Part 03

How private schools support learning challenges

Resources, expertise and flexible teaching models help students of all stripes to thrive

The term “learning challenges” can be applied to assorted educational scenarios, from children with behavioural issues to international students living away from home to even a pandemic that requires classes to suddenly take place virtually. “Some of the learning challenges our students experience are disorganization and feeling overwhelmed, video-game addiction, homesickness, poor sleep habits,” says Lee Venditti, principal at J. Addison School, “along with ADHD, dyslexia and [other] attention difficulties.” For parents of children with learning challenges, a private-school education can be especially beneficial.

Smaller classes 

Generally speaking, private schools offer small class sizes, which can enhance and enrich the learning process. “Classes at WillowWood School are capped at 16 students, and the average class size is 10 to 12 students,” says teacher Steve Taylor. “This makes individualized learning feasible and effective.” Lower student-to-teacher ratios allow teachers to foster stronger relationships with the kids in their class and afford them the time to better assess each child’s unique needs. 

Differentiated learning

At private schools, teachers are able to adapt their approach to best suit the students. “Our teachers deliver flexible programs that encourage students to draw on a variety of learning strengths,” says Tara Silver, principal of Linden School. “When students have learning gaps to fill, we offer ample extra-help opportunities with teachers, peer coaches and extracurricular programming.” Students at private schools can also enjoy innovative or alternative learning models. “We have a multitude of learning opportunities that focus on social and emotional learning,” explains Susie Heinrich, director of enrolment management at The Sterling Hall School. “[We offer] mentorship programs, many leadership roles and service-learning opportunities, experiential learning [and] an outdoor learning program.” 

Access to enhanced tools and resources

Many private schools invest in top-tier equipment and resources for their classrooms—from teacher’s aides and tutors to enhanced technology that better supports remote learning—in order to provide students with a robust educational environment. “WillowWood offers a locally developed learning-strategies course called TOSS [Technology, Organization, Skills and Strategies],” Taylor says, “which teaches students to use assistive technologies and organizational supports in their learning.” Faculty may also take specialized training or continuing-education courses. “Teachers at our schools also attend monthly workshops to help them develop skills and teaching strategies to better support their students’ unique learning needs,” he adds.

Ultimately, private schools understand that overcoming barriers to learning is a collaborative endeavour. “An active line of communication with parents is very important,” says David Treherne, elementary principal at Unionville Montessori. “We review all learning needs with incoming families and, in detail, provide them with support.” And the goal at any private school is the same: helping your child excel. “When students know that they are seen and valued, and when they feel safe in trying new things, they are able to take on increasingly difficult challenges,” says Silver. “We don’t believe that previous learning challenges should be a barrier to academic achievement at the highest levels.”