Not every child or adolescent learns and absorbs information the same way, and this is precisely why educational institutions labelled “alternative schools” have been incorporated into the Toronto District School Board (TDSB). There exist in the city numerous elementary and secondary alternative learning facilities that cater to a very specific crowd — students who require a more tailored, intimate, and specialized type of education in order to learn the same material that their peers are learning in more traditional institutions.
There is absolutely no shame tied to attending an alternative school in the City of Toronto. No, quite the opposite, in fact — especially when one lives in such a diverse and multi-faceted society as ours. Students who attend alternative schools are better able to cope with a full term of schoolwork. Many students who were described as “problem students” in the past have excelled in these specialized environments.
“We saw that our daughter was having trouble at the Catholic high school she was enrolled in and we knew that our only other choice would be to look into having her attend an alternative school in the area,”
“Ever since she started attending classes at Subway Academy One, her grades have improved substantially. We’re so proud of her!”
The TDSB currently offers prospective students twenty-two alternative schools at the secondary, or high school, level. The classrooms in these institutions sometimes house art galleries, lounge-type seating, and a relaxed but effective atmosphere — one where students are lovingly mentored by their teachers and peers.
“Students find their way through learning environments that vary widely and often include self-directed projects, experimental learning, business and entrepreneurial mentorship programs, strong co-op programs and credit recovery opportunities – all while earning OSSD credits,”
states the TDSB website.
Here we list the best alternative high schools in the city:
1. Subway Academy One
This alternative learning institution stands out from the rest in the city because it is the only one ranked by the Fraser Institute (FI). What the FI does is rank all of the schools in each province by taking into account each facility’s merit and academic performance. A “School Report Card” is published by the FI annually and is available both in print and online for the public’s consumption. Subway Academy One placed 478 out of 740 secondary schools in the Province of Ontario for the 2012–13 school term and scored 5.5/10.
This particular school thrives as a small school community and offers select-interest courses for the benefit of the student body. All classes are one hour long and take place three days a week. The school’s timetable was designed especially to accommodate students who have other responsibilities outside of school.
“The campus-style timetable and student success program accommodates those who have become disenchanted with school but desire to learn,”
reflects school Principal Jennifer Chan.
For students who live more than five kilometres away from Subway Academy One, their public transportation costs are generously paid for by the institution. Breakfast is provided daily to the entire student body not only to offer nourishment, but also to promote and encourage a healthy and nutritious start to each day as well as a healthy lifestyle.
Each of the staff members has a diverse background. They come from all walks of life. Among them is a former chef, a painter, a marketing guru, and a world traveller. Each one of them is devoted to providing the best education possible to their group of students.
Along with a list of traditional high school courses like English, Math, Science, and Geography, the school course list also includes the following, more specialized topics of study: Yoga, Food & Nutrition, Photography, Writer’s Craft, Chess, and Queer History. Social clubs and groups are held each term to aid in the fostering of friendship and community spirit.
Subway Academy One encourages its students to report and seek help for abuse, addiction, or crisis intervention through its helpful list of community resource links posted on the school’s official website.
2. Avondale Alternative Secondary School
For nearly forty years, Avondale has been one of the only schools in the TDSB that offers a full range of courses from grades nine to twelve. Its courses are intellectually stimulating and academically challenging. They effectively prepare all graduating students for their future university or college lives.
“Our vision is to create a safe and nurturing learning and teaching environment that supports optimal development and excellence across all domains,”
says Principal Michael Byrne.
Avondale is a fairly small school with a very strong sense of community. Its website describes the school as a small, safe, family-oriented educational institution with an intimate and personal feel.
Classroom sizes average in size from twelve to eighteen students each. This means that students and teachers are effectively able to form close working relationships that are celebrated and valued. Though students are openly encouraged to request one-on-one mentoring time with their teachers should they be experiencing any difficulties, at Avondale, many courses incorporate private tutorial sessions into the class curriculum.
“I came to Avondale four years ago because if I had stayed at my old school, there’s no way my grades would have been as high as they are here,”
says Jake, a senior at the school.
Town Hall meeting sessions take place once every week. During these sessions, all teachers and students get together to discuss items on the agenda (like curriculum goals, priorities, school budget, renovations, safety, and extracurricular activities). Discussions, debates, and expert-led presentations are all regular Town Hall occurrences. Promoting justice and human rights is also a big part of what the school stands for, so the Raise Your Voice social committee conference is held every year in collaboration with Avondale’s sister school in Ethiopia. Raise Your Voice also deals with issues about making the school and community more environmentally friendly.
Some notable alumni of Avondale include actor Keanu Reeves, writers Stuart Ross and Robert Rotenberg or David Gershon from the children’s music group Judy & David.
3. City School
The TDSB describes City School as a semestered alternative high school that offers a full range of academic Grade 11 and Grade 12 courses. It is located along Toronto’s picturesque waterfront and has been awarded Platinum Level Certification as an EcoSchool with its main focus placed upon the environment. The City School is housed in the same building as Toronto’s Waterfront School and the Harbourfront Community Centre. Each of its classrooms look out onto Lake Ontario and the stunning downtown skyline, making this particular learning institution a very unique learning environment indeed!
City School is more than thirty years old and has continually offered its student body the very best in alternative education. New in 2014 is a Grade 9 program that centres on environmental activism and community leadership. A specialized Grade 10 course is set to follow in February of next year. Along with traditional high school courses, City School also offers its students a variety of personality-driven courses like Life Strategies, Exercise Science, Nutrition, and Guitar. All of these courses incorporate field trips and guest speakers into their curriculum.
Students may use public transportation to arrive for their day of classes or they may also choose to ride their bikes directly to the institution’s front door by way of the Martin Goodman Trail. Further cementing its status as an eco school, City School was one of the first TDSB schools to develop its own comprehensive recycling program that now includes such items as mobile phones, batteries, and toner cartridges.
Senior students are encouraged to take advantage of the helpful and very informative myBlueprint program to aid them in determining which academic requirements are associated with the post-secondary courses and fields of study they’re each interested in pursuing once they graduate from high school.
“At City School, we can always work in a way that is best for us,”
says current Grade 12 student Reka.
“The teachers understand that in order to properly absorb information, each student must learn in a way that is suited to them.”
4. East York Alternative Secondary School
The East York Alternative School (EYA) is an institution based on mutual respect and commitment to democratic ideals. The relationships between students and staff promote open dialogue, a sense of caring, and mutual support. EYA is a fairly small, community-based, semestered school for students aged 16 to 20 with Grade 9 already completed. It offers applied, academic, open, workplace, college-level, mixed, and university-level courses and is one of the only alternative schools in the TDSB that employs a teacher whose sole commitment is that of running a co-op program.
Co-op placements encourage students to get out into the workforce and to begin thinking about their post secondary careers.
“While at EYA, our son discovered success and with it a sense of pride,”
explains a parent of a recent graduate student.
“He recently found a job placement and is very excited about training as a sous chef. He speaks often about looking forward to furthering his education through college or university.”
In the first three weeks of the students’ co-op studies, they review health and safety in the workplace, essential workplace skills, resume writing and other relevant workplace topics. By the time each student has completed the co-op course, he or she will have created their own personal work portfolio that they may use to gain entrance into the workforce once they have decided on a career path.
Like most alternative schools in the Toronto area, classroom sizes are fairly small in order to foster close, caring relationships between each staff member and his or her students. An art exhibit is held by the school each year to showcase outstanding student work and to encourage students to always strive for excellence.
East York is the only alternative school in the TDSB that employs a teacher whose sole commitment is that of running a co-op program.
If you’re currently looking into having your son or daughter attend a TDSB alternative secondary school, the first thing you will want to consider is their ability to learn, where they are currently experiencing trouble, and which school would be the best fit for your child. Each alternative high school has its specialties and its own nuances and strengths. Some focus on nature and the environment, while others focus on helping your child prepare to enter the workforce. Some are ideal for getting students ready for college or university, and others like to foster mentorships between staff and students.
Whichever institution you choose, your child is bound to excel and establish healthy studying and learning habits with the help of Toronto’s fantastic teachers and school staff.