercises and begin the fall term both re-energized and in a positive frame of mind.
Our students are practicing farm-to-table by preparing meals created with ingredients harvested within a hundred kilometer radius of the city. They are building trust and teamwork by navigating challenging ropes courses and testing their limits with rock climbing and rappelling at Rattlesnake Point. And my personal favourite, students are introduced to early Canadian history when they reconstruct the challenging life an 18th century fur trader.

All of these activities are linked together by a fundamental and defining thread: Hands-on learning flourishes when students take responsible risks, step out of their comfort zones and push themselves to try something new.

As many of us become more accustomed to an urban lifestyle, connecting with the outdoors has become an important issue. I am reminded of Richard Louv’s influential book Last Child in the Woods. As our cities grow and green spaces recede, Louv’s poignant observation that “direct exposure to nature is essential for healthy childhood development and for the physical and emotional health of children and adults” seems to ring true now more than ever. In the beginning, I thought that I understood outdoor education. I thought that I was a capable outdoor enthusiast. I thought that environmental education was simply learning in an outdoor classroom. Australian Earth Keepers opened my eyes. Experiential learning at KCS opened them even wider.

Outdoor education at Kingsway College School not only encourages students to try their best, but it also recognizes that leadership, environmental stewardship, and personal development reap benefits that transcend the traditional classroom. Besides, where else can you dress up as the Mad Trapper of Norval?

 

Milestones and Moments

For students, teachers and parents, September is a month that stirs up a flood of memories.  Perhaps you can recall a vivid memory of a particular first day of school that stands out from the rest.

This week marks an important milestone for two unique groups of KCS students.  One group will take the first steps of their educational journey in our Early Learning Program; meanwhile, our grade 8s have officially marked their last “first day of school” as an elementary student.

It is said that time has wings and in that spirit, we wish the classes of 2027 and the class of 2017 a happy, successful and memorable school year.

Engaged with their art projects and preparing for their outdoor education trip to Norval–our youngest and our oldest students mark their KCS milestones

Learn, Adapt, Launch, Repeat – Design Thinking at KCS Part 1

HeadandArrowssmallEarlier this year I wrote about our debut with design thinking. For readers still unfamiliar with what that means, here’s my attempt to describe it:

Design thinking is a process that takes a group of people from ‘complex problem’ to ‘solution’ in ways that are exceptionally correlated with success. Design thinking deeply engages all stakeholders, requires them to empathise with all affected, and reins in the more typical ‘rush to conclusion’ so creative win-win thinking has time to emerge.

While the specifics can vary according to task and organisation, the method is clear and comprehensive. Thanks to Project 2051 at the Canadian Accredited Independent Schools (CAIS) Leadership Institute last summer, I became acutely aware of its power and potential. Inspired, we have adopted design thinking, adapted it to meet our needs, and launched two new innovations that are rocking our world.

The earlier blog explained how we’ve established a new form of student leadership that allows all interested senior students and staff to work together to make KCS the best it can be. Here’s the design thinking process we’re following:

  1. What is the design challenge?
    1. What problems are you aware of that need fixing?
    2. What challenges are you aware of that are worth addressing?
    3. What opportunities have occurred to you that are worth pursuing?
  2. What do you need to know?
    1. Who is affected?
    2. What are their perspectives?
    3. What research can inform you?
    4. What can you learn from others’ experiences?
  3. What ideas address your design challenge?
    1. What can you think of?
    2. Which are win-win for all?
    3. Get feedback from a larger group
  4. Act
    1. Pilot at a small scale
    2. Reflect and iterate
    3. Expand to address the challenge

We started as a small but intrepid group. Since our November launch, the group has quadrupled in size. The design challenge we’ve chosen to pursue first, identified by a grade 7 student, is the following: “How do we better enable differentiated learning at KCS?” We’ve since conducted a survey with the grade 6 to 8 students to learn more about how they best learn. Later this month, we’ll be launching this year’s Student Voice topic so we can hear from all students about differentiated learning and how to improve it. The KCS by Design members are currently preparing frequency distribution graphs and PowerPoint slides so they can share their findings through presentations to faculty, senior students, and the whole school (separately), as well as through presentation boards in the foyer for parents. Finally, Mrs. Drummond and I have launched a new elective as a prototype that makes more differentiated learning possible at KCS. That exciting venture will be Part 2 in the story of “Learn, Adapt, Launch, Repeat”.

This is what all leadership should be built upon. Engaging, listening to, learning from, prototyping with, and informing the whole school community makes smart innovation possible. I can’t wait to see where this journey goes. The inspiration that began with Project 2051 energises every step of the way.

Andrea Fanjoy,
Assistant Head, Academics
You can follow Andrea on Twitter @afanjoy.

Build Pride and Confidence in Reading and Watch Self-Esteem Soar

There’s a young student at school who I have worked with for a couple of years now. When I first met her, she was a bright-eyed, energetic child, with a wonderful imagination, who delighted in challenging me to games. When she was able to surprise me or beat me at a game, the laugh that rang out of her was pure joy.  She was an absolute delight – confident and happy.

But the next year, she was less enthusiastic, especially when it came time to read out loud. In fact, she would often have spontaneous aches, pains, or itchy bug bites that would prevent her from reading to me. I soon realised that she was no longer feeling confident about reading, and no amount of reassurance from me seemed to help for more than a few minutes.

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Ms. Pollett-Boyle working with Lexia. Her holiday outfit courtesy of KCS Spirit Day – Beach Day.

Mid-year, I introduced her to Lexia.

At first, she needed encouragement to use the program, and a little support to help her understand the instructions. But once she had a little taste of success, that started to change. Soon, she was regularly coming up to my desk to tell me about the 20-second humorous videos that tell the student they have met the target number of correct responses for that task.  (As we know, brain research shows that humour creates new neural pathways which help move new knowledge to long term memory.)

Passing a level in Lexia is the equivalent of a third of a grade level – or one term. Each level has scenes from a particular place, and the mini videos are connected to that location. Students travel the world as they progress. The day this student received her first visit from our Assistant Head, Academics, Mme Fanjoy, to congratulate her on moving up a level in Lexia, it was a real turning point in her motivation. It was an enormous achievement, and she knew it – and it also meant she was leaving London and going on to explore Paris!

Her new motivation to pass another level was evident. Each day she would stop me or Mme Fanjoy to tell us she had worked on Lexia the night before (a fact I already knew, because teachers can check on their students’ progress online). One day she came into class and told me she was having “Lexia dreams” at night, in which she passed 30 levels all at once.

Then, on one sunny spring day, I was out on yard duty for recess. I watched as this student ran full speed toward me, all the way from the entrance of the park, with a huge smile on her face. Of course I already knew what she was going to tell me (I had been rooting for her at home the night before, when I checked in to Lexia to see how she was doing), but nothing could have beat that look of pride and confidence that she had when she told me she had passed another level. Goodbye Paris – hello NEXT LEVEL CITY!

Teresa Pollett-Boyle
Learning Strategies Teacher, Drama teacher, Arts Coordinator