Trumpets and Fireworks: June 2017

Midsummer is fast approaching and, like the final acts of Shakespearean comedies, the school term is coming to a joyous end that must be properly celebrated. I look around me and I see wonderful people carrying out our school’s vision and mission on a daily basis. Together, we have defined the essence of TFS. Together, we are living our ideals and values. Together, we empower children to flourish into young men and women who can successfully take on the challenges of their generation. We are, undoubtedly, a very special community.

Academic Achievement

Throughout the classrooms, labs, studios and natural spaces at every branch, our students have displayed their academic ambition in abundance, always ready to inquire, learn and grow. One such example was the PYP Exhibition in Grade 5, which displayed a wide range of interests. During one of the presentations, which I will never forget, a group of students who had researched gender equality around the planet found themselves unable to answer a parent’s question on whether there was pay equity among male and female employees at TFS. As a result of this, I invited the children to my office so that our HR Manager could provide them with evidence that the school actively ensures that there is no gender-based wage discrimination. Indeed, learning at TFS is not just about theory, but also about how this theory relates to the real world.

Another such milestone was the showcase of Level III Personal Projects, which made us all proud. As the culmination of their learning through the Middle Years Program, this scheme demands that students identify an area of significant interest and produce a work that is truly personal, original and highly reflective. This year’s projects were as unique as the students who produced them. The issues they explored were compelling and they were framed by powerful questions, such as: How do team sports affect people living in underprivileged communities in Toronto? How has globalization changed my neighbourhood over the last 100 years, and why does this matter? What effect does war have on families and the generations that ensue? To what extent can certain connections be established between religious and scientific factions in relation to creation stories of the world? Profound questions with undoubtedly complex answers.

It is with great satisfaction that I recently conducted the Graduation Ceremony for our Class of 2017. The pinnacle of academic achievement, I could not have been more proud of each and every Level V student as we entered the hall. They were all walking in procession right behind me in their beautiful blue academic gowns, and I could feel their emotional strength and their determination to engage positively in the wider world, as previous generations have done. The entire graduating class are Ontario Scholars, and 75% of them achieved a 90% average or above on their courses. About three-quarters took the IB’s French A Language and Literature course, which is designed for native French speakers. Collectively, they amassed 7,143 hours in community service over two years and earned $2.3 million in scholarship funds. Not to speak of the range of esteemed universities in Canada, the US and around the world that offered them placements. Truly impressive! Please give our graduates a metaphorical round of applause from the comfort of your homes.

TFS is indeed a great school, and this has been acknowledged again by the various partners who accredit us. Following very positive visits from inspectors this past winter and spring, we have received confirmation that we will continue to be fully recognized as a French school abroad by the French Ministries of Education and Foreign Affairs from La p’tite école to Level II, as before. We are extremely proud of this result, and look forward to advancing our deep and long-standing connections to France as part of our international identity. We also had encouraging visits from inspectors of the IB’s Primary Years Program, who were thoroughly impressed with the school’s classroom practice in La p’tite école, Junior School and West Campus. In this context, I would like to extend my sincere appreciation to the teachers, staff, students and parents who were involved in both inspections, as it is due to their hard work, high standards and commitment to an excellent bilingual education that we continue to receive praise from such prestigious organizations.

Into the arts

Who could forget the sight of 750 students, from Senior Kindergarten to Grade 7, delivering a once-in-a-lifetime performance at Roy Thomson Hall? This highly anticipated concert was, of course, an homage to Canada's 150th anniversary. I am sure you will agree that this was an enchanted winter evening, filled with dance and song, and bringing staff, students and their parents and grandparents together, as we paid tribute to First Nations and the beautiful vision of the Fathers of Confederation.

Out of winter came spring and, with it, a blossoming of artistic events at TFS, as our students found their voice through paint, song, the bow of a violin or iambic pentameter, to mention a few. Our annual MAD night was a wonderful showcase for our emerging artists in Grades 6 and 7 at the Toronto campus, where parents were treated to a wide range of performances. By the way, MAD stands for Music, Art and Drama rather than necessarily being a comment on the nature of the event! Personally, I must say that I truly enjoyed the street festival atmosphere that permeated the whole evening and I will treasure the live portrait that a boy did of me in a matter of 10 minutes.

On the cusp of their artistic maturity, our Level V IB art students presented us at the Vernissage with a range of works that revealed acutely personal explorations through different media. I was deeply moved that all of the students had managed to express their ideas forcefully over a range of themes, showing depth of emotion, sophistication of thought and masterful artistic execution. It is not surprising that, every year, our artists attain among the highest scores in the world on their externally evaluated IB exams.

Sporting activities

As the Romans used to say, “a healthy mind in a healthy body.” On the fields and courts, in the gyms and pools, students continued to demonstrate their commitment to sport. While our athletic directors publish full results each term, I would like to note special moments of TFS Cougar pride here. In the autumn, our West Campus athletes won championships in U12 girls soccer, U12 boys soccer and U12 girls cross-country. In Toronto, the Cougars secured first-place finishes in U10 soccer and U11 girls basketball. Notably, three boys’ teams competed in CISAA volleyball for the first time.

In the winter term at the Toronto campus, three swimmers were individual champions, and the U11 coed team brought home swimming gold. Our basketball players were stars, with U10, U11 and U16 boys teams placing first. West Campus athletes took home the championship in U14 girls basketball, and the U14 touch football team placed second in their first year of play. The third and final term of the school year graced us with gold medals, courtesy of our West Campus U12 boys floor hockey team and the Toronto campus’ championship winners in U14 boys tennis, U12 boys division II slow-pitch and the senior girls division II soccer.

For many of our students, early exposure to a wide range of sports inspires a lifetime of activity, which is why I am particularly pleased that 81% of children at the Junior School and 93% of Grade 3 to Grade 7 students at the West Campus participated in at least one season of competitive sport. We can see that sportsmanship is also a passion at the Senior School, with 67% of students competing in at least one season this year.

Citizenship and leadership 

Citizenship and leadership are instilled in our children throughout their TFS education, and it was with intense pride that I witnessed the incredible undertaking of our CAIS Student Leadership conference in April. Efforts were led by four amazing Level IV pupils, who worked closely with Ms. Gorry and Ms. Bolotenko for a whole year and managed to attract to TFS as many as 139 student delegates and 42 staff advisors from across Canada, all united under the theme of “Find Your Roots: as individuals and citizens.” Our team crafted a range of stimulating discussions and activities, and they took on the colossal task of organizing everything, from homestays to keynote speakers and a gala that put the perfect concluding touch to four extraordinary days. While the conference provided rich opportunities for our Level III students to develop their leadership skills and friendships with like-minded peers, it also brought our community together and allowed us to share our values nationwide. If in the 1960s we had an important impact on the development of Canada’s modern national identity by starting the trend of bilingual schools, TFS still wishes to go on influencing our country’s future.

At all branches, important steps were taken to nurture a sense of ethical citizenship and an interest in international and universal matters among students. For this purpose, we introduced regular mentorship sessions that are intentionally designed to stimulate a sophisticated level of discussion, foster discernment, and build greater awareness and understanding of a range of topics. Through them, students also made the connection between our school values and key concepts such as identity, gratitude, liberty and social justice. Even our youngest learners at La p’tite école held discussions that resulted in very thoughtful responses. Assemblies this year were deliberately refocused as complements to the mentorship program, giving students time to reflect on the many troubling issues that affect contemporary societies around the globe, from xenophobia and anti-Semitism to environmental disasters and war. I was moved by our remembrance ceremonies at the Junior and Senior Schools, as well as at the West Campus, most particularly at the point when students took the oath to remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice to preserve our freedoms.

Education at home and abroad

With the school’s renewed emphasis on developing an international perspective, many of our larger trips have been reconsidered to place greater focus on fostering our students’ open-mindedness, social awareness and intercultural understanding. This was abundantly clear in our Level I exchange with a French international school in Barcelona, our wind ensemble’s tour of Italy, the West Campus’ trip to Switzerland and our Grade 7’s environmental experience in southern Arizona. In a similar vein, a number of Level IV students went to Peru, where they experienced life in a rural community and took on the physical, emotional and intellectual challenges of a high-altitude trek. For next year, we are preparing an impressive range of trips to continue to fulfil our mandate to help students become truly global citizens, by deepening their knowledge of other cultures and learning about the key challenges facing humanity worldwide.

Honouring traditions and introducing the new

Our TFS traditions are well loved. This year, in addition to basking in the glow of familiar rituals, we have introduced new ones. Among these, I could mention my address to the community in the autumn, where I explained the importance of our new strategic plan in the context of TFS’ history. Likewise, the Red Tie Luncheon and Grad Walk were wonderful events where we came together with pride to celebrate the graduating class. Still fresh in my memory is the beautiful evening when we unveiled the Wall of Distinction to recognize lifetime donors and alumni, as well as the occasions when our community honoured the latest recipients of such prizes as the Volunteer of Distinction award (Josie Marrano), Le prix de distinction des anciens élèves (Julia Rucklidge ’88) and Le prix de distinction des jeunes diplômés (Dalton Kellett ’11). As I said in a recent speech, our graduates may have attended top universities around the planet, but they always consider themselves to be first and foremost TFS alumni. And that, without a doubt, is the distinguishing sign of a great school like ours.

The year is ending joyously and I am beginning to hear the sound of trumpets and drums and fireworks. But before we all depart on our summer sojourns, let me thank every one of our staff, parents and Board members from the bottom of my heart for their dedication to our exceptional school. I know that students will have all the fun they deserve during the balmy days of our incomparable summer, and they will return to us in September with renewed energy to go on deepening their learning. In the meantime, we will be waiting here, holding the fort, looking forward to welcoming you all back home after the long break.
At the young age of 150, Canada has become a beacon of hope on our planet. At the young age of 55, TFS continues to strive for the betterment of humankind. Long may our nation and school flourish together!

Dr. Josep L. González
Head of School