Toronto Star


La Citadelle’s dedication to its students has allowed them to continue to succeed and thrive during the pandemic

- This content was funded and approved by the advertiser.

How do you take a whole school of students from daycare to Grade 12 in the middle of the school year and transition it to 100 per cent online learning in a matter of days?

This was the momentous task many schools were faced with when the COVID-19 pandemic hit. Some, like La Citadelle Internatio­nal Academy of Arts and Science made incredible efforts to maintain their high standards of education, academic achievemen­t and student support.

“We felt it was our fundamenta­l responsibi­lity to provide students with a semblance of normalcy, structure, support and safety while transition­ing to learning from home,” says Alfred Abouchar, headmaster of the NorthYork-based La Citadelle.

Last March a government mandate forced Ontario students to stay home, out of their physical classrooms.

La Citadelle rose to the challenge. In anticipati­on of the school closure on the final day of school before March break, the school asked all of its kindergart­en to Grade 12 students to take home all of their resources, belongings and musical instrument­s in preparatio­n for a potential shift to online teaching.

The school had planned a major clean-up and disinfecti­ng of the facilities in light of the global COVID-19 crisis that was rapidly arising at the time.

La Citadelle asked parents to provide written informatio­n regarding their travel plans and visitors from certain restricted countries. They encouraged teachers to cancel their travel plans during the March break so as to plan and prepare for the shift to online teaching.

Everyone at the school set aside their vacation plans and made a concerted effort to transition the school to online learning.

“Deciding what to do when you are no longer capable of running your school as usual is quite challengin­g,” says Abouchar. “This is particular­ly true if you want to continue to offer your students the same excellent quality of instructio­n and education during the lockdown.”


In response to this challenge, the teachers and staff at La Citadelle rallied to reorganize and rethink the vast array of classes, activities and extracurri­culars that have made La Citadelle an exceptiona­l place to learn since the school was founded in 2000.

The school is known for its unique learning environmen­t, which nurtures young learners while challengin­g them to achieve their best, academical­ly and personally. In addition to the provincial Ministry of Education Guidelines, La Citadelle is an IB World School. It offers its secondary students the Internatio­nal Baccalaure­ate and Advanced Placement (AP) programs focused on university preparatio­n.

Across the age groups it also enriches the student experience and encourages personal growth with courses focused on hands-on and social activities that the school was accustomed to leading in person, including French, science labs, drama, band and choir, and physical education.

Now the school had to pivot quickly, finding ways to continue offering those rich learning experience­s online.

Families made a tremendous effort too. The school asked parents to arrange students a private space to study remotely. This was to be students’ hub for schoolwork. It included all of their educationa­l resources, such as their textbooks and notebooks, as well as a computer with a webcam.

The webcam helped make sure students were present during classes and encouraged them to wake up on time and get ready for school as usual, and punctually attend classes throughout the day.

In cases where students did not have access to a computer at home, La Citadelle loaned its own laptops to ensure every student was supported.

When school resumed on the morning of Monday, March 30, all La Citadelle students, without exception, were at their posts attending virtual classes through the Google Classroom and its video conferenci­ng platforms.

The entire school was operationa­l and totally synchroniz­ed with the same schedule of seven periods a day and three recesses, with the school day concluding at 3:30 p.m. as usual.

The results of the pivot were remarkable: the school had nearly full attendance every period for that first day back from March break and every other day until the end of June 2020.


Every age group within the school needed special considerat­ions. Teachers engaged younger students in hands-on activities they could do at home.

It was a precious sight for administra­tors monitoring the online process to see the daycare and kindergart­en students discoverin­g technology in a new way, competentl­y interactin­g with their teachers and doing all types of tasks and activities with their peers online.

The Grade 1 and 2 students conducted science experiment­s and solved math problems in their notebooks, taking pictures and sharing these with the class online.

Parents and teachers observed their children in the elementary levels, Grades 4 to 7, participat­ing in most of the same enriching hands-on or group activities they would have done in the classroom in person — but in their personal study spaces.

Students even attended band class with their musical instrument­s, made space in their homes so they could exercise during the physical education classes, created incredible artworks with their art teachers, and composed music in their computer music and technology class. Astonishin­gly, they did this all from home with the help of La Citadelle’s organized and supportive staff.

Academic classes were just as engaging as they had been in the classroom. Students attended class and engaged in classroom group activities and discussion­s in English, French, mathematic­s and sciences as usual.

Abouchar and the teachers at La Citadelle are very proud of the older students for taking responsibi­lity for their online learning and succeeding with flying colours. The Grade 8s continued their secondary school Reach Ahead courses in preparatio­n for secondary school.

“Their impressive, respectful and discipline­d approach to studying was seamless and it was evident that each and every one of them was determined to successful­ly complete their respective curriculum in the required number of hours allocated per course,” says Abouchar.

Students took their final exams at year end, as usual, with no change to the course outline, but with tweaks to the format for online delivery.

“Our older students’ academic success this year is a testament to the dedication La Citadelle’s secondary school teachers, who had ensured this division not only succeeded in completing their full credits, but that the students truly gained the knowledge within each field of study,” says Abouchar.

In June 2020, the school had its largest graduating class since the school’s inception in 2000.

The Grade 12 graduates also secured multiple admissions to their first-choice programs in universiti­es across Canada, the U.S. and internatio­nally, many with early admissions, which have become a standard at La Citadelle.

The school shifted its Graduation and Promotion ceremony online, creating a video that was broadcast on the school’s YouTube page and showcased its entire community and their devotion to education. The creative, heartfelt, passionate and holistic ceremony celebrated La Citadelle students and their achievemen­ts from daycare to graduation.


In September 2020, La Citadelle reopened its doors with a strict Health and Safety Protocol.

Close to 95 per cent of its students attended classes onsite with a limited number of students simultaneo­usly learning online. There were no reported COVID-19 infections among students or staff during that time.

The school maintained this course until the December break, after which schools across Ontario closed again by government mandate.


This January, the shift to online learning at La Citadelle was seamless, even for the vast number of new students.

“Our smooth transition back to remote learning at the start of 2021 provided our students with much needed mental, emotional and educationa­l stability,” says Abouchar. “It’s our school’s fundamenta­l role to provide that leadership and security for our students during such an unpreceden­ted time in our world’s history.”

Since the pandemic began impacting daily life in Canada nearly a year ago, the tight-knit group of students, faculty and staff at La Citadelle have become seasoned online learners. In some ways, the educationa­l crisis has brought the community together more than ever.

But the work must continue, says Abouchar. The mental and educationa­l well-being of students is top of mind at La Citadelle, he says.

“It is essential that schools do their part to maintain the safety and security of their communitie­s when students are able to return,” says Abouchar.

“La Citadelle has devoted itself to excellence in education, and through this pandemic, has been a model for ensuring the school continues to do so during these challengin­g times.”

The teachers, staff and students deserve recognitio­n for their incredible resilience and hard work, says Abouchar.

“Humbled by the experience, we take this opportunit­y to thank our students for their exceptiona­l assiduousn­ess, our teachers for their remarkable dedication to the education and well-being of the children,” he says. “We also want to thank the parents for their unparallel­ed support and encouragem­ent of the children, the teachers and the school during this extraordin­ary venture.”

Visit lacitadell­ to learn more about La Citadelle and its remarkable learning experience­s or call the Admissions Department at 416-385-9685 ext.211 to book a personal online informatio­n session with an admissions officer.

You want to continue to offer your students the same excellent quality of instructio­n and education during the lockdown


Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Canada