Once a week at Fern Hill School in Burlington, all the students head outdoors for a classroom session. Whether it’s below freezing or a sweltering hot day, the students get an outdoor education and learn close up about Mother Nature. That includes learning about bird migration, what trees look like without their leaves, and how snow freezes into ice.
The outdoor classroom is part of a field study course and one of the programs, including Mandarin and computers, that aren’t typically found in the public school system. It’s that kind of enhanced approach to learning that makes many parents choose a private school over the public school system.
When Fern Hill School first opened in 1982 it was located in a church basement in Mississauga and there were 15 students. Since then, the school has expanded to two facilities; one in Oakville and another in Burlington, and has around 600 students. The Burlington facility is set on 20 acres where students can enjoy the natural surroundings.
Celia Stone, marketing and admissions manager at Fern Hill, said parents enrol their child at the school either because they went to a private school themselves and want the “very best education for their child” or because they feel their child needs an individualized approach to teaching in a smaller classroom setting.
Halton has a wealth of private schools to choose from and most offer smaller class sizes and individualized approaches to teaching. Approximately five per cent of students in Ontario attend a private school, according to the Ministry of Education, and annual tuition fees range from $5,000 to $20,000 and upwards.
Appleby College in Oakville, which includes boarding facilities, can cost upwards of $60,000 a year but is considered one of the most prestigious in Canada.
There are also all-girl schools like St. Mildred’s Lightbourne School in Oakville, those that are faith based, and others that specialize in helping students who struggle in the conventional public/Catholic school system.
Wildwood Academy in north Oakville teaches children who have learning disabilities and/or ADHD. Its math and language arts programs are geared to the child’s ability and there may be as few as four students per class.
TALC Academy on Mountainside Drive in Burlington is also geared towards struggling students and specializes in teaching children who have learning disabilities, attention issues, or who learn in a different way and would benefit from small class sizes and individualized programming. The school includes both elementary and high school students.
A research study by the Fraser Institute concluded that 91 per cent of parents said dedication of the teachers was their main reason for choosing a private school. Teachers often hold advanced degrees in education and the smaller class sizes and smaller school size can allow for closer relationships between teachers and students. Disappointment with public or separate schools was also a factor in choosing private school for 94 per cent of surveyed parents. 75 percent said this disappointment was a very important factor in their choice.
Many parents say private schools offer a more enriched academic setting and that they have more emphasis on specialties like art, music and athletics. For example, TALC Academy incorporates weekly martial arts classes into its curriculum.
Regardless of your reasons for choosing private over public school for your child, finding the right one can be like traveling through a maze. If you’re considering this option, it would be a great idea to start by attending the Halton Peel Private School Expo on October 18 at the Oakville Conference Centre. Private schools in Ontario operate as businesses or non-profit organizations and are independent of the Ministry of Education, which doesn’t regulate or oversee them. What that means for parents is that they need to do plenty of research before registering.
Ontario Federation of Independent Schools
Conference of Independent Schools in Ontario
Our Kids Private School Directory and Expo
By Denise Davy