Premier's Awards for Accepting Schools

2016-17 recipients of the Premier's Awards for Accepting Schools

Black River Public School, Sutton

York Region District School Board

Getting everyone into the zone

Students at Black River Public School have high academic and socio-economic needs. Staff have met the challenges presented by poverty, special needs, exceptionalities, irregular attendance and transient populations by setting high standards for character and inclusiveness and by creating safe spaces in the school. Thanks to the following initiatives, the school has seen many positive changes:

  • B.E.A.R. Spirit: The “Be Excellent and Respectful” spirit permeates the school. Students host Celebration Assemblies and Spirit Days that recognize students’ academic, behavioural and athletic achievements. Bears are also proud of their community-minded attitude, and events that support their extended community, such as the Scare Hunger Food Drive and Musical Kids for Cancer Care concert.
  • Encouraging Acceptance: Believing that all children “can learn, grow, and succeed,” staff celebrate all growth, encourage all students to meet high expectations, and ensure that all students are included in performances, teams and clubs.
  • The Zone: Black River P.S. uses many strategies to help students concentrate better, so they are free from distractions. This facilitates learning and helps students to say, “We’re in The Zone!” For example, the school provides safe, physical spaces for students to decompress, such as classroom quiet spaces and Calming Rooms. In addition, The Zone is a place where students can calm down, solve problems, have discussions, and participate in clubs and crafts. Students can take body breaks, and access water, snack bins, and equipment such as yoga balls and stationary bikes to work off excess energy. Finally, staff use a shared vocabulary and colour-coding, called Zones of Regulation, to articulate stages of emotional health and teach strategies for self-regulation.

Black River Public School is definitely “in The Zone”. The school has noticed many social, behavioural and academic improvements. For example, behavioural incidents and suspensions have decreased by almost half, while Grade 3 EQAO Reading, Writing and Mathematics achievement has increased dramatically, rising above the provincial average.

Chinguacousy Secondary School, Brampton

Peel District School Board

Building a safe and welcoming community

Chinguacousy Secondary School has worked to redefine its community after experiencing declining enrolment in its student population, reduced staff and low morale. The school also committed to overcoming a reputation for past violence and the economic and social challenges facing its students. Three initiatives have contributed to a safe and accepting climate at Chinguacousy Secondary School:

  • Beyond the Hurt: Over forty Chinguacousy students were trained in the Canadian Red Cross Respect Education and Bullying and Harassment Prevention Program. Out of this group, eleven have been certified to deliver the Healthy Youth Relationships program. These Youth Facilitators have since led programs on topics such as healthy relationships and harassment for high school and feeder school students. They have also led events such as Day of Pink and Children's Mental Health Week.
  • Link Crew: In this thriving leadership and transition program, senior students have mentored students in Grade 9, providing academic and social support both at school startup and throughout the year. Mentors have delivered classroom lessons on topics such as goal setting and resiliency, as well as organize games and Friday socials. A complementary Where Everyone Belongs (WEB) program in the feeder school has helped to make the program more effective.
  • Boys’ and Girls’ Groups: These groups, led by teaching staff and community members, have built positive relationships and a sense of community with at-risk students through physical activities. In addition, weekly check-in meetings have offered workshops on topics like life skills and students have participated annually in a conference to learn how to model positive leadership and support future programs.

Programs like these are made possible through Urban and Priority Schools, which provides funding for equitable opportunities and supports for youth in communities facing challenges. The efforts of Chinguacousy Secondary School to create a safe and welcoming environment are paying off. There has been a significant decrease in the number of suspensions and an increase in the percentage of students — from 88 to 98 percent — who report feeling safe at school.

Collège catholique Mer Bleue, Orléans

Le Conseil des écoles catholiques du Centre-Est (CECCE)

Creating a caring community

Collège catholique Mer Bleue has undertaken a school-wide initiative focused on caring to increase kindness, empathy, and other forms of emotional support throughout the school. Developing and coordinating this was a huge project that involved all staff and students. The project included:

  • Caring Classes: All teachers and students participate in weekly 75-minute classes on themes such as healthy relationships, stress management, self-acceptance, and cyberbullying prevention. Each group of seventeen students and its mentoring teacher will remain together from Grade 9 through Grade 12.
  • School Climate Data Collection: Four times a year, students are asked to complete a survey that is used to help assess the school climate, assess interventions to help identify at-risk students and develop Caring Class themes. In addition, teachers evaluate their effectiveness, in areas such as building trusting relationships and teaching resilience.
  • Caring Representatives: These students are actively involved, in the classrooms, on the Caring Committee and also on other committees and clubs that facilitate activities related to caring. For instance, the student government organized a fundraiser to support sick children in the community, and another group of students organized awareness activities on tolerance and inclusion.

Survey data indicate an improvement in the percentage of students who report feeling good at school, having a positive sense of personal well-being, and feeling that the school is welcoming. Feedback on the caring classes is very positive. Students commented that the classes help them better manage stress and be more thoughtful and trusting when working on teams.

Dundas Valley Secondary School, Hamilton

Hamilton Wentworth District School Board

One school, one vision for the future

Dundas Valley Secondary School was created through the amalgamation of two schools in 2014. It then needed to meet the challenge of building an accepting and cohesive school community, united by a common vision. The school’s commitment to recognize and honour all perspectives came through clearly in many of its decisions and initiatives, designed to give everyone a voice and bring the school together. These included:

  • A new school vision: In a careful and open process, students’ thinking about the kind of school Dundas Valley Secondary School should be was captured and incorporated in the school’s Vision Room. The resulting vision, “an empathetic culture of respect and learning through the lens of Human Rights”, was revealed at a student-hosted Open House and Ribbon Cutting ceremony.
  • The Truth and Reconciliation Commission: In accordance with this new vision, the school has committed to honouring the work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, by educating its community about reconciliation and working through the process of understanding its 94 Calls to Action. As part of this project, students have been designing a Garden of Remembrance for residential school survivors and the school has committed to include the history of Canada’s Indigenous people in the curriculum.
  • United Nations Sustainable Development Goals: The school’s decision-making practices are grounded in the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, which are displayed in the main foyer. Teachers also connect teams, courses, and activities to one of the 17 goals, and have encouraged students to take an inquiry-based approach to learning about the goals in their course projects.

Dundas Valley Secondary School has created an accepting environment committed to justice and equality inside and outside its walls. The administration notes that negative behaviours, vandalism, and student fights have decreased. Energized and inspired, students have requested new clubs and initiatives, such as a Human Rights Club, and specific events that respond to current world issues and tragedies.

Eganville and District Public School, Eganville

Renfrew County District School Board

Learning together about Indigenous peoples and culture

Data collected from student focus groups at Eganville District Public School — where the student population is about 20 per cent Indigenous — indicated that students were experiencing subtle and overt bias. In response to this, school staff took on the challenging task of exploring their own biases, engaging with the local Algonquin Community to learn more about Indigenous culture and its worldview, and providing culturally responsive instruction. The examples below show just a few of the ways they changed the school culture:

  • Professional Learning:  All staff have participated in a school-wide inquiry into culturally responsive teaching methods that reflect on what it means to be educators of Indigenous students. Staff now collaborate with community members to infuse Indigenous culture into the school. An example of this can be seen in a new approach to learning, in which all students in Kindergarten to Grade 3 learn about Indigenous language and culture, focusing on the Seven Grandfather Teachings in the Character Education Program.
  • A Culturally Responsive Place of Learning: Not only do murals and artifacts reflect Indigenous culture, but students’ concerns about racism have been addressed through assemblies, classroom discussion, and encouragement to report racism.
  • The Mathematics of Algonquin Looming: This four-year project is a mathematical research inquiry that involves the Algonquins of Pikwakanagan First Nation, a Lakehead University researcher and the Ministry of Education. The project explores how to incorporate Indigenous perspectives into the Ontario math curriculum, using traditional Algonquin activities. The “mathematical richness” of traditional beading activities helps students to develop numeric, spatial and proportional reasoning and learn about patterning, algebra, fractions, and geometry.

The mathematical research inquiry has had a positive impact on all students’ understanding of math and on their EQAO results. Evidence indicates that Indigenous students are feeling accepted for who they are, and that community members feel that there has been a significant change in the way the school views education and Indigenous students.

Francis Libermann Catholic Secondary School, Scarborough

Toronto Catholic District School Board

Spreading kindness and respect online

A growing and busy school, Frances Libermann Catholic Secondary School realized the importance of reaching all students with a message of respect, safety and inclusion. By engaging all staff and students in this goal, it changed the school environment and stopped widespread misuse of social media among students. The school reached staff and students through various channels, including offering staff professional learning, holding assemblies and homeroom discussions with each grade and partnering with clubs to reinforce this message. It also implemented the following initiatives:

  • Falcon Chill Zone: The school established a safe, non-judgmental and calm drop-in space for students experiencing stress or seeking to resolve conflict, including conflicts involving the misuse of social media.
  • Kindness Never Goes Out of Style: This Anti-Bullying Awareness Campaign teaches students to be leaders and role models for community action. The campaign includes:
    • a THINK campaign (think before posting),
    • encouragement to pledge not to humiliate, exclude or harm others and to stand up to bullying,
    • the Anonymous App that enables students to report bullying, and
    • Kindness Month when students send complementary candy grams to other students.
  • Be Prepared, Be Aware: This social media awareness campaign focused on responsible and respectful social media use. It addressed topics such as media addiction and isolation, sharing of inappropriate images and photos and negative health consequences. A complementary presentation for parents examined media trends for youth and ways of helping student use media responsibly.

As a result of these initiatives, the school has seen that potential problems are reported more frequently before they occur; resulting in more effective interventions. Also, Safe School Survey data indicates that fewer students are experiencing verbal abuse or harassment, witnessing physical violence, robbery or gang activity.

Guildwood Junior Public School, Scarborough

Toronto District School Board

Creating equitable opportunities for well-being, learning and leadership

Guildwood Junior Public School, a model inner city school, is committed to fostering learning for all its students, many of whom struggle with poverty, language barriers, self-regulation, conflict management, and learning disabilities. The school has overcome these challenges and succeeded in creating a healthy and equitable learning environment through the following programs:

  • Eco schools: As an Eco Platinum School, Guildwood has received the highest possible designation for ECO certification for 12 years running. Students learn about nature in outdoor, hands-on lessons in a teaching garden, courtyard, and Nature Study area, where they are involved in all aspects of planting, care and harvesting.
  • Leadership and learning: Equity, inclusion and well-being are addressed in leadership clubs for girls and boys, where students explore topics such as self-esteem, identity, and resiliency. Activities include team-building, using media to communicate about issues, and leading a social action fund-raising campaign. Additionally, healthy friendships are fostered in weekly activities with teen mentors and a Big Brothers Big Sisters coordinator.
  • Healthy living: The school offers dental workshops, a vision clinic, and fitness programs on-site, along with a nutritious snack program. It also has a Health and Wellness Curriculum that teaches students strategies to regulate their emotions and the importance of mental health, both inside and outside the classroom.

The school has put in place many other initiatives, including an annual Health and Wellness Day, mindfulness training, Character Education Assemblies and a commitment to include every student on clubs and teams. With so many programs and innovative ideas, Guildwood Junior Public School is reaching its social and academic goals. Increased engagement was reported by 90 per cent of students in Grade 5-6. Students’ ability to regulate their emotions and manage conflict is evident in a 30-40 per cent decrease in office referrals. EQAO reading scores increased 17 per cent in one year.

Kingswood Drive Public School, Brampton

Peel District School Board

Building a healthy and caring community

Kingswood Drive Public School serves a community that has several challenges, including many parents with low literacy skills who have not felt confident participating in school activities. Despite this, the school has worked hard to create a positive learning climate for students and a welcoming space for all members of the community through the following initiatives:

  • Living a Restorative Mindset: Staff and students meet weekly in Monday Morning Community Circles to build relationships, develop empathy, and discuss topics relevant to the school, community or world events. Restorative Circles also provide an alternative to punishment, with parents, students, administrators and teachers working together to resolve problems and restore relationships.
  • Supporting healthy nutrition and activity: The school provides nutritional and financial support, in addition to necessities like clothing. It has collaborated with the YMCA and Breakfast for Kids so that students have access to healthy food, like brown bag lunches or fresh fruit. Staff also run numerous extra-curricular activities, ranging from jazz dance to arts and crafts. Over 72 per cent of students are taking part in nutrition support and extra curricular activities, which foster well-being, engagement, and positive behaviour.
  • Engaging parents: Long work hours and low literacy levels make it difficult for some parents to participate easily in school events and to share in the responsibility for their child’s learning. Parents are encouraged to participate in many activities, including Recognition Assemblies celebrating positive character traits and social events, such as Movie Nights. In addition, students’ learning is shared through Open Houses and a Gallery Walk, and through social media.

Restorative practices have improved communication among students, increased positive behaviour, decreased suspensions, and provided problem-solving strategies. Parents’ participation and volunteering have risen significantly. The positive climate, along with differentiated instruction and early intervention, has also benefited student learning, resulting in improved math and reading scores.

Kirkland Lake District Composite School, Kirkland Lake

District School Board Ontario North East

Healing relationships and open conversations

Kirkland Lake District Composite School made a commitment to honour student voices and try to heal a historically strained relationship with local Indigenous communities. After a survey and focus groups identified specific priorities, three student-led initiatives were implemented in response to the feedback:

  • Learning on the Land: Matachewan First Nation Community Elders provided students with cultural and experiential learning, in areas such as oral traditions. Inspired, students created installations such as a Grandfathers Teaching mural, and got elementary students involved in traditional activities, like drumming. Fundraising has also enabled Indigenous community members to visit the school. Students have also had the chance to get first-hand learning experiences through numerous field trips, including a visit to the Canadian Canoe Museum.
  • REDress Campaign for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women: Last year, Indigenous Studies class students hung red dresses in the main foyer to honour murdered or missing indigenous women. This year, they created an interactive event, inviting community members to read profiles of the women and create dresses on panels which were then sewn into banners to be displayed in participating schools.
  • Get Loud about Mental Health: Fifty students took part in this awareness campaign, designed to address a lack of support for mental health in remote Indigenous communities. Other strategies to “get loud” included creating a Kids Help Phone chant and performing a play about the legacy of residential schools.

The school community is vibrant and warm. Orange Shirt Day, honouring residential school survivors, marked a noticeable change with unprecedented community participation. The REDress campaign fostered broader conversation about topics such as systemic racism and violence against women. The Get Loud campaign encouraged students to open up about mental health concerns and promoted dialogue about ways to better serve students. Survey data indicate a significant increase in attendance, success rates and the number of students feeling a sense of belonging and connection.

St. Mary Catholic Secondary School, Pickering

Durham Catholic District School Board

Advocating for all students

Knowing that misunderstanding is often a barrier to positive change, St. Mary Catholic Secondary School worked hard to foster a climate of inclusion and understanding. They did this through various initiatives designed to reach all students and staff:

  • Making Connections: Senior student mentors were paired with at risk students in Grade 9. This social relationship, fostered in weekly meetings and structured activities, enhanced students’ resilience, self-advocacy skills, and sense of belonging. During the next school year, students will promote the program at the feeder school to promote participation and ensure that the support network is available to all incoming students.
  • See Different: This initiative focused on dispelling myths and misunderstandings about learning disabilities. In partnership with the Canadian Centre for Diversity and Inclusion, school staff and student leaders developed interactive awareness seminars intended to foster acceptance, understand challenges faced by students with learning disabilities, and share ways to provide compassionate support. It was also aimed at helping students with learning disabilities understand that no barrier, including grades, is insurmountable.
  • Alliance for Compassion (A4C): This support group was set up to meet the needs of the school’s LGBTQ+ community. The A4C organized a “Week of Compassion” aimed at dispelling misconceptions, fostering a safe, caring environment, and understanding how the Human Rights Code and Catholic teachings on social justice support the dignity of those in the LGBTQ+ community. In partnership with the Egale Human Rights Trust, the school also provided training to staff.

These initiatives, among others such as an anti-bullying campaign, have made a dramatic difference at the school. The percentage of students reporting feeling safe in the school has increased and reports of verbal harassment have declined. The percentage of students perceiving grades as an obstacle to learning declined from 60.5 per cent to 24 per cent. Students reporting that their sexual orientation is a barrier to learning declined from 9.3 per cent to 2.8 per cent. Those reporting that their classroom exposure to the experiences and achievements of those who identify as LGBTQ+ increased from 22 per cent to 64 per cent.