Thirteen years ago I walked into Mme. Caroline’s first grade class not knowing a word of French or a single one of my classmates. I left fluently bilingual, and having made friendships that would last me a lifetime. I am lucky to have gone to such an amazing school, with such caring and passionate teachers. What students learn here will serve them for the rest of their lives. When they begin to apply to universities, they will see the advantage of being bilingual. When they apply for jobs, when they travel the world, when they start to learn other languages – they will be so grateful for the opportunities they have been given.
Today, I am studying nursing at the University of Ottawa, and when I graduate I know that my ability to speak French will help me get the job that I want. What I learned at Giles, however, goes beyond the bilingualism. I learned how to behave, how to be generous and respectful and a good friend; the little girl I sat next to on the first day of school is now my roommate in university. I learned the importance of doing my homework every night, because studying is how you achieve success. Ultimately, my teachers taught me that I was important, and that my education mattered. I have gone through life with the knowledge that I deserve the very best, but that it is up to me to work for it. I know all students will leave this school with the same knowledge.
I’m a Paramedic at Toronto EMS and a former student at the Giles school. Without the Giles School I would have not been able to achieve all the goals I had in mind. I can’t stress enough how important it is to know more than one language especially in a city like Toronto which is one of the most multicultural cities in the world. The Giles School helped me with that tremendously and as soon as I stepped foot in the school the French language was instilled in me and still is till this day.
Perhaps the hardest decision we have had to make as parents was where to send our child to school.
After looking at many schools we decided that The Giles School was right for us for two overriding reasons. Firstly, we liked the teachers, the environment and make up of the school, and the curriculum, both for the early years and for high school. And secondly, we had both graduated from The Toronto French School in the 1980’s when Harry Giles was headmaster, so not only did we have high standards but we also knew what to expect from a school run by Mr. Giles.
From the very beginning at TFS it was clear that the school that Mr. Giles founded was different. We went to school in church and synagogue basements, or above the A & P on Yonge St., we were taught entirely in French by young enthusiastic teachers brought in straight from France, and the classes were small. In 1969 this was unheard of.
In the old days of 13 grades, Mr. Giles was pushing his students through in 12, and they were still achieving a remarkable rate of University entrance (some classmates went to Neufchatel, Caltech, Oberlin, MIT), not to mention a first class standing in external exams like the French Baccalaureate, and the O and A levels.
The experience of the early years was one of warmth, and exciting and innovative learning. The kids came from diverse backgrounds, but we were on a level playing field at TFS. Education in all subjects was advanced, but it was the French education which was most remarkable: we all learned to speak fluently in both official languages. It wasn’t until the latter half of the 1970’s that the public school system started a French language school. And the education at the Ecole Public Gabrielle Roy was nowhere near the level of the Toronto French School: I attended the public school for a very boring year.
But it was in high school when we began to understand what all the early intervention and language training had been preparing us for. We quickly began to realize that Harry Giles was running a school which could compete with any school in Canada. In the math Olympiad, in science fairs, in debating competitions, we competed and won. In the 1984 Ontario private school public speaking competition we took first, second and third places. Our debaters represented Canada in international competition, as did our math and science students. I remember debating in Montreal against the legendary Upper Canada College team. They sure intimidated us. But they didn’t beat us.
Perhaps the most important aspect of our education at TFS was the O and A levels. We had always studied literature, science and math in a traditional fashion. But like British students, we spent a year preparing for the O and A levels. In the English O level, for instance, we spent a year studying four books. None of the students had ever had a chance to study Shakespeare in such depth, and I think it’s fair to say that in that year we all came to understand why Shakespeare is so beloved. The same was true for the math and science exams. What none of us knew at the time was that even in the O levels we were studying at a level and intensity that we wouldn’t again have the opportunity to do until our majors in University.
But if the study was the most important aspect of our education, the teachers were the most memorable. Handpicked by Harry Giles, these teachers were the backbone of the school, and all of them were memorable: the math teacher who passionately loved numbers, and transferred that passion to his students; the English teacher who managed to get students to read widely outside of the curriculum; the history teacher who relentlessly taught the great skill of structure in essays. All of these teachers taught skills which I use to this day.
When it was clear that our three year old daughter was bored at daycare, that she was ready to learn much more, it was our memory of attending Harry Giles’ school which tipped the balance. After visiting many schools we knew that TFS had changed profoundly since we had attended. When we visited the Giles School we knew right away that Mr. Giles had started a new school based on the same principles: early intervention, advanced curriculum, excellent faculty and the best French language education in the city.
Harry Giles managed to turn one of the most difficult decisions of parenthood into an easy one.
When our daughter was 2-1/2, my husband and I began to look for a Junior Kindergarten. We knew little about education—what to teach or when and how to teach it. But we knew what was important to us. We wanted a French education. We wanted a small class with plenty of personal attention. We wanted a strong curriculum beginning in the lowest grades.
We had both gone to private and public school, so both systems were familiar to us. But we graduated a long time ago and a lot had changed.
The two half-day Junior Kindergarten classes in our local public school had 26 and 29 students with one teacher and one assistant each. We also found the half-day Kindergarten programmes lacked a strong curriculum. We couldn’t imagine how our daughter would function in this environment, let alone learn anything.
I found a magazine that had advertising from all of the independent and private schools in Ontario. The choices seemed overwhelming, so I created a spreadsheet that summarized everything from the type of educational programme to class size to whether there was after-school childcare. With the information organized, we began to understand the options and our short list emerged.
Then the real challenge began. We had to look at softer criteria, such as the quality of the teachers, the general environment and the school’s mandate. Only with open houses and daytime visits could we determine whether a school was a good fit.
The school was a long shot for us: It was small and not heavily advertised, so we didn’t know a lot about it. It was also far from our home. But we knew the school’s headmaster, Harry Giles, as a pioneer and innovator in education so we went to the open house.
The evening open house was routine until we spent some time with a lower grade schoolteacher, looking at the work the preschoolers were doing. As I turned the pages in the workbooks, I was speechless: I couldn’t believe a three-year-old was capable of accomplishing what I saw. A daytime visit confirmed what we had seen: The teachers were excellent, the environment was warm and caring, and the kids were doing work at a level we hadn’t thought possible.
In the end, the visits made our decision easy and even convinced us to enrol our daughter a year earlier then planned, to the Pre-K programme, instead of waiting another year for JK.
We learned diligence and attention to detail when picking a school pay off: Even though the school we chose isn’t as well known as some other private schools, it’s a perfect fit for us. 3 years later, our daughter is entering Grade 2 and thriving, and our son has just completed the Pre-K programme. We couldn’t be happier.
It was no secret that our local French immersion public school was one of the best in the city. Initially, I thought that was a good thing. Then my friends and neighbours told me about their experiences trying to send their children there, and how it took years and years to get a placement, if they did at all.
No problem, I thought, I live in Riverdale. I’m used to waiting lists. Since my daughter was not even 2, I thought I was going to be way ahead of the pack signing her up for JK. Then I found out that we were technically “out of district” for our local French immersion school, and there were only about 10 spots available per year for out of district students. Then I found out that preferences went to siblings and to children whose daycare resided within the district. And lastly, I found out that the remaining out of district spots were given out using a lottery system. That’s right, my daughter would only get the education she deserved if her name was pulled out of a hat.
That wasn’t going to work for me. I went online looking for other options. To tell you the truth, I went looking for other public schools, but online I only found private schools. Most of these private schools were prohibitively expensive. And they wanted references and transcripts and interviews with my child. Interviews? She’s 2!
Then I found The Giles School. After reading about it, I found it hard to convince myself to send my daughter anywhere else. The public system was only half days and didn’t start until she was 4 years old, after the brain’s propensity to pick up language has peaked (it peaks at 2 years old). The classes were huge, and the school daycare was even harder to get into than the French immersion programme.
On the other hand, The Giles School was first come first served, offered full day, French immersion starting in Pre-K, Mandarin classes everyday starting in Grade 1, and after-school care was included. Sorry, waaaaah?
But it wasn’t until we saw the school that we made the final decision. It was down to earth and very mulitcultural, which was important to us. And the teachers were incredibly nice. Later, Mr. Giles told me that the first thing they consider when they are hiring a teacher is whether they love children. It shows.
As for the curriculum, it’s just astounding. When my daughter began at The Giles School, she knew her ABC song and could count to 10. By Christmas she was counting to 60 in French, knew all of her letters, and was writing her name. Then she turned 3.
And as my daughter enters JK next year, I realize that JK at The Giles School starts a full year earlier than the public system (her birthday is in January so she wouldn’t be able to enter JK until Sept. 2009). That means, when you consider the enriched programme, my daughter will be 3 years ahead of where she would have been if she had “won the lottery”.
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80 Scarsdale Road, York Mills, Toronto, Ontario M3B 2R7
t 416.446.0825 f 416.446.0846