School Profiles

‘We are developing people with depth’

Bishop Hamilton Montessori School offers Christian-based education with the aim to nurture students and produce well-rounded, engaged graduates

Renette-SasouniWhen you walk through the doors of Bishop Hamilton Montessori School, you can’t help but feel at home. And much like in any home, you’ll find treasured family photos on the walls, such as those of the first graduating class.

Named after the first Anglican Bishop of Ottawa, BHMS is a not-for-profit independent school that was founded in 1983 with six preschool students. Since then, the school has grown to more than 200 students, while maintaining its original mission, vision and values.

The west Ottawa school offers a Christian-based Montessori education in an environment where students are encouraged to reach their full potential.

And the main lobby is the heart of this home, where the community of parents, students and staff congregate and socialize daily. It is also where a colourful artistic rendering of the school’s tree-themed “Portrait of a Graduate” is found.

It outlines the skills and attributes — such as being a respecter of all persons, an independent thinker, and intrinsically motivated — students can achieve when parents and teachers work in collaboration to foster the development of the child.

“We are developing people with depth,” says school director Renette Sasouni.

The school aims to nurture each child, she says. No student is held back from exploration and no student is left behind.

The programs and instructors are flexible to childrens’ interests to facilitate their natural curiosity and desire to learn. The school strives to prepare its graduates to enter the real world as well-rounded and engaged individuals.

Students benefit from an enriched program with specialty subjects that include science, French and art. The classroom setup and activity centres encourage freely interacting with the materials, movement and collaboration.

Students progress at their own pace, and are placed in multi-age groupings, which allow younger children to learn from their older classmates while also providing mentorship opportunities to those senior students.

At BHMS, the development of strong, clear values is seen as the foundation for building success. Children as young as three are encouraged to develop practical life skills such as helping at mealtimes.

Older students benefit from opportunities to learn through special projects such as the upcoming Fame — the Musical in March. Under the leadership of the music director, students aged nine to 14 will be involved in all aspects of the production, including lighting, sound, acting, and costumes.

BHMS also encourages volunteering and outdoor learning. In June, for example, students (ages 12 to 14) will embark on a community-building multi-day bicycle trip to Amherst Island.

And Sasouni credits the dedicated school community, including teachers, staff and parents, as being “very much a part of its success.”

A former private sector executive, Sasouni is enthusiastic about her role at the school. “I can’t even put into words the personal satisfaction that I get from this career.”

Setting up for success

Pierrette Poliquin, headmistress of Ottawa’s Joan of Arc Academy,
is living her lifelong dream: to provide leadership opportunities
for girls in a bilingual environment

pricipal-profile-PierretteAll Pierrette Poliquin ever wanted to be when she grew up was a teacher. And now, as the headmistress at Joan of Arc Academy on Elmira Drive, she continues to live her passion.

“I knew I wanted to be a teacher from the time I was in Grade 4,” says Poliquin. “And yes,” she says with a laugh, “I really did line up all my dolls in chairs and have a chalk-board in front of them so I could ‘teach’ them.”

She started her dream job at Joan of Arc, the region’s only independent elementary bilingual girls’ school, just over a year ago. Her affinity for this type of education comes from her childhood.

Poliquin grew up in Hearst, Ont., a small Northern Ontario bilingual community, and attended an all-girls boarding school from grades 7 to 12 in Haileybury, Ont. “Coming from an all-girls’ school background has really helped at Joan of Arc,” she says. “I understand the rationale behind it and what the expectations are.”

Before settling in Ottawa with her family, Poliquin had lived in a number of other cities while pursuing her studies in education. She took courses in special education and gifted programs for children at Laurentian University, York University and University of Windsor. She taught in different cities across the province, including Windsor, Trenton and Toronto.

But in the early days of bilingual education, Ottawa offered the schooling choices she wanted for her two young sons, so her family moved here. “I’d been brought up in a bilingual school environment and I thought it was important for my sons to excel in both languages too.”

Much of Poliquin’s 40 years in public education – before she took on the headmistress position – had involved working on different projects for the Ministry of Education and University of Ottawa.

While at the Centre Franco-Ontarien de Ressources Pédagogiques, she was responsible for special projects for online courses offered in elementary and secondary schools across Ontario. It was interesting work, but Poliquin missed being in a school setting.

“I just really love the atmosphere in a school,” she says. “As I walk through the hallways at Joan of Arc, I can feel the energy and it makes me feel good.” And she brings that vitality to her students as well.
Joan of Arc Academy is a perfect philosophical fit, she says. The school offers a well-rounded education in both English and French and, important for Poliquin, excellent leadership opportunities for girls in a bilingual environment.

But perhaps most importantly, it’s her passion for education that not only sets a tone of tolerance but fosters a balance of good education and spiritual and cultural growth for the students.

“I’m really here to set the students up for success and for our students to be recognized as world leaders in girls’ education.”

By Sheryl Bennett-Wilson

‘It keeps me on my toes’

Westboro Academy principal Meg Garrard talks about the joys of her work, and her life-long journey of teaching and learning

pricipal-MegGarrard“There’s always more to learn.”

That’s a phrase you’ll often hear from Meg Garrard, principal at Ottawa’s Westboro Academy.

And as much as she encourages her Westboro students to continually learn more, she has embraced that philosophy herself.

This April, Garrard, 41, will receive a Private School Principal Diploma from York University — which she describes as one more step in a life-long journey of learning and teaching.

Originally from Toronto, where she attended French immersion public school, Garrard’s middle school years were spent in Capetown, South Africa.

She eventually returned to Toronto for high school, where she had a major realization.

“Once I got into high school, I just knew I wanted to be a teacher,” says Garrard. To that end, she went to Queen’s University for the five-year concurrent education program.

“The last year of the program was co-op outdoor and experimental education,” she says. “It focused on how to get the most out of kids in real-life experiences and ones that enrich their lives. I loved it!”

Garrard went on to teach at an American International School in Costa Rica, with Outward Bound – an international, non-profit, independent, outdoor education organization – which was “exhausting but fun,” and an independent school in Quebec.

“The school in Quebec focused on a lot of outdoor activities,” says Garrard, “but while I was there I also got involved with the administration, which kind of set me up to take on a principal’s role.”
Four years ago, Garrard became principal at Westboro Academy. “I really enjoy the fact that I get to work with everyone,” she says.

“From staff to students to parents – it really means that every day is different for me. I like the variety and it keeps me on my toes.”
She admits it can be a challenge, especially when you have to be all things to everyone and try to meet everyone’s needs. But Garrard says making that connection with a student, parent or one of her staff, and knowing her input will make a lasting impact, is incredibly rewarding.

She can also make that connection as a parent. Her two children are students at Westboro Academy, in Grade 2 and senior kindergarten.

“I not only get to see the school through my children’s eyes, but as a principal and as a parent. That really helps me get insight into how other parents see things.”

Her commitment to becoming a better principal is ongoing. She recently acquired a diploma in Independent School Leadership from the Canadian Accredited Independent Schools national organization.

“I learned everything from budgeting to management and had a great opportunity to exchange ideas,” says Garrard.

“And with everything changing so fast with technology and research, you have to keep up or you’ll be left behind.”

By Sheryl Bennett-Wilson
Photo: Westboro Academy principal Meg Garrard

Love of learning top priority for Lucie Lalonde

Académie de la Capitale principal a dedicated, passionate educator

principal-profile-lucieLucie Lalonde’s office bookshelf overflows with books on child development and teaching methods. Even after 19 years of teaching and 13 years as a principal, Lalonde is constantly learning.

The benefits of continued learning and the flexibility to adjust to an ever-changing world are virtues Lalonde would like to impart to the children who attend Académie de la Capitale.

“I like to see children learn, and want to come to school, and love learning, and want to know more,” she said from her office in the open-concept school on Morrison Drive.

“The teacher helps the student construct their learning, but we also do our own learning as we go.”

After 19 years as a teacher in the public system, Lalonde opened the bilingual Académie de la Capitale with only nine students in 1998. Since then, it has grown to 55 students from the ages of three to 14.

The school is the first in Ottawa to offer the International Baccalaureate program at the primary school level.

Her experience in the public system taught Lalonde the value of smaller class sizes as well as the philosophy of teaching “across the ages.” Lalonde is against the style of teaching that she calls “mass instruction,” favouring flexibility to meet the needs of a variety of learners.

“We try and feed the child according to what they need and also make it real life,” said Lalonde.

“It’s not about learning facts, it’s about developing thinking skills, ideas and risk-taking because facts and information change daily, but how do you sift through all the facts, how do you sift though all the information to find what is valuable?”

“What we need for the future is not facts, it’s how to learn.”

Preschool teacher Stephanie Greenberg said Lalonde is always “rolling with whatever happens,” and ready to take on new challenges. She said Lalonde’s dedication goes beyond simply doing her job because the school is her life.

Lalonde’s dedication is obvious to Anne Skarzenski, whose two children attend Académie de la Capitale. “My impression from the first day is she’s very committed to the well being and the learning abilities and capacities of the children,” she said. “The children come first and that was really striking to me.”

After a week of school, Skarzenski’s daughter Maya told her mother she felt like she had been at the school all of her life and she felt at home. And Skarzenski also feels connected to the parents and staff of the school.

Connection is also important to Lalonde, although when she speaks of connection, she is more likely to be talking about her belief in making connections between different subjects, which she said is a cornerstone to learning.

The principal is more comfortable sharing her thoughts on learning than highlighting her personal accomplishments, but her dedication is apparent.

“I just love my school.”


By Jessica Hinds

Photo: Danielle Lynn Photography


To the Limit

St-Laurent Academy principal brings passion, competitive drive to her educational style

principal-SusanKellyIt may be a “long way to Tipperary,” as the famous song goes, but for Susan Kelly, principal at St-Laurent Academy, it’s likely a longer way to Dundalk, Ireland, where she was born.

But Kelly, her husband and their baby daughter Sinead have called Ottawa home for the last 12 years.

She’s been the principal of St-Laurent Academy for five years, but her teaching career – and passion for education and sport – has taken her many other places on the planet.

Kelly received her teaching degree in England. She spent four years learning about everything teaching-related. The depth of what she learned
provided a huge advantage once she stepped into the teaching world.

Before ending up in Ottawa, Kelly taught in Japan for five years. She loved it, but says teaching in another culture is enormously challenging,
although rewarding.

For Kelly, being a principal is definitely not a desk job. She says that like her students, who are encouraged to get up and move around the classroom periodically, she gets up and moves around too.

“I really believe that sitting at a desk is no way to learn,” she says, “and that counts whether you’re a student or a principal.” And Kelly is constantly discovering better ways for St. Laurent Academy students to learn and absorb knowledge.

One summer when she was teaching English, she gave the students balance boards. Rather than sitting stiffly in their desks, the students were now faced with two tasks – learn the material and keep balance.

“My students thought it was hilarious,” says Kelly.

“Then they realized how hard it was. But they actually learned more and were better able to focus because it ended up stimulating both sides of their brains.

“Keeping them active was a better way to learn.” While it’s obvious Kelly is passionate about education, she’s also passionate about something else – “lifesaving.”

Now if you’re anywhere in Australia and mention the sport, everyone will know what you’re talking about. It’s a national sport there. In Canada? Not so much.

But Kelly, who specialized in teaching physical education and English, is enamoured with the sport. She’s competed in Germany, Italy and Australia. Lifesaving tests one’s speed, strength and endurance, in the pool and – even more difficult – in the ocean. It’s tough competition.

She competes in the Masters Tour (open to anyone over the age of 30). The Canadian team has done well and won as the overall team on points a couple of times. And Kelly brings what she learns from competing back to the classroom.

“I make a point of talking to my students about what I do,” she says. “I think it’s important for students to learn about goal-setting, commitment and discipline. “Those are all the things that are required for not just something like lifesaving, but for life.”

For Kelly, being passionate about something is important – whether it’s teaching or the sport she loves. And it’s a life lesson she delivers to her students everyday.


By Sheryl Bennett-Wilson

Photo: Billie MacDonald


‘We’ve got the best of both worlds’

Peak Centre Academy director Ken Brunet takes pride in offering top-quality education with a special focus on athletics

principal-KenBrunetAn avowed “sport nut,” Ken Brunet, director of athletic development at Kanata’s Peak Centre Academy, has loved sports all his life. And so it seems only fitting that he would apply his passion for athletics to this independent school, with a mission “to serve the unique academic, physical, social, and emotional needs of students participating in elite sports.”

Growing up in Kapuskasing, Ont., Brunet’s interests included baseball, football, badminton and hockey. After graduating from Cité des Jeunes High School, Brunet knew he wanted to pursue something in the sports field, and began studies at the University of Ottawa.

“What led me to Ottawa U was the applied Sport Science program,” says Brunet. “Not only was the program bilingual, but it had some of the best Exercise Physiology professors in the business teaching you. That sold me.”

Brunet graduated with an exercise science degree. He is a certified exercise physiologist, with a deep knowledge of sports and fitness.

The idea behind an independent school with special focus on athletics was a bit of a “no brainer,” he says. But first there was the Peak Centre, a facility specializing in testing and training elite athletes, which Brunet founded in 1993. He remains co-owner.

The centre is open to the public and offers a variety of sports and health and fitness programs, seminars and fitness testing services.

Peak Centre also deals with professional athletes at the national and Olympic level. And Peak Academy students have the same access to training and sports science expertise as the centre’s cream-of-the-crop clientele, says Brunet.

“Peak Academy is kind of based on the prep school model in the States,” he says. “We have the ability to combine academics and sports, so that we’ve got the best of both worlds for our students.”

He says the timing was right in 2010, when the school began with six students. Peak Academy now has 52 full-time students.

And Brunet beams with pride as he talks about what the school has to offer. “Look,” he says, “when I was in school, you got to play sports of all kinds. Not anymore, and I think kids are losing out, big time.”

Brunet says kids learn the most between the ages of six and 12 – academically and physically. And he’s not just talking about potential elite athletes.

“We offer a full work-up for our students and then develop individual training programs for each of them,” says Brunet. “We can follow their physiological growth patterns so we know when to change their training. In other words, we eliminate the guess work.”

He knows many of his students will not pursue an athletic career, but each will graduate with an appreciation of good physical health and a solid academic background.

“We have great students,” he says. “Our Grade 8 students are learning anatomy and physiology at a Grade 12 level, our Grade 6 students ranked academically in the top fifth percentile for the entire province.

“Peak Academy has good students academically, and good students athletically. It’s a great balance.”


An excellent adventure in teaching

Buoyed by the success of her elementary school, OMS Montessori principal and passionate advocate Pat Gere is set to open one of Canada’s first Montessori-based high schools

pricipal-PatGereOMS Montessori principal Pat Gere is on an excellent adventure in teaching, and has been since she first discovered the child-centred teaching
method more than 35 years ago.

She says teaching is a core part of who she is and that she has always taught others, from her own siblings to other children.

“What I like best is the ability to work with each individual student,” says Gere.

But Gere wasn’t interested in traditional education methods, so initially, she began work in Toronto’s banking industry.

One day, she happened to pick up a book about Maria Montessori, the Italian physician and educator who developed the educational approach in 1987, and was mesmerized.

Dr. Montessori was an astute observer of how children learn. She realized children would focus better if learning environments were suited to the different stages of development.

This was exactly the kind of teaching Gere wanted to do.

So she quit the banking business and enrolled in the Toronto Montessori Institute, learning how to apply the Montessori method to children ages three to six. She soon found a job in Port Credit, Ont., near Mississauga.

Then, when a Montessori school in Oakville needed an elementary teacher, Gere travelled to the U.S. for special training, and took the job. While in Oakville, she was approached to teach Montessori at the adolescent level in London, Ont. More training was required, this time at School of the Woods in Texas.

After eight years in London, Gere applied to become head of what is now known as OMS Montessori in Alta Vista, with about 400 students aged
18 months to Grade 8, and academic programs in English and French.

She’s been head of the school since 2000 and started the adolescent program in 2003.

She continues to teach Grade 8 math because she still loves teaching and says it keeps her grounded.

Gere says she’s noticed a shift in the educational field, and a growing realization that the current system is not fully meeting children’s needs. She says the Montessori method puts the joy back into learning.

One of her recent Grade 8 graduates told her that she can’t wait to get to high school in order to do more complicated math.

Gere’s pride in her school and her students’ achievements is palpable. As a member of the Board of the Canadian Council of Montessori Administrators, she actively promotes excellence in Montessori education. Since there are no regulations as to how each school applies the Montessori methods, she advises parents to exercise due diligence if they are considering such a school.

Gere describes each of her days as a different, exciting and joyful adventure. But perhaps the best part of her excellent adventure is yet to come.

In September 2013, she’ll open one of the first high schools in Canada to be based on the Montessori philosophy, and says she is thrilled to offer an alternative to regular high school for Ottawa teens.

“It’s really incredible and enjoyable to be part of their learning and growing.”

By Sheryl Bennett-Wilson
Photo: Alain Debruggrave, Photo Outaouais


‘I have a heart to be around people‘

Calvary Christian Academy principal enjoys hands-on approach

principal-TomBourneEvery Monday morning, Tom Bourne leads chapel. Throughout the day, he can be found lecturing students and sorting through financials. In the afternoon, he works up a sweat with his team on the basketball court.

This is a snapshot of a typical day in the life of the principal of Calvary Christian Academy.

“I think I have a heart to be around people and to encourage people,” said Bourne.

The only independent school in the Franktown area, Calvary Christian Academy boasts several enrichment programs, including preschool, kindergarten readiness and French program.

The school will soon embark on an eight-week Lego robotics program, where students learn to build robotic vehicles and compete with each other,
under the guidance of a professional instructor.

Calvary Christian Academy rests on a 20 hectare (50 acre) lot in Lanark County and serves families from as far north as Almonte and as far south as Smiths Falls.

“It’s one of our blessings here at the academy [that] we have a smaller community of 75 families and I know every mom and dad by name.”

This is Bourne’s second year as principal. Before he started with the academy he was manager of a bible camp in Renfrew, where he was responsible for directing and running the summer programs.

“The things I enjoyed most were the leadership opportunities, working with staff to prepare the curriculum and prepare ideas,” said Bourne. “That
was a real treat for me.”

He’s channeled those leadership skills to his current job by acting as coach to the basketball team. The season has just wrapped up and the junior team took home gold at the Lanark County championships, while the senior team took home silver.

Athletically, the students perform well but there are other aspects of education that the principal and staff strongly encourage.

As an example, for Grade 8 graduation, the students are awarded not for having the highest marks as is typically done, but every student is honoured with a character virtue.

Kindness, faithfulness, loyalty — these are traits students at the academy are recognized for.

“Its important for our kids to grow up and not be worried about getting the highest mark, but finding out who they are and being true to who they are,” said administrative assistant Trish Irwin-Kitt.

Irwin-Kitt has been with the school since 2001 and involved at many different levels, from the board of directors to a staff role at the administrative level.

Familiar with wearing several different hats in a day (she also works part-time in marketing and promoting the school), Irwin-Kitt said she understands why it’s so important for Bourne to take on a variety of roles.

“He just has a whole lot to bring to the school. He’s a hands-on guy, it’s a small-organization mentality where there’s no job that isn’t your job.”


By Michelle Jondreau

Photo: Calvary Christian Academy