Category Archives: In The Classroom

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.

“Murdoch Mysteries”

diplomaI had the pleasure of attending the Grade 8 to 9 Orientation Night at TEAM/TSS last Thursday night and was even given the opportunity to tell a few stories about TSS students and teachers. I am not at TEAM School as much as I would like so the stories were from my perspective as a principal that spends most of his day at the Main Campus.

TEAM Secondary School really is the best of both worlds. For students who thrive in small class settings and are leaning towards a college education, the academic environment we provide is a perfect fit for them. Other private schools like TSS exist but not only do we believe that our academic programme is more challenging, we know that none of them are able to provide all of the extra-curricular opportunities that the Mentor/TSS student body combined can. High schools with even twice as many students as TSS rarely have sports teams, specialty clubs, cool trips, and arts programmes and when you think about it, those are things as parents you probably remember most about your high school years. Why is it that I can tell lots of stories about experiences and skills learned from Mr. Murdoch my Grade 10 basketball coach but none about Mr. Murdoch (same guy!) my Grade 10 business teacher?

In my youth (and in my town), there were no real high school choices. There wasn’t a Catholic secondary school anywhere nearby and I had only even heard of one private school (Alma College in St. Thomas). There weren’t acronyms like IB, AP and SHSM being advertised by the Board to entice me to a specific school; it was Goderich DCI or nothing. It worked for me but it was not suited for everyone. Our Grade 8 students (both at TEAM and Mentor) have already found a good “fit” for an academic programme so the transition to high school (while still an adjustment) is not that daunting and actually really exciting.

If you missed last week’s orientation nights at Mentor or TEAM, please contact the school and we would be glad to inform you about the Ontario secondary school system and tell you about TSS/Mentor’s place within it.

Chris Starkey
Administrative Principal
Mentor College / TEAM School

Possum-bilities? Endless!

opossumIt was pointed out to me on Wednesday night that, with my youngest child in Grade 12, I was attending my final Speech Night as a parent (4 years with the eldest, 8 years with both kids and 4 years with the youngest for a total of 16 years!). I told my daughter afterwards that I thought it was her best one of the lot and her response was “You don’t remember my ‘Opossum’ speech in Grade 3, do you?” She inherited her mother’s looks and intelligence but definitely has her father’s wit!

Many, many years ago, we invited a graduating HS student by the name of Mike Zogala to speak to the Grade 8 class at their grad ceremony. We hand-picked him because we knew he was an excellent speaker and marketing-wise, we hoped he would be a great example of “how your kids will turn out if they stay at Mentor for high school”. His very first lines to the audience were: “I have dreaded Speech Night for 13 years. Now that I actually have a choice in the matter, I say ‘yes’ to giving a speech in front of students and parents! What is wrong with me?”

Mike had those feelings of dread almost 20 years ago and I imagine if I took a quick poll of the HS students who presented their speeches on Tuesday (TSS) and Wednesday (Mentor), the majority would agree that they could think of much better things to do on a school night. What I will also bet is that if I asked the question “was Speech Night worth it?” to our alumni, they would no doubt be on the other side of the argument. University students come back and tell us all the time that when it is time for group presentations, they are almost always voted as the person “to do the talking”. One of the shyest girls I ever coached in volleyball is now a liaison officer for a university and talking in front of strangers for a living. And Mike Zogala? Last I heard, he is a lawyer in New York City and I assume still uses “persuasive speech” in order to be successful.

As we prepare for our first Open House this Saturday, I think that one of the great advantages we have as a JK to Grade 12 school is the school-wide events we hold like Speech Night. We smile at our kids while they recite poems and songs in kindergarten and then before you know it, they are in their graduating year discussing varied topics like “Memory and Self-Identity”, “The Butterfly Effect”, “I Speak Cantonese, NOT Mandarin”, and “Hilma af Klint”. I doubt that my kid (or anyone!) will ever need to speak again about Hilma af Klint (a turn-of-the-century Swedish abstract artist obsessed with the paranormal…to save you a Google search), but the skills used and experience of presenting this speech will be used for years to come. If you know a family who would find the same benefits in a Mentor College and TEAM School education that you have discovered, please invite them to come see our school this Saturday morning!

Chris Starkey
Administrative Principal
Mentor College / TEAM School

What Silence Can Teach Us

img_0570It has been a busy few weeks here at Mentor College with the introduction to of Edsby to students and parents. Instructions have been shared with students, parents have been notified of this new program via email, teachers have been posting on their pages and many other forms of communication are taking place between students, parents, teachers and principals.
Prior to Thanksgiving, I was fortunate enough to travel to the Outdoor Education Centre with 2 of High School’s leadership classes. We were able to avoid the rain and that presented an opportunity that I have not had in a very long time. Following our campfire on Saturday evening some students noticed the starry night sky above. They asked if we could all lie down on the grass volleyball court and watch the stars.

As we lay on the field a hush fell over the group. Chatter turned to complete quiet and for twenty minutes, 37 seventeen-year olds remained speechless, literally and metaphorically. The only sounds were the oohs and ahhs when a shooting star (or 4) streaked by. I lay there waiting for the silence to be broken by a giggle that I knew would erupt into laughter. It did not happen. Eventually the air became a little too cool and we moved into the OEC to warm up. As we walked back Ms. Higgs and I overheard students state they had never heard the world so quiet.
There are not enough moments like these in our lives. Our fast paced world has almost taken over our daily lives. It is difficult to escape the notifications from our devices or even the hum of electricity. If you have the opportunity in the near future I would highly suggest taking some complete quiet time like this for yourself. Consider it a restart of sorts.

Another more impressive moment was seeing maturity in action. These students knew the significance of what they were doing, when they were doing it. We are very good at appreciating memorable moments after the fact, but to recognize value in the moment and then fully embrace it was impressive to say the least.

Finally, as an educator I believe in the power of experiential learning. Whether it is an overseas trip to India or Iceland, running a school event like our annual Fashion and Art shows or simply sitting quietly under the stars, experience is a powerful teacher. At Mentor College we are proud to offer numerous clubs, organizations, teams and events that create these opportunities for students to share in and learn from. As you browse through your Edsby pages you will see the wide variety of opportunities that your student can take part in. Please encourage your child to engage in some of these in order to have the best possible school year.

Aneil Panchal
Assistant Vice-Principal
High School Division

Close Encounters of the Alumni Kind

img_0699When I was a student, I would see my teachers outside of school quite a bit. The fact that I was from a small town with one mall and two grocery stores was the main reason; there were relatively few places to go so you were bound to see people you knew. During my first summer of university, I would frequently serve former teachers when they were looking to cool off as I was the proprietor of the “Tin Roof Ice Cream Hut” and also worked part-time at the Brewers’ Retail.

I have enjoyed several alumni encounters and heard of others recently. Myna was my waitress at a local restaurant (earning money to pay off student loans accrued while getting her MBA). Virginia popped into the school today to tell us that she is the head coach of the U of T cheerleading team. I congratulated Shahir on his new gig as a co-host of the CBC show “The Goods” when he tweeted a photo of himself with Peter Mansbridge (who was a part of our school for a few hours as a participant in our “Speaker Series”. While I was umpiring this summer, I re-connected with alumni-turned-slopitch-players Shawn (now a lawyer) and Mitch (who at 28 years old is the senior staff member of an online app company with almost 100 employees!).

It wasn’t just me; three of our high school teacher had this happen to them as well. Mrs. McRae enjoyed a night with some members of the high school Class of 2006 in August, Mrs. Zorec ran into the three Paterson sisters at a restaurant in Niagara and Mr. Miller, while participating in a Tough Mudder race on the weekend, found himself being helped over a wall obstacle by his former student/wrestler, Gianni.

In each case, the former students remember their time with us fondly and always ask about their “old” teachers. We encourage them to return to the schools for a visit and in some cases, they stay for more than a quick chat. The teachers in the photo (Ms. Towey, Ms. Benak and Ms. Brownridge) are just the latest in a growing list (nine) of former students who now work here!

Chris Starkey
Administrative Principal
Mentor College/TEAM School