Mary Ward Catholic Secondary School student tips

Mary Ward's front door archway, a nice piece of steel and glass.

Mary Ward's front door archway, a nice piece of steel and glass.

Mary Ward Catholic Secondary School is a high school located in North Toronto, Ontario, Canada. The school is part of the Toronto Catholic District School Board, or TCDSB. These tips are primarily from a parent’s viewpoint and will cover uniform, student attitude, working with teacher adviser (TA) and a little on courses. I hope this helps new grade 9 students.

School Uniform

MW will have a uniform fitting day, where new students will be able to purchase their uniform. Uniforms are expensive, and a good fit is important. Note that not all uniform sizes will be available on the fitting day. If your kid is smaller or larger than the norm, it is much better to go to Halpern’s, the uniform store where they have all the options as well as sales folk who know what they are doing. Blouses come in xs as well as youth m and s, which were not available on uniform day. Long sleeve polo shirts can be lengthened or shortened without charge, but you’ll need to wait 2 months. Halpern’s is conveniently located on Consumer’s Road, east of Victoria Park and Sheppard, and is within 20 minutes drive of MW.

Halpern’s has an excellent guarantee policy for their clothing, though you will need to retain your receipt. If you have not worn your uniform yet you can exchange it for a different size. For worn clothing they warranty their clothing for one school year for wear and tear damages. When the serging of one polo shirt started to fray out we returned to the store for a straight exchange. There was no hassle.

MW’s physical education uniform will be given out in PE class. Students receive a “Property of Mary Ward” t-shirt and basketball shorts. The “small” t-shirt is massive. I don’t know if you get a t-shirt each year or one for 4 years.

School uniform adherence varies with the grade. Grade 9 students are monitored somewhat strictly. Some teachers will not allow you to attend class unless properly dressed, while others will give you a warning. Kilts are supposedly to be no more than 13cm from the knee, but due to height differences this reveals more for shorter students and less for taller students. Older students are not monitored as strictly. Older students may be able to get away with wearing non-monogrammed white shirts, for example. While there is no official school tie, some students do wear one, passed down from older students.

Monitoring Students and Teacher Advisor

MW is an alternative school that has no set classes. Students are given lessons and a schedule in which to complete them. It is up to the students to seek help when required. I was initially concerned about this arrangement, as it could allow a student to fail miserably. A Teacher Advisor (TA) is assigned to a group of 16 students. A TA is a regular teacher that also doubles as the overall “helper teacher” for the student’s 4 years at MW.

My fears proved to be unnecessary. Students need check in with their TA thrice a day at 8:30am, 12:45pm and at 3:00pm. There is no ability to surreptitiously skip school. In Grade 9 students are initially coached but are expected to mess up their schedules some time during the year. It is normal for a student to slack off and fall behind the schedule. The first early warning is from the TA to the student, followed by a letter home to the parents, and then a phone call from the TA to the parents. I find this system provides plenty of warning to parents. If parents are uninterested in their child’s progress then the student will fail the course. Summer school is available to those that have done at least some of the work.

There are 18 units in a course. Some units require the student to attend seminars, similar to a classroom lesson. I found it difficult to understand the importance and grading of each unit and how this affects the overall course grade. Instead I focused on ensuring that all units could be completed given the remaining time within the school year. If all units cannot be completed within the school year remedial summer school classes are required. Communication with the TA will help the parent assess if the student has the ability to complete the course within the remaining time.

If a student falls so far behind as to not be able to finish the course they may be told to attend “Student Success” classes, which are classroom taught classes that allow them to catch up. Students do less work and receive a lower mark but still pass.

I found dealing with the TA very friendly and effective. I found Mrs Holmes empathetic, reasonable and effective. She always returned my phone calls. I found it very helpful to cultivate a friendly relationship with the TA early in Grade 9 so that when an intervention is required it will be swiftly dealt with. Other teachers at MW may not return your call, as I found out.

Exams and Preparation

At the end of the year there are exams. Students have one week to prepare for exams but cannot normally start studying beforehand. This is because each unit is returned to the teacher for grading and not handed back to the student. Only a week before the exam, these units are returned. You may ask for your units early but may not receive them. A teacher may tell students to study certain units for the exam but this may not encompass all the exam’s content. There are a maximum of 2 exams per day and there is ample time given to prepare. Early exams are also available.

Extra Fees

The yearly school registration fee of $90 covers locker, lock, yearbook, gym uniform, school BBQ, etc. Almost all courses have extra fees. For us we were charged extra course fees of $60 at the beginning of the year. For music you are required to purchase a mouthpiece or reeds.

Gym had an extra $40 for rock and rope climbing and $20 for a CPR course. Activity day fees are up to $70, depending on the activity chosen.

Grade 9 Elective Courses

I do not have first hand knowledge of all grade 9 electives. It is best to talk to returning grade 9 students before choosing electives. Yes these are optional courses but are still learning opportunities that should not be squandered.

Instrumental Music seems to be elitist and geared to the development of the school band. Students with prior musical experience in Woodwinds and horns are given priority when selecting instruments. Other students will strings or no music experience will be given unpopular instruments that other students have rejected. It may be better to ask to switch courses rather than have a student play an instrument they detest. Instruments are assigned one month after school starts.

Vocal Music is a lot of work and practice. You will perform in the Christmas and Spring concerts as well as the annual play. For those who liked singing students found it interesting. You need to make a commitment to follow the separate schedule for the music department. The teacher can be overly critical of students.

Food & Nutrition actually does very little cooking. There is lots of information about nutrition, which is good. If your child is already somewhat familiar with your kitchen then this course will be boring. On the other hand if your child never helps you prepare a meal, then this course will be a good introduction.

Drama is a simple course where you participate in games in the classroom. This course is for those that detest work. Drama students participate in the annual play. Students really like this course as it is fun.

Visual Arts is a lot of fun. This is a course for people who enjoy art. There are field trips. There is sketching, water colour, sculpting and other aspects of art. Students plan the school art show. Students participate in an egg drop where you build a device to protect the egg as it is dropped off the top of the school.

Business is very technical with a lot of computer time. You are given all your units at once. There are presentations, excel spreadsheets, letter writing, Photoshop, etc. There were mixed reviews from students, who thought it was easy and somewhat boring.

Tech makes projects out of wood. You make a race car, cutting board and a quest project (student chosen project). Tech is very well received, as is the Mr Emer and Harrison, the teachers.

TTC to School, bicycle parking

There are three TTC bus routes to MW: 42 Cummer, 43 Kennedy, and 17C Birchmount (Short turns at Kennedy east of McNichol). 42B Cummer stops at Kennedy and returns westbound. 17C Birchmount can be unreliable and is infrequent. After school it passes the school only ONCE between 3:00 and 3:15, after which there are no other 17C buses. 43 Kennedy is extremely crowded. Leave home early if you rely on this bus.

When the weather is good you can ride your bicycle to school. There is bicycle parking at the school entrance as well as behind the community centre near the fitness centre. Not many kids ride bikes. It is reasonably safe to lock your bike to the bike rack.

Overall my experience as a parent has been positive and reassuring. Yes, there are issues that arise but they are dealt with accordingly. more importantly the feedback from students I have met has been decidedly positive, and they should know.

9 thoughts on “Mary Ward Catholic Secondary School student tips

  1. Shaun

    Hey could you explain to me how the system at MW works? thanks

    [DT: Hi Shaun, someone will contact you. You can ask more specific questions.]

  2. Anabelle

    I understand that the shoes must be black, but are there any parts of the shoe that do not need to be black?

    [Don: My daughter says that in 2012 they changed the rule so that now 90% of the shoe must be black and 10% can be another colour.]

  3. krissy

    Is this school only for people who have talent, like Cardinal Carter?

    [Don: Hi Krissy. Mary Ward is a good school for a wide variety of students. One important issue is that because Mary Ward is self-paced, students must be disciplined enough to follow their own schedule and not fall behind in their workload. When this happens parents get emails and calls home. If this continues and the student falls further behind they could fail the course. If you are willing to learn time management skills then Mary Ward will be a good school for you.]

  4. Sheila

    Thank you for this blog. This has been so helpful. I and my daughter who will begin with MW in Grade 9 this year read this at least twice, and you have to some extent helped us understand how it works.

    [Don: Hi Sheila, and thanks for reading my post. I am glad we can help. When daughter started MW we, too, had many questions that remained unanswered until she found her own answers through experience. This prompted a posting by my daughter, in order to fill in the informational crack not covered by the official school sources. Just graduated, daughter found MW very fulfilling but saw many fellow students fail out and transfer. Key is that the student needs to be disciplined enough to follow the preset schedule, and parents need to be on top of things enough to provide a sometimes not so gentle “kick in the butt”. Those parents that let their kids drift will see these kids transfer to Frances Libermann or other more structured school. It looks like you and your daughter will make a good team.]

  5. Sheryl

    I know it’s already 2013 and this was posted on 2010 so it’s a bit late but I heard that if Mary Ward is not a feeder school that you had to be in french immersion or have a sibling that will be attending next year in order to be accepted. Is that true? If so is there some other way? I really like the school so I was wondering.

    [Don: Hi Sheryl. I am not sure about all the rules for entry into Mary Ward, or other Toronto Catholic Secondary school. I am only a parent of a graduate. First priority goes to those that live in Toronto and live in the catchment area. There is a rule that if one of your siblings attends or has graduated from Ward that you do get some priority. Next priority goes to those that live in Toronto. There is no French Immersion at Mary Ward. You do nto need to be catholic to attend Ward, but you will be required to take religion. There are foreign students that also attend Ward, but probably on a different application procedure. You can call the TCDSB and talk with them for more specifics.]

  6. jade

    hello my name is jade and im 12 years old and i really wanna go to Mary Ward so i was kinda wondering if you could help me alittle… if so how is the math there?? and ive been in special ed since grade 4 and just got out about a month ago will that make the work harder for me??

    [Don: For Mary Ward and other high schools alike, math and most other courses are offered in two levels from grade 9-10: “P level” and “D level”. A “P level” course will have a course code MPM1P1 (math) for example, A “D level” course will have the course code MPM1D1 instead. “P level” courses are a bit easier for people to grasp. Many people who were/are in special education, or just don’t feel strong in the subject take “P level” courses. In terms of grades, if you are getting A’s and B’s, “D level” might be good for you because it gives you a challenge.

    In terms of teachers and the style of teaching, the teachers may change from time to time, but they are often supportive if a student asks for help, and explain things clearly. It is generally expected that you learn a lot from the textbook, and then teachers help you with a few of the concepts you don’t understand, but if you need more help, they are willing.]

  7. Anaya

    I’ve been accepted into Mary Ward and i was wondering if they give you any material that you can use to aid in the assignments? Also, what format are the assignments given in (booklets, worksheets, reports etc)

    [Don: Here is what my Big Weed said. She has only recently graduated, so this should still be relevant to 2014:

    So basically, you’re given a booklet, with a couple assignments, known as “units”, and a list or required and recommended readings from textbooks, or websites teachers have listed. With information from those resources, it will allow you to understand the information you need to complete the assignments. They are given in many forms such as booklets, worksheets, and reports. Booklets for math courses, many worksheets for science courses, and reports for social science/language courses. Elective courses such as music or art will have different forms of assignments than core courses. Science courses will have labs to complete and reports to write. French courses will have dictation and listening labs to fill out worksheets for, etc. If you would like help, teachers are always there to aid you in completing or understanding your assignment, whatever form it may be in.

    I hope this helps, and good luck at Mary Ward. The Big Weed had a great 4 years at MW. She learned a lot, grew as a person and learned about herself.]

  8. Jada

    I’m in Grade 9 starting Mary Ward and I am scared that I might not catch up or understand the hard thing like Science, or Geography,Or maybe even french. And I am kind of confused about the whole Teacher on the floor or in a room thing what if I don’t get it. I don’t want to fall behind. My confidence in succeeding at Mary Ward is very low because even My Grade 8 teacher doesn’t think I am smart enough to handle the kind of school Mary Ward is.

    [Big Weed: It’s okay to feel that way, everyone does going into grade 9. If you ever need support at Mary Ward, it’s never far away. Your TA is there to help you out, to guide you through to success, so don’t worry about having enough support. If you put in the effort, it’s not hard to do well. In terms of the teacher on floor thing, the idea is that you are free to move around to various classes, and teachers will always be available in the subject area to answer general questions, but if you need something specifically from your assigned teacher, you’ll have to go to the subject area at the time that your assigned is teacher is there, it’ll usually be 1-3 hours a day, and you’re free to go see your teacher whenever. The Mary Ward system is not strictly about intelligence, it’s about how you manage your time, and planning how you will work and finish the assigned work. I wouldn’t worry about it, most people who don’t do well are those who don’t try to do well. If you put in the effort, you will do well.

    Don: Mary Ward is about teaching you more than just the subjects in school. Other life lessons include working hard, sticking to your schedule, and planning. There is a lot of teacher support for students. If you do lag a little behind there is a system to tell you to work harder, one that involves you and your parents, all done so that there is time to recover any mistakes in scheduling. Almost all MW students make scheduling mistakes. Unlike university, Mary Ward is a safe environment to make mistakes and then recover from them. Work hard, stick to your schedule of when assignments are due, talk to your teachers, learn, and you’ll be well on your way to be a successful student.]

  9. Alexis Ericson

    Would Mary Ward allow a child who already knows the material to get work done extremely quickly and then spend the time saved on actually learning new things?

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