St. Joseph Catholic Elementary School in Bowmanville serves a geographically wide region. Although pupils come from a variety of cultural and socio-economic backgrounds, most students were born in Canada. Busing is available, but many parents arrange transportation for their children so that they can take part in the school’s active extracurricular program. A nutritious breakfast is available for students who arrive at school early. Due to St. Joseph’s growing population, a building extension is planned.
“St. Joseph Catholic Elementary School offers a caring and inviting environment with high expectations for students and a highly motivated staff, and to help us we receive valuable information from EQAO,” says Principal Stephen Smith. Along with the EQAO data, the St. Joseph staff uses A+, the board’s data software, which facilitates the analysis of information from multiple sources. Teachers work by division and use the “Assessment for/as/of Learning” model when developing their school improvement plan.
Key to the development of the school improvement plan is EQAO’s Item Information Report, which allows teachers to focus on specific areas and to tailor how they present information, especially for remediation. For instance, in mathematics the Item Information Report indicated that many students were giving the same incorrect response.
Teachers identified the problematic areas. As a result, they implemented strategies such as an increased use of technology and manipulatives, moderated marking, more open-ended questioning, the use of multiple-choice questions, as well as incorporating physical activity into their math lessons daily. Students were engaged, and their success has been reflected in the EQAO assessments. “Our staff is highly motivated, open to new initiatives and willing to take risks to improve student learning. The evidence from EQAO data informs our decision making,” says Principal Smith.
“We’re always looking for new and better ways to improve our parents’ support for what we are doing.”
—Stephen Smith, Principal
The board provides extensive professional development training. Teachers explore strategies and practices through initiatives such as the Collaborative Inquiry program for literacy and the PRIME developmental continuum in mathematics. The board supports the extensive use of technology in the classroom, and through the Fast-Forward Project, all teaching staff have access to a laptop containing curriculum related software that, along with a Smart Board in every classroom, allow them to provide students with the very best in French Immersion education.
Key to St. Joseph’s success is high expectations for all students, but especially for students with special needs. Teachers and support staff work collaboratively, share their expertise and ideas and show high levels of commitment and care for students. Students with special needs are given accommodations and support, and teachers use a wide range of strategies such as assistive technology, differentiated instruction and student self-advocacy. There is little doubt that, because of student and staff perseverance, students with special needs are achieving success in the French Immersion program at St. Joseph.
Teachers also make good use of EQAO resources by modelling and integrating sample questions into classroom lessons, explicitly discussing what improves responses at the different levels and how to bring work to the next level. In addition, students and staff provide weekly tutoring in mathematics. Curriculum information on literacy and numeracy is sent home, while the school newsletter includes literacy strategies for parents to encourage their involvement. As Principal Smith puts it: “We’re always looking for new and better ways to improve our parents’ support for what we are doing.” The school begins the process early in the year, keeping the parents updated on the curriculum and resources, and guiding them to the EQAO Web site to learn more. Parents support what the school is doing and trust the school to provide an exemplary education for their children. According to teacher Donna Paquette: “Staff and community work together to encourage student confidence around the curriculum and, as a result, EQAO assessments are a series of activities to showcase what they can do. Students see it as their time to shine.”
“Our staff is highly motivated, open to new initiatives and willing to take risks to improve student learning. The evidence from EQAO data informs our decision making.”
The students at St. Joseph are engaged and motivated learners. They are active in a variety of clubs, such as the club de peinture (painting club), the social justice, environmental and recycling clubs, Girls on the Run (which deals with a variety of social and emotional issues), dance club, a lunchtime homework club, school choir and drama club. In addition, there are several athletic clubs, including the cross-country running, track and field, basketball, volleyball, soccer and ski clubs. Students extend their involvement through charitable works in the community at large. There is a strong peer and parish helpers program that empowers students and provides a positive learning environment.
The school improvement plan at St. Joseph informs positive change through the use of multiple sources of data, technology and high-yield strategies. Teachers are enthusiastic and knowledgeable. The students are involved and engaged, both in school and in the community. High expectations are balanced by a caring environment, reflecting the values of the Catholic faith. St. Joseph’s population growth suggests that parents enthusiastically embrace a French Immersion educational experience for their children.
Dr. Bette M. Stephenson Recognition of Achievement, 2013 School Recipient