Founded in 1980, WillowWood is a family-style school where friendly and genuine interactions happen between students and teachers, issues are dealt with directly, and children feel seen and known. The school is a thriving community where teachers really make an effort to get to know each child, their strengths, their challenges, and their dreams. The staff employ a team-based approach to teaching and conduct regular education strategy meetings to discuss how best to deliver the curriculum to each student, whether they are on an Individualized Learning Plan or not. According to principal, Fred Howe: “Learning is not one to many. It’s many to one. From the teachers to the principal to the coaches and beyond, learning at WillowWood is a team approach.”
WillowWood School is a full facility featuring a fitness room, a full-size gymnasium, a music room, an art studio, a film and digital media art studio, and a science lab. The school has a cafeteria that prepares fresh, healthy meals every day. The outdoor area includes a full-sized basketball court, a volleyball court, table tennis, and chess tables.
The Ethos of WillowWood
WillowWood is located on Scarsdale Road, also known as School Street, as there are 5 other private schools on it, making the school a wonderful and safe place to send students to learn. The street also features a swim school, robotics facility, LEGO-based STEM facility, dance school, and Bond Park baseball fields. This gives WillowWood students access to incredible amenities and services incorporated into the curriculum and available for after-school programming.
WillowWood’s philosophy is built on the 4 pillars of community, mindfulness, environmentalism, and technology. It is one of the only full-facility, small-class private schools in Toronto. “We offer all of the amenities of a larger school but keep our total enrolment for K-12 at 250 students. This allows us to offer a large variety of programming and activities without sacrificing the benefits of a small and tightly knit community,” shares Mr. Fred Howe, the Principal of WillowWood School.
Mindfulness, kindness, and socio-emotional well-being are regularly promoted through WillowWood’s meditation club (a school-wide program) and through the Random Acts of Kindness club, which drives various initiatives throughout the year. Environmentalism is another core value at WillowWood School. Various fund-raising initiatives have led to the elimination of plastic bottles on campus and the installation of 350 solar panels, allowing the school to be plastic-free and carbon-neutral. Environmental stewardship is taught at all levels of the school. “Goals are set, programs put in place, and rationales explored as a school. Collaboration and cooperation are built into all kinds of lessons, from Lower School STEAM activities to High School experiments and projects, preparing students for the next era,” Mr. Howe explains.
Having a Holistic Approach
In the lower school, the Pod System in grades 1-6 allows students to access programming at their level of independent functioning. Children who have uneven learning profiles can then remain with their peers and still access Pods, either above or below their age level (or both). Over time, the goal is to improve the student’s learning profile and keep challenging high-performing individuals.
In high school, the focus is on completing courses towards earning an Ontario Secondary School Diploma and gaining entry to a prestigious Canadian university. WillowWood graduates typically attend top-tier institutions, including the University of Toronto, McGill University, and Queen’s University.
Preparing Students for a Tech Future
Technology and digital literacy are at the forefront of WillowWood’s educational system. All classrooms are equipped with digital smartboards and use them as an all-encompassing communication platform through which parents and students can check attendance, upcoming due dates, grades, and more. All students receive a laptop upon admission, and the use of assistive educational software is taught and embedded into the curriculum. “Our newly introduced digital literacy program promotes and teaches the safe and responsible use of technology and the internet, begins in grade 1 and continues throughout a student’s time at WillowWood,” says Mr. Howe. This allows students to stay updated with new technologies, promotes proper communication in an online environment, and helps them leverage technology to facilitate learning.
The average class size at WillowWood is 10-12 students. That said, classes can have as few as 5 students but never exceed 16, giving the school a student-to-teacher ratio of 7:1. WillowWood offers individualized and differentiated instruction. “Our teachers develop and regularly update Individualized Educational Plans (IEP) for students who need them. These plans assist with programming, course selections, and accommodations for assessment and evaluations,” shares Mr. Howe.
Teachers at WillowWood are certified by the Ontario Teacher’s College. Many have post-graduate degrees in specialized areas of study. They attend regular professional development seminars to help them learn new ways of teaching, such as the development of Digital Literacy, alternative methods of evaluation, including Film and Media, and personal and student mental health practices.
Teachers regularly communicate with parents to inform them of their student’s successes and challenges via email. Parents are given access to the school’s Blackbaud® interface to check their child’s attendance, grades, and assignment due dates. The monthly newsletter updates parents on upcoming events and using Microsoft Teams in classrooms facilitates communication between peers and their teachers.
Turning Challenges into Opportunities
COVID-19 drew attention to the importance and benefit of fresh, circulating air in schools and to hygiene in general: masks are now commonly seen when students or staff feel ill. The COVID-era online learning solution forced the education industry to master distance-teaching. While no one is eager to return to online teaching, those new skills show up in various places (like morning announcements) and as new options for students.
WillowWood adopted new and existing technologies for communication and teaching purposes. The use of software such as MS Teams and Zoom became commonplace for communication, and educational programs such as Socrative and Quizlet made online delivery of classes possible. WillowWood’s student device program (all students receive a top-of-the-line laptop) was born during the pandemic to ensure that all students have equal access to technology. Although schools are once again in-person, many of the technologies they implemented during the pandemic are still being used to improve learning in the classroom.
Striving to be the Best
The Best of Toronto rated WillowWood School as the best private school in Toronto in 2023. WillowWood is accredited by the Better Business Bureau and maintains an A+ rating. The school has a 9.1/10 rating on Our Kids, a 5-star rating on TrustPilot, a 4.7-star rating on International School Database, and a 4.7-star rating on Facebook. WillowWood is inspected biannually by the Ontario Ministry of Education and has been granted the right to award high school credits towards an Ontario Secondary School Diploma.
“My son was in another private school for a few years and spent some time at a public school before we moved to WillowWood. He used to hate going to school, and every morning was a struggle for him and us. WillowWood made him fall in love with school again. He has had amazing teachers all his years at WillowWood, from grade 3 to grade 12. WillowWood’s Pod program in the lower and middle schools is unique, and the one-on-one support is amazing. He loves everything about WillowWood, but I think having wonderful teachers is the best part. The school shifted and adjusted to online learning in a breeze when the pandemic started. The transition was smooth, and the kids didn’t miss a day!” shares Ms. Ayeh H., the parent of a student that attended WillowWood School.
Showing Students the Way Forward
The guidance counselors at WillowWood help students choose programs that best suit them and put them in the best position to achieve their career goals. “Our guidance counselors assist students with all aspects of their college and university applications; we help our students with collecting reference letters, writing essays, and preparing for interviews,” Mr. Howe explains. The school also helps students find and secure scholarships to help them fund their post-secondary education. The school has a university/college acceptance rate of over 95 percent. For example, recent graduate Eric Lee (Class of ’21) was admitted to the University of Toronto, where he is now studying engineering. Upon admission, Eric was awarded the prestigious Robert M. Friedland Scholarship, which pays out USD 32,000 annually.
2016 Graduate Conor Forrest recently graduated from York’s Film program with a reel of his own short films, a feature-project idea, and a feature-length documentary that is now airing on Amazon Prime (the US only for now). Connor launched his own production company called Little Cat Pictures, and his movie “Tapeboy” won the Best Cinematography Award at the Pure Magic International Film Festival.
Going forward, WillowWood School aims to focus on expanding its digital literacy and film programs. “We are also working towards expanding the existing venue to include even more facilities such as a STEAM lab and a new Film studio,” Mr. Fred concludes.
Teachers at WillowWood take it upon themselves to really understand every child; their challenges and goals; their interests and dreams, and then work together to create a program that taps into their potential and helps them succeed.
For More Info: https://www.willowwoodschool.ca/