Head Lines: March 2016

ChantalGionetWebLooking back on this past term, I am once again amazed by the remarkable talent and achievements of our students. York House is truly a dynamic learning environment, fuelled by hard work, commitment, and passion. Our girls strive to do their best in everything that they do and our faculty and staff embrace their own professional growth to enhance what they do best, which is inspiring, supporting, and challenging our girls to reach their full potential.

For two days in February, our teachers and staff, along with over 5000 educators, attended the Federation of Independent Schools BC (FISA) 50th anniversary Convention held at the beautiful Vancouver Convention Centre. Speakers such as business author and thought-leader Daniel Pink, revered educator Yong Zhao and astronaut Chris Hadfield inspired attendees to reflect on what we need to do to ensure that our students are successful not only at school but in life. Many topics were covered such as the importance of developing self-advocacy, creativity, resilience, leading a life of purpose, and the ability to anticipate problems and find innovative solutions. Chris Hadfield reminded teachers about the crucial role that they play in society as educators. Most of us can remember a teacher who inspired us and believed in our potential. It was a unique opportunity for teachers to exchange ideas, deepen professional knowledge, and network with others from across the province.

Immediately following the FISA conference, Kathy Kealey, Julie Rousseau and I travelled to New York City to attend a Global Forum on Girls’ Education, themed Creating a World of Possibilities, that was organized by the National Coalition of Girls’ Schools (NCGS). Over 800 educators, researchers, advocates, authors, and school leaders from around the world came together to exchange practices and innovative approaches for academic excellence as well as the healthy development of girls. A number of universal issues were addressed at the conference including empowering young women to be future leaders, the importance of continuous learning, and the need to safeguard and promote health and wellness among young girls.

It was inspiring to hear feminist and political and social activist, Gloria Steinhem give the opening keynote address on the revolutionary power of educating girls around the world. Co-founder and editor-in-chief of the Huffington Post, Arianna Huffington talked about the importance of encouraging and empowering girls everywhere not just to take their place at the top of the world, but to change the world. In advance of her soon to be released book, The Sleep Revolution: Transforming Your Life One Night at a Time, she unsurprisingly stressed the importance of health and wellbeing in the future success of young girls.

It was equally enlightening to hear speakers like Nuria Chinchilla, who is a distinguished expert on Work Life Balance for the United Nations and is a driving force promoting feminine leadership in companies and throughout society. Kakenya Ntaiya, Founder and President, Kakenya Centre for Excellence in Kenya, spoke to her belief that education will empower and motivate young girls to become agents of change in their community and country.

The focus of the annual National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS) Conference this year was on storytelling and the importance of sharing our unique stories within our communities. Held in San Francisco from February 24 to February 27, this year’s program featured a number of thought-provoking and highly engaging speakers. Randi Zuckerberg, New York Times best-selling author of Dot Complicated and the children’s version Dot, challenged us see both the benefit and the downfall of technology in our ever-changing world.

During the past several months, a number of faculty members have also been participating in the Graduate Leadership Program at San Diego’s High Tech High. A direct result of their learning was the exhibit held at the school on March 9, “Play, Collaborate and Connect”, which featured the work of our Grade 4 and 5 students. Thank you so much to all of those who attended and to the teachers who spent many hours guiding the students through the complexities of this project.

Over the course of eight weeks, these students worked in teams to explore what friendship means and used their findings to design the playground of their dreams. Students used photography to document the process, learned research skills by conducting interviews with Grade 8 and JK students and were challenged to incorporate at least one simple machine into their overall design. An impressive display of their photographs is still on display in the underground and a detailed article on the scope of the project will be shared with you shortly.

We are continuing to explore ways to extend learning opportunities to our parent community as well. I want to take the opportunity to thank Dr. Ken Coates for the time he spent with students and well as parents and helping to launch our “Tiger Talks” speaker series. I think he challenged all of us to think about the speed of change and innovation and the importance of adaptability and resilience for the future.

It is impossible to capture all of the learning that has occurred just this term alone, but I will say that it is abundantly clear that the priorities we have outlined in our new strategic directions, YHS 2030: Shaping the Future Together, are top of mind among educators and thought leaders around the globe. Time and time again we are hearing how critically important it is to keep up with the pace of change through teaching excellence and learning innovation, to seek out transformational and real-world learning opportunities wherever possible, to ensure that our community stays healthy and interconnected to each other and to continue to invest in our future.

I want to thank all of you who came out to our YHS 2030 community sessions. If you were unable to make it, please visit the website where you can view the new strategic priorities. We have now just completed our Master Programming phase, where faculty and students shared their feedback regarding the activities and programs they would like to see in the future that align with YHS 2030. Based on this feedback, our next step will be to develop our Master Plan, which outlines the learning spaces needed to deliver on these future programs in the next five, 10, and 15 years. I look forward to updating you as we progress.

While each of us now takes a well-deserved break, I just want to once again commend faculty, staff, and students for their hard work and accomplishments this term. In particular, congratulations to the Ski Team on their number one finish and provincial championship title and our Grade 8 Basketball team who brought home a silver medal from the ISA’s. I also want to recognize the Improv team for their steady progression to the finals across multiple grades. And last but certainly not least, thank you to everyone behind the 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee and the “Blues on 26th” Jazz Evening. We are so proud of your musical talent. You left each of us with a smile on our face.

I look forward to seeing everyone after the break.


Chantal Gionet
Head of School

Two New York Schools: Two Distinct Approaches to 21st Century Learning

Kathy Kealey Visits the Blue School and the Avenues School

BlueSchoolNYC_Feb2016-8011This past February, Assistant Head of School and Director of Junior School, Kathy Kealey, had the opportunity to visit two schools in New York City that have their own unique take on 21st Century education.

One of these schools was the Blue School. In 2006, the Founders of the famed Blue Man Group took it upon themselves to open a school in Lower Manhattan that challenges students to unleash their powers of discovery, investigation, and creativity. Since 1988, the Blue Man Group has inspired audiences around the world with their sense of childlike wonder and creativity. Replicating this same approach, in addition to their academic curriculum, students aged two through thirteen are asked to come up with new ways to improve recycling, create 3D models of the city, and even look at ways to fix home appliances.

In 2011, the Avenues School opened its campus in New York City. The 15-grade institution is the first of a worldwide system of 20 or more independent schools to open over the next decade in major cities around the globe, such as Shanghai, London, Mumbai, São Paulo, Johannesburg, Abu Dhabi, and Sydney. Connected by a common vision and shared curriculum, Avenues’ worldwide network of campuses are focused on preparing students for a much smaller and interconnected world. Located in a 10-story, 215,000 square foot landmark building in the Chelsea neighbourhood, in addition to delivering an exceptional academic program, the Avenues School is also committed to offering a global perspective on subjects such as history, geography, and world issues.

What inspired you about visiting these schools?
It is inspiring to visit other schools, meet passionate educators, and look for similarities and differences in school facilities as well in their approach to education. There is always one constant and that is the children in our schools. No matter what the school, children all have the same curiosity and drive to learn.

I loved the maker spaces that were evident in both the Blue School and the Avenues School. I know our students would really enjoy having a designated space to create, discover, and show their learning in different ways.

Were there any similarities with what we are already doing at York House?
There were definitely similarities. In particular, there were similarities with the Blue School and our Reggio inspired program at the Little School. What I saw at the Blue School were those tenets of the Reggio philosophy intentionally present in every  grade.  

The Avenues School believes that to be a global citizen, students must be fluent in at least one other language.  For that reason, all the students from nursery (three years old)  to Grade 4 spend 50% of their day immersed in another language,either Spanish or Mandarin.  At York House, students become fluent in French and we have a thriving after school Mandarin program in the Junior School.

What were some of the biggest differences that you noticed?
Because they are in New York City, the Blue School and the Avenues School are each in multiple  story buildings. There are tiny playgrounds on the rooftops without grass and trees. Perhaps one of the biggest differences I noticed was the amount of light coming into the buildings. I feel our new Senior School is the gold standard and nothing I’ve seen compares to the natural light pouring into this building.

What do you think would inspire them if they were to visit York House?
I think they would be inspired by our facilities, in particular the new Senior School building. They would also love our Little School with its huge garden and outdoor classroom. They would also be very impressed by its Reggio inspired program.

Was there something that really spoke to our new strategic directions that we will be working towards in 2016?
Definitely. These schools are teaching innovation, collaboration, and creative thinking.  Their project-based, inquiry approach in not only aligned to our new strategic directions but also to the new BC curriculum. York House is already engaging in this approach and great things are taking place at different grade levels and in different classrooms. However, to see entire schools purposely designed for this type of learning and to see this approach completely integrated, as is the the case of the Blue School, was very exciting.

What was your biggest takeaway from these schools?
That all that we are working towards at YHS is possible. There are schools already working in this way in NYC so why can’t we? Another takeaway was how fortunate we are to have the outdoor space that we do have at YHS. These schools are running amazing programs with a fraction of the space; imagine what we could do with ours.