“It was actually the only school I ever toured,” says the current Grade 11 student. “[My parents] immediately fell in love with everything about it. They loved the teachers, they loved the curriculum.”
Milena also saw the difference right away. “When I entered the school, I don’t think I had a lot of the characteristics that a good student would have,” says the 16-year-old. “I wasn’t good at time management at all. In my previous school, I had no homework. We would just go home and then go to school, learn something but not really learn. We would learn it off YouTube. We didn’t really have note-taking skills or anything like that. As soon as I came to Hudson, I saw an obvious change, because we were learning actual material, we were getting homework, we were learning out of textbooks. And I think that’s when I knew that I needed to become a good student.”
The other most pronounced shift for Milena came through the written word. “At my old school, we never really learned how to write anything,” she recalls. “We didn’t write essays, we didn’t write paragraphs, we couldn’t write formally at all. As soon as we moved to Hudson, there was an immediate change. My grades were lower at the beginning because I couldn’t write formally. I used personal pronouns in my writing, and just wasn’t as up to par.”
Four years since entering Hudson in Grade 7, Milena can’t help but think about how far she has come.
“When I was in my old school, I actually thought I was really good at everything because they would give us such easy work,” says Milena. “I thought, oh wow, I can just go by without really putting in any effort. But then at Hudson, I learned that the actual material and the actual application to real life is a lot harder. I learned that I actually do have to put in that effort. I do have to put in that work. And it’s okay that you’re not good at everything. For example, I’m really not good at art, or music; but I learned that I can develop in the areas that I need to work on, and become a better person overall.”
Milena’s lived experience is just one example of the school delivering on its goal. “Be yourself, be anything, is at the core, that’s what we really want students to think about,” says Jeff Bavington, referring to the school’s motto. Bavington, along with his father Jack and colleague Sai Li, co-founded Hudson College in 2003.
“They come in at whatever age and they already have a natural curiosity, they are who they are to that point in their life,” Jeff says. “What we really want to be able to help them do is grow to the next level. Take something that might be an interest and make it a passion. Take something that maybe they don’t feel as comfortable about in a particular subject and then that becomes something they work on to improve and become proud of themselves.”
Feeding that curiosity and fostering an environment where students feel supported to venture out of their comfort zones is something Milena can attest to.
“It’s a really small and tight knit community, and once you’re a part of that community, it means a lot,” she says. “Everyone is really kind to each other and they only want the best for each other. Everyone’s always helping each other. So if I’m strong and like math, and my friend is strong, and likes history, we’ll help each other succeed.”
Her participation in several school-led clubs and activities, including Student Ambassadors, Cooking Club and the annual theatre production has helped vault her from a self-described shy girl to a confident young person. “When practicing for the musicals, I learned a lot about self-confidence, because I had to sing in front of a lot of people during my audition and when we were rehearsing,” she recalls. “It helped me become a better public speaker, and develop a lot more communication skills.”
Milena also cites the textbooks used, the curriculum itself and frequent individual interactions with Hudson teachers as keys to her success as a student. “They’re always doing one-on-one conferences with people trying to help them, give them more material if they need extra material, or give them more help one-on-one, if they need that too,” she says. “They’re always trying to help people do the best they can do. The students have taken that all from the teachers and they really like the energy that the teachers give them and the support that they give them. So I think everyone mimics that too.”
Another strength for Milena has come in Math. She credits her teachers, including Lui Veleno, who teaches Grade 8, with her success. “I think that was actually where I learned the most math, in his enrichment program that he offers,” she says.
Veleno is approaching his twentieth year as an educator, including a decade at Hudson. “We have academics that are constantly being changed to reflect what is current in the world,” he says, crediting leadership at the school for prioritizing this approach. “In addition to that, the investment into technology resources. It isn’t just about textbooks anymore, it’s about the science equipment, it’s about access to computers. It’s about all of the different apps, especially in math.”
As someone who teaches most of the Grade 8 Math classes at Hudson, Veleno says empowering students to be their best academic selves, especially in a subject area many students find challenging, requires a multi-pronged approach that is rooted in key fundamentals.
“When a student enters Hudson is we assess gaps in knowledge, we fill in those gaps, and then the student can successfully transition to the next stage,” he says. “We demystify math, we make math easy to understand, and we build confidence in the student. And when the student is confident, there’s no telling what they can achieve.”
Milena knows that formula first-hand. “I ended up liking the Saxon Math textbook, especially because it reviews concepts from previous lessons, instead of doing one concept, and then forgetting about it for the rest of the year,” she says. “It taught me a lot of my fundamentals, and it was really important.”
Her ongoing gains in math have stoked a greater interest in the subject to the point she is already planning to pursue it in university. “I feel like I’m more successful in math and science fields,” she says. “I was thinking [about] something in STEM. I really like math!”
The other by-product of her academic evolution at Hudson College is her desire to aim high and achieve what she is capable of.
“Being a good student means everything at Hudson,” she says. “It’s about taking responsibility for your actions, being a good listener in class, doing all your work on time, and to the best of your abilities. You need to show dedication.”
Hudson College is a coed, non-denominational private school in Toronto, serving students from Junior Kindergarten through Grade 12.