Formed in 2010 through the amalgamation of two adjacent schools, the Annunciation of Our Lord Catholic Elementary School serves junior kindergarten through Grade 8 students in the Hamilton-Wentworth Catholic District School Board. The current enrolment is 685, but an influx of students is expected from several construction projects within school boundaries. The school’s diverse demographic profile features a broad socio-economic base, a significant immigrant population and many English language learners.
Since all students were new to the school, staff made much effort to build an inclusive and cohesive school community. Clubs were formed, school teams were established and uniforms and logos were created. Assemblies were held frequently. The school motto—Together We Are Strong; In Faith, We Are Stronger—is the context for belonging. An active Catholic School Council provides support for all school initiatives and supplements funding for students’ uniforms and trips as needed. Parents also join an extensive network of volunteers in the classrooms that includes college and university co-op students, social work students and students from the local high school. An intermediate-division homework program and a school nutrition program, possible through a Ministry grant, have been set up. With such a variety of nationalities among its population, the school has established communication with parents as an area of focus, and the aim is to move to an exclusively electronic interface with parents. Currently the school posts events and newsletters online, and teachers have set up electronic class Web pages. All of the kindergarten classes have established learning management systems for parents to access with passwords. This keeps parents updated with the learning happening in their children’s classes and makes it possible for parents to be more involved.
Annunciation of Our Lord School has worked hard to establish relevant and effective programming for its students, who are scoring at or above board and provincial results in reading, writing and mathematics. Since the school is new, report cards, school assessments and teacher observation are relied upon heavily for information to drive instruction. As well, the administration and staff look to the annual EQAO report as a valuable tool that presents accurate and objective assessment data that can influence or validate school decisions. The entire staff participates in examining the report, and special attention is paid to the item analysis and student survey sections. Recently, it became apparent that the boys generally did not enjoy reading and that the girls saw themselves as weak in mathematics. Problem solving was an area of need for all students.
With needs identified, the principal and staff established goals and objectives for remediation. For assistance, the school used special assignment teachers provided by the school board and the expertise of its own staff members. As Principal Pini points out: “To their credit, the staff saw that improvement for the children would also mean they needed to be open to new learning strategies and techniques. We have high expectations for ourselves as well as for the children.”
After extensive input and professional development, teachers planned and taught collaborative inquiries within their divisions. Their aim was to address problem solving in mathematics and to build girls’ self-confidence when working at all aspects of mathematics. Prior to teaching any lesson or unit, teachers would discuss the goal with students and clearly delineate the success criteria. Students now know where they are going and what they have to do to arrive successfully. The units have richer tasks that focus on critical thinking skills and, in mathematics, real-world problems. When a task is assigned, students are given the opportunity to think about the problem independently and then record their strategies and solutions. They then collaborate in groups to discuss the process that others used to solve the same problem. To assist in the process, the school has provided manipulatives and Smart Boards for most classes. Both staff and students are beginning to recognize why their work is at a certain level in the continuum and what strategies will move them forward. An important part of the process is for each student to understand how he or she can move to the next level of achievement or how to “bump up” his or her work. Students are now engaged in their own learning and, as goal setting and criteria become more functional in their learning, they move closer to becoming independent inquirers.
“[Teachers] are the backbone of the school. They are dedicated not only in student learning but in spiritual and social development. As a unit they worked hard to create a school community that feels like a family. The strong relationship developed with the parish team also helps to nourish each member of the school community. At this school, we learn, love, laugh and live together as a vibrant, positive, accepting and spiritual community.”
— Josie Pini, Principal
Similar strategies are being employed in reading and writing. Previous EQAO questions are used, and students are all engaged in determining how to “bump up” their work. By creating success criteria together with their teachers, students become aware of their learning goals and what they need to do to improve their work. Similarly, in writing, student moderation allows each child a framework for critiquing his or her own work and that of others.
Annunciation of Our Lord School has established a template for growth and improvement that exemplifies the TEAM (Together Everyone Achieves More) concept. Held on Mondays, weekly TEAM assemblies recognize student accomplishments and set weekly goals. Principal Pini acknowledges that, while there are always challenges to work on, her teachers need to be recognized for their many successes: “They are the backbone of the school. They are dedicated not only in student learning but in spiritual and social development. As a unit they worked hard to create a school community that feels like a family. The strong relationship developed with the parish team also helps to nourish each member of the school community. At this school, we learn, love, laugh and live together as a vibrant, positive, accepting and spiritual community.”
Dr. Bette M. Stephenson Recognition of Achievement, 2014 School Recipient