Colombia: What does an exchange look like?

Monday morning I was back at Soliera School. This time, the objective was to promote the upcoming exchange next year to The Academy and to invite the students to an English Immersion camp that we will be running next week. I visited with all the grade 8 and 9 students as they are the target for the exchange. It was important to get their feedback and concerns to help us create a meaningful exchange.

Looking down on Soleira School from above
Looking down on Soleira School from above

In the afternoon, I led a teacher meeting with two focuses. One – presentation on what an exchange might look like based on previous exchanges run by The YMCA Academy (again asking for feedback and concerns) and Two – a presentation and discussion on inclusion in the classroom for students with exceptionalities focusing on ADD/ADHD (as requested by the school). Unfortunately we ran out of time before I finished the workshop on inclusion (when the buses arrive, all the teachers need to leave as this is their transportation down the mountain). I left the rest of the workshop with the school, so they can continue it at a later date.

With all the feedback from staff and students, it was time to sit down, reflect on the feedback we had received so far and make some decisions about the exchange. We agreed upon:

• The objectives of the exchange
• The criteria for participating
• The possible dates
• The student/staff ratio
• A list of tasks to do before, during and after the exchange.

We were well on our way!!

At 6am on April 5, I was back on the road to visit the Catholic University (1 ½ hours away) to present a sample exchange to interested parents. Although we ran into some traffic issues and ended up being late, we had a warm and welcoming meeting.

We were kindly invited for lunch at Diego’s home (volunteer at the YMCA and one of my interpreters) with his father (YMCA Board Member) and back on the road we went to arrive in time for me to participate in three evening classes. All three were English classes. The first was a children’s class and the other two were adult classes. Every class is run by a volunteer. What a wonderful wealth of dedication I see every day in the volunteers here.


It was now time to solidify the exchange, so Carlos (Director of the YMCA) and I sat down and discussed options of activities that would fall under the objectives of the exchange which included:

• English immersion
• Environmental theme
• Cultural exchange
• Tour around Canada’s largest city and surrounding areas
• Experience the life of a student at The YMCA Academy
• Experience YMCA Camp
• Become actively engaged in the Toronto and surrounding community

We presented our exchange to the Director of the Soliera School the next day. We ended that meeting with my first “high five” from Carlos and a celebratory ice cream snack. All ends well as this was the closing of the allotted time for organizing the exchange. Although there is a lot of work left to be done, we have the groundwork of a great exchange. I anticipate changes to the work we have done here as a lot can change in the next 12 months and I am sure that there will be feedback from staff in Toronto. The important thing is the relationship building that I have been a part of and the dedication and interest of all.


Four Reasons to Support the New Health Curriculum

HealthPhysEdCurrIn September, the YMCA Academy will implement Ontario’s new Health and Physical Education curriculum — a document aligned with the foundation of inclusiveness, health, and respect that our school has fostered since we opened our doors.

The new curriculum moves beyond simply teaching students about abstinence, safe sex, reproduction, and sexually transmitted infections, to discuss how social, mental, and emotional health connects to sexual identity, behaviour, and expression. It is, on multiple levels, a forward-thinking document — unbound by heterosexuality or the male/female binaries of identity and expression, and designed (as stated in its preface) to help students “be critically literate in order to synthesize information, make informed decisions, communicate effectively, and thrive in an ever-changing global community.”

Here are four reasons why The YMCA Academy supports this new curriculum.

1. It’s about everyone’s health and safety

YMCA Academy on HuffPo

At the YMCA Academy, we integrate training and concepts by the organization Mindfulness Without Borders. It’s been part of our daily classroom life at the school for almost five years, and is the focus of many of our all-school gatherings. We’re proud to be ahead of the curve in bringing mindfulness training to our students (a practice that the Toronto District School Board began implementing this practice at the beginning of the school year).

In an essay on The Huffington Post, The Connect Group Founder & Executive Director Lee-Anne Gray, PsyD, argues that our school “demonstrates a high level of empathy and compassion for the lived experience of modern students.” She conducted research into the benefits of mindfulness for young people, and her conclusions demonstrate why we continue to make these practices a part of our learning environment:

“[T]he negative effects of traditional education upon students result from stress and pressure that can accumulate as Educational Trauma. When the YMCA Academy adopted Mindfulness Without Borders’ MAC program, it became a nexus for co-learning, promoting 21st century skills and emotional intelligence, while healing Educational Trauma. Beyond innovative, it represents transcendental education for the 21st century.”

Read the full article here.

Nov 20th, 2012 – Academy featured on Global TV

On Monday, November 19th The YMCA Academy was featured on Global TV’s ‘Making a Difference’. The host Susan Hay spent several hours at the Academy in order to experience student life and gain an understanding of our individualized, student focused approach to education. The crew was on site for several hours observing classes (including some fun science experiments!), mindfulness circles, a physical education lesson our state of the art recreation facilities, as well as conducting interviews with our Head of School Don Adams, Central Y Vice President Mehdi Zobeiry and an Academy student who shared his experience of joining The YMCA Academy.

We were thrilled to have Susan Hay and her crew join us in support of our efforts to increase public awareness of learning style differences, learning disabilities and the services available to help young people flourish and succeed.

May 7th, 2012 – People for Education report…

I would usually reserve comment on a major report that’s about to be published until the full report comes out and I’ve had a chance to digest it. But a piece from today’s Toronto Star is so disturbing that I can’t wait.

First, here’s the piece itself:

The title itself is depressing: ‘Caps’ mean special education students not getting help, People for Education report says. How, in 2012, are children with special needs in Ontario not only failing to be served by the public school system, but also not even receiving their PROVINCIALLY-MANDATED RIGHT TO BE TESTED?

As the Head of Toronto’s leading high school for students with learning disabilities and learning style differences, I’m very much in the middle of the fray here. When I read something in this piece like: One Ontario board told its principals there could be “no assessments for this school year since they are trying to catch up on last year’s referrals” it infuriates me and, from the comments I’ve received from people even early this morning, I’m not alone.

You need to read this article. The news only gets worse:

People for Education also found the ratio of special education teachers to students has gone up, from 22:1 in 2000 to 36:1 this year in elementary schools. In high schools, the ratio has jumped from 48:1 to the current 69:1.

69 to ONE?

I hope you’ll forgive a bit of school promotion here on behalf of The YMCA Academy.  Every one of our teachers is special-education trained, our student-to-teacher ratio is under 5:1, and we’ll keep it that way.  Each student at The Academy receives the individualized attention he or she needs and deserves.  And no mission-appropriate child is ever turned away from our school for financial reasons.  We always find a way to help and make it work for the family.

Imagine that you’re the parent of a special-needs child and you read this report.  What would your level of frustration look like?

It’s time for the province to step to the plate and do what’s right here.