Located in Cornwall, St. Joseph’s Catholic Secondary School offers a wide range of programs to accommodate the needs of the students it receives from its nine feeder schools, including a small self-identified Aboriginal student population and a French Immersion component. The school works closely with the elementary schools to ensure a smooth transition for students into secondary school—a process that involves intensive cross- panel discussions about EQAO data and individual student histories. Grade 8 students visit the school throughout the year, and parents and students attend a welcome barbecue and orientation day held in August. Parents are encouraged to help their children select courses and decide their educational pathways.
Parents are involved in many aspects of school life. They volunteer in the athletic and music programs, tutor students and have input into the planning of special programs and events. Communication is ongoing. For example, the school Web site has links to the EQAO site, which provides resources and information for parents to help them better understand the Ontario Secondary School Literacy Test (OSSLT).
As shown by the degree of parental involvement, the environment at St. Joseph’s is that of a caring family. The school mission statement emphasizes high expectations and a belief that all students can succeed if they have a sense of belonging in an inclusive atmosphere. This mission is achieved through differentiated instruction based on in-depth knowledge of each student.
This knowledge is deepened by the school’s integrated use of the Catholic District School Board of Eastern Ontario’s Achieve Plus program. St. Joseph’s teachers use board data along with their EQAO results to develop their school improvement plan. Notes Principal John Cameron: “Teachers use data from EQAO to inform their practice across every subject.”
In September, new students are given diagnostic testing in academics to identify their areas of strength and to discover which students require additional support. In June, teachers use EQAO resources to assess Grade 9 students’ readiness for the OSSLT. Teachers use this data and their student survey results to focus on specific areas of the curriculum that require remediation. The School Support Team meets with teachers weekly to identify any child at risk. Each student is matched with a teacher, who is available for individual help and advice. This mentorship program helps students throughout their years at St. Joseph’s and ensures student success. As a Grade 11 student states: “The teachers at St. Joseph’s are always there to provide us with help in any subject and give us advice and support. One of the main reasons that students succeed is that we are in an environment that is like a family.”
“Teachers use data from EQAO to inform their practice across every subject.”
—John Cameron, Principal
Student engagement is a key strategy, and student input is used extensively to improve achievement. For example, in September, Grade 10 students complete the Student Voice Survey, which is based on the EQAO Student Questionnaire, to ascertain learning styles and to understand student perceptions about what they need to be successful. The survey provides insight, and teachers can focus on specific skill areas, then personalize and differentiate instruction to ensure success. Gender interests are considered when planning, and lessons and assignments include options for kinesthetic and visual learners. Reluctant readers get daily scheduled practice. Students are encouraged to use graphic organizers, to deliver rough drafts for descriptive feedback before they complete assignments and to reflect on their next steps for improvement. Indeed, reflection and improvement are part of the school culture for both staff and students. A follow-up questionnaire is administered after the OSSLT to give further insight into how well the students thought they had been prepared for each section of the assessment. It is no surprise, then, that students at St. Joseph’s are confident, engaged and motivated about their learning.
This staff cares. Teachers are available throughout student lunch periods to provide help in various subject areas. At-risk students are invited to the study hall for remediation. Older students act as peer tutors. It is a truism at St. Joseph’s that failure is not an option. As Principal Cameron puts it: “We all know the students very well. Our team knows how each student best learns and they prepare accordingly. We believe that every child can succeed, and our staff does an exceptional job of ensuring that every child does succeed. We are a family. We meet the needs of the students, whatever they are.”
The culture of caring for and connecting with students on a personal level ensures that the students at St.Joseph’s Catholic Secondary School are motivated. In this educational family, parents and students are engaged and have a voice in school planning. The in-depth knowledge gained through the extensive use of data allows the teachers to focus on programming based on learning styles and remediation for specific students needs. A habit of reflecting on past experiences and learning from them guarantees St.Joseph’s continuing improvement.
“We all know the students very well. Our team knows how each student best learns and they prepare accordingly. We believe that every child can succeed, and our staff does an exceptional job of ensuring that every child does succeed. We are a family. We meet the needs of the students, whatever they are.”