Premier's Awards for Accepting Schools

2015-16 recipients of the Premier's Awards for Accepting Schools

Annunciation of Our Lord Catholic Elementary School, Hamilton

Hamilton-Wentworth Catholic District School Board

New school, renewed sense of community

Annunciation of Our Lord Catholic Elementary School recognized its top priority was to foster a sense of safety and community. With a 35 per cent growth in student enrollment since 2010, the school faced some challenges in promoting this new culture. It set about building a positive climate through the following initiatives:

  • Together Everyone Achieves More (T.E.A.M.) assembly: Each Monday morning, the school sets a positive tone for the week through an assembly attended by all staff and students. The assemblies showcase students' talents and interests, celebrate student clubs and teams, and give students an opportunity to demonstrate the school's inclusive values and character virtues.
  • The Health Action Team: the team has collaborated with the public health nurse to lead school-wide activities promoting the vital links between students' physical and mental wellness and their overall achievement and self-esteem. Events have included walk-to-school days, active recesses, yoga and anti-tobacco displays.
  • "Conquer It With Kindness": this campaign has been the highlight of ongoing anti-bullying initiatives at the school. Through sponsorship from the "Kill It With Kindness" organization and the Physical Literacy Project, Annunciation of Our Lord has installed a buddy bench and painted a conflict resolution circle in its schoolyard, to assist students in finding friends and resolving disputes during recesses.

As a result of these efforts, the school has become a neighbourhood hub that enjoys high levels of engagement from students, families, and community partners. This has led to more parents volunteering at school activities, and this in turn has made it possible for the school to organize celebratory events and outreach activities, along with charitable and social justice campaigns that have benefited local shelters, retirement residences, and other community organizations.

Bishop Tonnos Catholic Secondary School, Ancaster

Hamilton-Wentworth Catholic District School Board

Creating a caring school environment through student voice

After seeing the results from its 2010 school climate survey, Bishop Tonnos realized it needed to address bullying and harassment experienced by its students. The school has taken decisive steps to build a truly caring and engaging environment:

  • Titans for Titans: this group of student leaders took Red Cross RespectED training to become facilitators of bullying prevention. The Titans have organized school assemblies, summits and retreats, and have created announcements and videos, to develop and implement strategies their peers can use to report or defuse bullying.
  • Girls' empowerment summit: 20 female student leaders planned and facilitated a summit in response to the unique bullying that female students were experiencing. The event was attended by 100 female students. They discussed topics such as body image, self-confidence, social media, and peer pressure and came away inspired with ideas for leading positive change in their school community.
  • Safe@School town hall meetings: Bishop Tonnos shared the results of its 2010 and 2013 school climate surveys with all students at two town halls. The meetings and a student-mediated discussion board provided students with a forum to share their own concerns and be involved in the feedback process on the data the school collected.

These initiatives have given all Bishop Tonnos students a voice in identifying successes, areas of concern, and next steps needed to ensure that the school community is safe and inclusive. The school has seen a significant reduction in bullying, and the Titans for Titans group has received recognition from Red Cross/Promoting Relationships & Eliminating Violence Network (PREVNet) and the Catholic Education Foundation of Ontario for its excellence in peer-led bullying prevention activities.

Brookville Public School, Campbellville

Halton District School Board

A school where kindness is everywhere

Located in a rural setting, Brookville Public School found in recent school climate surveys that a significant number of students were experiencing bullying. Brookville took action by training students to recognize and report bullying, and empowering them with a deeper understanding of what kindness looks like:

  • Allies: a group of Grade 6 to 8 Brookville students have been trained to recognize bullying behaviours and take action around prevention and intervention. The Allies provide peer support for conflict resolution and bullying prevention in the schoolyard and in a designated safe space called the Ally room. During Bullying Awareness and Prevention Week, the Allies visited every Brookville classroom to facilitate student discussions and activities on positive student behaviour.
  • December kindness campaign: Brookville kicked off its campaign with a reading of How to Fill a Bucket in all classes. Students coordinated a food drive, a warm clothing collection, and a toy drive to benefit the community. The events also included participation in the Campbellville Santa Claus parade, where students handed out kindness quotations to spectators.
  • Community partnerships. The school has hosted mental health and wellness fairs featuring community exhibitors, student projects, and presentations on topics such as mindful parenting, student resilience and managing emotions. Brookville has used Kelso's Choices and the bucket-filling model, and has partnered with Girls Inc. and its child and youth counsellor, to help students develop their social-emotional competence.

During the past year, the extra anti-bullying support provided by student Allies has contributed to a 45 per cent reduction in office visits for schoolyard conflicts, and has cut in half the percentage of students who reported being bullied in the past month. Brookville's emphasis on kindness and service has helped create a positive environment where students strive to "Work Hard, Be Nice, and Make a Difference."

École secondaire publique L'Héritage, Cornwall

Conseil des écoles publiques de l'Est de l'Ontario

Acceptance and self-expression for all

Located just north of the Akwesasne Mohawk reserve, L'Héritage has many Indigenous students in its school community. L'Héritage has undertaken numerous initiatives in the arts, language, and other curriculum areas to encourage students to reflect on the experiences of Indigenous peoples. Thanks to the following initiatives, the school has seen a transformation:

  • The Aboriginal Initiative Project: this project involves activities that focus on Indigenous education and artistic expression. A number of First Nations, Métis, and Inuit artists have visited the students to share their work and experiences, including a Métis voyageur who built a display canoe at the school. These opportunities have enabled students to discuss topics such as cultural resilience and the residential school system, and have promoted attitudes of appreciation, acceptance, and inclusion.
  • Mental Health Commission of Canada HEADSTRONG Summit: L'Héritage has sent 10-15 of its students to this summit, which is part of a national youth campaign designed to help students develop a voice to mobilize their peers to confront the stigma surrounding mental health issues.
  • Experiential learning project: as part of the requirements for their high school diploma, L'Heritage students take on an experiential learning project to demonstrate their understanding of creative thinking and the importance of healthy habits and volunteer service. Through these projects, students gain a true sense of accomplishment as they strengthen their problem solving, perseverance, and collaboration skills.

By getting students involved in these projects and in charitable and social justice activities, L'Héritage has seen greater student engagement. Improvements have prompted positive comments from community members on the school's noticeably welcoming, caring climate and the open-minded attitudes its students now demonstrate.

Fairwood Public School, Keswick

York District School Board

Supporting student success on many fronts

Fairwood Public School serves many students who are at risk for higher mental health issues and behavioural challenges. Recognizing its main task is to engage all students and provide them with what they need to enjoy school and achieve success, Fairwood has partnered with various organizations to help support its students through the following:

  • Muskoka Woods Leadership Studio and Trails Youth Initiatives: the school worked with the two organizations to develop an outreach program to help prepare the school's most vulnerable students to make a successful transition from elementary to secondary school. The program centres on both outdoor education and in-school activities that help students develop the resilience and social-emotional competence they will need to navigate the secondary school environment.
  • Community organizations: the school worked with Covenant House, Triple P Parenting, the Canadian Mental Health Association and others to host events that support the development of student resilience. Fairwood has hosted an annual fun fair, a community breakfast, as well as snack and breakfast programs, food and coat drives.
  • Fairwood has also introduced: a school-wide restorative practices program that promotes respectful social interactions by providing students with a dedicated space and adult support during lunch and recess to help resolve conflicts and repair relationships.

Fairwood's ongoing commitment to success for all of its students has led to steady improvement in student performance on EQAO assessments. Many students say they enjoy school and feel well supported in their learning. Parents and community partners praise Fairwood's devoted administration and staff for fostering a kinder, more inclusive environment where students are achieving breakthroughs at many levels.

Fenelon Falls Secondary School, Fenelon Falls

Trillium Lakelands District School Board

Promoting improved student achievement and belonging

Recognizing that developing a positive school culture begins with promoting positive student behaviour and overall well-being, Fenelon Falls Secondary School has offered the following activities:

  • Recreational and educational programs: promoting a healthy body, mind, and spirit. To increase students' engagement and sense of well-being, Fenelon Falls held a Mental Health Awareness Week, a winter carnival, and a Wellness Week featuring events such as lunchtime skating, guest presentations on positive body image, pet therapy dogs, and other activities.
  • An evening information session with guest speakers: discussing financial literacy, attended by students and parents throughout the Trillium Lakelands board. This event was developed in response to feedback from its parent council.
  • The LINK program: this program connects incoming Grade 9 students with mentors in the senior grades. This has led to improved student achievement and the development of positive new student relationships, as well as more students using the library for "pleasure reading".

Within the positive, supportive environment at Fenelon Falls, Grade 9 truancy has become a non-issue, and student suspensions due to violence and threats have dropped by more than 60 per cent. Along with its culture of belonging and engagement, the school has also seen excellent results on the Ontario Secondary School Literacy Test (OSSLT), achieving a pass rate that was higher than the provincial standard and all the other schools in the board. Students and staff report a marked decrease in homophobic behaviour and a corresponding increase in students' sense of safety and acceptance.

H.A. Halbert Junior Public School, Scarborough

Toronto District School Board

Healthy bodies, healthy minds, healthy outcomes

H.A. Halbert serves a culturally diverse community, while also hosting a Deaf and Hard of Hearing kindergarten pilot and programs for students with autism and learning disabilities. The school has a comprehensive health and wellness strategy, believing that healthy, confident and safe children will achieve better results academically and beyond. After identifying issues with students' behaviour, the school took steps to help students deal better with their emotions and improve their conflict management skills. These steps included:

  • Training school staff: staff were trained on strategies to prevent bullying and harassment of transgender and non-conforming individuals to help reduce gender-based stereotyping and bullying. Teachers have worked with their students on how to treat others kindly.
  • Partnering with Big Brothers and Big Sisters: this partnership pairs students with trained secondary-school mentors. The older youth engage the younger students in positive interactions and lead sporting events as well as healthy living activities for their mentees.
  • Offering a healthy organic snack program and community garden: The snack program has enjoyed a 95 per cent buy-in from families and the community garden saw its first harvest in September 2015. Together with these healthy food programs, the school has hosted wellness weeks and workshops on nutrition, physical and mental health topics.

By working with its students to develop understanding and empathy for those who are different from themselves, H. A. Halbert has seen many positive changes, such as a drastic drop in the incidence of bullying and student suspensions. The school has now set its sights on improving students' interpersonal and learning skills, in response to the "Needs Improvement" ratings earned on the students' report cards.

St. Anne Catholic High School, Belle River

Windsor-Essex Catholic District School Board

Speaking out in support of inclusion and acceptance

After dealing with a difficult situation where transphobic and homophobic messages were appearing in student social networks and in graffiti on the property, St. Anne Catholic High School knew it had to take decisive action to create a safe, inclusive, and welcoming environment for its students. The school has fostered positive, inclusive behaviours among all students through the following initiatives:

  • Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA): the school's GSA has played a leading role in reducing negativity and discrimination and in raising awareness of LGBTQ issues in the school environment. The alliance has partnered with other school clubs and with community organizations such as Windsor PRIDE to organize events that spur positive conversations and attitudes within the school community.
  • Poetry in Action: St. Anne hosted a spoken-word poetry symposium as a platform for self-expression where students and well-known poets explored the culture and identity of First Nations, Métis and Inuit people. The Poetry in Action student team has gone on to compete regionally and to perform at assemblies and community gatherings.
  • The Saints Soar: this program promotes wellness of heart, mind, and body through events focused on promoting positive mental health, fostering positive body image, developing healthy eating habits, reducing substance abuse, developing mindfulness, encouraging sound decision making and managing stress. Weekly student "Mental Health Minute" announcements and events such as the Reach Out mass are designed to create a safe school climate by building student resilience.

The hard work of St. Anne school officials and students has brought about a significant decline in bullying and related disciplinary actions, with 92 per cent of students reporting they feel safe at their school. A three-dimensional hallway mural sums up the success the school has achieved with the slogan "Everyone Belongs".

St. Francis Xavier Catholic Elementary School, Stoney Creek

Hamilton-Wentworth Catholic District School Board

Making kindness and wellness a community affair

Recognizing a need to build community and nurture family engagement, St. Francis Xavier has organized a number of events and programs to address the daily stresses that Grade 4 to 8 students identified as their top priorities. The school focused its efforts on fostering a positive sense of well-being in their students and promoting the cohesiveness of their community through the following activities:

  • The school's Health Action Team: this team found that a majority of Grade 4–8 students identified stress as their top priority, and set about addressing this by introducing a number of activities to promote mental wellness. Some of these activities involved teaching students yoga, meditation, and other coping strategies, while other activities such as intramural sports and family movie nights responded to students' desire for more "stressless" recreational activities.
  • Staff and parents take action: Parents and staff decided to address truancy issues and limited parental involvement by launching community-building events. These included a breakfast with Santa, a spring concert, themed nights, a grandparent day and a community appreciation lunch. These events boosted family participation in school life and helped reduce chronic student absenteeism by 50 per cent.
  • Safe and inclusive activities: St. Francis Xavier held a "Kindness and Human Dignity" month featuring bullying awareness assemblies and classroom activities. All students created cut-out figures representing themselves and their unique qualities, and posted these in a linked chain on the gym walls.. The month culminated with the unveiling of a playground "friendship bench" where students can sit to show others that they are looking for kindness and friendship.

Working closely with families, local businesses, and partners such as the public health nurse, St. Francis Xavier has mobilized the help and funding required to bring all of these initiatives to life. The resulting improvement in student attendance and parental participation in school activities has led members of the school community to remark on how proud they are to be part of the St. Francis Xavier family.

St. Thomas of Villanova Catholic High School, LaSalle

Windsor-Essex Catholic District School Board

A clear voice for social justice

St. Thomas of Villanova has become a strong champion for social justice in southwestern Ontario. Through the following events, educational initiatives, and partnerships, the school's social justice club and Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA) has become a role model in leadership to student and staff groups at other schools looking to be a force for positive social change:

  • Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA): The school has the largest Gay-Straight Alliance in Essex County, and has become a leader in equality for the LGBTQ community and the province. In addition to hosting safe spaces, the GSA has led numerous awareness-raising events such as the Day of Silence, which is a national event, where students take a vow of silence to show the silencing effect of bullying of LGBTQ students. Students from the GSA have represented the school at OUTShine conferences and have built partnerships with other community events that focus on gender and sexual equality.
  • Community spirit: St. Thomas of Villanova's social justice group mounted a highly successful food drive and cook-off event where students challenged teams of staff and community members to create gourmet meals using selected packaged goods with one "secret" ingredient. Students also participated in the United Way's "poverty simulation experience", which helped students better understand what life is like for low-income families.
  • Charity activities: The school has led numerous events and charitable campaigns centred on local and global social-justice issues, which has involved fundraising by teachers and students. For one of their projects, the school raised funds to donate a friendship bench to an urban elementary school to encourage children to show kindness to others feeling bullied or left out at recess.

St. Thomas of Villanova's achievements in fostering positive change in the wider community were recently recognized at We Day in Toronto. Its success in openly addressing concerns and misconceptions related to the LGBTQ community has resulted in an empathetic school community in which all members feel heard, valued and cared for.