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​TCDSB Celebrates Innovation and Excellence with the Exemplary Practice Awards 2021

Each year, the Toronto Catholic District School Board (TCDSB) is proud to celebrate exemplary and uniquely innovative school-based practices in our learning communities. The Innovative Exemplary Practice Awards highlight outstanding efforts within our Catholic school communities to address the diverse needs of our students. These projects serve as an inspiration for all the schools within our system, and remind us to reflect on the impact that we have on a daily basis, and the importance of promoting leadership at all levels of our organization. We hope that this year’s winning projects will encourage the replication and further development of future projects.

Congratuations to this year's recipients of our Innovative Exemplary Practice Awards!


MOTHER CABRINI CATHOLIC SCHOOL - A Small Group Can Change the World

Team Members: Sarah Dunn, Marcella Perez, Vanessa Villic Evangelista
Category: Innovative Special Needs Student Support
Principal: Laura Manini Della Rosa
Superintendent: Flora Cifelli
Trustee: Markus de Domenico

Margaret Mead once wrote, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world”. With this in mind, the Mother Cabrini school community embarked on a project to create calming spaces for students to de-escalate and relax when needed. Mother Cabrini is currently home to five students with autism, one student with Down’s Syndrome, and several students who possess self-regulation difficulties.

The staff, students, parents, and local collegiate affiliates of the Mother Cabrini school community came together to design a central space in the library, and individual spaces in each classroom, where students are able to de-escalate, and relax. These spaces allow them to return to a regulated state in a more timely manner, thus increasing the amount of time spent in the classroom, and allowing each student to reach their fullest potential.

ST. DOROTHY CATHOLIC SCHOOL - The Virtual Hangout Club

Team Members: Vanessa Ramos
Category: Innovative Community Partnership
Principal: Toni Pucci
Superintendent: Flora Cifelli
Trustee: Joseph Martino

The students of St. Dorothy Catholic School have been participating in the school’s Virtual Hangout Club. The Club offers a safe, positive, and inclusive virtual space every Wednesday after school, and allows primary and junior grade students from different classes to connect. Students collaborate and socialize with their classmates, while also meeting other students from the school that they may not otherwise have the opportunity to meet, due to current safety measures and because students are learning remotely at this time.


Team Members: Christian Barber, and students Julia Pizzonia, Georgia Pagliaroli, Ian Hobdari, and Natalie Duarte
Category: Innovative Student Leadership Initiative
Principal: Julie Aube
Superintendent: Joe Bria
Trustee: Markus de Domenico

At All Saints Catholic School, our student-run Morning Show allows students to wake up to familiar faces when starting their school day, even while learning from home, and helps the students who have to self-isolate remain connected to their school. For the students involved in running the show, the Morning Show teaches them how to be effective communicators, and collaborative contributors. We have created spaces for them to produce the show, equipped with the technology that they need to bring their ideas to life. They have had the opportunity to become familiar with programs such as OBS, that they would not have encountered otherwise.

Parents have mentioned over emails and phone calls that the show’s content has stirred up some great dinner conversations and added a few laughs to their day. In a time when student interactions and extracurricular activities are limited, our Morning Show has been more crucial than ever in keeping students connected, and in helping alleviate concerns about the mental health of students. The Morning Show provides us with a vehicle to share not only positive moments, but also to educate through meaningful dialogue that stimulates the students' emotional, intellectual, and spiritual mindset.


Team Members: Samantha Camardo, Michelle Devlin, St. Louis Staff and Students, St. Louis CSPC
Category: Innovative Mental Health Initiative
Principal: Michelle Devlin
Superintendent: Joe Bria
Trustee: Teresa Lubinski

In keeping with the Catholic values of the TCDSB, St. Louis Elementary School has been collaborating with Parkland Retirement Residence to spread kindness and actively model what it means to "walk in the footsteps of Jesus". As part of their mission to share love, faith, and hope, the students at St. Louis conducted a correspondence campaign, which allowed them to connect with the seniors in our community, who have been heavily impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. The students also led kindness initiatives that were inspired by the Virtues of the Month, Catholic Social Teachings, and Catholic Graduate Expectations.

Through this project, our students learned the importance of community in times of crisis, the value of connection, and how our actions can make a difference in the lives of others.


Team Members: Lisa Butera-Fracassi, Dianne Banasco, Lisa Malcolm, Sisters of Mount Caramel, Erika Power, Sandra La Selva
Category: Innovative Mental Health Initiative
Principal: Lillian Judit Kurnik
Superintendent: Shawna Campbell
Trustee: Ida Li Preti

St. Jane Frances Catholic School, has worked collaboratively with students, staff and the CSPC parent community, to develop and implement a comprehensive Mental Health Initiative that concentrates on Mindfulness, Kindness, and Prayer. This school-wide initiative encourages students to improve their “caring for others” at school and has allowed students to practice and understand themselves better, their external environment, and their peers.

The inception of “Mindfulness Mondays” included weekly emails to staff about activities to support students with mental health issues, weekly meditation, daily prayer, and weekly announcements to practice strategies together to nurture the whole child (mind, body, heart, soul). This includes the Power of Prayer program, which created opportunities for Christian meditation, and allowed for school-wide reflection and daily affirmations over the Public Address System. The result is that students who engage in mindfulness and prayerful activities at school demonstrate improvement in focus, maintain attention better, and are able to more effectively regulate their emotions.


Team Members: Josephine Virgillio, and Grade 8 students Reiner Refuerzo, Samantha Asis, Steven Koveski, and Zea Petrola
Category: Innovative Mental Wellness Initiative
Principal: Susanna Ranalli
Superintendent: Shawna Campbell
Trustee: Maria Rizzo

The purpose of the Fresh Food Market (FFM )is to provide community outreach by educating the students through real life work experiences. The FFM mock grocery store provides students with the opportunity to learn everything from math to marketing, to management, to nutrition. Our students aim to document the process through a blog or website (still in the works). The FFM provides students with the opportunity to receive community hours and receive civic engagement credit, as well as contribute to our local school budget by donating revenues from the store to our school (to pay for Grade 8 graduation, trips etc).


Team Members: Manuel Bermitt
Category: Innovative Student Leadership Initiative
Principal: Patricia Coburn
Superintendent: Cristina Fernandes
Trustee: Maria Rizzo

The Band Buddy program is a 1-on-1 pairing of an incoming Grade 9 student with a Grade 10-12 student who plays the same instrument, and was created by our Music Department Head, Mr. Manuel Bermitt. The program was started to address the academic, socio-emotional and mental health needs of the incoming students, as transitioning into high school can be a challenge even during a normal year, and even more so this year. The Band Buddy program has helped to alleviate this by allowing our students to build camaraderie and community with each other.

With roughly 40% of our school population taking a music course, this program has a wide reach among our student body. Our incoming students get the opportunity to make new connections, and now have someone they can turn to for support. Our older students get the opportunity to be role models. This program is a testament to how God calls us to love and care for our neighbours, and it has allowed our students to become collaborative contributors working towards the common good.


Team Members: Leda Miles, Brian De Sousa, Lisa Bailey, Blessing Mensah
Category: Innovative Educative Equity School Wide Practices
Principal: Anyta Kyriakou
Superintendent: Cristina Fernandes
Trustee: Angela Kennedy

The Senator O’Connor Roots Club gives our school community an opportunity to delve into challenging and complex concepts about the world. Created in 2019, this student-directed and student-facilitated club is for students, staff and parents of the Senator O'Connor Community. The Roots Club aims to engage and empower diversity, difference, and uniqueness. We strive to dismantle discriminatory barriers, and to push towards a united community. The main purpose of Roots is to make sure that such barriers and obstacles do not barricade the hospitality and inclusiveness that our community is capable of.


Team Members: Francesco Malfitano, Lea Lion, Eliana Tiberio
Category: Innovative Educative Equity School Wide Practices
Principal: Lisa Gomes
Superintendent: John Wujek
Trustee: Frank D’Amico

The Rebel Girls was established in 2018 to bring awareness to the global and national issues that young girls and women face today. Our group examines these issues through discussion and community outreach projects, which we then bring back to the larger school community. Our work is ongoing, and we have organized many projects throughout the years. These include the Rebel Girl literacy initiative through the TCDSB Experiential Learning Grant, National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women and Girls, The Shoebox Project, International Women’s Day, National Persons Day, and African Canadian Heritage Month.

Our most recent project is to promote the International Women’s Day theme, “Choose to Challenge”, through a social media campaign. Students will be sewing scrunchies, creating cards, and providing inspirational stickers. We aim to promote discussion on ongoing issues of gender equality and social bias. Our ongoing and community collaborative initiatives stem from the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal number 5, Gender Equality, and empower all women and girls.

ST. JOSEPH’S COLLEGE SCHOOL AND NOTRE DAME HIGH SCHOOL - English Department Equity Discussion and Series

Team Members: SJCS Lead Tina Marroum and ND Lead Julie Mc Cowan
Category: Innovative Educative Equity School Wide Practices
Principal: Anna Patejczuk and Jolanta Hickey
Superintendent: Kimberly Dixon
Trustee: Norman Di Pasquale

The English Department Equity Discussion and Planning Series is an inter-school collaborative effort between the English departments of both St. Joseph’s College School and Notre Dame High School. This multi-year project began in December 2020 from the staff’s desire to improve learning for all students by implementing an anti-racist framework. It will continue through September 2021 and beyond.

Our two English Department heads, Tina Marroum and Julie McGowan, created professional development opportunities for the teachers in their departments, which prompted discussion on the current learning resources used, and how teachers can employ an anti-racist framework to improve the experience of our BiPoC students. Because of the difficulties brought about by the pandemic, finding the opportunity and time for teachers to come together and discuss this important equity work was a challenge, but they made it happen.

These sessions were attended by the department administrators, board literacy resource teachers, and superintendents, and allowed teachers to have open and honest conversations in a safe space. The information learned will allow teachers to change their practices, in order to best serve our students who need safe and equitable English classes the most.


Team Members: Stephanie Belcastro, Rachel Allen, Gennaro Coiffi, Jason Wood, Antonio Morale, Ren Gonsalves, Dave Ebreo
Category: Innovative 21C Informed Differentiated Instructional Classroom Practice
Principal: Robert Noble
Superintendent: Peter Aguiar
Trustee: Michael Del Grande

The Math e-Learning Coding project consisted of three initiatives: (1) Math E-league, (2) coding using robotic Spheros and (3) Community Fitness. These initiatives used differentiated instruction practices to ensure that individual learning needs were met, and that students were fully engaged in their learning. These initiatives also included supporting investments in technology that continue to foster digital literacy, creativity, innovation, and collaboration. Through this project, our students were able to overcome their “math anxiety” by participating in hands-on and interactive activities where they were able to see the real-life applications of what they were learning, and make connections between mathematics and other disciplines.

FRANCIS LIBERMANN CATHOLIC HIGH SCHOOL - Social-Emotional Learning and Mindfulness

Team Members: Nicole Chen, Rachael Chen, Elizabeth Llanera
Category: Innovative Mental Health Initiative
Principal: Clarence Pitterson
Superintendent: Peter Aguiar
Trustee: Garry Tanuan

Our credit-bearing Social-Emotional Learning (SEL) course invites students to explore the process through which we acquire and effectively apply self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills, and responsible decision-making. These five competency clusters complement the Ontario Catholic School Graduate Expectations. This course allows students to develop a sense of personal responsibility for the larger community, by strengthening essential skills such as: problem solving, conflict resolution, responsible decision making, relationship building, goal setting, and self-discipline.

This course also allows students to master social and emotional competencies that will enhance their health and wellness, character, ethics, and social interactions. It explores techniques such as the theory and practice of Mindfulness, which is paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, without judgement. Through this course, educators purposefully address and encourage the cultivation of social emotional education. With this increased awareness, students have the capacity to apply healthy coping mechanisms to their overall mental health and well-being.


Team Members: Jill Forester, Debbie Richards, Vera Mawhinney
Category: Innovative Catholic Leadership Practice
Principal: Michael Wetzel
Superintendent: Ryan Peterson
Trustee: Nancy Crawford

The past year has seen hardships for many people and has highlighted socio-economic issues that have always existed in our communities, such as the food insecurity that many families in the St. John Paul II CSS community have to deal with. Our school has been actively trying to address this issue for years, through the Angel Foundation-supported Breakfast Program, but the support network in our school saw that this was only the tip of the iceberg for some of our students. So, our School Chaplain Jill Forester, Child and Youth Worker Debbie Richards-Broomfield, and Attendance Secretary Vera Mawhinney decided to do something about it during the 2019-2020 school year, by starting the Panther Pantry.

The Panther Pantry consisted of food donations (mostly from staff and the parent council), and allowed students to fill a bag with some essential groceries to take home. When the COVID-19 pandemic closed schools in March 2020, and food insecurity got even worse as people lost jobs and were ordered to stay home, the need for our program increased even more.

SPECIAL SERVICES/SEA - Virtual Co-op Placement/Assistive Technology Team

Team Members: Megan Douglas, Andria Chui-Moeini, Melissa Morrison
Category: Innovative 21C Informed Differentiated Instructional Classroom Practice
Principal: Don Reid
Superintendent: Maria Meehan

The Assistive Technology Team’s goal is to create an unprecedented and inclusive board-wide virtual Co-op placement initiative for students of all pathways, in response to an urgent need for meaningful placements during the COVID-19 pandemic. With the goal of fostering a growth mindset, creativity, and innovation, we created an experiential and enriching virtual job opportunity in the area of assistive technology. Leveraging our knowledge of technology and the dynamic functionality of Google Workspace, we created a unique and stand-alone digital platform for our Student Innovators to fully participate in the placement, while capturing student voice and building their digital skills.


The recipient of this award will be a current employee of the TCDSB who shares his/her talents, and demonstrates the foundational principles for this award in supporting the TCDSB community, including:

  • Leadership traits of Dr. Jim Saraco: kindness, patience, stewardship of relationships and resources;
  • Core values of Jim: respect for all, compassion and respect for the leadership that each staff member brings to the organization;
  • The TCDSB vision of witness, faith, innovation and action which Jim embodied.

This year’s recipient is: Marisa Rolfe

Marisa Rolfe is an exemplary educator who has served the board since 1987, and is this year’s recipient of the Dr. Jim Saraco Staff Leadership Award. Marisa is a long-serving Child & Youth Worker (CYW) with the SAL (Supervised Alternative Learning) Program of the TCDSB. The SAL Program is an alternative program within our School Board that serves and supports our Board’s most vulnerable and disengaged youth, and Marisa often serves as a lifeline to these students.

The first steps of engagement are often relational, because these youth face barriers to learning beyond their control. These barriers are often related to mental health challenges, family crises, and academic gaps. As a vital link on the pathway of school support, Marisa avails herself selflessly with families and students, seven days a week and late into the evenings. Her compassion, and her networking skills with TCDSB staff and community agencies, are invaluable in accompanying students and families on the journey to re-engagement.

To many students over the years, Marisa has been the face of hope, who supported them through and out of difficult situations and experiences. She exemplifies the vocational and pastoral role of educators in our Catholic system. Marisa is overwhelmingly a deserving candidate of this award.