Special Programs and Specialty Schools – What Are Your Options?

Our HoodQ school types are Public, Private, Catholic, and Special/Alternative. But within those school types, there are many different special programs that parents might want to consider, from subject-specific focus to advanced classes to extra support.

If you already know what special program you want your kids to attend, we have a couple different options to help you narrow down your school and neighbourhood search. The HoodQ School Locator™ tool allows you to choose school filters and narrow down neighbourhoods on the map view of a certain city. HoodQMatch™ lets you enter all of your different neighbourhood wishlist items (not just related to schools!) and recommends neighbourhoods for you that best fit your needs. There is no other tool in Canada like it!

If you think you might be interested in a special program but don't know all of the program options available, this article is for you. Below you'll find information on the different programs that HoodQ allows you to choose by in School Locator™ and HoodQMatch™.

Immersion programs
French Immersion is a popular choice for parents in Ontario. Children in French Immersion take French as a subject and also take at least 2 other classes where instruction is provided in French, for at least 50% French instruction at the elementary level. The goal of French Immersion is to help English-speaking children become fully or functionally bilingual in French.

Most commonly, kids start French Immersion in grade 1 or 2, but late entry French Immersion is also offered at some schools. It's generally more difficult the later you enter, but might be a great option for older children who know some French already. In some areas, children can be in French Immersion from grade 1 to grade 12, but in others, it's only offered in the elementary years. Choose all of the different grade levels in HoodQMatch™ or School Locator™ if you'd like to see neighbourhoods where kids can take French Immersion for their entire time in school.

We also offer the choice to filter schools by Spanish Immersion, but that is uncommon in Ontario.

Advanced programs
There are a few different program options for advanced students. In HoodQMatch™, you can choose Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate, and in School Locator™ you can choose either of those and/or Gifted/Talented.

Advanced Placement is an enriched program offered in some high schools where teens can take classes at the university level while still in high school. This allows academically advanced teenagers to get ahead, and earn university credits by passing AP exams. Different schools will offer different classes at this level, and different universities will have different policies about accepting them as transfer credits.

International Baccalaureate is an internationally-minded, academically challenging program available for children from age 3 to grade 12 graduation. The curriculum and examinations for this program are set by the International Baccalaureate Organization (IBO), and schools must apply to become an IB World School. The IB Primary Years program is for children aged 3-12 and offers an inquiry-based, transdisciplinary curriculum that encourages children to take responsibility for their own learning. The IB Middle Years program is for students aged 11-16, and encourages practical connections between studies and the real world. At the high school level for ages 16-19, the IB diploma program is academically rigorous and suitable for motivated students, often including independent studies.

Gifted/Talented Programs can vary, and are generally offered at regular public schools as an option for motivated and academically strong students. They may have grade-based or testing-based admission requirements.

Teaching methods
Montessori and Waldorf are two similar but different teaching methodologies offered in both private schools and sometimes in public schools. Both focus on the whole child and the child as an individual. Montessori is more popular currently, but both are growing.

Montessori is more child-led. The teacher is a guide, and children also act as guides for each other. Children choose what they want to learn and have a lot of independence generally, focusing on learning by experience and doing practical activities. Montessori schools generally group children into mixed-age cohorts.

Waldorf teaching is more traditional, with the teacher as an instructor. But it is also more focused on play and imagination, especially in the early years, and the curriculum is designed to be well-rounded and include the arts. Children generally are grouped by grade level and advance each year together, but each child learns at their own pace.

If you're considering Montessori schools, you can choose this program in HoodQMatch™ or School Locator™. Waldorf is an option in the School Locator™ tool.

Focus on specific topics
In HoodQMatch™ and School Locator™, you can prefer schools that specialize in Fine Arts, and in School Locator™ you can additionally prefer schools that focus on Vocational programs.

Fine Arts schools may include visual arts, performing arts, music, or all of the above, but have a strong curriculum focus on the arts. They may be public schools that have designated school catchments, or be open enrollment public or private.

Vocational schools are generally targeted at teenagers who intend to enter the workforce directly after school, or enter apprenticeship programs. Programs may range from technical and trades to cosmetology.

Each school's School Profile will provide more information about its program, but you'll want to contact the school directly for eligibility requirements (like portfolios or auditions).

Special Education and Alternative Schools
Special Education Schools generally serve children with special needs not met by regular schools. This is a whole-school program, rather than supportive options in regular schools. This can include schools for children with particular disabilities that otherwise provide a full regular program (like schools for the Deaf), or schools that provide a modified full program (like schools for kids with autism or learning disabilities), or schools that specifically help teens with disabilities prepare for independent or supported living while also completing a high school diploma or modified high school credential.

If you are a parent of a child with a disability considering a special education school, you may already know what school you want. You can search for it on the Hub and go directly to its profile, to find out more about it and the neighbourhood it's located in.

Alternative Schools vary widely, from open enrollment schools that provide extra support like small class sizes, to schools open only by referral for kids who are having difficulty in regular schools. Their School Profiles also provide more information, but you'll want to be sure to contact the school for details and assistance.

Single gender schools
In the School Locator™ tool and HoodQMatch™, you can prefer All-Female or All-Male schools. These are usually private schools in Ontario, and may additionally be Religious Schools.

Religious schools
In Ontario, Catholic schools are generally public, separate boards. We include these as a School Type to make it easy for parents who might go with either Public or Catholic to choose both options at once.

In the School Locator™ tool, you also have the option of choosing particular religions besides Catholic. In Ontario, most of the time, these will be private schools. Our options are Christian, Islamic, Jewish, and Other Religions.