Branksome Hall’s longtime partnership with Sunny View Public School is one that is unique, collaborative and much-loved. Sunny View, a Toronto District School Board public school, serves approximately 80 students from all over Toronto who have significant medical, physical, cognitive and behavioural complexities.
For the last 13 years, students from Branksome have been visiting Sunny View to spend time with the students there in a collaborative program that has grown since its inception. Started by School Counsellor Hayley AvRuskin in 2009, the program began with just five Branksome students going once a week to Sunny View to have lunch with some of the students. Now, there are close to 40 Branksome students who participate in the program, and a small group of student leaders are responsible for running a part of the program and meet monthly to plan future initiatives.
“The exposure is incredible,” says Ms. AvRuskin. “The partnership between the schools is mutual, and it helps our students understand and appreciate people with disabilities in a real way, by developing authentic friendships.”
Stephanie Bailey, the vice-principal at Sunny View, certainly sees the partnership as valuable and something special to the students of both schools. “We’ve had Branksome students do performances, a clowning group, a musical group playing trumpets,” she said. “Branksome did fundraising and created a Sunny View yearbook, which is absolutely incredible. They took it upon themselves, and to have a professionally published yearbook is something Sunny View students wouldn’t normally experience. Ms. AvRuskin has also been an amazing advocate for Sunny View and Branksome.”
Ms. Bailey sees the value in the social interaction the Sunny View students gain during visits from Branksome students. “Sometimes our students don’t have a lot of social interactions outside of school. So it’s nice to be able to say ‘I have a friend outside of school who wants to read to me, who wants to play with me. Not because they have to but because they want to be my friend,’” she said.
“I think that Branksome students really benefit because it’s an amazing place to be. When we talk about equity and inclusion, people think it’s easy enough to just put in a ramp, but we have students who are non-verbal, use communication devices, sign language, combined with physical challenges and some can’t control their bodies. It gives our Branksome friends a sense of what does inclusion really mean, by supporting our most vulnerable citizens of society. Because Branksome students tend to have more opportunities, they will be the ones that are advocating for these kids in the future.”
“The experience of volunteering at Sunny View is often an inspiring experience for Branksome students, and our graduates often go on to do important advocacy work for disabled people,” added Ms. AvRuskin.
Ms. Bailey reflects fondly of the friendships between Branksome and Sunny View students. “Branksome students really like our kids, and our kids are just all over them with excitement and appreciation,” she said. “I think it’s one of those situations where everyone benefits from it. It’s just amazing.”
Branksome students Ali, Rebecca and Freya have been involved with Sunny View School for a number of years and feel very connected to their friends at Sunny View.
to read their personal reflections on their experiences with the Sunny View School partnership.
Editor’s Note: Since the original story above was written, Branksome Hall has resumed in-person visits at Sunny View School and the students and teachers are thrilled to be back.