Pathways to Long-term Success

Download the PDF:  QT-PathwaysArticle_April2012

Planning for high school should begin in grade 6

High School Pathways

Ah, high school! It begins in grade nine and ends in grade twelve after four years of progressive learning culminating in entrance into a post-secondary education or the workforce. Sounds simple enough?

Leaving grade eight for the excitement of secondary school is not as simple as choosing grade nine courses just before the deadline. There are vital periods of transition, between grades six and ten that determine your child’s long-term success at the secondary level and beyond. These are known as the “Transition Years”.

“But”, you gasp, “I’ve never heard of this planning stage in my child’s education. Why is it so important?”

In Ontario all secondary schools deliver identical curriculum according to the programs prepared by the Ministry of Education. The expectations, the course curricula and the evaluation systems are the same, along with course codes per subject.

The variety of courses and different streams offered are enough to overwhelm most parents—not just students. By grade six, parents and children need to start examining secondary school programs and learn the difference in course levels offered in grade nine.

There will be terms you’ve never heard of: academic, applied, locally developed, college/university, workplace, open, special education support, alternative education, advanced placement, international baccalaureate, English Language Learners programs, community service, EQAO test and more. Parents and students must understand everything to make the correct choices.

For example, an applied-level course sets up a pathway that is not going to be appropriate for attending university, while an academic-level course prepares the student for the university pathway in grades eleven and twelve. Grade-six children operating at 65% are not going to be prepared for a grade nine academic course. By identifying this challenge as early as sixth grade, teachers, parents and students have two years to improve grades and study habits. By eighth grade, the student can make a better decision as to the appropriate level. Those two years also give the parent time to understand the system their child is about to enter.

Choice extends beyond grade nine courses. At the end of grade ten, the academic and applied courses change to university, college, university/college combo, workplace and open courses. Parents and students should be familiar with the entire secondary school curriculum, with the end goal in mind. If your child plans to go to university, check prerequisites. Be realistic.

Most students and parents automatically think university is the best choice, when often college or the workplace may be more suitable, based on past performance. The high school course load can be tough. Impractical goals may be setting your child up for failure if you don’t fully understand the system and the options.

High school moves quickly. Most schools are semestered with four subjects taken every five months. The frame of learning accelerates exponentially from middle school to high school, with the intensity of four subjects every day for 100 days. By the fifth week of school, students are 25% of the way through a course. They flounder quickly. In grade nine, it’s especially important to keep on top of your child’s progress Be prepared for another transition in grade eleven when the stream changes yet again to pre-university/ pre-college courses, preparing students for post-secondary education.

Every student will follow different pathways, but all lead to post- secondary destinations, assuming the route is carefully planned:

  • Understand subjects, course curricula and the evaluation system.
  • Talk to your children’s teachers. They are experts.
  • Visit the Ministry of Education website.
  • Use the internet: research universities, colleges, apprenticeship programs etc.
  • Discuss choices with experts: teachers, guidance counselors, professionals.
  • Visit education planner.
  • Do not use guess work—gather the correct data.
  • Ignore rumours and gossip.
  • Never choose what “your friends are doing”. Course selection is a personal decision.
  • In Grade 11 try a cooperative education program for first-hand workplace experience.

Information is the key to success…. Make a choice that is right for you!

Tony Lewis is a retired secondary school principal and is now the Educational Consultant for Qualified Tutors Inc. 905 763-7134.

Download PDF – Pathways Article_April2012