How the YMCA Academy Is Redefining 'Physical' Education

Canada's YMCA Academy recognizes that not all students learn the same way. For students whose learning needs aren't being addressed in traditional classrooms, the YMCA Academy's small classes and hands-on approach to learning provides an innovative and fun alternative.

By Erin Tigro


About the Academy

For over a century, the YMCA has been dedicated to helping diverse individuals and communities. Today, YMCAs are found around the world and serve millions of youngsters, adults and families. The YMCA Academy in Toronto has focused its efforts on helping high schoolers with learning disabilities or those who are interested in smaller classroom environments. Over half of the students have mild cases of emotional or mental processing disabilities, including anxiety, dyslexia, ADD, ADHD or Asperger syndrome. The school has a competitive admissions process and the program is tuition-based. As of 2011, the Academy's class sizes averaged eight students.

Novel Teaching Methods

Teachers at the YMCA Academy take a different approach when it comes to helping students learn: focus is on teaching pupils through hands-on projects. Through innovative classroom activities, students have the chance to develop their practical problem-solving skills and grasp foundational mathematic and scientific principles. For instance, in science class, YMCA students may learn about chemical composition and temperature by crafting their own soap or ice cream. They may gain knowledge of photosynthesis and nutrients by planting seeds and charting the growth process. The YMCA Academy also provides digital cameras, laptops and video recording devices, which can assist students during their learning experiences.

Extracurricular Activities and School Clubs

Every year, the YMCA Academy jump starts learning by taking students on a camping trip designed to bond and challenge them. Students spend days going through wilderness survival adventures, climbing rock walls, mountain biking, undergoing rope challenges and taking part in athletic games. When they get back to their Toronto campus, students can choose from over ten clubs to take part in, including those with focuses on art, drama, fashion, astronomy, sports or band. There are also a number of fun and exciting adventures interspersed throughout the program, including ski trips, art workshops and science museum field trips.

Volunteerism and Work

The YMCA Academy curriculum is also designed to help students gain real-world experiences, teach them how to collaborate with others and help them become responsible individuals. One way this is achieved is by having students contribute to community service projects - at least 40 hours before graduation. In addition, students have the opportunity to participate in cooperative work options at the YMCA or in their town. A student interested in becoming a cook could work in the Academy's kitchen, for instance. In contrast, those interested in building their administrative skills may work in the school office. The school's overall aim is to develop capable, respectable and caring adults.

Read on for information about a fun learning approach to help kids read.

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