St. Aloysius Gonzaga Secondary School, in Streetsville, serves 1800 students in Grades 9–12. The school is host to a number of regional programs, and students come from all areas of Mississauga to participate in the Career Path Program, the Autism Support Diploma Program and the Extended French Program. The number of English language learners has increased over the past number of years and support is provided for these students through the Newcomers Program. The school has a tradition of excellence and focuses on student success.
All students who enrol at St. Aloysius Gonzaga are made to feel welcome and are included in all activities. The staff strives to create a safe and welcoming school community where student leadership is encouraged. The teachers share the belief that the new students making the transition to Grade 9 must feel connected and included. The school is divided into 10 houses with senior student prefects in each. In May, all students entering Grade 9 are invited to attend an evening of planned activities. They are assigned their houses and have the opportunity to meet their prefect mentors.
Engaging the students is most important. The Student Success Team works closely with the Grade 8 teachers in the feeder schools throughout the year. The team shares with students demonstration lessons connected to the expectations in the applied, academic and locally developed courses to give them an experience in each level. Conversations take place to identify the strengths and weaknesses of students at risk, and appropriate programming is planned. St. Aloysius Gonzaga also hosts a math camp for two weeks in August. Seventy-five percent of the incoming Grade 9 students attend this camp, enabling the teachers to discover what the students know and any areas to be addressed. Having this contact with their future teachers gives students more confidence as they make the transition into high school.
Early in September, the school team examines EQAO’s Detailed School Results and compares them with the Grade 9 assessment results from previous years to determine areas of strength and areas for improvement. They celebrate their successes but realize there is always room for growth. Teachers understand that the EQAO test reflects the curriculum, and they use the data EQAO provides to modify instruction to improve student achievement. Teachers examine the wording of each question to determine whether the students understood what was asked or if lessons should be adjusted to model the question structure, format and language. St. Aloysius Gonzaga opts to mark the Grade 9 EQAO assessment before returning the materials to EQAO. After the assessment, teachers examine each question and use moderated marking to develop exemplars for each level. The EQAO assessment counts for 10% of the final course grade.
To determine where students need support with greater specificity, teachers use the Tinker Plot Data Analysis strategy. They determined that the Grade 9 applied math students were struggling with distributive properties and algebra. Then they developed and implemented strategies to support both teachers and students.
“At St. Aloysius Gonzaga, we have a committed and compassionate staff willing to take risks and think outside the box. They set very high expectations for themselves and their students and effectively translate data into action plans to provide every student the opportunity to achieve success.”—Laura Green, Principal
A Credit Rescue/ Recovery team is available every day, in every period, with teachers assigned from a variety of departments to give struggling students the opportunity to receive help immediately. Through diagnostic tests and ongoing dialogue, students needing help are identified early; teachers do not wait for them to ask. They meet students in the halls, ask how they are doing and offer them assistance. The teachers all have high but realistic expectations for their students and take every opportunity to offer their support. Viktoria Ilic, a Grade 12 student, states: “There are so many things in place to help students be successful. Teachers really care about us and are available to help at any time to ensure that we are always prepared and understand the questions.”
Using exemplars provided by EQAO, teachers model the language of the curriculum and use the format of the assessment items in their questions. Teachers employ differentiated instruction strategies to meet students’ varying needs and offer peer math tutoring. Teachers believe that if the students are familiar with the language and format, there will be no surprises on the assessment and students will be better able to demonstrate their learning. Access to technology such as Smart Boards is available, and teachers encourage students to register for homework help and to use the e-learning tool as part of their regular assignments.
The school administration team recognizes the need for smaller classes and the importance of having a balance of experienced and newer teachers to provide instruction in the Grades 9 and 10 math classes. Communication is important; the school maintains regular contact with parents through phone calls, math-related newsletters, progress reports and the Web site, which is updated regularly with EQAO information and important dates. Each semester, letters are mailed to every parent and guardian outlining information about the EQAO assessment and the intensive supports available for children. Tania Stephan, co-chair of the School Council, states: “The parents value the ongoing communication and the presentations organized to help them understand the math. They also appreciate the work the teachers do to offer daily assistance and support to their children.”
“Using the EQAO data has to be a team approach,” states principal Laura Green. “We work together to analyze the data and decide how we can narrow any gaps to improve student achievement. At St. Aloysius Gonzaga, we have a committed and compassionate staff willing to take risks and think outside the box. They set very high expectations for themselves and their students and effectively translate data into action plans to provide every student the opportunity to achieve success.”