Our Kids
Glen Herbert - Editor

Glen Herbert
Editor/Writer, Our Kids Media

October, 2021

You’ll notice some changes on the Our Kids site, one being a redesign of the Feature Reviews. Our frankly brilliant designer, Alex McCusker, has been working on this for the last little while. The new look is simpler, cleaner, and easier to navigate. I think it also gives the reader a better sense of what the featured reviews are all about: in-depth stories we create about school, based on extensive interviews and reporting, giving families an enriched understanding of your school identity and brand, as conveyed by a credible third party.. They present schools, from Vancouver Island to Westmount in Montreal, and are informed by extensive interviews. Alex’s design, in many subtle ways, underscores all of that.

We promote these stories—both online and in print—and year after year, find new ways to repackage them and enhance their impact on families.

Featured Reviews redesign

You might also notice the growing breadth of video that has been added. In the past months, we’ve launched 79 alumni interviews, 101 parent interviews, 20 school head interviews and principals, and 82 school-led roundtable discussions with parents, students, and alumni. Branded the Insider Perspective, the series comprises the largest repository of information from school insiders, with more than 500 videos about Canadian private and independent schools. It’s also distinctly personal and therefore unlike anything parents will find anywhere else: real people speaking openly and candidly about their experiences.

The feature review videos are being very well received. Our most compelling video series, there are now nine live on the site, with 14 more to follow. They sit at the top of the feature review page. The videos will also be emailed directly to families with a message about each school later this year. Of course, we’ll find even more ways to package and promote the videos: we already have a few more thoughts in mind, which we’ll share in the months ahead. In those I speak about individual schools, noting the highlights as well as some of the experiences that have come out of visiting schools and speaking to students and educators.

It’s a lot, and in some respects the pandemic has granted us the time to really drill down on these kinds of projects. We’ve got further projects currently in development, all to help parents better choose schools, find programs, and help their children plan for the future. So, watch this space as we continue to grow and develop the digital offering.

Who are you?

A partnership with InSchoolWear helped one school answer that question.

“You know, Kirsten’s got a lot of enthusiasm for everything,” says Glenn Zederayko, head of school at Newton’s Grove. “And she just brought that enthusiasm to them. She listened and asked questions and engaged them. They felt like they were important, being listened to, that someone cared about them. Her trademark enthusiasm was there, with all her attention and empathy.”

The “they” in this instance are students at Newton’s Grove, and he’s talking about Kirsten Broatch, owner of InSchoolWear. In 2020, Zedrayko brought her on board to redesign the schools uniform in part because of the experience he had with InSchoolWear when he was head at TMS in North York. “We found that they were very responsive,” he says of that time, “a little bit more innovative, more willing to try different things.”

Customer service was important, too. Zederayko recalled a time when there was an issue with a fabric that parents brought forward, and the response of InSchoolWear was immediate. “They had a track record of being good listeners, being creative, and coming up with ideas for making the clothing comfortable, look good, and maybe a little bit cool.” They were also quick to pick up the phone, keeping the school and parents informed of delivery. “I was already conditioned to know that InSchoolWear could deliver what we want, and so when the opportunity of refreshing the uniform came up, we looked at a variety of options, but again, InSchoolWear was very responsive.”

I ask Zederayko what the first call was like, what kinds of questions Kirsten asked. He says she didn’t ask any questions at all. Rather, “what she did is she came in to see the school, to get a sense of the school, to see what we had, see what we were doing.” Newton’s Grove wasn’t young, having been founded in 1977, but had recently gone through a period of growth and a significant evolution of the school’s identity. Founded as Mississauga Private School, in the mid-2000s the school was renamed at the same time that it moved to a new location on Goreway Drive in Mississauga. As Zederayko says, “we were taking what in essence was a derelict building and giving it an amazing reno, with windows, openness, all the things you’d want.”

How the world sees the school

The result is stunning, bold, and the building signalled a new era in the life of the program as well as the neighbourhood it sat within. Still, “the Newton’s Grove brand wasn't necessarily front and centre or jumping off the page.” The uniform was part of the problem. In many ways, the school was new. The identity it presented to the world wasn't.

Zederayko says that when Kirsten arrived for that first visit, she was conversant in all of that back story. “She already had a sense of what we were about philosophically, what we were trying to deliver. [She was aware of] the aesthetics that went with the building. And she came in and talked to us, presenting options of what we could do, and how they would fit with the mission and what we were trying to do with our students.”

Broatch spoke as much about identity as she did fabric, cuts, or elements. She spoke with students as much as she did teachers and administration. “She was very willing to work with us as a group to evolve something that everybody would be proud of and comfortable with.” Ecology and climate change was part of the discussion. (“Some of the uniform items are made out of recycled water bottles,” says Zederayko.) Price was part of the discussion as well, knowing that the costs would be passed along to parents. “There’s that attention to the families, to the individual customers.”

“The kids really do think of it as their school. And we just want people to know where that really nice kid was from.”

How the students see themselves

The reps brought in a wealth of mannequins and samples. Zederayko notes this wasn’t just a question of picking option A, B, or C. It was a process toward building the right identity. “The other thing that we did is we spent a lot of time working with Kirsten and our athletic director and the rest of the leadership team to really nail down how we wanted to communicate our brand. They brought in something like 40 mock-ups of our brand, different photos and things.”

There was some disruption—a lot of “have you thought about this?” type of comments—which the school welcomed. The fact is that they hadn’t thought of many things, and were glad to learn what they were missing. The result, in place since 2021, is fresh, new, and comfortable. The innovations within the uniforms don’t announce themselves, but they are there in the fabrics, the cuts. There are more sizes on offer than just S, M, L. There is also a bit of spark, and the students clearly like wearing the various pieces. They’re cool, both in terms of temperature and style.

That kind of result is only possible through deliberation, through a series of conversations with all the stakeholders, and an ability, on all sides, to both listen and to be heard. Broatch once told me of her work that, “it’s nothing about school uniforms. Absolutely nothing.” Rather, it’s about allowing students to feel special, to become part of something bigger than themselves. “It’s all to do with people.” Ultimately, uniforms communicate what the school is, how others see the students, and how the students see themselves. “They think this is their school,” says Zederayko of students. “They want to look after each other, they want to make it better.”

When they wear the uniforms with pride in the hallways, in the streets, at sporting events, they broadcast that identity, that feeling of being part of something. The idea that we’re all part of the Newton’s Grove community, we’re all part of the same team. Since 2020, Kirsten Broatch and the staff at InSchoolWear have been part of that team, too.

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