The transition from public education to private school isn’t always a smooth one, Caden Hughes, a Grade 8 student at Toronto French School, admits.
He would know: Hughes, along with classmate Tanya Chen, switched to the North Toronto independent school in Grade 6 after finding public school too easy, and he alludes to a “few difficult weeks” in his second year.
TFS requires students to complete the IB (International Baccalaureate) Primary Years Program, Middle Years Program, and Diploma Programs, in addition to the National Curriculum of France and the Ministry of Ontario curriculum.
“I remember when I first got here I couldn’t wrap my head around how much work we had to do,” Chen says.
Both students had trouble organizing themselves at first, and acknowledge the workload remains a challenge — but they have persevered, and the benefits are more than worth it.
“I wanted to challenge myself … so I did,” Hughes says. “We didn’t have a model United Nations club in my public school.”
Chen says, “I think a lot of people get caught up in worrying about making new friends, or that it’s going to be too hard. But it’s not as hard as you think … and there will always be someone to help you.”
At Crescent School, an independent boys’ school in North Toronto, every new student is assigned a mentor, either a teacher or faculty member, Upper School head Nick Kovacs says.
If the student has transferred from the public system, staff will make sure his mentor knows where they’re coming from, Kovacs says. And several Crescent teachers have public experience themselves.
“This way, every boy is matched with a caring adult who is responsible for not only monitoring their academic progress, but also checking in on how they’re doing from a social/emotional perspective,” he says.
The mentors also provide academic support for students who find themselves challenged by the school’s rigorous AP (Advanced Placement) program.
“We are a university prep school, and it is important to us to equip the boys with the skills and the content that they need in order to be successful in university,” Kovacs says. “Inevitably there are some who struggle with the academic program, and when that happens, our philosophy is that we’re not going to lower our standards — we’re going to raise the level of support that we provide to these boys.”
CAIS (Canadian Accredited Independent Schools) executive director Anne-Marie Kee, whose own daughter and son began attending independent schools in grades 3 and 5, respectively, says that students who transfer from public to private schools are often surprised by how student-focused their new learning environment can be.
Low student-teacher ratio
“When my kids made the shift, one of the first things they said was, ‘mum, everyone greeted me by name!’” she says. “They really notice a shift in culture, to one where learning becomes the most important aspect of their day.”
Because independent schools often rely on tuition fees to maintain a low student-teacher ratio, Kee says that many of them will make a palpable commitment to communicating regularly with students and parents alike. In both her visits to CAIS member schools and as a mother, she frequently sees teachers and support staff taking the time to develop a unique approach to each student in their care, then discussing their methods with parents.
“My son is 16, and was dying to go back to school this year,” Kee says. “How many 16-year-old boys love school so much they’re ready for the school year to begin?”
For Ivin Kadiri, a sports-loving Grade 11 student who began attending Crescent School in September, the hardest part of switching was the two-hour bus ride from his home in North York, near Jane Street and Wilson Avenue.
“I lived really close to my old school, so if I ended practice at 5 I’d probably be home around 5:30,” he says. “Here, when I’m off practice at 5 I’m probably home by 7, so that’s a big gap I’m not used to yet.”
The extended commute hasn’t dampened Kadiri’s enthusiasm for his new school — or his passion for volleyball, basketball, and football — however.
“The communication with teachers is much better than my old school,” he says. “For example, I’m on the volleyball team, and the coach will send emails reminding us of morning practice.”
Crescent’s website is also frequently updated, Kadiri says, making it easy to keep up with school or club activities — or ask teachers for help if you miss a day.
“The notes that you missed are usually put on the website, along with any handouts,” he says. “So it’s easier to pick those up, unlike my previous school, where you’d need to have someone else to do it for you.”
Kadiri relies on financial aid to attend Crescent School, and there’s no doubt in his mind that he will apply for it again next year. A math and science major, he hopes to study aerospace engineering, architectural science, or law, and believes that Crescent will help get him there.
“Last year I’m not sure we had any colleges or universities come to our school and talk about why we should go there,” he says.
“Here I feel it’s much easier to know about colleges and universities, and it also gives you really good practice.”