A Learning Community Beyond our Walls

Written by Ms. Michelle Lefolii, School Principal
In my grade 12 Writer’s Craft class last week, the students were working on an exercise in which they were asked to write a passage dense in poetic devices.
One of the intrepid students, Aurora, decided to do some research into less common devices, and encountered one known as the Janus parallelism. It’s a sophisticated device in which a pun is made by including a word in one line of poetry that has one meaning when read against the previous line and a second meaning when read against the line following.
Intriguing. The example given, however, was in Medieval Hebrew. Our class discussed this conundrum briefly and commented on how unhelpful an example it was to those of us unfamiliar with that language.
A second student in the class, Ariel, thought back to his days as a Hebrew student prior to his bar mitzvah, and paired his nine-year old’s vocabulary with his technical literacy, and after attacking his keyboard for a while came up with a reasonable assumption as to which word in the text was being punned upon. This however, unfortunately proved to be a dead end.
Aurora tried the Google translate function with no greater success.
The students had now identified the relevant biblical passage from which the text had been drawn, and resourcefully consulted the English language version. The janus parallelism, sadly, didn’t translate.
Jokes were made about how if only our medieval Hebrew weren’t so rusty we’d have solved the riddle by now, when suddenly we realized that we do, in fact, know someone who probably would stand a good chance of being able to read the Hebrew original.
Through our good friends at the internet, Ariel sent word out to Abelard alumnus Josiah Cohen, now in his first year at Columbia. Within minutes we had the answer, accompanied by a scholarly article Josiah had found relating to the topic.
This will remain one of my happiest moments as a teacher: proof that the Abelard intellectual community extends beyond our walls and after graduation.

Mother Goose Strikes Again!

A Short Story by grade 10 student Nicole S. Entin

Edgar Allan Poe was sitting at his writing desk, sifting through applications for the latest position in the Court of Stories. E. L. James had just been evicted, because people finally realized that her writing was utter trash, and she was not fit to serve as a member of the Court.

“Nevermore,” his raven muttered as Poe tossed out application after application. Not just anyone could be a member of the Court of Stories. The Court consisted of the best writers of the past, present, and future, and they came together in a monthly meeting to decide on which people to bestow creative inspiration. But for some reason, Poe couldn’t find anyone right for the position.

Suddenly, the room shook as if a bomb had just gone off. The raven squawked loudly, and flew up in the air in a panic. Poe stood up, dusted off his suit, and went to the door to see what was happening. When he peered past the threshold, he recoiled in shock, the whiskers of his mustache curling in pure fright. Before him was a sight more terrifying than his childhood poetry. A tiny old woman with a large black hat jammed overtop her corkscrew grey hair stood in front of him, almost blending into the monochrome palette of the Court’s main hall behind her. She looked up at Poe and beamed.

“Eddie! How’ve you been, sonny?” she asked, wrapping her arms firmly around his midsection. “Underfed, I can tell.”

“Mother Goose,” Poe mumbled, detangling himself from the woman’s surprisingly firm grip.

“I’ve come to apply for the Court position,” Mother Goose declared, flopping down in a large chair, and taking stock of her surroundings. The office was dimly lit, with a tiny white noise machine on a stand, and a bookshelf containing tomes that looked even older than her, and much more boring. Dissatisfied, she began to rummage through the carpet bag she was carrying, and pulled out a large hip flask. Taking a deep swig from it, she smiled contently, the lines in her face becoming even more pronounced.

“That’s the good stuff. Much better than whatever’s in that cask of am- amontilly- amitil- forget it,” Mother Goose said, pulling out a slightly damp resume that smelled of alcohol. She handed it to Poe, who took it delicately between his forefinger and thumb.

“Ah, yes,” Poe stammered. “Well, Mother Goose, given your record, the other council members and I thought it would be best not to,”

“The other council members? Phooey,” Mother Goose scoffed. “Take that upstart playwright. Entin? She can’t tell an adjective from an adverb. You need a member with panache. Style. Good looks. You need me!”

As Mother Goose fluffed her hair and batted her eyelashes, Poe was seriously considering getting the raven to claw her tongue out.

“Mother Goose, I’m not going to sugarcoat this anymore,” Poe said, trying to sound brave but failing miserably. “Over the past four hundred years, you’ve been reported to be an alcoholic, a lunatic, and have taught children how to efficiently hide a dead body.”

“Eeper Weeper was tame stuff,” Mother Goose retorted, putting her feet up on the red silk-upholstered footstool, her boots leaving distinct scuff marks on the fabric. “I’m teaching people to use their existing career skills!”

“You call stuffing your dead wife up a chimney ‘tame stuff’?” Poe gawked.

“Sounds like something you’d write, Eddie,” Mother Goose countered. “At least read the resume.”

Poe stalked behind his desk with a grumble, and flipped to the first page, which bore a glossy photo of Mother Goose astride a large version of her namesake bird, wearing a tight-fitting minidress. He quickly flipped to the next page.

“Has intimate knowledge of William Shakespeare’s work,” Poe mused. He then looked up sharply. “Why is the sentence followed by numerous winking faces and hearts? And why is the word ‘intimate’ underlined five, no, six times?”

Mother Goose leaned back in her chair, her red lips twisting into a deceptively sweet smile. “Ah, Willy was my first love. Our time together was grand, I tell you. I was his Juliet. His Desdemona. His Lady Macbeth.”

“But unlike all three of them, you’re still very much alive,” Poe muttered.

Mother Goose ignored him, and continued. “My writing has taken me all around the world. In all sorts of places. Have you ever tried vodka, Eddie?”

Seeing that Poe shook his head in response, she pulled out a long blue bottle and two red Solo cups from her carpet bag. She uncorked the bottle with her teeth, and poured generous amounts for each of them.

“This is how the kids do it, Eddie. No taste, but then again, who are we to judge? I teach them how to stuff their spouses up chimneys, you write short stories that’ll scar them for the rest of their lives,” Mother Goose mused.

She held up her cup for a toast, her wide blue eyes sparkling with wit and trickery. “To the Court of Stories.”

“Hear, hear,” Poe answered, and downed the drink. He coughed violently, scaring the raven again. For a few minutes, the room reverberated with the sounds of hacking and bird screeches. When he recovered, Poe hesitantly held out his cup for a second. Mother Goose smiled, and poured again. And again. And again.

Over the next hour, Edgar Allan Poe wondered if he should start writing comedy more often. He certainly had plenty of material for a second lifetime of work. Mother Goose had regaled him with stories of her travels. She had rambled for a solid half-hour about Mary Queen of Scots, the subject of “Mary, Mary, Quite Contrary”, who had a secret fondness for agriculture, and could rival Mendel in her crossing of plants. Not to mention the stories she had about the French Revolution.

“I had attended all of Marie’s parties,” Mother Goose slurred through her seventh shot of vodka. “They were fabulous. She had hired all of the best pastry chefs in the country, ‘cause boy did that lady love her cake. She would have given each town a personal royal baker if she wasn’t given the chop first. Why do you think she said, ‘let them eat cake’?”

For some reason, Poe laughed at her last comment. He always did have an unabashedly morbid sense of humour. But now, and it must’ve been the alcohol talking, Mother Goose turned to a more serious topic.

“I remember being a young woman when the Black Plague was in its final years,” Mother Goose said. “The suffering I had seen was unbelievable. Sometimes, I still see the faces of the doctors in my nightmares, covered in those awful, bird-like masks. The children were the worst, quarantined in rooms, on their own. They had no one to help them, to comfort them through their pain. So, I came to them, wearing a mask of my own. I called myself ‘Mother Goose’ because I didn’t want them to be afraid of me. None ever saw my real face, but they weren’t as scared as they used to be when the doctors came in.”

With tears streaming down his face, Poe ripped up the rest of the resumes in the pile on his desk. His enthusiastic movements had scattered the fragments across his meticulously cleaned Persian rug, but in his drunkenness, he had forgotten to care. “Mother Goose, I’d like to extend an official invitation to you to join the Court of Stories.”

“Are you sure?” Mother Goose asked. “I mean, I’m a lunatic, drunkard, and a bad influence on children. Just look at the sign over there.”

She pointed to the large poster of authors who were to be approached with caution, her face wedged between that of the poet William “The Great” McGonagall, and Stephenie Meyer.

“Forget regulations!” Poe screeched, now sounding almost like his raven. “This is the time for change in the Court of Stories. We’ve tried to be so selective, so grammatically and morally correct all the time, we’ve lost sight of what writing meant to us.”

Of course, this was the exact opposite of what Poe believed, as he’d often go into an apoplectic fit when he’d see a misplaced comma or a preposition at the end of a sentence. But, when you’re drunk, you often mix things up (a lesson to all you kids reading this: alcohol abuse can make you do stupid things).

Poe rummaged in his fine oak desk for a form, and presented it to Mother Goose along with a fountain pen. “Sign here please.”

Mother Goose reached for the pen, missed, and tried again. Her clumsy fingers finally enclosed around it on the tenth try, and she scribbled her signature on the form.

“Well, Eddie, it looks like you all aren’t a bunch of fuddy duddies after all- forgive me, I’ve forgotten how to curse. It’s the result of writing age-appropriate material, more or less, for four hundred years,” Mother Goose declared.

“Less,” Poe added, as Mother Goose picked up her carpet bag, the empty vodka bottle, and her hat, and sailed out of the office. She planted her shiny leather boots firmly on the black and white marble floor of the main hall, looking around at the somber busts of authors, and elegant vases of cream-coloured lilies. Mother Goose had plans for the Court of Stories, and they may or may not have involved coffee and donuts every Thursday, and a change of curtains on the windows. She never did like the colour mauve.

Dramatic Radio

Last week, Abelard’s drama class marked Halloween by performing and recording a suspenseful radio play called Sorry, Wrong Number. First written and performed in the 1940s, the play is an excellent example of how writers worked around telling a story with no visuals. Although perhaps less chilling for audiences in 2017, it almost certainly will have spooked listeners back in the 40s. If you would like to listen to our class’s performance, you can download our recording by clicking here.

Our cast was as follows:

Man in Black — Andrew Gilchrist
Mrs. Elbert Stephenson — Molly Franssen Keenan
Operator — Nicole Entin
Crime Boss & Western Union Rep — Marina Loginova
George — Francis Ellington Nardi
Sergeant Martin — Anna Avaliani
Chief Operator — Angelo Ilersich
Hospital Reception — Ewan H.T. Wilton
Information — Constantine Zhang
Announcer — Victoria Tininkin

Music Director — Will Poetker

 

Abelard Visits the Creative Destruction Lab at the University of Toronto

On October 26, the Abelard School Computer Science class was privileged to attend the Third Annual Machine Learning and the Market for Intelligence Conference hosted by the Creative Destruction Lab at U of T’s Rotman School of Management, one of the world’s premier conferences on this topic. Speakers included leading scientists (such as Carnegie Mellon professor and head of AI at Apple, Russ Salakhutdinov, and MIT professor Max Tegmark), leading investors from Silicon Valley (such as Steve Jurvetson who wrote one of the first cheques supporting Space X and Tesla, and Albert Wenger of the famous New York venture capital firm Union Square Ventures), and pioneering entrepreneurs (such as Elizabeth Caley, whose AI startup to enhance scientific discovery was recently acquired by Mark Zuckerberg). Also making a guest appearance was Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

Many thanks to Joshua Gans and Jennifer O’Hare for including our students in this conference.

Here are some student reports on this extraordinary event.

Aurora Bolianatz:

While at the Machine Learning and the Market for Intelligence conference on the 26th of October, I got to listen firsthand to many presentations on the future of artificial intelligence, and what it means to be human at a time when we are becoming obsolete. The speakers delved into subjects such as embodiment, brain science, and artificial general intelligence; however, the presentations I personally found the most interesting were the ones regarding the future of humans in an AI world, and how we can approach the subject wisely.

The first presenter to really spark an interest in this subject for me was Max Tegmark, a professor at MIT. He spoke about the incredible leaps and bounds AI development has seen in recent years, but also reminded us of how things can go horribly wrong so quickly without proper management. There were four main points he made on how to correctly control the approaching future of AI: the first, to make sure lethal autonomous weapons are banned. Biologists and chemists have both worked hard to ensure that the specialists in their fields use their knowledge for cures and beneficial uses, not for weapons, and both fields have banned bioweapons and chemical weapons. Tegmark encouraged us to follow suit, and make sure AI will be used for good, not evil. This follows through into his second point, using AI wealth to benefit all people, not only a select few. His third point was to invest in safety research, drawing our attention to the Apollo 11 launch, stating that NASA calculated every possible thing that could go wrong, and put safeguards in to ensure that no catastrophes happened. Much like the space launch, AI is a field where it is much better to get everything right the first time instead of learning from mistakes. Finally, Tegmark asks us what sort of a future we wish to see, as that is the truly defining piece for the future of AI.

Another presenter who spoke on the importance of humans in AI was Joshua Gans, professor at the Rotman School of Management at U of T, who discussed the value of data. Though many people today consider data to be immensely valuable, Gans argues instead that the data will become meaningless once used, and the true asset in prediction machines and the like is human judgement. The knowledge and skills we have accumulated as humans are so valuable to the AI process, as we design the machines, give them their purposes, and can clean up after them in case of all hell breaking loose. The human mind is an astonishing thing, and though AI have been able to recreate themselves, they simply cannot ever replace us in every way.

Contrary to the previous two professors mentioned, in his presentation, Ben Goertzel emphasized the importance of leaving humans out of AI development. While I see his point that AI learns better without humans hindering it, I also think his suggestion of a sort of cloud space in which AI could communicate and share information without human guidance is pretty terrifying. The amount of power and knowledge they could potentially accumulate is enough to wipe out humans as a whole, and while I understand that we haven’t been the best for this planet (or each other), as a human, I really like the idea of Not Dying Due to the Robot Overlords. 

Ariel Gans:

The CDL conference was a lot of fun. The talks were all very interesting and I especially enjoyed the surprise visit from the prime minster. The topics I found most interesting were those discussed in the presentations by Richard Sutton of University of Alberta and Suzanne Gildert of Kindred AI. The base idea I liked from those two talks was that in order to prevent a Terminator Judgement Day situation, we need to keep our general intelligences’ goals and ideals in line with ours. This led to the idea that we should aim for cooperation with AIs, not control. If we create a truly sentient AI and we’ve given it our morals and creativity and all that, we’ve made something very human-like. Gildert talked about how these are likely the integrated AIs that we will end up creating. She talked about how there’s a huge market for robots that are essentially flawless humans. And if we create flawless humans, maybe we want to integrate them into society like humans. A strange feeling I got through the end of Gildert’s talk is that if we’ve created artificial beings with our morals and which identify with us and our history, maybe we don’t really need to worry about being wiped out as a race, since a future parallel to or perhaps even replaced by technology is likely going to be our legacy. Another theme of the conference was that a large upside to coming to conclusions like these is that we can prepare for these possible futures, legally and socially, before it’s too late. On the legal side, having a solid framework for technologies like self-driving cars and robotic doctors before they are everywhere greatly reduces the risk of something going horribly wrong. On a lighter note, I learnt that there are machine learning methods far better than deep learning at playing video games, which I found quite interesting. The winning method was the one that was able to strategize in a very human-like fashion, coming up with the “hit the blocks at the top” strategy for brick breaker all by itself.

Dominik Bednarczyk:

The conference hosted by the Creative Destruction lab were incredibly interesting. I enjoyed how they brought in many experts from different fields with different points of view to discuss a variety of ethical and logical issues surrounding the implementation of AI into our society. Being able to see these experts discuss the topics and to learn which ideas conflicted and what they all unanimously agreed on was extremely interesting. My personal favourites were the AI embodiment session and the Vicarious session because the speakers had the most energy and I liked how personal one of the speakers got. I enjoyed the Embodiment lecture in particular because it showed what we still need to work on and what we have already achieved, which allowed me to think about which fields I might want to invest time and effort in to have the least difficulty finding work and helping to speed up progress in the field I particularly enjoy. The Vicarious speaker gave an amazing presentation about the future and compared AI to different levels of consciousness throughout Earth’s history. There were also many interesting startups present,  some of which I already use and others which have huge potential for our society. But obviously the most interesting part was the special guest; Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. Not only was I excited to see that our prime minister supported the idea of implementing AI into Canadian society and his plans to make Canada the AI hub of the world but being able to ask him questions about the future of AI in Canada was especially amazing. Mr. Trudeau discussed the moral implications of self driving cars, which I am personally very passionate about, and the revelation that he studied and enjoyed poetry in University was particularly funny and interesting. All in all the speakers were amazing to listen to, gave great insight into humanity’s future with technology and were presented in such a way that was easy to understand and grasp.

Konstantin Uvarov:

My favourite thing that I encountered in the Creative Destruction Lab – Artificial Intelligence Conference was a start-up company which helps people immigrate from other countries to Canada. I think that this kind of usage of Artificial Intelligence will be very useful because it will allow people to spend less time filling in documents. All that people will have to do is just to type their information and scan their documents for the program and the program will do the rest of the work for them. It will be very beneficial for both sides: people will spend less time doing their immigration paperwork and the government will not need to worry about hiring lots of people to do the same job as the AI program can do. In conclusion, I also think that this start-up company will become, in the near future, a necessity for a Government of Canada because it will not make any mistakes in laws and will be 100% accurate in making decisions.

 

Certamen – Abelard Loves Latin

Last week, a group of six students were driven up to Alliston, Ontario by our own Mr. Young for Certamen, a quiz competition that pits teams of students against one another to test their knowledge of Roman history, daily life, mythology, and language. The competition took place at Banting Memorial HS, and Abelard fielded a team in each of the intermediate and senior divisions: Francis, Angelo, and Nicole were our intermediates and Molly, Carmina, and Tas competed in the senior division.

Before the contest, our students spent 80 hours per week preparing for big event. They each had to read and prepare an assigned text, and Mr. Young filled them in on details about what life was like back in ancient Rome. The competition requires a great deal of memorization. On the hour-long drive to Alliston, our teams used the time to quiz one another. There were around 150 other students from really diverse backgrounds at Banting Memorial representing schools across the GTA, and as far away as Waterloo. Some school teams even wore matched Latin club t-shirts.

The competition itself was high pressure. Our students were nervous, but really excited too. Four teams competed at a time, using buzzers to respond to a moderator’s questions. There was considerable strategy in how students approached answering questions, with lots of teams buzzing in early to make an educated guess about what the moderator wanted. After all, the first correct answer got the point, so it was often worth the risk to get ahead of the other teams. However, if they guessed wrong, the team could not submit another answer for that question.

The day began with two rounds of questions that all teams had access to, with 28 questions asked in each round. At the end of this stage, each team’s score was tallied and the best teams moved forward to the semi-finals. We are so proud that both of our teams made it to this next phase. Each round in the semi-finals and finals challenged teams with 56 questions, doubling the scale of the effort. Although our teams did not compete in the finals, the experience was really positive for those who participated. We are already making plans to participate next year, and are considering another Classics competition for high school students that will take place in May this year. It likely won’t surprise anyone to know that Abelard loves Latin!

You Can Help the Sears Drama Festival!

For those who aren’t in the know, the Sears Drama Festival is an annual competition in which high school students perform their very best works and get really vital feedback from established theatre professionals. It’s the oldest theatre festival in Canada, and has launched the careers of stars like Rachel McAdams, David Cronenberg, and Margot Kidder. It’s also a lot of fun!

Because Sears, the company, has gone bankrupt, the Festival was set to be cancelled. Fortunately, a set of new sponsors has stepped in to take over. The Festival will now be run by the National Theatre School (Canada’s major theatre training centre, in Montreal) and IATSE (the union for theatre technicians, among others). They have really great plans, and connect the Festival with the very best that Canada has to offer in terms of theatre training and professional guidance.

However, given the very short turnaround to get the Festival on its feet, they’re running a fundraising campaign to make sure that everything proceeds as usual in 2018. If you know the value of arts education in high school, and are in the position to help them out, you can check out their campaign here. There are 15 Abelardians participating in the Sears Festival this year – they will undoubtedly be grateful for your support!

Abelard is Launching a Middle School!

We are thrilled to announce that The Abelard School will launch a middle school program for students in Grades 7 & 8 in the 2018-19 academic year.

Why Grade 7/8?

A growing number of parents have been enquiring about a middle school programme at Abelard. We are responding to this interest because we believe we are uniquely positioned to offer an enriched, exciting, and challenging curriculum and school experience for students in grades 7 and 8. First, the Grade 7 and 8 curriculum as set out by the Ministry of education contains much repetition: this leaves us space and time to accelerate required content and offer enrichment that goes beyond what you would usually expect in a middle school programme. Additionally, we have found over the years that many students applying to Abelard from Grade 8 don’t yet have the requisite knowledge and skills to make a smooth transition into an academically advanced high school curriculum. By welcoming middle school students at Abelard, we can tailor their education to ensure their ongoing success.

Elevating Students

In our middle school program, we cultivate a passion for learning. At Abelard, this means that we tackle big ideas and big problems in an age-appropriate manner so that students learn to approach the world around them with an open mind. In addition to the knowledge and skills developed by our enriched curriculum, we teach students to be reflective thinkers, caring and principled global citizens, and bold communicators. We elevate our students.

Our Curriculum

We’ve been preparing students to be successful in university for twenty years, now we wish to prepare them for success in high school!

At the high school level, we’ve developed a unique integrated curriculum which stresses the interconnection of academic disciplines. Our exciting middle school programme is designed to introduce young scholars to the symbiotic way that ideas overlap in the real world, preparing middle schoolers with the cultural and historical background necessary to flourish in high school.

Further, we’ve learned over the years that students learn best when they can contextualize the concepts they are being taught. All students, but particularly middle school students, benefit from some hands-on, activity-based learning to augment classroom instruction. Our middle school programme is augmented by interdisciplinary workshops led by our teachers or visiting specialists.

Our regular curriculum is anchored by three foundational components:

  1. The historical context of knowledge. We undertake a study of the sciences, mathematics, literature, history, philosophy, and political ideologies in the context of each of the following periods: the Ancient World, the Middle Ages, the Renaissance and Reformation, and the Age of Reason.
  2. The integrated core curriculum. A rigorous core curriculum challenges students in English, Math, Science (Biology, Chemistry, Physics), Social Sciences, French, Arts, Healthy and Active Living, and Technology.
  3. The practical application of academics to contemporary world. We apply the knowledge and skills gained through regular student to explore culture, technology, politics, and sociology.

Be in Touch!

We are very excited about this new programme, and invite you to be in touch with us to learn more about the specific ways in which an Abelard education will set up middle school students to flourish. Please call us at 416-944-0661, or write to us at info@abelardschool.org, in order to set up a meeting.

A heartwarming card

Drs. Frank Sottile and Sarah Witherspoon, while on sabbatical at U of T, brought their son Sam to the Abelard School.  We were very touched to receive this card from them, as the year comes to a close.  We will miss Sam, and wish him well as he returns home!Sottile's Card

Joseph Sproule’s 20th Reunion Speech

At Abelard’s 20th Reunion celebration on May 26, 2017, our alumnus Joseph Sproule gave a touching and eloquent speech — he generously agreed to share it on our blog:

Joseph

Good evening, everyone. It is with great pleasure that I join you all today to celebrate the twentieth anniversary of the Abelard School.

I had the good fortune to attend Abelard in its first three years, a formative era that may be thought of as a kind of Abelardian Paleozoic, during which the school emerged like some glistening scholastic tetrapod from the steaming jungles and verdant swamps of the late 1990s. Some of you will remember those days well; while others were still young tykes, as yet unaware that you would one day tread the halls of our beloved school. Either way, whether by means of memory or imagination, I ask that you now cast your minds back through the mists of time to the hazy summer of 1997…

Allow me to set the scene: The first Harry Potter novel has just been published; Backstreet’s Back is the number one album in the world; Titanic is pulling in billions at the box office; and, in an old bank building across from an abandoned train station at Yonge and Summerhill, four teachers are in the process of opening a new school.

Who are these intrepid educators? None other, of course, than Abelard’s founders – Michelle Lefolii, Alina Rossinsky, Shai Maharaj, and Brian Blair – a potent pedagogical quadrumvirate brought together by shared vision and a passion for teaching. That vision and passion – as well as a great deal of hard work and dedication over the subsequent two decades – has borne rich fruit: the hundreds of students who have benefitted from Abelard’s unique approach to education; the community that has grown up around the school; and, of course, the Abelard School itself, which continues to go from strength to strength.

But permit me to speak for a moment, not of the Abelard of today – a school coming into its maturity with an established reputation for excellence and a burgeoning legion of alumni – but of those early years at Yonge and Summerhill. It was a time of new beginnings, of infectious imagination, dynamism, and energy. The shape of the school was still being moulded into its now familiar form, as teachers and students came together to participate in a wonderful academic experiment. But, even then, it was already so very Abelardian: brilliant, fun, challenging, and, let’s be honest, at times more than a little bit quirky. Whether reading French literature, learning the functions of the organelles, translating Attic Greek, or playing cards at the picnic table in the school parking lot, I remember there being a vibrant energy in the air. It was more than just the excitement of attending a new institution; it was the sense that we were taking part in the creation of a new community, bearing witness to an idea being transformed by inspired teachers and enthusiastic students into a reality.

Over the years, that idea has taken on a life of its own, and there have been many twists and turns in the Abelard story. Staff and students have come and gone; the school has moved location twice and will soon do so again; new courses have been offered and curricula have changed. But Abelard has remained Abelard, strengthened and sustained by a network of past and present teachers, students, board members, parents, and other friends of the school. The spark that was lit in the summer of 1997 has grown into a sacred flame, lovingly tended for the past two decades by an ever-growing number of people with ties the school. Indeed, one could argue that those people are the school, and the friendship and support that we offer one another is one of Abelard’s most precious legacies. The Abelard School’s gift to its alumni is therefore much more than a rich education and a rigorous intellectual preparation for later life; it is also the circle of friends with whom we continue on our journey long after our high school years are behind us.

Today, seventeen years after I graduated, I still feel as much an Abelardian as ever. I sit on the school’s board, rarely miss an alumni event, and keep in regular touch with my many high school friends. I also feel connected to the school in less tangible but equally important ways. As a doctoral candidate here at the University of Toronto, I’m constantly aware of Abelard’s lingering influence on both my conduct as a student and as a teacher – indeed, on my approach to learning and my attitude to life more broadly. It is a reminder that the Abelardian education not only imparts information but also fosters a truly scholarly ethos – a lifelong commitment to intellectual curiosity – both to seeking knowledge and to sharing it and using it for good. I am certain that in all of your varied and multifaceted lives, you too can identify threads that link you back to Abelard in one way or another.

I would therefore like to finish with an expression of thanks: to the school’s founders for making their dream a reality that has blessed us all; and to the many teachers, alumni, administrators, and friends whose unwavering dedication has strengthened and enriched the school over the years. As the Abelard School prepares to enter a new era in its expanded Church Street premises, I think there is good reason for confidence; the past twenty years have seen the school’s roots grow deep and its foundations strong; and the ongoing support of the Abelard community will no doubt ensure that the school continues to reach ever greater heights in the years to come.

The Extended Community

If you read the promotional materials for smaller schools, you’ll see things like personalized learning and small class sizes listed among the advantages of attending academies like ours. While these are absolutely important considerations for people looking into a school, we like our small classes because our tight-knit educational environment allows us to foster relationships that form a much larger extended community. We recently spoke with some of our alumni who still frequent Abelard as volunteer tutors to find out why they keep coming back to our school. For them, it seems, it is all about the relationships too.

Noa Magen, a 2015 alumna who now studies Cognitive Science at the University of Toronto, tutors French at Abelard. She says that Mr. Blair’s philosophy class inspired her interest in how we know things, and that he is a big reason that she is in her current field of study. She is tutoring French in part to keep up skills and in part because it feels nice to help the next generation; she knows how rigorous the Abelard program can be–she recounts having already read most of the books assigned in her first-year university literature courses in our grade 10 English class–and is happy to pay forward the support she received while a student here.

Samantha Tristen, another 2015 alumna now studying History at U of T, also tutors French at Abelard. She echoes Noa’s feelings about the kind of support she received at our school. In addition to gaining a lot from Abelard’s advanced curriculum, she says that her teachers knew her well enough to recommend books and extension opportunities that suited her interests specifically. She continues to visit Abelard as a tutor because she likes to help and, like Noa, she wants to keep up her skills. She has also found that investing in interpersonal relationships has resulted in new opportunities: Mr. Young invites Sam back to helm two of his history classes each year.

A 2016 graduate, Maxim Vorobyov visits us regularly as a math tutor. Unlike Sam and Noa who attended Abelard for grades 9-12, Maxim joined us halfway through his highschool journey in grade 11. He likes tutoring math because it keeps him connected with the foundational skills that he still uses in University, and equally because he doesn’t want to lose touch with the school. One of the things that most stands out for him about his Abelard experience is that he, like Sam, felt heard by his teachers. Dissenting opinions, as long as they were well researched and well articulated, were treated with respect.

We love hearing from and working with our alumni. Particularly now, as we celebrate the school’s 20th anniversary, it is extremely valuable to us that we celebrate the the connections that make up the extended Abelard community.