Tag Archives: Toronto

Newcomers Guide to the Ontario School System

 

 

Like many immigrants moving with kids I had a thousand questions on the school system prior to arriving in Canada and unfortunately I struggled to find answers anywhere.  The Internet is full of practical information to help newcomers settle but there was little on the workings of schools, the routine, the everyday experiences that your children will encounter.  How are you supposed to calm a child who’s nervous about a new school when you are armed with such little information?  Over the next few posts I am going to attempt to share my knowledge of the Ontario school system, it is worth noting that I am writing this not as an educator or anyone in authority but simply as a Mum.  Eldest son is now in the final semester in High school and youngest son is in Grade 6 in an elementary school.

 

Overview

Ontario is divided into 83 publically funded school boards, which are one of the following four types; English public, English Catholic, French public and French Catholic.  As I am neither French nor Catholic I will only be writing about the English public school system. Some elementary schools run a French Immersion programme where the children are taught all subjects mainly in French, usually French Immersion programmes need to be started by Grade 1. Compulsory education begins when children turn 6 and continues until grade 12 when they turn 18.  The school year runs from September to June

 

Grades

School starts with Junior Kindergarten (JK) and Senior Kindergarten (SK) and then it moves onto grades 1 -12.  Elementary schools are usually JK – Grade 8 and High schools are grades 9-12.  Some areas have middle schools, which cater for grade 7 and 8 only.  Kindergarten education is not compulsory although the vast majority of children do attend.  Kindergarten is usually part time, however, it is in the process of becoming full time in all schools across Ontario. The structure of the grade is somewhat different to the UK.  Children attend school with those born in the same calendar year, for example, grade 6 students will all turn 12 between January 1st and December 31st whereas in the UK the year 7 students will all turn 12 between September 1st and August 31st.

 

Admission Requirements

In England getting your child a place in a particular school is difficult and stressful to say the least, deadlines for application and then putting your fate in the lap of the Gods while you await the decision is enough to cause sleepless night for parents and kids alike.  In Ontario it could not be more different.  I remember visiting the schools that we hoped the boys would be attending when we were on our fact-finding visit.  I was desperate (with my English head on) to get the boys names put down but we couldn’t do it.  We kept being told that we needed to be living there first, I just didn’t understand. When my husband then made his solo trio over to buy the house I armed him with all the necessary forms and paperwork to register the boys in school and followed up with emails to the schools explaining our situation.  In hindsight I must have looked like a complete lunatic.  He was able to register youngest son at Elementary school but Eldest son needed to be present in order to register him in high school.  I tried to explain that we would be arriving in the summer holidays when school was closed so they told me to phone when the staff was back to school during the last week in August some 7 days before the school year started!  The point I was totally missing was that here kids go to their ‘home school’. Each school is given a specific area (which can be checked on the Internet) EVERY child who lives in their particular area goes to that school, end of story. There is no such thing as changing boundaries depending on numbers, priority to siblings or schools being full. Wherever you live you have a designated school that you will attend.  I wish someone had told me that earlier so I that needn’t of worried about the boys getting in to our chosen schools.  You can register a kid one day and have them start the next, easy peasy!

You will need certain paperwork in order to register you child in school namely, a birth certificate, proof of your emigration status, proof of your residence (rental agreement or mortgage) & immunisation records.  That is it, so simple.  There seems to be much less of a gap here between good schools and bad schools so going out of catchment to find a good school is pretty much unheard of.

 

 

Coming up in my next installment;

Transportation to school

The Structure of the School Day

School Holidays

5 Best Things About Being an Expat

I was inspired by Maria over at Iwasanexpatwife (who is a true expert of all things expat) to write a personal list of the best and worst parts about being an expat.

 

1. You learn something new everyday.

I know this is an old saying but when you start a new life abroad it becomes true.  In the first few weeks it’s a bit of information overload when every sense is bombarded with new things.  The learning curve it at it steepest as you learn huge life altering lessons like how to drive on the other side of the road or where the best schools are.  After a while they become smaller and less significant like discovering some new restaurant or finding a little pharmacy that stocks your favourite shampoo but the learning is constant.  My husband and I would often start our conversation when he comes home from work with “you won’t believe what I discovered today…”

2. You find out who you really are

I’m brave! Who knew? Certainly not me but moving overseas is a sure way to find out about your character.  It was more of a surprise to me than anyone that I didn’t have a complete panic on the way to the airport or lose my marbles during the emigration process. I have discovered that I can actually handle an awful lot of stress and more importantly get through it relatively unscathed.  In our first 18 months in Canada I have discovered all kinds of character traits that I had never acknowledged.  I wouldn’t go as far to say I didn’t know they were there but I just hadn’t taken the time to really think about who I was.

3. You can change everything and reinvent yourself

We you first arrive in a new country no one has any preconceptions of who you are and what you are like, no one there will be expecting you to be the same old person you always were so you have the freedom to be exactly who you want.  I have learned that I being the reliable ‘yes’ person was draining me, I had a tendency to do anything for anyone even if it meant I didn’t have time to do what I really wanted or needed to do, not anymore.  I can say no if something doesn’t suit me and I don’t want to do it.  You can change everything about yourself, what you do for a living and how you live. You have the perfect opportunity to start afresh, put aside what doesn’t serve you and move on.  Forget bad experiences and fear and embrace a fresh start and a new way of life.

 

4. You learn what’s really important in life.

Any contact I have with my family and friends back in England is so precious now, a simple email, skype call or Facebook message means so much more than it did two years ago.   The last 18 months has taught me to really value the relationships that I used to take for granted.

I have learnt how important time is: we have a family dinner together every night now because we’re not inundated with work or commuting for hours. I am more aware of what is happening in the life of our boys more than ever before.

Exploring the city with family


5. You have a whole new part of the world to explore

It starts with learning your immediate area, where the shops are, where the school is and then your horizons broaden into the nearest city and what it has to offer.  Next you begin to explore further afield as you discover new places to drive to on a sunny day or for a weekend break and eventually you are exploring neighbouring countries and new holiday destinations.  Every trip is a brand new exciting experience and if you’re lucky enough to get visitors you get to explore these places with family and friends too.

Walt Disney World Magic Kingdom

Chateau Lake Louise, Alberta

So there you have it, my top 5 things about expat life.  Coming up next the five worst things…get the Kleenex ready!