Online Education: A Not So New Frontier with a New Twist

YMCA Academy moves to online classes - Students participating in clubs and classes

 

We are undoubtedly living in a period of time that will be written about in the textbooks of many disciplines. What is written about, however, is up to us. For a small, independent school like ours, history will say we gazed into the face of sudden change and uncertainty with confidence. There are many advantages to being big, but being small also has its benefits. Our small size affords us the ability to move quickly and decisively in order to continue offering our students with educational opportunities that will keep them on a path of earning credits.

We are now three weeks into this brave new world of online learning, and what we have experienced thus far is more than we had ever anticipated. The biggest and most surprising revelation from the first day, and one that has continued every day since, is the attendance record of our students in all courses across the board. Class attendances of 98-100% are the norm, an indication that our students are eager to continue learning, and that learning online, even with its expected shortcomings, gives our students a sense of normalcy that is psychologically and emotionally necessary in these bizarre times. Not only are students showing up for online classes, they are participating and getting work done.

After our first two weeks of online learning, we reflected on our collective experiences and introduced an entire day dedicated to the social and emotional well-being of our students by creating online clubs for them to attend. After school clubs are an important part of our school, and allowing our students to continue attending them was an easy choice to make. As such, we have several time slots for various clubs available to students from 10 am to 2 pm. Some of the clubs, such as Dungeons and Dragons and Cooking Club are old favourites, but we have also introduced new opportunities for students to socialize, such as board game club.

Learning online is not all sunshine and rainbows. There are obvious shortcomings and pitfalls. These challenges, however, are the exception and not the rule in the virtual learning space we have been able to create for our students. The overwhelming feedback from our students and their parents/caregivers has been positive. We have taken their feedback and, along with our own experiences and observations, have prepared ourselves to be ready to continue offering the best possible experience for our students in order to afford them the opportunity to continue learning and earning credits. “Being challenged in life is inevitable, being defeated is optional,” said Roger Crawford. At the Academy, defeat is not in our vocabulary. Learn On!

Yukon the Facility Dog

Hi, my name is Yukon. I am a special kind of Assistance Dog called a Facility Dog. A Facility Dog is an expertly trained dog who partners with a human working in a health care, visitation or education setting who is directly working with clients/students with disabilities. My human is Sue Couprie who you know as the Special Education Supervisor at the Academy.Yukon the Facility Dog at the YMCA Academy

I was born on June 30, 2016 and I was part of a litter of 10 pups. Two of my siblings were given to my father’s people and the rest of us started our training. I have been in training for the last 2 years with COPE Service Dogs in Barrie, Ontario. They are an accredited member of Assistance Dogs International and founding member of Canadian Association of Guide and Assistance Dog Schools.

My training has been intense. At first, COPE did not know what my or my siblings strengths would be so we received general training for many jobs. I started in the Canines in the Classroom program which matches high school students who face challenges that may prevent them from graduating from high school with dogs like me, and gives these students an opportunity to learn how to train assistance dogs.

Yukon the Facility Dog at the YMCA AcademyHere I was introduced to about 90 commands which included such things as opening doors, turning on lights, retrieving out of reach items and helping with dressing. My favorite command is “tug.” If you need a sock or a mitten taken off, I am your dog. I love to help.

I also went to elementary schools to help in a reading program called Reading Buddy, where I helped to motivate young students to read. I got to spend time listening to many great stories while getting a lot of cuddles.

I not only spent time in schools, but I also visited hospitals, senior centers, shopping centers, traveled by bus and Go train. In all these places I was learning how to behave in public spaces.Yukon the Facility Dog at the YMCA Academy

In July, I finally got to meet my person – Sue. We trained together for a couple of weeks under the all-seeing eye of COPE Service Dog trainers. It was Sue’s turn to learn how to work with me. She had to learn all of my commands, take written tests and together we passed our practical tests which officially lead to me becoming a Assistance Dog instead of a Assistance Dog-in-Training. To see us in action click here!

All of this was in preparation to become the Facility Dog at the Academy where I plan on giving unconditional love and attention to students and staff. We will be working together to figure out how best my skills and talents can benefit those at the school.

Some ideas include:

  • Classroom buddy – I will sit and cuddle you (students) while you read/study/complete your school work.
  • Conversation starter – I will work with students who need to practice their social skills. I do a lot of cool things that we can talk about and ask Sue about.
  • School avoidance or Anxiety – I can greet you at the door on the days that you need a little bit of encouragement to come to school.
  • Activity break – I also need to physically move around, so if you need an activity break from class, I will be happy to go for a walk with you in the school
  • Deep pressure – Some people like the feel of weighted blankets to calm themselves down or to help them relax. I am trained to place either my chin or my paws on your lap and apply pressure.

The best part is that I am still learning. If there is any other way you can think of that I could make your life better, talk to Sue and we will work together to try to figure it out.

A New Era.

Academy Logo

We have taken a momentous step! As of June 30, 2018, YMCA Academy was incorporated as a charity separate from the YMCA of Greater Toronto.

There are many reasons for this!

  • We have been established for more than 15 years, and we believe the time is right to provide YMCA Academy with a higher profile and independent identity.
  • We believe this will help us build awareness about the Academy as an independent school for students with learning challenges and learning differences.
  • It will facilitate the recruitment of students.
  • It will assist with garnering financial support for the school.

While our greater independence is important, it is also important to recognize that the support of the YMCA of Greater Toronto has been, and will continue to be, of fundamental importance to our school. We will continue to have access to these supports moving forward.

Frequently asked Questions:

Why did the YMCA of Greater Toronto incorporate YMCA Academy as a separate charitable corporation?

  • With more than 15 years of success behind the YMCA Academy, the YMCA of Greater Toronto considered it time to foster a higher profile and independent identity for the school.
  • To help facilitate enrolment and teacher recruitment
  • To help garner financial support based on the unique stories of YMCA Academy
  • To more clearly align with independent schools in Ontario
  • To differentiate the school program from youth support programs offered by the YMCA of Greater Toronto

Will YMCA Academy continue to be a charity? Will I be able to make charitable donations directly to YMCA Academy?

  • YMCA Academy will be an independent charity, with a unique Charitable Registration Number. Donations can be made directly to YMCA Academy, or directed donations can be made through the YMCA of Greater Toronto.

Will the school still have a Board of Directors?

  • The school will have a board of directors, who will be members of the Board of Directors of the YMCA of Greater Toronto.

How will the school experience change for my child?

  • There will be no change – your child will continue to experience the same high standard of education at the YMCA Academy, with access to the same range of YMCA of Greater Toronto facilities and programs we presently enjoy.

How will the teachers and staff of YMCA Academy be affected by this change in status?

  • The Head of School, teachers, and staff of YMCA Academy will remain as employees of the YMCA of Greater Toronto, seconded to YMCA Academy.

How will this affect my tuition and other fees?

  • There will be no direct effect on tuition and fees. As in past years, families can expect incremental increases in tuition on a yearly basis.

How will this affect the status of YMCA Academy as a Ministry of Education-inspected independent school?

  • The Academy will continue to be inspected by the Ontario Ministry of Education bi-annually.

Academy partners with Digital Literacy + Coding pilot!

The YMCA Academy has always leveraged computer technology in the service of student learning. Laptop-based assistive technologies are at the heart of the supports we provide to a wide range of learning styles. Thus, when we had an opportunity to partner with the Brookfield Institute in their “Digital Literacy + Coding” pilot project“, we jumped at the chance.

The Academy has committed to running eight 12-week sessions to introduce youth in the GTA to the logic and practice of coding. We see this pilot as providing our students with additional expertise and knowledge that will be hugely important in the job markets they will face when they graduate. These sessions are free of charge, and laptops are provided.

By introducing Digital Literacy + Coding to a wide variety of youth, including youth who are underrepresented in this growing field, The Academy hopes to help shape the future.

The program will introduce youth to a variety of activities leading to a final project that each participant has chosen. They will be “remixing” websites, games, and other web-based applications to get a better understanding of how they work, and how elements of the code affect the final product.

The Digital Literacy + Coding pilot will focus on several languages, particularly HTML, CSS, and a brief introduction to JavaScript. These are the languages that are the backbone to complex and engaging web pages. This program is an excellent way to help youth begin the journey of sparking passion for STEM-related fields by learning the basics of the coding languages of the web.

 

Announcing our Grade 7 & 8 Program

Spring Open House Promo

As Head of School at The Academy, I get many opportunities to speak with the parents and guardians of prospective students. Each caregiver has a slightly different story to tell: of their child’s learning challenges, of the supports they might need, and of their previous experience in other schools. In every case, their stories speak of anticipation — their child is moving to a new educational environment, one which is rich in resources to support a wide variety of different learning challenges.

The supports we are able to offer, whether it be laptops available for each student, assistive technologies designed for their specific learning challenges, Certified teachers with Special Education qualifications, and/or our counselor on site, are impressive. The program is so well designed that families often comment to the effect that “we wish all this was available to us in earlier grades!” Such comments have caused us to re-examine our program in this connection.

We are very pleased to announce that we are, therefore, expanding The Academy program to Grades 7 and 8! Earlier introduction to the supports that will enable lifelong learning for each of our students is clearly something to be desired. We feel that we can successfully prepare students in Grades 7 and 8 for success throughout high school and beyond.

To learn more about our program, and to apply for admission, please join us on Saturday, April 28, 2018 from 11 am to 2 pm for our Open House!