Three YMCA Academy students in the solarium of the Toronto Central Grosvenor Street YMCA CentreThe YMCA Academy Mission

The YMCA Academy is an alternative high school for students with learning disabilities and learning style differences.

The Academy’s supportive learning environment and innovative teaching methods inspire students to reach their academic and personal potential.

The YMCA Academy is a safe and welcoming space that embodies the YMCA core values of caring, health, honesty, inclusiveness, respect, and responsibility.

Educational Philosophy

YMCA Academy students at Evergreen Brick WorksThe YMCA Academy’s academic program is based on the latest research into how exceptional students learn best. This approach is reflected in our core academic subjects, our broad range of electives, and the innovative, custom-designed courses created and delivered by our talented teachers.

Using our students’ interests and the abundant resources in the community beyond our school’s walls, we provide authentic and experiential lessons, assignments, excursions, and work and volunteer placement opportunities purpose-built to foster student engagement.

In addition, Academy staff and teachers work hard to encourage the development of the whole person through techniques and supports that promote the development of both academic and interpersonal skills.

In short, The YMCA Academy is a school where students learn how to learn.

  1. We believe in constructivist learning.

We practice a constructivist approach to learning — that knowledge is made by each individual, not merely delivered. We encourage “questioning,” not merely “answering.” We believe that students learn best when choosing to work at the edge of their competence — in the Zone of Proximal Development.

  1. We embrace a differentiated curriculum — one that meets the needs of each individual.

We are student-centred and “look to the learner.” We believe in each student’s capacity to be successful.

  1. We create environments to support and encourage student engagement.

We believe in a passion-based curriculum, thus respecting the student’s “desire to know.” We create environments to support and encourage the state of “flow” in which students are passionately engaged in their learning.

  1. We use holistic approaches to education.

We support and encourage the development of the whole person. We promote mindfulness within the school day.

  1. We practice alternative and fair forms of assessment and evaluation (including portfolios).

We assess and evaluate our students with a wide variety of methods, including portfolio-based tools.

  1. We develop learning expertise in our students.

We help students to examine learning and to move from novice learners to more expert learners. We believe in the right to, and ability for, self-determination. We encourage students to be origins of their own behaviour. We encourage the development of self-efficacy and metacognitive skills, goal-setting, planning, monitoring, and reflecting.

  1. We help students to “learn how to learn.”

We believe that the skills needed to learn how to learn must be taught and modeled. These skills are based in our daily culture.

  1. We are all learners. We are all teachers.
YMCA Youth Frameworks

YMCA Academy students skating at Nathan Phillips SquareOur school’s approach is based on a series of frameworks inherent in all YMCA youth programming.

Youth engagement, competence, belonging and identity are nurtured and supported through the following frameworks:

I. YMCA Values

We embrace the six core values of the YMCA of Greater Toronto:

  • Respect – we recognize and protect the inherent worth of every person, including oneself
  • Responsibility – we are dependable and accountable for choices, actions and commitments
  • Inclusiveness – we appreciate diversity, strive to be open to all, and seek to understand differences and find common ground
  • Caring – we act with compassion and concern for the well-being of others
  • Health – we are committed to physical, social, emotional, intellectual, and spiritual development
  • Honesty – we demonstrate integrity and trustworthiness

II. Asset Building

The framework of Developmental Assets is grounded in extensive research on what adolescents need to succeed. Our programming assists students in developing key Support, Commitment to Learning, and Positive Identity assets. Entry and exit interviews with Academy students show gains in these asset areas.

III. Trans-Theoretical Model of Change

The Academy understands that change is not a single action, but a complex process of awareness, reflecting, planning, doing, and sustaining behaviors. With this paradigm, we can more readily work with students at their present stage of change. When we do this, we can offer the appropriate supports that will help them achieve their goals and minimize resistance or sabotaging of their own efforts.

IV. Determinants of Health

We recognize that health is not merely the absence of disease, but emerges from a complex interaction of many factors, including: socio-economic status; physical environment; genetics and biology; education and literacy; employment and working conditions; social environments and support networks; personal health practices; and coping strategies.

V. Developmentally Appropriate

The adolescent brain is in a very delicate stage of growth. The pre-frontal cortex, where higher level thinking and judgment are developed, is incomplete and does not finish growing until the age of 24. The Academy supports the development of these capabilities in students, creating opportunities for them to explore and take risks but not to endanger their well-being. It is also proven that young people’s sleep needs are different from children and from adults. For this reason The Academy starts its day at 9:30 A.M. and has a full-time counsellor present to assist in asset building.

VI. Harm Reduction

Respect is at the root of the Harm Reduction philosophy; respecting the right of another human being to make choices is its goal. This philosophy assumes willingness to understand all human behavior as having a positive intent, however maladaptive it may appear to the observer. This philosophy allows staff to assist students to make smarter, healthier, safer choices in their lives regardless of their stage of change.

The YMCA in Education: A History

While the YMCA is primarily known as an “informal or after school educator” of children and youth (i.e. a place where people come to learn and acquire skills in areas such as aquatics, camping, youth leadership), the YMCA’s roots are deep in the formal education system as one of the founders of post-secondary institutions including York University, Carleton University, and Concordia University. Many YMCAs in North America operate charter schools (Milwaukee, Detroit), diversion programs (Montreal, Edmonton), after-school tutoring programs, and a Ministry of Education inspected high school: The YMCA Academy (Toronto).

1885: The Toronto YMCA launched the first night school classes for adults.

1925: The Montreal YMCA forms a separate unit – the Montreal YMCA Schools, which became Sir George Williams College (after the founder of the YMCA) and has since become Concordia University.

1941: The Ottawa YMCA initiates the establishment of “Carlton College” a non-sectarian post-secondary institution. This is eventually renamed Carleton University.

1959: The North Toronto YMCA initiates the establishment of York University whose first President has a long association with the YMCA.

2003: The YMCA of Greater Toronto establishes The YMCA Academy, a secondary school for youth with learning disabilities and educational challenges.

For more information visit the YMCA Canada Interactive Timeline.

Made all the difference

Our son struggled with school due to an unidentified learning disability and undiagnosed anxiety disorder. Achievement was elusive despite IEPs, accommodations, changing programs, changing schools, tutoring, summer school, and guidance counselling. Overwhelmed and unable to keep up, he developed low self-esteem and, ultimately, counterproductive coping strategies.
Once his learning style differences were identified, we were referred to The YMCA Academy. Its small classes, interesting courses, individual attention, technological support, caring environment, emphasis on respect and mindfulness, modern attractive facility, and, most of all, terrific leadership, teachers, and staff, made all the difference! They fostered his individuality, inspired his creativity, showed him how to be productive academically, and just plain let him shine. He is looking forward to exploring everything that post-secondary education has to offer and towards an inspiring and fulfilling career.

Parent of a YMCA Academy graduate