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Introducing City as School Toronto

September means Back-to-School … but what does that look like? Our new members City as School have some pretty innovative ideas. We wanted to give them the chance to share them with you, in this guest blog post.

CaST stands for City-as-School Toronto. It aspires to be a progressive small-school community of academically accomplished high school students — and dedicated teachers — learning about the world while in the world, guided by a philosophical lodestar that maintains that experience is the best teacher.

We seek to serve young people who are not thriving within the teaching model their public or private schools currently offer, and recognize that small schools with individualized learning programs can help many students grow emotionally and intellectually in ways they might not have imagined in larger schools.

We are a very open and pluralistic community, and embrace young people across the racial, gender, cultural, national and sexual identity spectrum. We also have experience teaching students with learning exceptionalities, a capability many secondary schools lack. Our instructors are sensitive to the needs of all students and will tailor their courses to meet students where they are, increasing rates of student success.

Small schools are practically a requirement for such students, and at CaST, we make them feel at home, finally.

With classrooms located throughout the city of Toronto, CaST will be a school unlike any other independent school in the city. Toronto is not only our home city but our classroom. The parks, libraries, museums, galleries, beaches, bridges, homes and commercial buildings are where we do our teaching and learning.

Having moved into CSI Annex just a few days ago, we are already becoming accustomed to the giving ethos that members show each other, to the spirit of sharing, asking and offering that appears in each member email we receive. We like the continual stream of messages members send each other, and believe that they are a built-in marketing plan we did not expect when we joined CSI. For Project Mask4Aid, our winter fundraising project, I hope to attract the attention of the many artists within CSI and beyond as we attempt to expand plague mask fashion into more creative realms, and then use those masks for education and charitable giving.

Small schools, whether start-ups like us or older institutions, depend on word of mouth informing new parents and potential students of our presence. Our website tells part of the story, and once school begins, our social media will also spread the word. But If our fellow CSI members want to help us get the word out, they can speak to us directly, or visit us at any of our four sites. We feel anyone would quickly be convinced of the sincerity of our project, the professionalism and brilliance of our teaching staff, and the success ethic we collectively embody and that propels us forward.

We believe that our teachers and students, as they pass through the building – with Covid-19 restrictions guiding those visits – will recognize CSI Annex as our first home, and our fellow members as our new neighbours. All CaST students are required to volunteer each year at a charitable organization of their choice. While we have not yet chosen a single organization, issue, policy or practice that embraces the entire school, we are particularly interested in social enterprise as a means of broadening and scaling non-profit enterprises like our own. Indeed, our first major fundraiser in December, which we are producing jointly with a number of universities and arts institutions in the city, is primarily an exercise in philanthropy, social enterprise and public artmaking.

Due to COVID-19, our curriculum this year is specifically focused on maintaining social distance between students and between students and faculty. We have online and in-person components to each day, and ongoing, variable choice between those two teaching platforms. We know we are on the right path. We’ve got a late-morning 10am start – which recognizes teens need for sleep – vibrant extra-curricular activities to break the pattern of pure online learning, faculty development plans to strengthen collective knowledge of best teaching practices during the COVID-19 era, and an active parent body dedicated to our success.

CaST School’s board has also engaged a medical doctor as our school’s medical advisor, and will be following his recommendations as well as those of Toronto Health and the Ontario Ministry of Education, for guidance on COVID policies as we move from summer into fall and winter.

Though we have hired most of the teachers required for the 2020-2021 academic year, we are always interested in learning about students or teachers who believe CaST could one day be their teaching home as well.

If you want to stop in at CaST, they are in office 312 at CSI Annex. And if you’ve got your own world-changing idea and are looking for a place to make it happen, we’d love to meet you!

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