It is with great, great sadness that we share with you the loss on Saturday of one of Abelard’s founders, Shai Maharaj, who passed away far too soon.


Abelard simply wouldn’t exist without Shai. He was our principal for many years, stepping courageously into that position when both he and the school were still in their infancy (he was in his late twenties!). He was a charismatic and remarkable teacher who had a profound love for his students, and they in return showered their adoration on him.

Shai was a colleague and extremely dear friend who lived with us through the professional and personal successes and crises of over twenty years at both Abelard and Thornton Hall, until he was sadly no longer able to continue to do so a few years ago. We were saddened by his loss from the school and our daily lives then, and are even more profoundly devastated now by this final, permanent departure.

Alumni, we extend our particular condolences to you, who were his students. We know how much Shai cared for you, what a mark he made on your development, and how proud he was of you and your myriad accomplishments after leaving Abelard.

Let all of us who knew him try to keep the many, many good things we learned from Mr. Maharaj active in our lives. May he himself rest peacefully.

Michelle Lefolii,
on behalf of Alina Rossinsky, Mark Young, Brian Blair and Inga Bratchuli.

Abelard’s Reading List

We tackle an ambitious selection of great works in our English courses at Abelard. Of course, we hope that students enjoy the books they are tasked with reading, but we also firmly believe that great literature informs other aspects of humanistic (and sometimes scientific) study. Further, as C.S. Lewis once observed, literature enriches human experience:

“Literature adds to reality, it does not simply describe it. It enriches the necessary competencies that daily life requires and provides; and in this respect, it irrigates the deserts that our lives have already become.”

And so, in grade 9 our students tackle three different Shakespearean plays, the poetry of Robert Frost, classic novels like Catcher in the Rye, Huckleberry Finn, and The Great Gatsby, and more. Our grade 10 students explore the roots of the European canon, reading the Bible, Homer’s Odyssey and Iliad, the plays of Sophocles, and even Beowulf. Our grade 11 class pushes into contemporary literature, reading Hamlet against Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead; they also tackle other great works that facilitate connections to other academic disciplines, like Bartleby the Scrivener and philosophy, or East of Eden and students’ study of the Bible in grade 10. In grade 12, in addition to classical texts, students explore modernist and postmodernist greats like Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy, To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf, and Ulysses by James Joyce. To this list, of course, we must add all the literature that students read in their second- and third-language courses, such as Hugo’s Les Misérables and Camus’ L’étranger.

One of the long-term benefits of this diverse and carefully curated reading list is that our students, upon arriving in at university, report back to us that they are immensely well prepared for the kind of critical discourse that is expected of them at a post-secondary level. After all, it is much easier to pick out a classical or biblical allusion if you’ve already read the source texts where so many great authors are inspired. We also find that our reading list affords our students the kind of broad cultural literacy that makes for better citizenship both while students at Abelard and once graduated and in the ‘real’ world.

As we look forward to the new school year, we are so excited to share all this great reading with our students!

Postcards from Paris

Our grade 11 and 12 French students have just returned from a week in Paris. On the flight back, they wrote some post-cards to the school. In no particular order, here is what they had to say about their trip:

The Paris trip was an amazing experience. The art was beautiful, especially in the Musée d’Orsay. The food was incredible; I recommend you try everything at least. My favourite part was going on a big ferris wheel with Madame and Ms. Silver. Chocolate: great. Macarons: great.

— Dominik

It still doesn’t feel real, I’m not sure we actually went to Paris. We saw so many things that I thought only existed on post cards, but we actually got to walk through them and take pictures. Being with my French class and getting to see everything with them made it so much more memorable. We got to walk along the Seine and tour all the museums and take some really great group selfies. The Musée d’Orsay and the Louvre were beautiful (I made Taz take about thirty photos of me in front of Olympia), my family is sure to be jealous. Speaking French with so many real French people was intimidating, but I learned so much on this trip, so much about the culture as well as the language. I’m so thankful for Mme. Rossinsky for organizing the trip and taking us to so many of her favourite places. This has been one of the best weeks I think I have ever had and I’m so glad I got to go.

— Willow

The trip to Paris was worth 4 years of French class and I’d honestly do another 4 years to go on this trip again. The trip was well worth the cost, even if my legs and feet were dying every day. The museums? Nice. The food? Nice. The sense of pride and slight fear you get when an actual French person speaks French to you? Nice. I’d give this trip 7.8/10, too much walking.

— Som-O

I adored visiting the city of lights! What struck me as interesting was that Paris, in its deceivingly monotonous colour palette of grey, comes alive in high flying buttresses and stain-glass windows that take your breath away. Its intimacy and meandering streets were something to revel in as well; on any given corner there could be a hidden gem of a bookstore or museum, or you might turn a corner and see a monument that used to reside within the confines of a post-card. And, of course, the food was amazing. Thank you to Mme. Rossinsky and to Ms. Silver for guiding us around the city.

— Carmina

Some of my best memories of this trip was just walking around and taking in the sights, being able to look at the monuments, landscapes, and architecture. Every building and even park has its own style and unique beauty to it. I also really enjoyed all the short moments of having a café noisette in some small cute place and having a laugh. We really got to feel fully immersed in the French culture. (We walked more than 110km!)

— Chloe

I really enjoyed being a guide and listening to my peers share their knowledge about different places in France. It was cool to listen to them talk about monuments they have never visited with such confidence. Although I loved all the places we got to go to, I would have to say my favourite was Palais Garnier. The opera has a very unique history and a very beautiful design; it truly feels as if you are in a palace attending a royal ball. Because I have studied Onegin previously, it was really interesting to see it brought to life through ballet. I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to see Paris and I can’t wait to come back!

— Jessica

The Paris trip was truly an incredible experience. There was so much to see, so much to do, but so little time. All the museums, art galleries, and monuments were breathtaking and just packed with so much history. Most of all, the memories made on this trip are ones that’ll last for a life time.

— Sara

Paris was amazing! Such a beautiful city with so much to see. I loved how even regular buildings would have statues and carvings on the outside which made them look that much more elegant. Wandering the streets was such a joy, especially at night when everyone would be at restaurants and/or bars. Such a fun time 🙂 Merci Paris!

— Anastasiya

Our trip to Paris was incredible! From walking along the Seine, and exploring various Paris neighbourhoods, to wandering through art galleries, visiting monuments, and exploring the history of the city of love, this trip was a whirlwind of highlights. I came to Paris full of expectations and they were exceeded. I left Paris and already greatly miss it. The streets, churches, charming bakeries and shops on every corner, friends with whom I traveled, and Mme. Rossinsky and Ms. Silver truly created this magical, amazing, charming experience.

I ❤ Paris.
Paris is AWESOME!
Go to Paris!

— Josh

Paris was an unforgettable experience. From the food, to the charm and the buildings and the history, and the baguettes… So many baguettes. We spent our days walking around Paris and learning from each other about everything around us. It was delightful. Stay in French, kids.

— Ariel

It was an unforgettable trip!

I really enjoyed the museums we visited, especially:

– Le musée d’Orsay (focus on impressionist art, but I really loved the sculptures).
– Le musée du quai Branly (which displayed art and artifacts from Africa, Oceania, Asia, and the Americas)
– Le Petit Palais (which displayed art gifted to Paris from around the world, and had a really peaceful and beautiful garden)

But I have to admit what really stole my heart was the Seine. I could stand at its banks and stare at the water for hours. It radiates such a sense of inner peace…

I wasn’t too excited about the churches, which were built with the same overwhelming extravagance as any building related to Napoleon. (Really, Napoleon, enough is enough…) But Sainte-Chapelle was really incredible with its floor to ceiling stained glass windows. For some people, Paris’s churches really are its most beautiful features. I chose this postcard because my mother, when she visited Paris, fell in love with Sacré-Coeur, which sits at the top of Montmartre. To this day, she still talks about how gorgeous it was.

I think many of my classmates (including myself) had a similar experience of having their hearts captured by the city of Paris.

— Taz

Our week spent in Paris was a fantastic experience! All the destinations we visited and opportunities we had opened my eyes to a different culture and lifestyle. Some of my favourite activities were visiting the musée d’Orsay and seeing the ballet Onegin at the Opéra Garnier. I’ll never forget the view of the city from the top of Notre Dame. I know one thing for sure: I’m definitely going back to Paris one day! Thanks to Mme. Rossinsky and Ms. Silver for doing an amazing job of planning/chaperoning the trip.

— Emma

Remarkable Students Keep Us Busy!

The teachers at Abelard check in with one another regularly to keep on top of our students’ academic and extra-curricular (but school-related) lives. Although our students will tell you that our curriculum is demanding and that they often have homework, we do make an effort to balance their workload and allow them to pursue things that matter to them. A recent schedule check-in reminded us of just how remarkable our students are; we’re looking at a busy month!
In the next month, our computer science students will participate in a competition to test the skills and knowledge they’ve acquired with their teacher Mr. Woodford. The competition is administered by the University of Waterloo, and we’re excited to see how our class fares!
We also have students participating in the Legislative Assembly of Ontario’s Model Parliament as representatives for their respective provincial ridings. Over three days, they will get to meet key figures in our provincial government, and take workshops where they will learn about the history of the provincial legislature and about the legislative process.
At the same time, one of our students will be travelling to Ireland to write university entrance exams. We are really proud of our graduates and their accomplishments at universities around the world, so we are really happy to support students whose ambitions take them outside of Canada.
Our students are also hard at work preparing a show for the Ontario Drama Festival (formerly known as the Sears Drama Festival). The play, written by one of our own students, is an ambitious ensemble number that will be performed at Harbord Collegiate on February 26.
We are also thrilled that a team of our students have placed as finalists in the STEM Fellowship Big Data Challenge, and will be presenting their work later this month. The Big Data Challenge is designed to introduce students to data science and to hone their analytical skills.
In early March, we have a few excursions planned. We are heading out as a school on a ski trip, where we will all have a chance to relax and enjoy the great outdoors before March Break begins. During March Break, our grade 11 and 12 French students will go even further afield on a trip to Paris.
As you can see, we have a very busy month ahead. But that’s what happens when you have such remarkable students!

All the School’s a Stage – Abelard’s One-Act Festival

Now that we’re a few weeks into 2018, we wanted to reflect on Abelard’s first one-act play festival that took place in the middle of December. Students in our Drama class have been working hard on smaller dramatic projects all year, but in our classroom we’re always short one pivotal element of the theatrical event: an audience!

To practice working in front of a crowd, and to get the feel of staging a complete play, the class curated a selection of very short plays. Each play was only ten minutes long and featured a small cast of only two or three performers. Like short stories, ten-minute-plays tend to pack a real dramatic punch because they condense so much narrative into such a small package. Thanks to the short run-times and small cast sizes, we were able to perform each play six times.

The turnout was great, particularly given that it was a cold night. Audiences got to choose their own path and see as few or as many shows as they liked, in whichever order suited them best. Our evening included an intimate domestic drama, absurdist takes on the theatre business, a vision of the afterlife, a comedy about when life doesn’t work out how you’d like, and even a new take on Romeo and Juliet. The night was such a success that we’ll almost certainly repeat the experiment next year – hope to see you there!

Waterloo’s Math Contests

Most people who know about the University of Waterloo also know that it is recognized internationally as a centre that excels in teaching math, engineering, and computer science. Its programs are hard to get into and extremely competitive.

As a broad celebration of knowledge, and equally as a low-key recruitment tool, the University also runs annual math and computer science competitions for high school students. The Centre for Education in Mathematics and Computing (CEMC), an educational outreach organization housed at UWaterloo’s Faculty of Mathematics, has become very well-regarded because of these competitions.

Recently, our wrote the Senior and Intermediate Mathematics Contests. The contest asks nine questions; three of these need full answers that show the student’s work, and the other six only require the answer. In preparation, our students took a short break from regular math lessons to discuss some contest-style problems. As you will see below, contest problems have their own style to them. They read almost like a joke, having a lengthy set up to a short punchline.

A strong result earns the student a certificate of accomplishment and a very strong result could earn the student a scholarship at UWaterloo. If a student is less successful, they will at least have had an opportunity to stretch their mathematical muscles without affecting their grades. The CEMC’s stated purpose is to “increase interest, enjoyment, confidence, and ability in mathematics and computer science” which is, we think, is exactly what they accomplish.

We won’t have our own students’ results for a little while yet, but if you think you’ve got math chops of your own and want to get a sense of the challenge that our students undertook, try one of last year’s questions.(And don’t forget to show your work!)

For each positive integer n, the Murray number of n is the smallest positive integer M, with M > n, for which there exist one or more distinct integers greater than n and less than or equal to M whose product times n is a perfect square. For example, the Murray number of 3 is 8 since 3 × 6 × 8 = 144 and it can be shown that it is not possible to multiply 3 by one or more distinct integers that are greater than 3 and less than 8 to obtain a perfect square.

  1. The Murray number of 6 is 12. Show why this is true.
  2. Determine the Murray number of 8. (No justification is required.)
  3. Prove that there are infinitely many positive integers n for which n is not a perfect square and the Murray number of n is less than 2n.
  4. Prove that, for all positive integers n, the Murray number of n exists and is greater than or equal to n + 3.

SciHigh Visit with Glow-in-the-Dark Mice

On Monday, the school lunch hour was taken over by a visit from SciHigh, a program run out of the Lunenfeld-Tanenbaum Research Institute at Mount Sinai Hospital. The volunteers were two graduate students in the Department of Cell and Systems Biology at U of T. They came to our school to share their enthusiasm and love of science.
The SciHigh program was developed in the late 90s to promote science in schools across Toronto. The experiments that they demonstrate are intended to make science fun, and to expose young scholars to things that go beyond what is possible in most high school classrooms. For us, they brought several kinds of model organisms including, fruit flies, nematode worms and glow-in-the-dark mice!
SciHigh Mice

A glowing mouse tail viewed through special glasses.


The mice had been transgenically modified to include either RFP or GFP, meaning that their tails and ears glowed in red or green when viewed through special glasses. Many of our grade 11 and 12 biology students have been learning about genetics and biotechnology in the past month, so this was a really unique opportunity. The facilitators talked about being a graduate student, their own research and why model organisms are so important. This discussion also touched on the ethics and responsibilities related to using model organisms in research.

Come Learn About the Stars from Abelard Teacher C.J. Woodford!

If you follow science news, you will no doubt know that this year’s Nobel Prize in Physics was awarded to the three scientists from the LIGO (Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory) Scientific Collaboration. Their accomplishment? They proved Einstein’s prediction by observing the universe’s gravitational waves for the very first time. The waves they saw had been created by the collision between two black holes, and took over a billion years to reach Earth.


On December 7, one of Abelard’s teachers will be giving a talk about these waves at an event that our grade 11 and 12 students will attend. CJ Woodford, who teaches computer science for us, is a 3rd year PhD candidate in the Physics Department at the University of Toronto. He works in the Canadian Institute for Theoretical Astrophysics (CITA) and is a member of the Simulating eXtreme Spacetimes (SXS) collaboration, working on binary black hole simulations and gravitational wave analysis.

His talk will give you a chance to get an up-close and personal take on the several Gravitational Waves discoveries that have changed science for the better. With the discovery of gravitational waves in 2015 and the recent observation of a binary neutron star, the LIGO-VIRGO collaboration and partners have broken records in physics, astronomy, and interferometry – with still more to come. CJ will lead a talk about what went into the LIGO that discovered the first gravitational wave, GW150914, from theoretical, engineering, and computer simulation viewpoints, plus some of the major discoveries that have accompanied the detections since.
The very exciting news is that you, a member of the public, can join our Abelard students and attend the talk as well, not only to find out more about the cutting edge of research, but also to get a sense of what it’s like to be an Abelardian. For more information, visit the AstroTours website here. The talk will be followed by a chance to look through some telescopes, get a tour of the planetarium, and to check out some virtual reality demonstrations. We hope you’ll come along!

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.

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