Premier's Awards for Accepting Schools

2013-14 recipients of the Premier's Awards for Accepting Schools

Agnes Taylor Public School, Brampton
Peel District School Board

Creating a happy school family

Agnes Taylor had a diverse population and faced several challenges engaging the whole school community. The safe and accepting schools team decided to partner with community agencies and focus on parent engagement, mental health and anti-bullying initiatives. These included:

  • The Parents as Partners program helped parents feel more connected to the school through workshops on homework help, financial literacy, children's mental health and building children's self-esteem. The school teamed up with Family Services of Peel to launch an after-school family program that strengthened parent-child relationships and boosted the school climate. Outreach activities included a winter food and clothing drive for families in need.
  • A mental health fair helped raise awareness of mental health issues, reduce associated social stigmas and provide resources through local agencies. School assemblies focused on character development and bullying intervention strategies, while staff-trained peer mediators helped resolve playground conflicts. The school t-shirt is pink – the universally recognized symbol of bullying prevention – a gesture that transcends the many languages spoken at school.
  • A multi-cultural talent show celebrated arts from the many ethnic cultures represented in the school community, fostering collaboration amongst families and creating a proud and welcoming school environment.

The school saw many improvements to their climate and dramatically improved student behaviour resulting in fewer student incidents. Student suspensions reduced from seven the previous year to just one this school year. The family outreach efforts created a revitalized school council, increased parent involvement and volunteering, and built a better connection between families and the school community.

Blessed Teresa of Calcutta Catholic Elementary School, Hamilton
Hamilton-Wentworth Catholic District School Board

A wellspring for better well-being

Blessed Teresa of Calcutta felt that one of its biggest challenges was helping students improve their physical, social and mental health and well-being. With parents identified as key partners, they first needed to address the diverse parent community and the barriers to their participation in school. The school focused its efforts on engaging parents and enhancing students' curricular and co-curricular activities. They did this through the following initiatives:

  • An action plan was developed to increase parent engagement in the school. Communications were improved with regular newsletters, training and supports for parents and the use of a virtual classroom to bridge home-school communications. School-based parent workshops were also made available to help parents support their child's mental health and social-emotional needs.
  • A Principal Advisory Group was formed where leaders of student clubs and teams discussed concerns, managed a suggestion box, ran a media board, made announcements to keep students informed and held a culture fair and planting a school garden.
  • A variety of student-led presentations, theme days and support groups included fundraisers for local charities, Diversity Days that promote cultural awareness, peer and professional supports to boost student mental health and self-esteem, and programs to help students work with those with special needs.

The initiatives led to improved student volunteer participation in 12-15 active school committees. With child care provided at school, more parents were able to volunteer and participate at school events. The parent volunteer base jumped from two to five regular volunteers to 50. The school's commitment to inspire and engage the whole community was epitomized by its new motto: “I can do things you cannot, you can do things I cannot; together, we can do great things!”

Blessed Trinity Catholic Secondary School, Grimsby
Niagara Catholic District School Board

Mental health mission

Blessed Trinity's most significant challenge was fostering a safe and positive school environment that supported the mental health needs of its students. They set out to meet this challenge by raising awareness of and decreasing the stigma around mental health issues to build resiliency in its students. These efforts reached out to engage their entire school community: students, parents, staff and local health agencies. Activities included:

  • Mental health promotion and suicide prevention initiatives, such as bullying awareness and prevention week, mental health assemblies, community forums, class presentations, guest speakers, student discussion groups, student mentor training and dedicated units added to the Grade 9 curriculum.
  • A mentoring program for young men through the John Howard Society called Guys Talk which paired them with university students to discuss issues such as self-esteem, relationships, substance abuse and career pathways.
  • Welcome barbeques for new students and high school orientation activities.

An improved school climate has produced promising results in several areas. Student achievement and graduation rates have improved. There's been a steady reduction in student suspensions from 52 in 2011-12 down to 19 in 2013-14. Blessed Trinity now has an impressive number of students, staff and parents trained in suicide awareness and prevention, and are more aware of the signs of mental health issues and resources that are available. A former student commended the school for helping her manage anxiety and depression and ultimately navigate her final year, graduate and successfully pursue post-graduate education with confidence.

Dr. G.W. Williams Secondary School, Aurora
York Region District School Board

Healthy minds, open hearts

Increasing student involvement by choosing school priorities and resources for initiatives that will help all students feel safe and included has been an ongoing challenge for Dr. G.W. Williams. However, some students with various exceptionalities were reluctant to participate in events or deliver announcements. Knowing these challenges, the school wanted to promote the importance of healthy living, safety and well-being in a caring, inclusive learning environment in a variety of ways that included:

  • In cooperation with the local public health unit, fire departments, police services, traffic safety and the Canadian Mental Health Association, a dedicated Safety Week and Mental Health Week campaigns were held to raise awareness of mental health and substance abuse issues. Also a “Think Empathy” week promoted bullying awareness and Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) held an assembly with senior students to discuss the hazards of drunk driving.
  • Through a partnership with local grocers, “The Food for Learning” program offered students access to healthy snacks in the Guidance department any time during school hours. To further promote healthy food choices for students, two Subsidized Salad Weeks were held which offered salads at reduced prices.
  • Special inclusion and celebration events like Purple Day were held where the team joined forces with the Gay-Straight Alliance to show support for the school's LGBTQ community.

The school's safety and inclusion initiatives have made it a positive place that offers students the resources they need to overcome social and emotional challenges and lead happier, healthier lives. The Subsidized Salad Weeks quadrupled the sales of salads at the cafeteria. The Safe and Inclusive Schools Team has also made a significant difference in the engagement, visibility and leadership skills of the school's students with mild intellectual disabilities.

École élémentaire Carrefour des jeunes, Brampton
Conseil Scolaire Viamonde

Kindness is key

The students at Carrefour des jeunes appeared to be disengaged. As a result, low student achievement and issues of bullying were evident. To create an environment that is both inspiring and welcoming, a motivated team set out to improve school climate. The team addressed these issues through student-centered initiatives that focused on promoting positive behaviours, safety and engagement:

  • The “Bucket Filler” program teaches and encourages positive behaviour. Every classroom had a bucket that was filled with slips describing kind words and actions of everyone at the school. Students learn specific ways to fill other people's buckets, for instance, welcoming new students and inviting them to play at recess. Even teachers have buckets that colleagues can fill with treats or kind messages.
  • The “5 Daily Activities” program has students pick a learning activity independently while the teacher guides a small group of students with similar needs. During the guided sessions, the teacher gives descriptive feedback to each student and meets their specific needs encouraging independence, respect and knowledge of one's needs and strengths, as well as developing self-control.
  • The CAFÉ Method provides reading strategies whereby students set goals and teachers guide each student to develop their reading skills. CAFÉ is an acronym for Compréhension (Comprehension), Adéquation (Accuracy), Fluidité (Fluidity) and Étude de mots (Expanding Vocabulary).
  • Student engagement activities include promoting bus safety as patrollers through the “School Bus Project” and developing the students' voice through the “CDJ Government” Model with themed school activities organized by its four ministries – Harmony, Franco-Leisure, Sports and Environment.

Carrefour des jeunes is now a school that is welcoming, safe and inclusive environment. Conflict resolution has improved with staff using positive reinforcement and students verbalizing dissatisfaction instead of reacting physically. Happily, EQAO results and school registration numbers are up. A teacher described how students now feel that they are in a safe place where inappropriate behaviours are unacceptable and everyone can focus entirely on student achievement.

Erindale Secondary School, Mississauga
Peel District School Board

A place for everyone

With a diverse student body, including Aboriginal students and many students with developmental disabilities, Erindale had the challenging task of meeting lots of different needs, while trying to create an inclusive school culture and a compassionate learning environment.
To do this, the school promoted classroom integration and character development to make students feel welcome and achieve academic success through the following programs:

  • An extensive character education program that promoted equity and inclusion through daily character lessons, character recognition assemblies and the creation of safe spaces for a Gay-Straight Alliance, a Christian student group and a Muslim student association.
  • A school-wide character program in which all students including those with developmental disabilities have benefitted from being mentors and leaders to new Grade 9 students.
  • A Character Outreach Program with a local First Nations School provided experiential learning opportunities where students of both schools worked together to launch a business selling fleece pillows to raise funds for a local hospital.

Erindale's school culture has truly transformed. Since the beginning of its character initiatives, the school has seen an increase in the number of student leaders in school. Suspension rates have declined and the graduation rate has steadily climbed. One parent praises the open-minded, caring and inclusive attitude of Erindale staff and students that have opened up a whole new world of accomplishments and connectedness for his son.

St. David Catholic School, Sudbury
Sudbury Catholic District School Board
A school rich in spirit

Improving the mind, body and spirit of the students in St. David was a challenge since it is an inner city school in a neighbourhood with a high rate of crime, poverty and mental health crises. Many of its students, who identified themselves as Aboriginal, had academic challenges, with many reading below their grade level. They channelled their efforts by offering the following programs:

  • A mentorship program that paired Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal students with St. David graduates who were avid basketball players. The program allowed students to take part in basketball tournaments and to access a peer support network where they learned about traditional Native teachings from Elders and people in the community.
  • Breakfast and after-school meal programs, lunchtime and after-school sports, and Native as a Second Language programs were available to all students. There were also free summer programs for students, through the community hub, and numerous community partnerships with the common goal of improving students' school performance.
  • A crime prevention program focused on awareness of the law, the promotion of internet and street safety, and the prevention of bullying and substance abuse. This encouraged positive relationships between students and the Greater Sudbury Police Service. A special constable spent a day in the school each week to meet with and provide guidance to students, parents, and teachers.
  • A home reading program organized by teachers from Junior Kindergarten through Grade 4 helped families learn how to improve their children's reading skills.

St. David's efforts have shown positive results in many areas. From 2009-14, the school has reduced its total number of school days missed because of suspensions from 218 down to seven days. In 2012-13, Grade 3 students reading at grade level increased from 40% to 65%. Through sports, clubs and programs, and partnerships with community organizations, St. David staff have engaged and motivated its students to make positive connections with other students and the greater community. A parent and past school council chair commended the many ways the school has helped students succeed.

St. Edmund Campion Secondary School, Brampton
Dufferin Peel District School Board
Putting mental health first

St. Edmund Campion's greatest challenges were helping students who were facing very difficult mental health challenges cope with the demands of school work while they waited for treatment or helping students who were discharged from hospital stays manage without the necessary supports in place. Staff at the school had become well educated in recognizing, referring, and supporting students who showed signs of being in crisis, but they remained very concerned about the students' safety. The school's number of support programs were put in place to improve student well-being before, during and after school:

  • The school and its community partners offered workshops for students diagnosed with anxiety disorders and set up a health fair connecting students with various community agencies focused on health and wellness. They also offered parent workshops to build communication skills between parents and students and to build student resilience.
  • “Search Route 22” provided alternative education for Grade 11 students who needed to gain credits to get back on track to graduate on time.
  • Nutritious breakfast and lunch programs were offered, as well as lunch-hour drop-ins for students to connect with child and youth workers to help support students who were struggling emotionally or financially.
  • Girls' Nights and Boys' Nights were evening events at the school designed to engage and build confidence within Grade 9 students.

To overcome its challenges, bringing together students, parents and staff, including child and youth workers and guidance counsellors, St. Edmund Campion truly took a ‘whole school' approach and built strong community partnerships to reduce student conflict and help students address personal and mental health issues. A guidance counsellor at St. Edmund Campion described how the school has grown through various challenges and difficult times to become a safe, welcoming place for its diverse student body. This has put students on a path to success so they can work through their emotional challenges and develop their confidence, voice and resilience.

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

Open minds, open arms

Helping all students, including newcomers and those at risk, feel safe, accepted and encouraged to succeed at school was identified as the top priority of St. Joseph. With 25% of its students born outside Canada, 34% of its students spoke English as a second language, and 49% had a non-Catholic background, the school focused on ways to make all students feel safe, welcome and excited about learning through the following activities:

  • A secure website that offered students a way to anonymously report bullying incidents anytime. The website was launched during the school's bullying awareness week, and was promoted through student posters displayed in classrooms and throughout the school.
  • The “Alternative Cooperative Experiential” (ACE) program that helped Grade 12 students at risk of not graduating stay on track. The ACE program added a First Nation, Métis, and Inuit component to the curriculum that included cultural activities and guest speakers. Cooperative education and community outreach opportunities were also added, and together, they helped to re-engage students with the school and the community.
  • The “Jaguars Understanding Multicultural Perspectives” (JUMP) club offered a place for students learning English to share their experiences develop friendships and find support.  

The school has seen improvements in many areas. With the increased use of the school's online bullying prevention website a survey indicated that bullying decreased by 8.7% and their student survey data showed a 9.6% increase in the number of students who feel St. Joseph is a welcoming community.

The ACE program has a 17% increase in student participation in the program expected to graduate on time compared to previous years. A Grade 12 student who maintained an A average stated how grateful he is for the program's focus on hands-on experience, which has motivated him to be in class learning every day and has put him on a path to graduate with his peers.

Stanley Mills Public School, Brampton
Peel District School Board

Reading, writing and welcoming

With 76% of its students learning English and many being first-generation Canadians, Stanley Mills school faced challenges. Many of their students from low-income families or single parent families had parents who worked multiple jobs or faced language barriers. The school decided to work on promoting positive student behaviour and focus on developing strong literacy programs that would build students' vocabulary and develop their critical thinking skills. The school wanted to improve school climate by encouraging positive student behaviour and communication with parents, to increase their children's success at school through the following programs:

  • Reading programs for Grades 1-3 offered extra help, along with school-wide, online e-book and math learning programs.
  • The Student Ambassador program paired Grade 5 students with new students who shared their language, to welcome the new students and help them get comfortable with the school and life in Canada.
  • “The Playground Activity Leadership in School” (PALS) program had students from the Junior grades lead daily recess games for Primary students and act as role models to show positive relationships between students.
  • The school's character education program promoted positive student behaviour through classroom lessons, recognition assemblies, character awards and visual reminders posted throughout the school.
  • The school coordinated a speaker series for parents and also promoted partnerships with local social service and community health agencies. The school also started sending information to parents in multiple ethnic languages, reaching far more parents than they had in the past.

The school's efforts were evident in the classroom, the playground and throughout the school community. According to recent EQAO results, Grade 3 student reading scores improved by 5%. In 2012-13, 67% of students achieved the provincial standard for reading proficiency. Student leadership and character programs have resulted in fewer behavioural incidents on the playground and a 79% reduction in student suspensions from 2009 to 2013. The focus on student and family involvement has led to a 150% increase in school council participation and a greater role for this group in running school volunteer events.

Valley View Public School, Pickering
Durham District School Board
Help when it matters most
Valley View is a small school. Over the years, its student population steadily increased, declined and then doubled in size. Changes like this can certainly cause challenges. Valley View's “We're Here to Help Team” felt that improving student mental health and resiliency, and resolving conflicts between students were both a priority. They also felt that they needed to improve communication between the school and its parents, and increase families' awareness of and access to community resources. They achieved all these goals through initiatives that reached out to students, parents and the whole community which included:

  • A crisis intervention team with teachers volunteering their planning time or breaks were on-call for crises in the school.
  • “The Community Builders” program involved intermediate student advocates who were trained to resolve disputes between students on the playground, using restorative practice and problem-solving strategies.
  • “Valley View Voices” was an evening devoted to parent-student dialogue in which students and their families talked about issues affecting positive relationships and community building.
  • The school built relationships with agencies and organizations, such as Durham Public Health and Big Brothers/Big Sisters, to connect students and their families with a range of community supports.

The school's “We're Here To Help Team” really did live up to its name. One Grade 8 student said that the team was key to making the school feel safe and accepting and creating a positive school environment in which students felt they had a voice. She also described how the focus on developing intermediate-level student leaders and volunteers helped younger students foster a sense of empathy and community within the school. The increase in attendance at school assemblies, concerts and events from students and families have truly shown the effort the school has made to make them feel welcome.