Charting Their Own Course: Final Career Breakfast Highlights Innovation

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Each of their career pathways has been filled with multiple twists and turns — and one constant — key lessons learned during their time as students at Bayview Glen School (BVG). 

“It is always great to have the chance to contribute back to the community that I benefited from when I was young,” says Daniel Mak ‘05, one of three invited BVG alumni to present at the final Career Breakfast of the school year. “It was an honour to be a guest speaker and thank you for your trust to deliver a note or two that might benefit the students.” 

Daniel began at BVG as a Grade 8 student in 2000, recalling how he felt empowered to try new things during his time at the school, including creating an investment club when one didn’t exist. 

“I was trusted by many teachers and especially Ms. [Dina] Astrella,” shared Daniel. “She gave me a lot of flexibility in leading extra-curricular activities that were not offered by the school back then.  It also made me realize that I could do new things that are not part of the standard offerings and allowed me to have my own journey,” he says. 

All of which has served him time and again in various professional experiences, including, helping run a family business selling carpet and wallpaper to casinos and hotels in his homeland of Macau, working in cybersecurity, deep tech and quantum computing, to his current role as General Partner, Strategic Growth at Awz Ventures, a multi-stage venture capital firm headquartered in Toronto. 

“Fail early, fail fast and just try not to make the same mistake again,” Daniel told the packed audience of more than 100 students, faculty and staff who gathered in the Moatfield Campus Learning Commons for the event.  

Reflecting on the high school version of himself, Daniel says he would offer today’s student this simple advice: 

“Everyone’s path is different, hard skills on paper are only one part of qualifications and get you to the table/job interview, but soft skills, the human element, is what will actually land you the job or provide you with opportunity to lead. Be smart and not always right,” he says. 

Saba Ketabchi Haghighat was the youngest BVG alum on the panel — having graduated in 2016.  She was also the only one to join virtually — from California — where she is a hardware engineer who works on the Apple watch. 

“I believe representation in every field matters, especially as a woman in engineering, and I would love to see more women in our field,” she says. “The Career Breakfast is a great opportunity to encourage more BVG students to pursue a similar career path if they’re interested and aren’t sure how they can get started.” 

Following BVG and a degree in Biomedical Engineering from the University of Waterloo,  
Saba has worked in Canada, France and the U.S. as a software developer, among other roles, in industries including healthcare and technology.  

“Joining STEM-related clubs in high school allowed me to learn about some engineering-related concepts through hands-on projects and math/programming contests,” she says. “So when it came to looking into universities and applying for various programs, I had an idea of which engineering disciplines I liked more than others.” 

Her advice to students stems in part from her own career trajectory, during which she has had to be resilient often. 

“Don’t be afraid of failing or bad experiences,” says Saba. “They’re all experiences that lead you on the right path, and learning about what you don’t like is just as important as knowing what you’re passionate about.” 

As a student at BVG, Konstantine Tsotsos says he “liked spaceships. I thought they were really cool!” 

That passion has propelled him to a variety of experiences centered on cutting-edge technology, since graduating from BVG in 2007.

“I’ve been very lucky in having the right mentors and sponsors at the right times in my life, but not everyone has that,” he says. “If I can play that role for even one student [who is] unsure of how to tackle their future, then I consider that a huge success. That’s why it was important for me to join this event, to try to give back and support the growth of the next generation of engineers.” 

Konstantine’s academic and career journey has included an internship at NASA, a PhD in Computer Science and his current role at Google in San Francisco, as a Staff Software Engineer and Manager, a role that involves working collaboratively to develop real-time 3D perception and sensor fusion technologies. 

“STEM is an amazing path,” he says.  

When it comes to offering words of wisdom to students, Konstantine says: “Keep working both harder and smarter. If you can’t figure out how, look for new people to learn from who are more successful than you. If you want to keep growing, avoid situations where you feel like you’re the smartest person in the room.” 

Related stories: 
Pathways to Professional Life: Career Breakfast Spotlights Media 

New Immersive Experiences Highlight Annual Winter Fun Day

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A popular, decades-long tradition at Bayview Glen School (BVG) took on a new look, feel and in one case — a new name — this year. 

“This was the first iteration of the Prep [School]’s ‘Snow Much Fun’ day, says Greg Ryerson, Director of Teaching and Learning, Prep School. The event was “reimagined and renamed” in 2023. 

For more than 20 years, Prep School (Grades 6 to 8) and Upper School (Grades 9 to 12) students have celebrated a day of fun, off-campus during the winter. 

“This is an important opportunity for students to be outdoors, spend time together without electronics, and engage in unstructured play,” says Mr. Ryerson, who was involved in organizing the day. “It did include curricular ties but more importantly it was a chance to be offsite and engaging in outdoor activities.”  

Grade 6 students visited the Toronto Zoo, Downsview Park was the venue of choice for Grade 7 classes, while Willowgrove Farm and Outdoor Education Centre hosted Grade 8 students for the day — in the beginning of February. 

“We selected a separate activity for each Grade, looking for curricular connections as well as opportunities to develop student leadership skills, focus on teambuilding, and incorporate outdoor play and exploration,” says Mr. Ryerson who accompanied the Grade 8 class. 
“A personal highlight from the Grade 8 trip was seeing the students interact with the farm animals — they really enjoyed that part of the day,” he says. “Having a nice mug of hot chocolate around the campfire at the end of the Grade 8 trip was a wonderful way to end the day.” 

For Upper School students, a new format was launched for their annual fun day, called WinterFest. 

“The purpose of the day is to build relationships with peers and teachers outside of classroom walls, discover new attractions in and around our wonderful city and try new experiences,” says Melanie Deeks, Health and Physical Education Department Head at BVG and main organizer of WinterFest for the Upper School.  

“This year, instead of one choice, students had nine choices,” adds Fiona Fenili, Head, Upper School. “Activities were presented in Assembly and students selected the one they were most interested in. From there we chose the most popular and did a formal registration.”  

The revised format and varied options proved to be a successful formula for the more than 270 Upper School students who took part. “An increase of 20% in participation is a highlight and shows that giving students choice is important,” says Ms. Fenili.  

Included on the WinterFest menu:  

  • Cooking Class at the Chef Upstairs 
  • Ice Hockey at Leaside Gardens   
  • Activate Arcade   
  • Skating at Nathan Philips’ Square West & Japanese Grill Lunch 
  • Gardiner Museum Ceramics    
  • K1 Speed Grand Prix  
  • Kensington Market Food Tour  
  • Escape Room Looking Glass Adventures & Greek Lunch on the Danforth 
  • Horseshoe Valley Resort   

And evidenced by the photos and reactions, these immersive, experiential, opportunities to connect out of the classroom with teachers, classmates, and staff — on a different level — achieved its goal, once again. 


BVG Players present ‘The Play That Goes Wrong (High School Edition)’

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We are excited to invite you to in-person performances of The Play That Goes Wrong (High School Edition) running in the J.T.M Guest Theatre for two nights only. Our Upper School students have had a lot of fun working on this production and are really looking forward to sharing it with you!

  • Thursday, February 23 at 6:00 p.m.
  • Friday, February 24 at 6:00 p.m.

Tuned in: Upper School Students Deliver Radio Broadcast 

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It was an eye-opening learning experience for Helen Gao. 

“I was very surprised about the intensity of being on air while having so many people listening,” says the Grade 12 Bayview Glen School (BVG) student. 

A recent visit to a radio station by the Grade 11 and 12 Communication Technology classes, gave Gao deeper insight into a field she is interested in.  

“I learned that improv and being comfortable with your conversation is the key for a successful podcast,” she says. 

Gao, along with more than two dozen students visited CHOP FM, a student-run radio station, for a tour and the experience of going ‘on air’. 

“Prior to the pandemic, we visited CHOP FM 102.7 in partnership with another CIS (Conference of Independent Schools of Ontario) school in Newmarket called Pickering College,” says Anthony Chuter, Communication Technology teacher at BVG. “During the pandemic, our students planned, wrote, produced and broadcast remotely as BVG:radioon the air” for the channel and for live broadcast.” 

This year, with COVID-19 restrictions lifted, the in-person experience — designed to complement the curriculum — resumed. 

“We are currently exploring Audio Production and focused particularly on the radio industry,” continues Mr. Chuter. “We have created a variety of audio projects from audio book recommendations to podcasts as a medium for academic discourse and research. We have also had some fun along the way too!” 

In recent years, Grade 12 students have used media platforms (weekly podcasts, videos, animation and documentaries) as part of their final Capstone projects, says Mr. Chuter. 

Seeing the process of hosting and broadcasting content as well as understanding the production elements involved in a LIVE radio show was a first for many students, including Helen, who left with several key takeaways. 

“On the more technical side, the timing of when to talk and when to stop is key for a podcast to have a smooth transition,” says Helen who was also, “very intrigued by the different equipment.” 

Podcast topics spanned the gamut from, “lighter topics like sports, music, books and popular culture to more academic topics and research questions,” says Mr. Chuter. 

“A number of students were also keen to work in the sound and mixing booth and spoke to the station manager about life and routines working in a station.”  

For Helen, the immersive experience provided important food for thought. 

“I am already very involved in media,” says Helen. “Given this opportunity to visit CHOP FM cemented my perception of media even more.” 

The visit also gave Mr. Chuter additional perspective on both the medium and the message. 

“I am so proud of our students and how much they express themselves, their creativity, and aspirations to bring good to the world through creativity, discourse and discussion,” he says. 

“From podcasts on environmental issues to support for mental health, there is an endless variety of topics to discuss and listen to. Next time, you see a teen with earbuds in you might think they are tuning OUT the world, but perhaps they are tuning IN and seeking to change the world.” 

Related links: 


First Alumni Chapter Visit to New York Sets the Stage  

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Together, they took a bite out of the ‘big apple’ in what was a Bayview Glen School (BVG) first! 

A group of BVG alumni, admin and teachers met in New York recently for the inaugural Alumni Chapter visit in the city. 

“Living in New York, I’ve never been able to make it back to Toronto for a BVG reunion,” says Jordyn Taylor, Class of 2008. “It was such nice surprise to have the party come to NYC!” 

Jordyn was among a dozen alumni representing nine graduating classes — from 1993 to 2021 — to gather for the evening event. 

“I was most motivated to come to see which other alumni were in the city and also to see what teachers may have come down for the event as well,” says Dmitry Bury, Class of 2007. “Given that it was in New York was certainly a nice surprise, and not something you expect given we are from Toronto, but awesome to see!” 

Against the backdrop of a night sky and picturesque terrace at the Valbella at the Park, the graduates met with James Lee, Head of School, Carol Anne Ruscica, Senior Director of Advancement and Dina Astrella, Head of the Prep School for an evening of reminiscing and networking. 

“As soon as I saw Ms. Astrella, I screamed and gave her a huge hug,” says Jordyn, an award-winning author, writer and editor. “It was such a wonderful surprise to see her in New York, and so special to reconnect with her and reminisce about our time together at Bayview Glen,” she says.

Ms. Astrella was the Head of the Upper School during both Jordyn and Dmitry’s time at Bayview Glen. 

“It was also great to meet Mr. Lee and hear about his big vision for the future of the school,” adds Jordyn. 

The alumni group represented a vast array of industries, including business, financial services, fashion, technology, engineering, social justice, politics, entrepreneurship and law. 

Since graduating from Bayview Glen, Dmitry now works in investment banking at TD Securities. “Funny enough, [I] ended up meeting lots of folks who I had a lot in common with between university, work or people we knew in common,” he says. “[That] made the connections all that much more relevant.”

Bayview Glen School has previously organized several alumni “regional visits within Canada, the United States and internationally,” notes Daniella Brown ‘10, Director of Alumni Relations at BVG.  “The New York Alumni Chapter is the first of its kind,” she says. 

For Jordyn, the impact of BVG on her life and professional journey continues. 

“Taking Writer’s Craft with Mr. Reynolds in Grade 12 helped me develop the writing skills I use every day as a magazine editor and novelist,” says the current Executive Digital Editor of Men’s Health magazine. “Fifteen years later, Norm and I still email each other about our writing projects!”    

The connections run long and deep for Dmitry as well. 

“My best friends are from BVG. They were my groomsmen at my wedding and remain my closest friends. My BVG experience, including the memories I have of all my teachers, is one that’s very positive, and certainly had a big impact on my life given those are the formative years and help guide you as you progress forward in life.” 

The evening was also the first opportunity of its kind for BVG’s new Head of School — to meet alumni where they are — since taking the leadership reins at Bayview Glen in August 2022. 

“The evening was a great success,” says Lee. “It was clear, that our alumni are doing very well in New York City – successful, happy and excited to re-connect with the Bayview Glen Team. A big thank you to our [Senior] Director of Advancement, Ms. Carol Anne Ruscica for organizing this event.”

And there is a promise of more of the same — to come — according to Mr. Lee. 

“As we continue to identify, engage and grow our Alumni Chapters with a long-term vision and commitment, the benefits will be tremendous towards our School, our current students, and for those who choose to take advantage of the strategic opportunities to build professional networks with one common link and starting point – Bayview Glen.”  

Interested in leading a Bayview Glen Alumni Chapter visit in your city?  
Contact: Daniella Brown, Director of Alumni Relations, 

Girls in Science: BVG Student on a Mission to Inspire 

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Her interest was captured early.

“It all started with a one-week summer camp I attended when I was 10 years old,” says Samantha Sedran, Grade 12 student at Bayview Glen School (BVG). “From the very first design session, I knew I wanted to pursue competitive robotics.” 

And she has been on a mission ever since, building robots, competing, and sharing her love of the subject matter. And, along the way, also making some key observations. 

“My competition experiences highlighted the gender gap that exists in robotics,” says Sedran. a BVG student since Grade 9. “The male/female ratio was 80/20 and the environment was not always welcoming to girls, so I made it my personal mission to create gender parity in robotics. 
I have actively worked to motivate young girls in STEM (Science, Technology, Enginering and Math).” 

Those efforts have included, “fundraising to send girls to robotics camp, volunteering at robotics programs and engaging with industry leaders in the Robotics Education and Competition Foundation and the FIRST Canada Youth Council,” she says. 

And it does not stop there. 

Starting at the age of 11, Sedran began teaching robotics to elementary school students in her spare time. 

In the fall of 2022, her teaching pursuits spawned GirlsCrew Club, an all-female robotics club. 

It has been running at George Webster Elementary School in North York since September.  

“I researched schools designated as ‘Model Schools’ by the Toronto District School Board (TDSB),” Sedran continues. “These schools represent the neediest inner-city schools in which children often have very limited, if any, access to enrichment programs.” 

In order to have the Club approved to run in a school setting, Sedran, who is part of the BVG FRC Robotics Club, created a proposal including the vision, structure and learning objectives and sent it out to multiple schools.  

She was asked for additional feedback and responded by developing 30 weekly lesson plans — eventually gaining approval.

When the idea of GirlsCrew Club was introduced to female students between 10 and 12 years of age at George Webster, more applications were received than spaces available. A lottery then decided on the final dozen spots. 

During each 60-minute weekly session, participants are provided with instruction on building and programming, an experiential learning component, a key learnings review, and profiles of female STEM trailblazers. 

“It is giving 12 girls the opportunity to participate in an engaging and educational program that many of them would not have the chance to participate in otherwise due to a variety of barriers including associated fees and transportation to a program of this nature,” says Suzie Heintzman, Teacher at George Webster Elementary. “GirlsCrew Club has been an amazing addition to our school community!” 

Adds Sedran, “none of the girls had any robotics experience at the beginning of the year and they are always so surprised by what they can do.”  

Nicole Vitello, a teacher at George Webster Elementary, is among three school staff who support the Club. 

“All the feedback has been very positive especially as the girls are gaining more experience with building and testing out their robots,” says Vitello. 

And four months in, the Club is making a tangible impact. 

“I like that I am learning about how girls are getting knowledge in areas that were normally just for boys,” says Sabrina, a 10-year-old participant. 

“We get to build robots which is so much fun and the snacks are beyond yummy,” adds Marjuka, age 11. 

Providing snacks and necessary equipment were elements that Sedran also took great pains to realize. 

“I didn’t have enough money to buy kits for all of the teams so I contacted my former coach who teaches at Bot Camp and asked if I could borrow some of their equipment,” says Sedran. “They were more than happy to help, so each week I go to Bot Camp and borrow any supplies I need and return them the next day.” 

To ensure a strong start for the Club, Sedran used monies she earned from a Bayview Glen School scholarship to “buy equipment, develop Welcome Packages (t-shirts, notebooks, and branded pens) and have funds available for snacks.”  

So far, it appears, her mission is being accomplished. 

“At the last class I asked each of them what careers they would like to pursue, and I heard so many of them say, — engineer, scientist, mathematician, robot builders,” says Sedran. 

Her efforts at a young age, are laying the groundwork for future potential women in STEM, and much more, according to staff advisor, Vitello.  

“Samantha is a dedicated, responsible and very knowledgeable instructor who is teaching the students not just about Robotics, but what is possible when you work hard and find something you are passionate about.” 

Learn more about: 

Legacy of Learning: Founder’s Day 2023  

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When L. Doreen Hopkins began teaching young children in her home in the early 1960’s, little could she have imagined that the seed she planted is still growing — more than six decades later. 

On February 4, 2023, Hopkins’ bold vision and enduring legacy will be remembered as part of Founder’s Day when Bayview Glen (BVG), the school she founded, marks its 61st anniversary. 

Persevering through her own learning challenge (dyslexia), Hopkins took what has been described as her “enormous compassion for students who had developmental issues,” and started up a school that “is open to all children.”

Bayview Glen School 1968 Graduation class.

The trail she blazed sprouted a nursery school and day camp in 1962, focused on teaching the whole child. 

BVG has operated from a private residence and later a farmhouse in the valley, to permanent locations on Duncan Mill Road and later Moatfield Drive — over more than half a century — growing and evolving each passing year.

From a handful of students in Mrs. Hopkins’ first in-home class, to more than 1,000 students currently on two campuses, BVG remains rooted in the pioneering vision of its founder. 

The school’s mission of Whole Child: Whole World: Whole Life is embedded in teaching, learning and school life across all grades. 

And as with Hopkins’ own education blueprint, fresh chapters are being written on a storied history. 

The tiny seed that could has cultivated a generation of learners, with more to come.

Full STEAM Ahead: Shaping 21st Century Learners at BVG

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The threads of Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics (STEAM) are woven through every grade at Bayview Glen School (BVG), inside and outside the classroom, starting in Junior Kindergarten. 

Focused five-year-olds, hunched over laptops in the Lower School Library is a common sight.  
It’s part of STEM Learning class, foundational to 21st century learning skills development. 
“The idea with STEM learning is to create engaged users of technology,” says Jason Meingarten ‘08, STEM and Health and Physical Education Teacher who has been a BVG faculty member since 2015. He teaches 16 classes in the Lower School.  

Jason Meingarten ‘08, STEM teacher at Bayview Glen teaches computer skills starting in Junior Kindergarten.

“We start by building a foundation of computer skills, coding and robotics skills — not so much specific coding languages — but the basic concepts required to be successful in programming,” he says. “From Grade 1 through 5, it’s just building on that year after year. The projects become more complex.”  

At the same time, students learn other critical skills like problem-solving, making predictions, taking risks, using technology responsibly – and how they, as individuals, think.  

“As part of the Visual Art course as early as Grade 1, students use creative thinking, flexibility and grit to create, revise, design and produce artwork and inventions,” says Robin Elliott ‘91, Visual Arts teacher, citing projects including building a water filtration system (Grade 2), an endangered animal project (Grade 4), and bridge design (Grade 7) as current examples of “intentional connections” teachers across grade levels strive to make to integrate STEAM learning. 

Faculty like Robin Elliott ’91 Visual Arts teacher at Bayview Glen, look for ways to integrate STEAM learning across disciplines.

An alumna, Elliott has taught at BVG for more than 25 years. She believes the school has a novel approach to STEAM education. “Students are provided the tools to facilitate innovation through parent volunteers, guest speakers, and professional collaborators,” she says, sharing another current example — Grade 7’s liaising with staff from the Canadian Space Agency.  

Inquiry-based thinking is further nurtured in SK when Problem-Based Learning (PBL), a teaching method where students are given real-world problems to solve, begins. 

Learning to code enters the curriculum in Grade 1 through to 3, setting the stage for 3D design exploration, creating websites, building and programming robots by the end of Grade 5. 

During the first year of Prep School (Grade 6), STEAM instruction dives deeper, in part, via Information and Communication Technology (ICT) class. 

Laura Gleeson, Technology Integration Specialist teacher with her class in the Robotics Lab.

“Before 2014, there was no designated technology class or program for Grades 6 to 8,” says Laura Gleeson, Technology Integration Specialist, ICT and Geography teacher. “I had the pleasure of both designing this by creating cross-curricular connections to other subjects and developing technology-based curriculum such as design thinking, 3D printing, coding and digital citizenship.” 
Photography, photoshop, engineering, graphic design and animation elements are taught in ICT in Grade 7, paving the way for even greater discovery. “Students create their own start-up companies and explore entrepreneurialism,” continues Gleeson, who has a Master’s in Education specializing in Educational Technology. “They create and build a product and pitch it to the class with a business model.”

Throughout the Preschool, Lower School and Prep School years, music and visual arts are curriculum mainstays. These, coupled with varied Clubs and Activities opportunities, reinforce and complement classroom learning. 

Robotics clubs are one such example.  

Mehernosh (Nosh) Pestonji is Robotics Co-ordinator in the Upper School. He, along with Noeen Kashif, a First Robotics Competition (FRC) Specialist, co-moderate senior robotics clubs, guiding students through practice and competitions. 

“Essentially, they have to build and design a robot from scratch, fabricate, go through all the engineering processes in about four to six weeks. Then there’s the competition,” he says.

Mehernosh (Nosh) Pestonji and Noeen Kashif, co-moderate the First Robotics Competition club at Bayview Glen School.

Pestonji was hired at BVG in 2017 to offer students in the Upper School specific instruction in FRC robotics. “They have to not only imagine a part, they have to design and manufacture it. And then that part has to fit on the robot, and there are hundreds of parts.”  
Prior to joining BVG, Pestonji taught in public and private schools for more than 30 years. 

“The robots are much larger, 125 pounds, made out of aluminum,” he continues, adding most kids who sign up for the club are new to the experience. “We started with a team of 60, now we’ve cut it down to about 40. There are no tryouts per se, they self- select. We teach them everything. They cross-pollinate and learn from each other, so self-mentoring.” 

He says robotics exemplifies the importance of interdisciplinary learning. 

“They are bringing all their theoretical knowledge and learnings to apply them in a practical way,” he says. “The key is it’s not just coding, because physics plays a big part, chemistry too. Then you have kids who are just really good with their hands. There are kids who don’t know the tools — how to use a hammer, a screwdriver, how to use pliers. There is a real learning curve there.” 

Collaboration and building skills, additional by-products of STEAM, are tested rigorously in the upper high school years.  

“Grade 12 Computer Science allows students to obtain real experience they can use on their resume if they wanted to obtain a job in the summer or for Co-op,” says Kevin Deslauriers, Computer Science and Physics teacher in the Upper School. “They learn how to become more independent in their learning as the course focuses on developing web applications along with HTML, CSS, JavaScript as well as other technologies in order to reach their final goal of building a web application that can be hosted in the cloud.”

Kevin Deslauriers, teaches Computer Science and Physics in the Upper School

Deslauriers draws on the example of Jacqueline Fung, a 2022 BVG graduate he previously taught, to illustrate impact. 

Fung secured a summer placement at RBC while still a BVG student. 

“There were 1300+ applicants for 21 spots, and I was lucky enough to be one of the chosen candidates,” Fung shared in a letter about her journey. “My programming experience is primarily all from Bayview Glen’s ICS [Introduction to Computer Science] courses. When applying, I had to submit my GitHub link, which is essentially an online profile with a programmer’s past projects. On my GitHub, I had my past projects from my ICS courses. [These] allowed me to build my portfolio and prepared me to have the skills to be a full-stack developer,” says Fung, who is currently a student in the University of Waterloo in Systems Design Engineering. “I still have much to learn, but it was very valuable to me especially as I am currently in a co-op program at university. These courses allowed me to kick-start my career.” 

Back in the Lower School, faculty across various disciplines like Jason Meingarten, are mindful of continually evolving STEAM instruction, in the younger years, to align with trends and to serve as a strong foundation.  

“With 21st century learners, which is how we classify this cohort of kids, they come in with a lot of technology skills,” says Meingarten. “A lot of them at younger ages really have exposure on tablets, so PC skills, which is something we need them to have heading into the Prep School, aren’t necessarily strong. I have noticed, specifically in the past three years, that the skills that they’re coming in with — having been in front of computers so much more than in the past — they are certainly at a higher level.” 

Full STEAM ahead indeed. 

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Helping Hands Unite: BVG Community Gives for 20th Year 

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Halima Mubaligh, Program Manager of Better Beginnings Now with Leah Kanary, Lower School teacher and BVG lead coordinator of the annual community outreach campaign.

“The impact is great. There is no other word to explain it.” 

Halima Mubaligh sums up Bayview Glen School’s annual effort to support children, parents and families in need in a word — but there is so much more. 

“A huge difference bringing a smile to the faces of these families.” says the Program Manager of Better Beginnings Now. “We had families with tears, receiving these and opening them — that someone is here thinking of them — especially during this time.” 

This past holiday season, Bayview Glen was the only school in Toronto to help the Better Beginnings Now Campaign of Kindness initiative — through a gift card collection and customized hampers filled to the brim.  

“The saying, ‘From our family to yours’ truly becomes more than just words at this time,” says Dina Astrella, Head of the Prep School. 

It marked BVG’s 20th consecutive year of participating in the program.

Prep School Better Beginnings Now student team.

 “We work with the poor, disadvantaged, high risk, new to the country, single parents, families with special needs,” says Mubaligh, who experienced first-hand the hardship of being a newcomer to Canada. 

“The success of our program is because we are there to support them, to listen to their concerns, give them direction and connect them to the resources that help them.”  
The need for services provided by Better Beginnings Now “tripled” in 2022 over the previous year, says Mubaligh. 

“Families are really going through so much stress. The rent went so high, cost of living is really high, and that’s why definitely there’s an impact on their mental health.” 

Better Beginnings Now is among several programs offered through Lumenus Community Services, an agency providing multiple services for free, including treatment programs, counselling and walk-in clinics. Funded by Toronto Public Health and the Public Health Agency of Canada, the organization serves more than 6,000 families across Toronto. 

The process of organizing, filling and delivering hampers to Better Beginnings Now families takes months of detailed planning by several groups. It all kicks off when school starts in September. 

“We coordinate from this end, in terms of preparing [family] profiles and looking into the needs of the clients that we provide services to,” says Mubaligh. “We have so many clients, over 1,000 — but we can only do 70 — the most high-needs, the ones that are regularly using food banks, clothing banks and have a lot of financial stressors.” 

Subsequent meetings between BVG school leads and program staff help assign family profiles to specific classrooms in the Lower School, Prep School and Upper School, identify which items need to be purchased, quantities, sizes, etc., coordinate collection, pick-up, and delivery. 

Along the way, multiple members of the whole school community become directly involved — from students and school staff — who are also assigned family profiles — to parent volunteers and the Parent Association.

Ping DiMenna has been involved in multiple Better Beginnings campaigns during her 17 years as a parent at Bayview Glen. 

“I am a parent volunteer helping to sort and pack gift donations to the families,” says DiMenna, who has four children, including three who have graduated from BVG, and one currently in the Upper School. “Better Beginnings involves the whole student population, so it becomes a tradition of giving each year as they progress through the grades. The students can see the donated gift items which makes their contributions more meaningful and personal,” she says.

Current BVG parent, Ping DiMenna, was among several parent volunteers who helped organize and fill hampers based on family profiles. 

In past years and led by members of the Better Beginnings Prep School team, students and staff would deliver hampers directly to the home of the family it was collected for, enabling students to witness the impact. 

The global pandemic halted that practice.  

In December 2022, a group of Prep School students — including student Community Outreach leads — along with staff helped collect all 27 hampers, load them into vehicles, and deliver them to a Lumenus locations in North York.  

“The thing that surprised me the most was the honest joy and tears the families had when we delivered the care packages,” says Amy Tsaur, Grade 8 student and Community Outreach Co-lead. “It was crazy how such small acts of kindness seem like they can change someone’s life.” 

It was the first time in her three years at BVG that Tsaur was able to participate in delivering the hampers. 

“I gained a greater understanding of the idea of philanthropy and how it can help others on a scale beyond measurement,” she says. “Going to deliver the packages and to the foodbank helped me develop a deeper connection and understanding with my community.” 

Fellow Grade 8 student, Nikan Nikkhajoei was struck by the process. 
“I was surprised about the manner in which we were able to collect every single item that we required for each family,” he says. “This is because it took an abundance of time, effort, and cooperation between the Heads and each Homeroom.”

The service initiative and experiential learning opportunity proved eye-opening for staff too. 

“The act of giving without expecting something in return is one of the greatest lessons we can provide our young people,” adds Dina Astrella, who was among three staff to accompany students to drop off the collected items. 

During their visit, BVG students and staff were given an overview of Lumenus, taken on a tour of the facility — which was previously a school — and even met some of the families who arrived at scheduled times to pick up their hampers. 

“We get a lot of families that are called refugees that come to Canada,” Denise Palermo, who has been with the organization for 30 years, told BVG students.

“For some perspective, if you woke up tomorrow morning and your family said we’re leaving, it’s not safe for us here now, put everything in a bag about this big that you can carry and we’ll go to the airport where it’s very chaotic, hopefully get on a plane and go to a new country. When you get here, you won’t have a home, you won’t have any money, you won’t have any access to services and you won’t understand the language, the culture and you won’t understand the systems,” Palermo continued, painting a picture of the bitter reality many of their clientele endure. 

“Often, they have to make very, very hard decisions — if I pay my rent, I will not have enough money to feed my children,” Palermo added. “All those things that you put together in those hampers are going to support those families in meeting their needs,” she says.

In all 27 bins filled, 70 families supported and more than $30,000 in gift cards collected from preschool to Grade 12. 

Leah Kanary, Lower School teacher and lead BVG staff coordinator of the initiative shared this note with colleagues following the campaign, “At a time of year where making personal, meaningful connections is so important, please know you have made a lifelong connection with the family that you helped fill a basket of love and care.”  

Community impact that will likely remain in the minds of all involved. 

“Even after all these years,” says Dina Astrella, “the Better Beginnings Campaign continues to unite our community in ways that very few other occasions do.”