Catholic Central High School serves 1075 students from Grades 9 to 12. This downtown school was the first Catholic high school to be established in London and has an excellent reputation in the community. It offers a number of specialized programs that draw students from throughout the board, including an International Baccalaureate and an extended music program. The school has a large percentage of students with special education needs and a substantial English language learner population that has gradually increased over the past four years, with the predominant first language shifting from Spanish to a variety of Arabic dialects. This change in demographics has presented a number of challenges. The school has a settlement worker who maintains contact with students and parents as necessary, assisting with attendance and report card issues and after-school literacy classes.
One of the goals of Catholic Central is to maintain communication between home and school. Principal Mark Priamo states: “We have an increasingly diverse community, making it very important that we work together as a team to reach and engage our students. Ongoing communication with parents throughout the year has enabled us to encourage and support our students in understanding that literacy is a part of every curriculum, not just English and the OSSLT.” The Catholic school council is supportive of the school and works hard to obtain grants that will subsidize translation services in order to facilitate communication with parents.
Examining the EQAO data over time, the staff noted the large percentage of deferrals and decided this would need to become a focus to ensure students had every opportunity to receive their OSSD. In addition to considering the EQAO data, the staff examines board and department data to identify students needing extra assistance. Principal Priamo states: “Our teachers are committed to the success of each student. Ongoing analysis of our data reaffirms our success and identifies areas that need attention, resulting in improved professional practice and student achievement. Collaboration among all staff has resulted in literacy becoming a whole-school focus.”
Educators in all departments, committed to improving the OSSLT success rate and lowering the number of deferrals, have incorporated literacy initiatives into their subject areas. With administrative support, teachers in the various departments develop lessons related to literacy, observe one another teaching, discuss the lessons afterward and assess students’ work collaboratively. With similar skills and strategies taught consistently in all classes, students realize that literacy is important in all subjects, not just English.
The staff at Catholic Central believes that using data and early intervention are keys to success. At the beginning of September, EQAO data are shared with all stakeholders, including the learning services department and English as a second language teachers. In their meetings, staff members discuss students experiencing difficulty, identify the assistance they require and make phone calls to parents. The staff understands that the students must have confidence in their ability, so teachers ensure the necessary support is in place.
Offering after-school literacy classes was one strategy used to respond to the challenges the English language learners faced. Four classes were organized, and students were grouped according to need. Four test-preparation classes were also arranged in periods one and two using binders made up of samples of OSSLT items. These provided students with the opportunity to try the questions, which gave them confidence in their ability. More intense sessions were held for previously eligible students, and staff willingly gave extra time to assist them.
Teachers from the learning services department meet with the feeder schools each spring to consider all at-risk students and ensure a seamless transition from elementary to high school for them. Test results from the Grade 6 EQAO assessments, IPRC information and other classroom data are examined and the students are flagged for support. Catholic Central learning services staff members also meet with these students and their parents, ensuring the students have someone they can contact when further information or assistance is required. Timetables for at-risk students include a learning strategies class to help improve their literacy skills. Timetables are also balanced in each semester to provide the students with the opportunity for success. Locally developed classes provide pathways for students to obtain their 16 credits by age 16.
The EQAO questionnaire data are also examined to monitor students’ responses. This often reassures staff members that they are moving in the right direction. Teachers meet regularly to discuss their students and work together to develop strategies to meet the students’ changing needs. The relationship between home and school receives sustained attention in the case of all students, not just those who need assistance. Community events, such as an annual family barbecue, a book club evening and a board- sponsored literacy day, are planned to engage parents, showcase the importance of literacy and assist parents to become actively involved in their children’s education.
“We have an increasingly diverse community, making it very important that we work together as a team to reach and engage our students. Ongoing communication with parents throughout the year has enabled us to encourage and support our students in understanding that literacy is a part of every curriculum, not just English and the OSSLT.”
—Mark Priamo, Principal
All students are urged to participate in the many extracurricular activities offered throughout the school. English language learners are encouraged to participate in the various clubs and sporting events. One of the activities that is having a positive effect is multicultural day, during which students have the opportunity to showcase their cultures. Principal Priamo states: “We are very proud of our achievements. Our students strive to achieve success and are also very competitive, tapping into the spirit that exists at Catholic Central High School. We always try to do the best we can because that is who we are. Building positive relationships and a strong sense of community are essential to the success of our students, and I am proud of the staff commitment to work as a team to ensure all students have the opportunity to experience success.”
Dr. Bette M. Stephenson Recognition of Achievement, 2012 School Recipient