Category Archives: In The Classroom

A Time For Endings And Beginnings

June is a time of both endings and beginnings.

I was at my oldest daughter’s convocation in Halifax on the weekend; having your first child graduate from university makes you very sentimental. Even though she has been on her own for the better part of four years, I finally saw that she was an adult. She showed us the place where she got her entry-level job and talked about the pros and cons of the non-student apartment she is getting in September. Despite all of this mature conversation, however, I still saw my little girl from Mentor. The same four-year-old who hid under one of Miss Kane’s tables in JK (and wouldn’t even come out when Mrs. Philbrook was called in for the extraction!) still likes her alone time. The Grade 4 student who beamed for two months straight while she was playing “Wendy” in the Primary Campus production of “Peter Pan” had that same smile as she strode across the Dalhousie stage to receive her diploma. The Grade 7 student whose poems were kept by her teacher as samples for future classes to read was the editor/publisher of the arts journal this past year and the HS student who was asked to compose some songs for the spring play still takes out her guitar and uploads originals and covers to her YouTube channel (not to be “discovered”…just because her friends and family love to hear her). In her Grade 12 yearbook (photo above), she wrote

It’s odd to think that next year will be the first year of my life that I cannot call myself a Mentor student. I’ve been through a lot in these buildings and I know in some way it will always be a part of my story. Thank you to all my teachers and friends; even when I’m not walking down these halls every day, these years will always be with me. I love you all! DFTBA

She has gone through a number of endings already and is starting another one of her beginnings.

Just as she is still going through endings and beginnings, so too do our students still here at the school. The ending part is pretty obvious as young students go on their last field trip, elementary students have their final rotary class, and high school students have their last day of classes. These next two weeks are particularly meaningful to the “graduates” (Mentor Grade 4s and the Grade 8 and 12 students of Mentor/TEAM/TSS) as they spend their last few days as the senior students of the division. The year is capped off with a diploma and/or report card. In that report card, it says that a year of academic accomplishment has been completed and that the student is ready for the beginning of the next year of their academic life. For most students, it is simply moving up one grade but for others (like the Grade 12s heading to post-secondary education) it means a new school entirely. No matter what the situation, each student has a great set of academic tools and a wonderful year of memories to equip them for whatever the future holds.

Chris Starkey
Administrative Principal
Mentor College / TEAM School

Talking AP With Mr. Whyte

This week, we sit down with Mentor’s High School principal Mr. Whyte to talk about the AP (Advanced Placement) programme:

Can you tell us a little about the AP programme?

The AP courses and the exams in May give our students the opportunity to earn a standardized university credit for the high level at which they complete their courses at Mentor College. All universities in North America are looking at this score as an official recognition of knowledge and skills in a certain subject. Given the reputation of The College Board (the institution running this programme) these scores are regarded as true indications of student performance and potential. While each university has its own rule for accepting the score and granting the equivalent credit for it, it definitely looks good on an application!

How is AP implemented at Mentor College?

Since we are not a semester school, the implementation is much easier. The recommendation of The College Board is that these courses are taught over the entire course of the school year … which comes as no surprise since there is need for much quality effort to be put forth in order to write a successful exam. Our students will be enrolled in a regular course, for which they are granted the regular Ontario credit, meanwhile they attend an additional AP support class required to cover all the additional units (not included in the Ontario Curriculum). The marks attained in the regular class will be the ones on the transcript and the ones submitted to universities by our school. During the support class students will be evaluated to monitor their progress, but those marks are not reported officially.

How does the scoring system work?

In May (usually at the end of the first week) all AP students from participating schools will write an exam on the same day, at the same time. Rules are very strict and the exams are immediately mailed to the College Board where readers will mark them in a standardized manner. The score is a number out of 5 with 1 and 2 considered as a fail, and 3, 4 or 5 are passes. With a score of 4 or 5 a student is almost guaranteed a university credit. Students have a choice of sending their scores to universities or not. At the start of their exam they will indicate which universities they would like their scores to be reported to. If they are hesitant and prefer to do the exam first and decide later, they can do that, too. Once the results come in, students can ask the College Board to report their score at a later date.

What if an AP University credit is not granted?

Even if the university decides not to grant the credit, the students who went through this course will have a clear advantage anyway. The AP course content coincides so much with first year university syllabus that the whole university course will seem as a simple review of what students have already done. Their marks will be exceptional and their chances to be admitted into graduate programs increase very much.

How do Mentor students tend to do on the AP test?

Last year the Mentor College average was 4.5, a great score for any school. 25 students of the 38 in AP classes at Mentor College scored perfect scores of 5!

Who is eligible to attend an AP course at Mentor College?

It is a course open to students by invitation only. Teachers of Grade 11 students will recommend a number of potential candidates. The list is subject to approval by the principal. Due to the nature of this program, there are some fees involved. There will be a deadline in terms of payments and registration, after which the AP sections will be formed for the following school year and the classes are indicated in the schedule sent out in July.

What AP courses does Mentor offer?

We try to cover as broad a spectrum as possible. Currently, we offer French, Microeconomics, Macroeconomics, Physics 1, Physics 2, Physics C, Chemistry, Biology, Calculus AB, Calculus BC, Statistics, English Literature and Composition, and United States History.

Can you offer any words of wisdom to potential candidates?

Any student who is invited should be proud and give it careful consideration. In the long run, such a program can open valuable opportunities. The dedication of all teachers involved goes beyond all expectations, and all invited students should be aware of such a great opportunity.

ExamNation

downloadI don’t remember feeling as much stress in a school environment than when I went to write my first university examination. I had never written an evaluation in anything bigger than a classroom and there I was with over 1000 students in the gym in long rows of desks with a student card, two pens, and a queasy stomach! This is one of the reasons why we give our Mentor high school students the “experience” of final examinations in the gym every June and why our students will have up to 9 years of experience in the examination process before they start post-secondary studies.

Having reached the half-way point of the school year, over three-quarters of our students began writing a set of evaluations this week. Depending on the grade level, these might be called tests, evaluations, midterms, or examinations and because the terminology changes (especially from Grade 8 to Grade 9), I thought it would be appropriate to clarify the terminology and to let you know why we do what we do.

The similarities for ALL students writing evaluations this week is that they are being tested on all of the material covered so far this school year and the results of the evaluation will be shared with students and parents. There are differences on the reporting of results, the weighting of those results, and the terminology for evaluation (based on age and programme) which can be explained as follows:

The Junior students (Grade 5 and 6) at TEAM and Mentor’s Grade 4s are writing examinations. They are marked, reviewed and shared with parents but these results do not appear on the March progress report card. For most of these students, it is their first attempt at formal examinations and we want these students to get accustomed to the entire process without the need for a grade to appear on a report card.

Mentor’s Intermediate Division (Grades 5 to 8) and the Intermediate and Senior TEAM (Grade 7 and 8) students are also writing examinations. They are marked, reviewed, and shared and the results will appear on the March progress report. These students are being prepared for their secondary school years so we feel it is important to set students up for the next stage where grades become a more prevalent indicator of academic achievement.

Even they are studying in the highest academic level we offer, our high school (TSS and Mentor) students do NOT write examinations in January. Depending on who is describing them, you might hear them called mid-terms, mid-year evaluations, or major tests but they cannot officially be called examinations. Most students in Ontario are in a semestered system (two 5-month terms of up to 4 courses) but our students are in a full-year or traditional system (one 10-month year of up to 8 courses). The Ministry of Education says a final evaluation must be given at the end of a course and must make up 30% of the final grade. Our students are not finished their courses yet so they are writing evaluations that have a 10% weighting (based on the material studied so far) toward the final grade. A final examination for our high school students will concentrate more on the second half of the year but will still evaluate material from the entire course to satisfy this Ministry requirement. The Ministry also only allows schools 10 examination dates per year so we save these for June when the results are worth up to 30% and students can focus exclusively on studying (eg: students only come to school for their examination time).

Because our HS midterms are worth 10% of the final grade, I have downplayed their significance with my own kids (“they are just tests!”, I tell them) but Mentor principal Mr. Whyte says he doesn’t mind when parents and students call them exams because it shows they are taken seriously. He also notes that for his Grade 12 students, the midterm is almost like a final examination because it is the last (and in many cases, weightiest) evaluation on the marks passed along to the universities before they send out their acceptances. I never thought of it that way!

In the end, you want us to provide a solid foundation for your children so they can be successful in their post-secondary education. Studying for and writing evaluations (no matter what you call them) in a somewhat-compressed time period is part of the post-secondary experience so that is why we take the time twice a year to teach those skills and expose our students to the process. Students are reminded that part of that “process” is to study, keep hydrated, eat well, get lots of sleep and exercise and to listen to your parents when they tell you that you aren’t doing enough of any of those things!

Chris Starkey
Administrative Principal
Mentor College / TEAM School

Spelling Counts

download-1I am trying to decide if it is my advancing years or if it is society in general but I am getting less tolerant when people either do not do what they have promised or change their minds about something that was once important.

I first noticed this with some of the suppliers with whom I deal as the administrative principal of the schools. Rather than wanting to work to keep my business, I was surprised that there was a sense of entitlement to it and I was the last person on their list of customers to satisfy instead of the first. Other times, I would get a quote for work to be done and it was me (not them) who wanted to get the last few pieces of the project completed. The only thing that was prompt was the issuing of an invoice and their expectation that I would pay it immediately (even if I had been kept waiting for the service to be completed).

School Employee Fired for Correcting Students’ Spelling on Twitter

This story is a great example of this. A school board realized that their Twitter feed was “a bit flat” so they hired a 34-year-old as their Web Experience Coordinator to get “some more engagement” with its customers (students). Student focus groups said things were working well and that students were getting more involved because the Board was responding to their tweets. Everything was fine until a student tweeted “close school tammarow, PLEASE” and the response was “but then how would you learn how to spell tomorrow” (with a requisite smiley face emoticon). Personally, I think the tweetmaster could have worded the response a bit differently to reduce the potential for people to be offended (“being offended” is another thing that is either a by-product of my age or society in general) but the “damage” was done. Even though most of the responses were positive before and after the tweet, the employee was terminated for doing exactly what the Board expected!

When it comes to our relationship with our parents and students, we hope that you do not get the feeling that we are “entitled” to your continued support…whether you have been a parent at the school for 15 days (eg: started school in January) or 15 years (eg: have students here at the school and also off in university). We also hope that when we say we are going to do something (phone you every month, prepare your child for post-secondary education, etc.), you not only see that we follow through on those promises but also know that from the teacher all the way up to Mr. Macdonald, we will listen to your concerns if you feel that we are not keeping up our end of the bargain.

Parlez-vous français?

wertman-r-2When I first decided in Grade 6 that I wanted to be a teacher, my Mom (a teacher) told me that I would always have a job in the field of education if I was qualified to teach French. I heeded her advice and got a minor in French at university and even though I have never used it, I am qualified to teach French and have always had a job in education. You will, however, want to move your kids to a different school if I am ever transferred into a French teaching position at Mentor as I was barely able to order a sandwich at a Mr. Sub in Lévis the last time I was driving through Quebec! The old saying …”if you don’t use it, you lose it” is true about languages.

This past week, there was an article in the Globe and Mail about the French Immersion programme at nearby Mineola Public School (or, to be more precise, about the English programme there). The Peel District School Board starts French Immersion (or “FI”) in Grade 1 at selected schools and at Mineola, only 2 of the 62 students are in the English stream. The Board is hinting that in schools like Mineola might need to become solely French Immersion and that the English stream students will need to be accommodated elsewhere.

I knew FI was getting more popular but I did not know that in the Peel Board, close to 25% of all Grade 1 students are in the programme! At last Saturday’s Open House, I spoke to two families with students in FI who are looking for a change so I got more curious about it. I admittedly do not know much about French immersion (I thought it was when someone fell into the Seine River!) so I spoke with Rebecca Wertman. Mme Wertman is a French teacher at the Primary Campus, is a Mentor College graduate, and spent the first 4 years of her teaching career in French Immersion.

Starkey: The article suggests that parents are looking for a “competitive advantage” in French Immersion. What do you think the competitive advantage is?

Wertman: Many of my students were first or second generation Canadians and the parents didn’t know the extent of the bilinguality of Canada. They believed that job prospects would be better with both languages and for some people (like my sister, a unilingual research scientist) this is true but FI is not for everyone…particularly those for whom French may actually be a third language. There is also a perception that FI is like private school with small classes and specialized programming so just like our parents say “my son goes to Mentor/TEAM”, there might be some saying “my son is in French Immersion”. I also think that the term “competitive advantage” refers to a programme that has a higher perceived level of difficulty.

Starkey: So is French Immersion more difficult?

Wertman: In Grade 1, 90% of the instruction was in French so the students were getting most of their other lessons (science, social studies, etc.) in a language they were just learning. That is hard. Then in Grade 2, the split was 50/50. We had literature stories that we studied in both French and English so you never knew as a teacher if the student knew the material in French or not. We had to make the French/English switchover either every other day or at lunchtime so that was difficult. For students who are not hard-wired for languages and are not independent learners, it can be difficult to the point of frustration. If the student does succeed, the ultimate goal of FI is the “certificate of bilingualism” but so very few students actually earn it.

Starkey: If that is the goal, why don’t more students stay in French Immersion?

Wertman: Lots of reasons! Grade 3 (after the EQAO) tests was usually the first big drop-off as parents realized that their child might need more work on literacy and numeracy. FI was pretty new to the Board when I was there and parents got frustrated with the programme bouncing from school to school. I taught at 3 different schools in 4 years! I think the perception was out there that more resources were devoted to FI but I remember that we would only get the phonics textbook every 3rd day because we were sharing with other classes in the grade. I think some parents saw that it was a challenge to teach the two languages without some amendments to science, math, and all the other subjects as well. Most students just kind of faded away. The certificate of bilingualism isn’t awarded until after Grade 12 and I know that some parents realized after a few years that they weren’t prepared to make that long-term commitment all the way through high school anymore.

Starkey: Are you considering French Immersion for your own children?

Wertman: No, they will be Mentor kids. I wouldn’t put my own kids in French Immersion, which is ironic because we live right across the street from an FI school! Not only does Mentor give our students the academic advantage of starting French at JK, Mentor has amazing French teachers that make the language FUN. We are allowed to use music and drama and we have the freedom to explore themes that the kids love both in and out of the curriculum. When it comes time to audition for the school musical and I hear students say they are too shy to try, I tell them they have already been in so many French plays in front of students and parents already!

Starkey: So because you went to Mentor, does that mean you are not bilingual?

Wertman: I did not get a certificate in Grade 12 but I would still say that Mentor is the reason I am bilingual. I loved my French teachers here and as I got older, I gained confidence in the language. Without them, I wouldn’t have chosen French for my university major and would certainly not been brave enough to spend a summer living and working in rural Quebec. That’s also why I know my kids can be bilingual (if they choose to be) without French Immersion.

Starkey: Speaking only as a teacher, what is the biggest difference at Mentor?

Wertman: When I was in a school with FI and English streams, there were some teachers who wouldn’t even talk to each other because they didn’t view each other as being part of the same school. What I love most about Mentor is that the entire staff works together to help each other out. Whether the staff member is teaching French, a homeroom, science, or working as a supply, the atmosphere is just so positive!

Starkey: Well you are definitely a part of that positivity! Thanks for taking the time to answer my questions.