Premier's Awards for Accepting Schools

Premier's Awards for Accepting Schools

2012-13 recipients of the Premier's Awards for Accepting Schools

Cardinal Newman Catholic Secondary School, Stoney Creek
Hamilton-Wentworth Catholic District School Board

Mental health matters

Cardinal Newman felt that one of its biggest challenges was helping students with mental health issues. So, the school focused its efforts on promoting mental health and well-being, bullying prevention and promoting volunteer activities among students. They did this through the following programs:

  • The school's CN Peer Mentors Group worked to raise awareness about mental health among students through its iMATTER program. Groups of trained peer mentors delivered a series of mental health lessons to all Grade 9 students. The program kept expanding through classroom and school-wide activities, contests, assemblies and a youth summit during National Mental Health Week. The Canadian Alliance of Mental Health named CN Peer Mentors “Champions of Mental Health”.
  • The iHELP club was designed to build a lifelong love of volunteering among students. Its goal was to increase students' sense of community, promote inclusiveness and raise awareness and empathy for various charities. Students took part in monthly fundraising activities, by hosting walks, runs and other events. They also got a chance to meet people who benefited from the fundraising.
  • The STAND committee led activities to raise awareness about bullying prevention. The committee included 14 students from different grades. STAND organized guest speakers, videos and pre- and post-assembly activities that encouraged discussion about strategies for everyone involved in bullying.

Students have shown they clearly appreciate the positive environment and support from the school. Annual surveys for the mental health program iMATTER showed that 92% of students wanted the program to continue. The school saw a large increase in the  number of bullying prevention initiatives at the school and in participation rates. One staff member praised the school's clubs for giving students leadership opportunities and a voice at the school, while creating a safe and healthy school culture. Making everyone feel welcome at school fits perfectly with Cardinal Newman's motto: Each Belongs.

College Heights Secondary School, Guelph
Upper Grand District School Board

A new sense of pride

School spirit was lacking at College Heights, leaving some students unable to take pride in their school and in their own work. The school addressed these challenges by getting students involved, engaged and excited through programs that helped them improve the school environment and showcase their work:

  • Student “Green Teams” spent 15 minutes outside cleaning up garbage, on assigned days. Other students, from Welding and Green Industries classes, also worked on improving the grounds through garden statues and plantings.
  • The school worked to get more students involved in bullying prevention. Senior students worked with Grade 9 and 10 students to develop and share bullying prevention strategies. The Gay-Straight Alliance student group worked with the school leadership to promote school-wide participation in bullying prevention initiatives such as Pink Day, where nearly all staff and students wore something pink.
  • Students' work was displayed throughout the school, along with photos and articles with positive student news.

There have been improvements across the school, both inside and out. The school grounds look more appealing. The suspension rate has dropped significantly, from 296 in 2009-10 to 141 in 2011-2012. The credit accumulation rate has risen from 76.3% in 2009-10 to 87% in 2011-12. Everyone has noticed the change in the school climate. For one student, the school feels like a “family” where teachers are excited about teaching, greet students by name and help them feel important and accepted.

Denis Morris Catholic High School, St. Catharines
Niagara Catholic District School Board

Healthy minds, open hearts

Denis Morris Catholic High School's ongoing challenge has been to balance many different needs. They needed to consider students with various exceptionalities and mental health needs while providing fully accessible programming and instruction in a caring, inclusive learning environment. Several initiatives and events have helped to refine the school's focus on equity, inclusion and pathways to student success.

  • “Breaking Free”, the school play written by the Grade 12 class, drew attention to mental health issues and promoted students being helpful to each other. Feeder schools were invited to the performances and audience members received wallet-sized crisis hotline cards with information about emergency community support services for teens.
  • The Mental Health and Resiliency Fair was a full-day event that showcased local mental health agencies. Students toured the booths with “passports” and gathered resources and treats, while parents joined for the evening information and Q&A sessions.
  • The Professional Catholic Learning Community promoted bullying prevention initiatives and supports, along with events that were designed to help students develop empathy, understanding and tolerance. The John Howard Society offered sessions on addiction, self-esteem and healthy relationships. The Gay/Straight Alliance addressed equity and inclusion issues through announcements, guest speakers and events. The Aboriginal Circle and Quest-Project Rewind focused on effective communication and mediation.

Suspensions have dropped dramatically, student achievement has improved and several students have undergone training through the John Howard Society to become peer leaders. The "Youth Net Mental Health" screening tool has helped identify at-risk students and referred them to mental health agencies in the community. Treated with dignity and respect, students feel safe, supported and empowered at school. They feel they have access to supports and resources they need at school and in the community to achieve their full potential.

Etienne Brule Public School, Sault Ste. Marie
Algoma District School Board

How to fill a school with kindness

This downtown school community faced a variety of challenges. It had a high level of poverty along with a very mobile community. With families always on the move, it was hard for parents to get involved in their child's education. The team addressed these challenges through initiatives that focused on positive behaviours and healthy living:

  • “Bucketfillers” was a program that encouraged everyone to recognize positive behaviour at Etienne Brule. Every classroom had a bucket that got filled with slips describing the kind words and actions of everyone at the school, including students and school staff. Each day, slips were read over the PA, along with expectations for behaviour and suggestions on how to “fill the buckets”. Each month, the school held an assembly celebrating positive character attributes.
  • Drumming groups allowed all students to learn about Aboriginal culture and traditions. These events tied in to the school's character education program and helped students to deepen their understanding of Aboriginal Canadian culture.
  • Hot and nutritious breakfast and lunch programs were offered five days a week to all students. This made a difference to many students who rarely had healthy food. This support was made possible through the school's partnerships with the local Rotary Club, Community Living Algoma and Casino Sault Ste. Marie.

The result has been a school that has felt warm and welcoming. Students are rarely disciplined for negative comments about race or religion. They say they are happy and feel cared for at the school. A teacher described how the school helps its students develop on all levels, so they can learn, grow and thrive.

Manor Park Public School, Ottawa
Ottawa-Carleton District School Board

Many voices, one vision

Manor Park had a diverse population and faced challenges getting the whole school community engaged. It also had a wide range of opinions from school staff about how to create a positive school climate. The safe and accepting schools team found a way to bring the school community together and agree on a common goal by focusing on mental health and character development initiatives. These included:

  • The “Mental Health Matters” project focused on promoting mental health support for students. The “Friends Zone” provided a lunch club which offered students a safe haven to talk with a caring adult/mentor or simply relax with other students.
  • A check-in/check-out at the beginning and end of each day helped students make the transition between home and school. In the morning, they had help setting goals for the day, and rating their readiness to learn. They also went to a breakfast club. At the end of the day, the check-out helped students think about their day at school, plan for the transition home and set goals for the next day.
  • A “Character Wheel” with positive character attributes was displayed in school hallways and classrooms. Every month, the school had an assembly to recognize students showing good citizenship.

There have been many encouraging signs that the school is becoming a welcoming, accepting place where students thrive. The school has seen a decrease in student absences and in referrals to the office for discipline and suspensions.

More parents are volunteering at the school, and more students are getting involved in school clubs and activities. Perhaps the results are best summed up by one student who was suspended for fighting when he was in Grade 5. He had a very different experience in Grade 6. A teacher invited him to come to the “Friends Zone” whenever he needed to talk to someone or felt he could not concentrate. He finished his year by being part of multiple sports teams, speaking at a bullying prevention assembly and winning a citizenship award.

St. Michael Catholic High School, Niagara Falls
Niagara Falls Catholic District School Board

A school that feels like a family

With many newcomers and visa students coming to the area, St. Michael had to deal with great cultural diversity among its students who all had different needs and expectations. To help students make the transition to their new environment, the school reached out through its settlement workers and worked hard to help all students feel welcome through the following programs:

  • The Multicultural Food Festival allowed students to celebrate their heritage. Students dressed in traditional clothing and served food from their native country. Flags, maps and traditional items were on display.
  • “Mustangs Oppose Bullying” (M.O.B) organized bullying awareness events and assemblies for students throughout the year.
  • “Mustang Students About Impacting Decisions” (M.S.A.I.D.) was a student-led committee that discussed teen health and well-being. They met throughout the school year, talking about how to make smart choices around issues like distracted and impaired driving, tobacco and drugs, and mental health.
  • M.S.A.I.D. also organized an assembly for female students with a guest speaker who talked about relevant issues like self-esteem, body image, healthy relationships and bullying.

The school has seen improvements in many areas. More students have started participating in extra-curricular activities, especially the annual Multicultural Food Festival which had over 100 students and multiple community partners take part.

The 2011-12 Safe Schools Survey showed that students felt safe and accepted at school and were confident that they could report bullying incidents to staff. The school is best summed up by one student who used to be bullied at her old school. She describes St. Michael as a place where students and staff look out for each other, welcome newcomers and value everyone's ideas. In short, she feels that the school is like “a big family”.

Peel Alternative School, Brampton and Mississauga
Peel District School Board

A fresh approach for students

Peel Alternative School (PAS) had to meet a variety of challenges. The school is spread across different sites within a large region, which makes it hard to create a sense of community and connection. Many students were at risk for dropping out so they tended to be less engaged with the school. Knowing this, the school climate team focused on student-centered activities and programs that were flexible and responsive to students' needs.

They included the following programs:

  • An Anti-Bullying Prevention and Intervention Strategy was developed to raise awareness about the issue among students and staff. Two staff members developed The Peel Alternative School Bullying Intervention Week Resource Guide. During Bullying Awareness and Prevention Week in November 2012, it was distributed across the school. Students took part in different activities including an art competition for a bullying prevention poster and individual and group discussions to promote understanding and responsibility.
  • The board's “Fresh Start” programs gave suspended and expelled students a chance to  assess their current behaviour and consider their alternatives. They received intensive sessions on social skills, life skills, conflict resolution and other areas to help them maintain their academic progress and to recognize and take responsibility for their actions.
  • Community partnerships helped at-risk students by connecting them with various community agencies, mentors, and services. The school's partners included Peel Region Public Health, Peel Police, the YMCA and others. These partnerships have helped students get more involved with the school and the local community, while gaining new skills.

The school has shown steady improvements in many areas. The graduation rate has improved from 371 graduates in 2010-11 to 440 in 2011-2012. The school climate survey indicated that 88% of students felt safe at school and 82.9% thought the school setting met their needs.

St. Joseph Secondary School, Mississauga
Dufferin-Peel Catholic District School Board

Reaching out to all students

Like many schools in the area, St. Joseph had a very diverse range of students. In fact, 86% of the students' families came from countries outside Canada. This diversity offered unique challenges since the school had to find ways to meet so many different student needs.

With this in mind, the school focused on programs that would help bring students together and make all students feel welcome. These included:

  • A Gay-Straight Alliance formed by a group of students who wanted to connect in a safe space. They held weekly meetings in a room set aside for the club. The club members have done a lot to reach out to other students, by creating a homophobia awareness video and addressing school assemblies on LGBTQ issues.
  • “The Alternative Co-operative Experiential (ACE) Program” that helped Grade 12 students who were short of credits and at risk of not graduating. School staff and community partners worked together to help these students improve their achievement at school and get connected back with the school community.
  • Mental health supports, including training by the school psychologist on anxiety and depression, and separate program nights and circles for boys and girls. A Health Action team led by students developed activities that focused on mental health and well-being.

The efforts made by the school staff and students have helped to improve the environment at St. Joseph. In school climate surveys between 2010-11 and 2012-13, an increasing number of students said that the school was a safe and welcoming place where they felt all students were treated fairly. The parents of one student praised the ACE program for helping their daughter find a new interest in school and a new sense of direction. With the help of ACE, which they described as “life-changing”, their daughter has decided to attend college.

St. Marguerite d'Youville Catholic Secondary School, Brampton
Dufferin-Peel Catholic District School Board

Creating strong links between students

St. Marguerite d'Youville faced challenges finding enough time and staff to implement all of their many academic, extra-curricular and community-based activities. They also wanted to create stronger bonds with community partners, including mental health agencies. They focused on ways that staff and students could make stronger connections through a variety of programs that included:

  • The “Link Crew Transition Program” helped Grade 8 students make the transition to their new school. The Link Crew was made up of senior students who helped introduce the Grade 8s to the school and help them feel comfortable. Before they started at St. Marguerite, the Grade 8s spent a day “shadowing” Grade 9 students. The Link Crew gave the Grade 8s an orientation day in August before school started, and then continued to help them fit in during the school year by getting them involved in different activities.
  • Grade 9 students at risk of not succeeding at school were paired with Grade 11 and 12 students through “Peer Mentors”. The mentors helped the Grade 9s with scheduling and time management so they could stay on track. The mentors also worked with the Grade 9 students' teachers, and guidance counsellors throughout the year.
  • The “d'Y Cares” program was developed so that school staff could show their concern for students. This was in response to requests made in the school climate survey. Teachers talked over the PA about how students could achieve academic success and what help was available at the school. They also created personalized Christmas cards for all the students.

The school has seen many improvements. It has seen a 50% reduction in suspension rates over the past three years. There have also been steady increases in achievements in literacy and math. Another sign that the efforts to help new students are paying off: the failure rate for Grade 9 students has dropped significantly over the past school year. One student talked about the difference her Link Crew mentor made to her first year at St. Marguerite d'Youville. The coaching she got helped her build the skills and confidence to succeed.

St. Theresa Catholic Secondary School, Belleville
Algonquin and Lakeshore Catholic District School Board

Leading by example

As a new school, St. Theresa Catholic Secondary School had a big challenge: establish a cohesive school community for students and families from vast geographical areas, and become a community hub. They achieved this through the following programs:

  • The “Links to Success” program forged links with local feeder schools to help Grade 8 students successfully transition to high school. Students visited feeder schools and gave presentations to JK-Grade 8 students on character-building and bullying prevention themes. Forums were held to discuss concerns about high school with senior student mentors. Grade 8 students interested in physical activity were invited to shadow Grade 9 students for a day.
  • During Bullying Awareness and Prevention Week in November, students led several initiatives, including the “Be The Change” T-shirt campaign. They had 3D pop-up artwork posted around the school demonstrating the impact of bullying and a roundtable discussion that devised a bullying prevention action plan. Through a partnership with another school, two dynamic guest speakers were invited in to address bullying and cyberbullying issues.
  • The “Parents as Partners” initiative boosted parent involvement through a Welcome Week BBQ for parents, students and teachers. They also had a “Take Our Parent to School Day” for parents of Grade 10-12 students and a “Take Our Kids to Work Day” for Grade 9 students. There were various information nights with one designed for parents of students with special education needs.

Students led numerous activities that helped them feel safe, included and accepted. Summed up one student, “ultimately, the students are what make this school safe.” In a 2012 school survey, 90% of students reported they knew they had a peer mentor – up from just 20% in 2010. Student enrolment is up, as is student involvement in clubs, teams and various ongoing bullying prevention programs. Students regularly give back to the community, their significant efforts earning them a Volunteer Challenge Award. And a strong social media presence has enabled students, parents and staff to stay connected despite the geographical barriers.

St. Ursula Catholic School, Scarborough
Toronto Catholic District School Board

Living by the Golden Rule

A strong sense of school community and connectedness are key ingredients for higher participation in leadership activities and school events. When St. Ursula Catholic School wanted to increase student participation and leadership it addressed the fundamentals by enhancing its sense of community and student involvement. The school fostered pride and positive relationships among its students by making them key participants in a number of new initiatives. These included:

  • The popular “Tribes Co-operative Community” program divided the entire school into 16 tribes, representing all grades. As tribe leaders, Grade 8 students developed mentoring and leadership skills and all students enjoyed fostering interpersonal skills and a feeling of respect and acceptance.
  • The” Playground Activity Leaders” program engaged older students to take leadership roles and increase younger students' participation in outdoor activities. Leaders developed conflict resolution, self-management and problem-solving skills. Younger students exercised cooperation skills and good sportsmanship.
  • The “Positive Recognition Program” promoted living by the “Golden Rule”, where students were awarded for positive behaviour to others with certificates and recognition at assemblies and on the Wall of Awesome bulletin board.
  • The “Me to We” program got students involved in helping people in their community and around the world though food drives, fundraisers and social visits to a local retirement home to entertain residents.

As one student describes it, “this is no ordinary school”. The many programs have developed an environment where everyone feels welcome and valued. Case in point: a Grade 8 student with special needs was given the monthly award for courage, to the resounding cheers of the entire student assembly. The school community now proudly personifies the Golden Rule.

Tecumseh Public School, Chatham
Lambton-Kent District School Board

Making a difference at school and beyond

A positive school climate can be challenging with ongoing staff changes, and at-risk and high-needs students. Tecumseh Public School unified the school body with its signature team-building program that promoted and recognized positive behaviours. Key programs included:

  • The school-wide “Positive Behaviour Support Program” championed good behaviours among students, like respect, appreciation, participation, attentive listening and personal space. Dedicated captains (one for each behaviour) worked with staff members to lead interactive activities with a positive focus, and led a successful leadership day for students at other schools.
  • The “Documenting Our Voice” program provided a variety of outreach opportunities for students to connect with people in the community with letters of thanks, congratulations and festive greetings, promoting a sense of respect and inclusion.
  • The Equity and Inclusion Team offered leadership opportunities for students to improve operations at the school by giving input on playground rules. They also helped create a monthly salad bar to help promote healthy lifestyles, making sure that they recognized allergy and religious restrictions.

Continuous support for the school-wide Positive Behaviour Support Program has created a positive ripple effect: fewer student suspensions and office referrals, increased attendance rates, higher student achievement scores and new community partnerships, including the Kiwanis Club and Optimist Club. The school's overall spirit is one of welcome, inclusivity and acceptance. But the biggest source of pride may be the many schools – both near and from as far away as England – that look to learn from Tecumseh Public School's successful programs to involve and inspire its students.