Like the seasons, each academic year is cyclical, always new yet forever eternal. The freshness of a pristine school year, with its unwritten script and limitless possibilities, gives way 10 months later to journeys that continue (for our students) and journeys that end (for our graduates who leave TFS for the wider world).
I was recently reminded, both by the Graduation Ceremony in May, and the Alumni Reunion Dinner in June, that so much growing and living happens at TFS.
For the second year in a row, I asked our graduating students to write a farewell letter to me, expressing some of the most important aspects of their time with us. Not surprisingly, many referenced the everlasting friendships they made. One student wrote, “Life at TFS is the only life I have known…I learned, I laughed, I cried, I lived,” while another stated, “the connections that I have made here and the opportunities that I have been exposed to are unparalleled and will have a significance in my heart forever.”
Those life lessons were echoed by an alumnus from the Class of 1993, who submitted remarks for the alumni reunion. He said: “I had an amazing amount of life experiences outside of class: everything from feeling tough for the first time, to becoming vulnerable for the first time, from finding love and denying it, learning to accept life and choosing not to, to discovering great poetry and inventing my own.” We are honoured to have been the educational home of our alumni, including our newest, a home where they discovered their authentic selves and became well-rounded, emotionally intelligent young adults who can balance their rights as individuals with their responsibilities as citizens.
TFS graduates and students alike have a passion to learn the things they love. Through their camaraderie and willingness to help one another, they also become aware that they are not so much competing against each other as against themselves, in the sense that education is not about being better than anyone else, but about giving the best of oneself. This is academic ambition.
Over the school year at TFS, we have seen this quality emerge again and again. At the Primary Years Program (PYP) Exhibition in April, at both the West Campus and Junior School, groups of Grade 5 students demonstrated their learning throughout the PYP years (PK through Grade 5). Each group conducted research on a topic to create a unique unit of inquiry on the theme “how the world works,” and presented their findings to their parents, teachers and children from other grades. As one West Campus parent said, “It was a deeply moving experience. We saw our boy, now 10, participate in a complex, wonderful experience. Six weeks of cooperative work with fellow students and his teachers. We saw him go through so many life stages: ambition, self-doubt, determination, affection and even admiration for his teachers, exasperation at his teammates, then the realization that he needed them after all.” What a powerful learning experience!
We were very happy to introduce to our Level II students this year the option of taking on the challenge of the Brevet, which is comprised of a set of subject exams written in schools in France at the end of the collège years (Grades 6 through Level II). With the recent reform of the collège program in France, the Brevet underwent a number of changes, including the fact that half of the points awarded is now based on a student’s progress in mastering the common core of knowledge, skills and culture. This common core includes, among other subjects, French and other languages, which provides students with a deeper understanding of different cultural perspectives, and a range of key competencies that go beyond academic achievement, to help foster students who will go on to become engaged and thoughtful citizens. The students who opted to take the Brevet exams – the vast majority of Level II – sat them at the beginning of June and we eagerly await their outcomes.
While the PYP Exhibition is the first in a series of projects that become more challenging and complex as students develop, the Personal Project is the culminating activity of the Middle Years Program (MYP) in Level III. This year, we focused on exploring professions the students might be interested in pursuing. A self-directed practical exploration, the project requires students to prepare a learning skills process journal, a meaningful product or measurable outcome, and a final report. The range of projects was impressive and included: how technology improves scoliosis bracing; reducing the soft cost of construction through law; authoring a novella based on CRISPR gene editing; and a seminar on the correlation between food choices and diseases. In total, we were treated to 73 fascinating personal projects.
This was the second year for our Grad Walk, a tradition whereby our graduates, in their magnificent blue academic gowns, walk through each branch at the Toronto campus. At La p’tite école and the Junior School, they were greeted with cheers and congratulations from their former teachers and the younger students. On the return trip back to the Senior School, I had the immense honour to shake each of their hands. The entire graduating class are Ontario Scholars, with averages of 80% or above, and 90% achieved averages of 90% or above. Collectively, they amassed 6,780 hours in community service over the two years of the diploma program. With the coming of autumn, they will be found on 27 university campuses in five countries, studying diverse programs. We are so proud of them! Please enjoy this video of our Class of 2018’s Grad Walk.
2017-2018 saw the school strengthen and expand the range of citizenship programs across all branches.
At La p’tite école, assemblies and mentorship sessions became more formalized. Most Mondays, the students took part in an assembly, which on the following Friday provided the topic of their “p’tits citoyens” group discussions. As part of the assemblies, questions would be posed, such as “why do we need to be polite and respect people?” The children were then given the week to consider the questions, and they would respond and discuss them on Fridays within their mentorship groups. Even at this age, the dialogue between the students and their mentors was earnest, and their answers thoughtful.
Throughout the Junior School, West Campus and Senior School, mentorship sessions were structured around a theme, with a provocation and guiding questions. The themes were developed to reflect the vision, mission, values and motto of the school, as well as a range of other subjects such as current events, culture and societal issues, while the provocation (or catalyst) could take the form of an overarching question, video, an assembly or more.
For instance, at the Junior School in November, the mentorship sessions were introduced through an assembly where the provocation was the screening of three videos: a French rap about the World Wars; testimonials from veterans living at the Sunnybrook Veterans Centre; and the third, where a young student asked questions about the Great War of an expert at the Canadian War Museum. Our students were encouraged to consider why we remember and why we wear a poppy. Finally, they took action. Shown a video from an organization called Guitars for Vets, about donating used guitars to vets suffering from PTSD, they created a fundraiser to support their mission.
At the West Campus, as with the other branches, some of the themes reflected the time of year, such as the return to school. Thus the first four mentorship sessions there were framed around “The school and you.” Each session focused on a different aspect. The first asked, “What are schools for?” The second session took the form of an assembly on respect, while the third delved into positive attributes in undertaking schoolwork, such as self-discipline, note-taking and effort. Finally, the fourth session was about getting along with others: one’s teachers and classmates.
At the Senior School, citizenship was formally delivered through assemblies, mentorship discussions and societies, but was also layered with specially themed weeks, grade-specific programs, special events and unique opportunities. Assemblies were designed to respond to the learning and growth requirements of both the collège and lycée years. So while an assembly for the collège was themed on Franco-Ontarian identity (with the provocation being “Does the majority have the right to impose its language as the language of instruction to the detriment of the intellectual development of fellow citizens?”), the assembly for Levels II though V was a debate between the consuls of Mexico and Peru on the environment and culture. I also personally conducted a series of five assemblies on the state of human rights in Canada and the world at large for Levels IV and V.
Similarly, students in Grades 6 and 7 took part in two societies this year. The Grade 6s learned about the organization Hats for the Homeless and contributed by knitting baby hats for families. They also learned about their impact on the environment through our Ecosia Society. Students in Grade 7 focused on animal rights and welfare through learning about the Toronto Humane Society, and they explored and improved their physical well-being through Animal Flow, which emphasizes multi-planar, fluid movement. Level I to V students had the choice of 23 societies. These included ones that explored the environment, the world of finance, politics, health and well-being, creativity, technology and social issues. Many of the societies intersected over two topic areas, such as Engineering for Good, Capitalizing for Kids, Eat to Live and Music 4 Change.
The themes of our Senior School mentorship sessions were common to all grades. To show the range of subject matter, here are the topics from three such sessions. The first focused on national identity, youth unemployment and the displacement of refugees. The teacher-mentors showed their respective groups a video called When You Do Not Exist, which depicted a fictional demographic reversal of the current migration in Europe, that is, British citizens migrating to Africa, and this was followed by probing questions.
One session in January was called Connections. The provocation was a photo of a mountain lake overlaid with text, “There is no Wi-Fi out here, but I promise you the connection is much better.” This was followed by the groups reading an article from the Globe and Mail on Smartphone use, its personal and societal impacts, and our inability to detach ourselves from such devices.
Finally, a session in April was prompted by the van attack in North York. Under the theme of community, we explored why connections matter. We showed a video of the Maple Leafs honouring the victims and asked, what community spirit and school spirit are, and why we need to be part of a community.
All of this was further augmented by our weeks of democracy, and diversity and inclusion, the amazing TEDx event held at the Senior School, the Roots of Empathy program for our Grade 7 students, whereby an infant became their teacher, and the opportunity our students had during the recent provincial election to study the platforms of each of the nine parties who had candidates in the riding in which TFS resides, and vote for their preference.
Art in all its forms is abundant and joyous at La p’tite école, but certainly one of the highlights this year was the performance of the French-language musical Le soldat rose, which took place in late December. I doubt there is any parent of a Grade 1 student who will soon forget the story of the little boy who hides in the toy section of a department store, where the toys come to life at night. Our students acted, sang and danced, and the effect was simply wonderful.
At the Junior School, art and music are taught by specialist teachers, while also incorporated into the PYP’s units of inquiry, as appropriate. Highlights from this school year included The Music Doctors, performed by Grade 4 and 5 students in December. It contained eight ways in which music improves a person’s well-being, as expressed through the talents of the choir and violin club. The week of March 5 was Francophone Week. Through the lens of the Printemps des poètes, our students explored the expressive power of poetry by reading, creating and recording poems.
The West Campus delighted in many artistic endeavours this year. The Spectacle de talent saw students from Grades 1 through 7 sing, dance, and perform on the piano, violin and drums. Even the teachers joined in, with one leading the audience and performers alike in an original song and dance written for the West Campus. In late May, the Grade 6 students and Concert Band performed as part of the Toronto Youth Wind Orchestra Festival held at the Toronto Centre of the Arts. As a wonderful prelude to the recent barbecue, we were treated to a production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, put on by the West Campus Shakespeare Club. The result was enchanting.
No matter where you are in the Senior School, you cannot miss encountering the arts. Whether looking at the visual art hanging as part of our Wall of Distinction in the James Doak Student Common, listening to a band playing, or watching a drama rehearsal in the MPR, there is no mistaking the vibrancy of our arts programming. Most memorably, we saw Antigone, written by French playwright Jean Anouilh while France was under Nazi occupation, which depicts the rejection of authority and also its acceptance. A powerful theme, indeed.
In the winter, the Senior School staged the world French-language premiere of Anne of Green Gables, The Musical. We were honoured by special guests Kate Macdonald Butler, the granddaughter of Lucy Maud Montgomery, who was the author of the Anne books, and Claudette Gareau, the widow of Don Harron, who wrote the musical. Both were thrilled with our French adaptation.
Music attained new heights this year. The TFS Senior Wind Ensemble, comprised of 75 musicians from Grade 7 through Level V, performed extremely well at the Ontario Band Association competition, earning us our fourth consecutive entry to the Canadian National Finals. Once there, our musicians competed at a very advanced level and were awarded their first gold medal. Bravo!
In April, our Level V art students held their annual Vernissage, exhibiting their individual collections produced over the two diploma years. Fiona Blakie, the Chief IB Visual Arts Examiner, attended as an invited guest and art lover, and she left feeling inspired by our students and our program. We are so proud of our artists!
Over the last number of years, we have seen wonderful growth in our athletics programs across both campuses of TFS. The excitement, energy and commitment to sport, as well as our students’ sense of fair play, continue to be hallmarks of our program. From autumn through spring, we saw exemplary displays of character in our students’ efforts, perseverance, dedication to their team, dignity and courteousness to their opponents.
This past autumn, our Cougars achieved five championships, and two second-place finishes, in soccer, cross-country running and basketball. Winter brought us five championships, seven second-place finishes and two third-place finishes in basketball, swimming, hockey, floor hockey and volleyball. Spring started off with terrible weather, but our athletes were up to the challenge. In total, they won four championships, three second-place finishes and three third-place finishes. Congratulations!
Developing an international perspective can take place abroad, at the school and right at home. Students at La p’tite école, the Junior School and the West Campus have such a perspective fostered through assemblies and mentorship sessions, lessons and country weeks (held concurrently at La p’tite école and the Junior School), special speakers and performers, and myriad other activities. In fact, like citizenship, it is part of almost every aspect of school life, both in and outside the classroom.
In addition to Canada and France, this school year La p’tite école and the Junior School were very pleased to also hold weeks devoted to Thailand and Italy, which were suggested and organized by parents whose families come from those countries. Their love for their native countries, and the heart, soul and pride they put into bringing these weeks to life, were evident to every child and adult who had the opportunity to take part. They gave us highly sensory experiences, bringing us the cuisine, music and the cultural objects that help define their homelands. We were very fortunate to have such an insight into these cultures through the personal histories of members of our own community.
At the West Campus, learning about other cultures and the different ways in which they view the world was part of academic and artistic endeavours, as well as events such as an annual performance of the Lion Dance for Chinese New Year, and the international potluck, this year titled An Evening of Magic, for its warmth and inclusivity of so many traditions. It also included the annual March break exchange with Switzerland. This year, Grade 7 students at Toronto’s campus had the opportunity to join their West Campus peers on the journey. They visited many important institutions, such as the UN in Geneva and the Red Cross Museum, learned how to make chocolate and took part in snow sports in the mountains. They also came to understand the differences between themselves and their Swiss counterparts, such as how athletics are not a part of Swiss school life. Once home, the travellers held an exhibition to demonstrate their discoveries to the West Campus community.
The Senior School is where, as is age-appropriate, our students take flight on journeys around the globe. Over the November and March breaks, they travelled to China, Arizona, Ecuador, India and Peru. They went as learners, not tourists, and the lessons taught were given by the inhabitants of that particular region, whether it was through their experiences with inequity, their struggles with the land, deep and proud cultural practices, or the generosity of spirit they showed our students. Life lessons that, once brought back to Canada, Toronto and TFS, illuminated what it means to be rich or poor (in more than one sense), educated and/or wise, and engaged rather than indifferent.
An optimistic future
It is no surprise then that our students, armed with integrity, discernment, respect and engagement, and determined to make a difference for the betterment of humankind, provide us with tremendous optimism for the future of our planet.
At the Alumni Reunion Dinner that I mentioned earlier, we presented the two alumni of distinction awards: Le prix de distinction des anciens élèves to Dr. Maral Ouzounian, Class of 1994, and Le prix de distinction des jeunes diplômés to Gabriela Stafford, Class of 2013. Dr. Ouzounian is a cardiac surgeon and research scientist at the Peter Munk Cardiac Centre, as well as an associate professor of surgery at the University of Toronto. Ms. Stafford is an Olympic middle-distance runner, a senior investigator at the Lockwood Laboratory, and a recent recipient of the University of Toronto’s U Sports Top Scholar Award, for student athletes with the highest academic standing. You can hear our latest Alumni of Distinction recipients speaking about their experiences in this video. Both alumnae embody what it means to be of TFS.
As I bid you au revoir before we depart for the summer, I would like to leave you with a few more excerpts from those letters the Class of 2018 wrote to me, as an inspiration for our shared future:
“When I create my own company in the future, I hope to continue to spread TFS’ values of social responsibility with my own staff.”
“As a young Arab woman, I feel it is important to use my education to counteract the stereotypes placed on people like myself. I would like to occupy influential positions in top companies in order to set an example of the capabilities of women, more specifically minority women.”
“I know that I will be carrying TFS with me to every corner of the globe.”
As was the case with Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde, first performed in 1865, there is something both classical and groundbreaking about our great school. We have a venerable past and we wish to be trendsetters for the future.
I look forward to continuing our fascinating journey together, when we meet once again in September.