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Mr. Dion Singh's grade 8 class participates in a drama exercise at Humberwood Downs Junior-Middle Academy in Etobicoke, Ont. Jan. 17, 2012. (Kevin Van Paassen/Kevin Van Paassen/The Globe and Mail)
Mr. Dion Singh's grade 8 class participates in a drama exercise at Humberwood Downs Junior-Middle Academy in Etobicoke, Ont. Jan. 17, 2012. (Kevin Van Paassen/Kevin Van Paassen/The Globe and Mail)

Education

How Toronto's boutique academies will work Add to ...

The Toronto District School Board has opened registration for its new boutique academies – including all-boys, all-girls, sports-focused and music-specialized programs – located at nine elementary schools.

The announcement comes as the York Region District School Board considers dismantling its elementary arts program at Baythorn Public School over concerns that students don’t have equal access and are specializing too early. TDSB education director Chris Spence defended his board’s strategy, saying it does not follow the one-size-does-fit-all approach. “Sameness is not synonymous with excellence,” he said. “I believe our biggest issue isn’t underachievement; it’s disengagement.”

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Here’s how the boutique academies will work:

Who can apply?

Students are not required to compete or audition to get into the academies. If demand exceeds the number of spots, admissions will be determined by lottery. The five schools holding the sports and health academies are switching over in their entirety to the new programs and will draw students from their catchment areas. The other four schools will each have at least 100 to 150 spots in a school-within-a-school model.

Teachers

Gender will not determine who teaches at the all-girls and all-boys academies. All current teachers at the sports, health and music academies will be offered professional development courses if they do not already specialize in those subjects. Going forward, the academies will move toward hiring teachers who have training in these areas.

Tracking progress

While Dr. Spence did not go into specifics, he said the TDSB will be tracking the success of these new academies, both internally, and through research partnerships with Ontario universities, such as Toronto, York and Nipissing.

Sports and wellness academies

Students are guaranteed at least 150 minutes of physical activity every week, said George Kourtis, program co-ordinator for health and physical education at TDSB. The three schools – Carleton Village Junior and Senior Public School, James S. Bell Junior Middle School and Shoreham Public School – were selected for their pre-existing, excellent sports facilities.

Health and wellness academies

In practice, there isn’t much to distinguish these from sports and wellness academies. Students also have to get at least 30 minutes of exercise daily, but some parents at Rene Gordon Elementary and Donview Middle School had “concerns with the sports focus and felt there might be a misunderstanding that it’s an elite sports program,” Mr. Kourtis said. That’s why the name was changed at these two schools. “Producing athletes isn’t our goal, but it will probably be a by-product, either through intramural sport teams or just add-on lunch time activities like yoga or basketball,” he said.

Vocal music academies

This program, offered to students in Grade 4 through 8 at Heather Heights Junior Public School and Ryerson Community School, will place a strong emphasis on ensemble singing and developing musicianship. Lessons would include students performing music from various historical eras and studying sound frequency in their science class using musical instruments.

Boys and girls leadership academies

TDSB officials hope the boys leadership academy for Grade 4 through 6 at The Elms Junior Middle School will keep their male students more engaged through hands-on activities and the provision of role models. Similarly the curriculum will be adapted for the girls leadership academy in Grade 4 through 6 at Highland Heights Junior Public School. “It could be something as simple as having a female geologist come in to talk about rocks and science,” said Marguerite Campbell, the board’s central co-ordinating principal for innovative programs. “We need to break down gender stereotypes for both boys and girls.”

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