Advent Note From Principal Booth

Dear Blyth Academy Yorkville and Orbit community,

Please see the note below from our Principal Mr. Michael Booth:

I am writing to you in the wake of our first term in the Age of COVID, with a solid start to the second underway. The campus is quiet on this fully-virtual Wednesday, indeed quieter that we like, but the sun is shining, with a fresh coat of snow on the ground, and we are hoping that somewhere through the work and toil of this most unusual year, a groove is developing. As I mentioned to the faculty in our staff meeting yesterday, I was deeply heartened to read the comments from our student surveys, which they submitted shortly before the end of the first term. The students took to the task sincerely, and provided overwhelmingly positive feedback on the teachers and the school. While we have improvements to make, as always, the overall impression was of a remarkably strong foundation. I would like to extend a huge thanks to our students, families and staff for their hard work, mutual support and resilience to date.

I think the surveys pointed effectively to the school’s principles and commitment.

I was recently asked by a colleague from another campuses to provide our definition of “experiential learning”, and much of what I wrote was reflected by our students’ feedback. I hope that the description is in keeping with your child’s “experience”:

Experiential learning at Blyth is neither a catchphrase nor a refrain from educational jargon. It is about spending time with students. This is time that we can afford to take, because our class sizes are small, and our schedules enable students to focus on just two courses at a time. Experiential learning is not solely, or even principally, about fancy trips outside the school. It is about daily, spontaneous journeys both within and beyond the walls of the classroom. It is about the patient, creative and ongoing construction of a community of learners. It is about combatting the stereotypes of STEM teachers who lack empathy. It is about enabling students to become teachers, grading their teacher’s high school writing. It is about using activities in a Dungeons and Dragons club to prompt creative writing pieces in English class. It is about students writing letters to politicians about causes they have passion for, and receiving responses in the mail to share with their classmates. It is about performing Shakespeare with cameras off in a virtual classroom and pretending it is a radio play. It is about teachers joining their colleagues’ classes to serve as guest speakers. It is about hours spent over time talking through challenges and dreams with the guidance counsellor. It is about paying attention to what is heard in the hallways and classrooms, to feel and respond to the mood of the students during the short days of November. It is about every staff member being never more than an email away from parents hoping to learn about how things are going for their children, or to tell us something that might help us support them better. Most of what we do, every day, to enhance our students’ experiences, never reaches the pages of a newsletter. But the investments we make in taking the time with each and every student who walks through our hallways and sits in our classrooms, leaves a profound and enduring mark.

I would also like to ask for a moment of time from our parents and guardians, to provide some feedback for us from their perspective. If you are able to take a few minutes to fill out the survey through the link below, we would greatly appreciate it.

SCHOOL FEEDBACK SURVEY: https://forms.gle/aQ2ATa4LnHaVHTXRA

While there has been much communication between teachers and admin team over the past months, I would like to add some highlights of goings on about the campuses:

  • The Calculus and Vectors classes have formed a study group, under the guidance of Ms. Sang, a model that we hope to extend to other subjects as the term progresses.
  • Wednesday afternoon clubs are going strong, with the addition of a student-led debating club which had its inaugural meeting yesterday.
  • The Foundations students have been given a budget to refurbish our rooftop for an eating space during the winter.
  • There are numerous projects amongst the classes and clubs to support COVID-related services in the spirit of the season of giving.
  • In addition to holiday season pick-me-ups scattered throughout the coming weeks, Mike Minicucci will be hosting an alumni talk on life after high school later in the month.

More news to come, but with the year now well underway, some serious ideas and initiatives are in the works.

We are eagerly anticipating the return of our first, small cohort of students and staff who have been self-isolating in response to the positive COVID test. They will be returning on Friday, and I am happy to report that all but the original case have tested negative. A huge thanks to Toronto Public Health and this community for their diligent response to this event. It is a great benefit of our structure that we were able to carry on virtually through the period of self-isolation.

With apologies for the lengthy note, I would finally like to provide some staffing updates:

  • We would like to welcome Sam Othman and Hamada Kassam to our Orbit faculty. I have worked with both before at the Mississauga campus, and they are brilliant additions to the team.
  • We have also bid a fond farewell from Yorkville to Peter Kearney. Mr. Kearney has moved to Vancouver with his better half, but remains very much in the Orbit mix in his Chemistry classroom and ongoing service as Vice Principal. He will be offering regular office hours for parents to check in this term, about which you will receive notice shortly.
  • While we will be missing Mr. Kearney’s presence on the second floor at Yorkville, Ms. Pia Munther has been appointed Vice Principal at the physical campus. She will also be taking over some of the guidance duties for our grade 11 class, and will be reaching out on that front in the coming days.
  • Finally, we have said goodbye, for now, to Ms. Jamie Fatigati, who has taken a maternity leave to care for her newborn son Sam. I know I speak for all when I say that Ms. Fatigati’s miraculous teaching will be sorely missed, but not forgotten.

Many thanks for your attention to this wordy note. Hoping the grooves will continue to deepen as we spin through this second term, and as always, please don’t hesitate to reach out should the needle skip off track here and there. It happens to all of us!

Best,

Michael Booth
Principal
Blyth Yorkville and Orbit

mbooth@blytheducation.com

Though our physical doors remain temporarily closed, the minds of our students stay open. Summer classes are continuing to meet on their regular daily schedules, in virtual classrooms with face-to-face instruction and peer interaction.  The Blyth Academy model of small class sizes, flexible scheduling and individualized approach have enabled us to remain faithful to our standards. Our commitment to ongoing and meaningful communication between school, teachers, students and families has been critical to this effort.

Although our students have transitioned into summer mode and COVID-19 restrictions have begun to loosen, we are looking ahead to what September will hold for our campuses and families.
We want to be clear - our preference and our priority is to get students back to our campuses, but we must ensure this is done in a safe and effective way. While we await official guidance from Public Health and the Ministry of Education, a "return to school" task force has been hard at work putting concrete operational plans in place for all likely scenarios. This includes a full return to campus with safeguards, a blended model of virtual and in-campus learning and the continuation of fully virtual classrooms. All scenarios will provide robust learning and live, daily instruction and interaction with teachers and peers. 
With ten campuses across Ontario, we realize that each one of our schools is a unique space and community. We will be implementing across-the-board policies on hand washing, facility cleaning and social distancing measures. Each school is also prepared to pivot individually based on the guidance of local health authorities and to best serve students and families. 
Our recent survey showed that over 80 per cent of Blyth Academy families are eager to return to campuses, and we are hard at work to prepare for this day. As September's scenario becomes clearer and more information becomes available, we will continue to communicate. 

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