Category Archives: In The Classroom

A Graduate of I.O.U.

It is human nature to want to better ourselves. As a school, this is our main purpose…to give students academic tools and a nurturing environment that makes them better students and prepares them for the next step in their educational and life journeys.

Unfortunately, society has replaced this old-fashioned thinking with one of entitlement. Putting in the time and doing the work has been supplanted with shortcuts (usually accompanied by a monetary exchange). This story from the CBC is an excellent example.

Erwin Sniedzins, a Toronto entrepreneur and would-be politician, spent $8,100 to get a Master of Education degree in Technical Education from King’s Lake University. Sniedzins also noted that he did not want to spend $30,000 on a real degree that required him to actually do any work to earn the degree. He was shocked to find out that the “no studying, no exams, and no academic work” policy of the school was too good to be true and he had been scammed.
Sniedzins repeatedly told CBC Toronto that he never suspected a degree based on life experience that required no academic work, studying or exams could be fake as it was in line with his approach to education. “I thought that was great. They should actually have universities that do that,” he said.

Now if it were me, I would rather consider the $8,100 as unrecoverable rather than have everyone in the GTA know what an idiot I was to fall for the scam. Even worse would be to let my family, friends, and colleagues know that I was willing to buy accreditation rather than earn it!

This is not a phenomenon with adults or with post-secondary education as we see this kind of thinking even at the high school level. There are schools who offer course credits with the same promises that Mr. Sniedzins cherished; in exchange for low effort and a fee, you can get a high mark in a course that you need for university acceptance. The long-term problem comes when the student gets to post-secondary education and her/his artificial marks do not help them understand the concepts being taught. Our students, who have put in the time and effort, quickly see the difference between where they rank academically (regardless of their entrance average).

Whether it is a kindergarten student who reads their first picture book or the Grade 12 student who finally “gets” how to find an indefinite integral, it is our mandate to give students the skills to work independently and to feel that they have “earned” these skills. After all, would you rather give your child the marks to get into post-secondary studies or the skills needed to be successful and finish their degree?

Chris Starkey
Administrative Principal
Mentor College/TEAM School

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.


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.