Alumni Spotlight: Sean Thornhill

Creativity. Adaptability. Passion. Grit. These qualities are essential for any top chef but are also needed by top chefs during a global pandemic. Calgary Academy Alumnus Sean Thornhill (’09) lives these qualities, and has spent the last year adapting, adjusting, and re-adapting to the ever-changing restrictions of the COVID-19 pandemic. The path to his current role as Sous Chef at Rouge Restaurant has been anything but straight forward. Despite a resume that reads like a wish list for fine dining in Calgary (Q Haute Cuisine, Teatro Ristorante, and the Fairmont Palliser), his path to second-in-command at one of Calgary’s top restaurants has been a crooked line, repeatedly thwarted by COVID-19. Having just accepted a dream job when the pandemic shut down restaurants in March of last year, Sean found himself like many other out of work professionals in the hospitality industry – wondering what was next, and for how long. So, the chef turned into an entrepreneur, and Sean established Evoke Catering. While restaurants were closed, private, in-home catering and cooking lessons were a creative, safe alternative, and the people of Calgary were hungry for fun, safe, fine dining.

“The more events I did, the more people wanted to get involved. It started with a baby shower and grew all summer. Things were going really well until November, when in-home gatherings were restricted in response to soaring case numbers.”
Undeterred, he quickly pivoted to smaller cohort dinners, patio dining, and online cooking classes. Nearing the holiday season, and knowing holiday parties wouldn’t be happening, he decided to reach out to Calgary Academy to see if he could make someone else’s day.
“After speaking with a friend who was new to teaching, it hit home for me that it wasn’t just doctors and nurses having challenging times managing an environment where they are responsible for other people’s safety.”
One quick email to school Principal Timothy Carlson, and suddenly Sean was producing individually wrapped artisan chocolates as part of a holiday gift to staff arranged by the school.
“A large part of my childhood involved CA, and I remember learning to think in abstract, solution-oriented ways. That’s definitely helped me bend my business to the current situation. I can’t offer in-home dining during the busiest time of year? Okay, then what else is there? For me, this was the perfect place to put my time and energy, to make one day of the month brighter for others.”
Not surprisingly, Sean’s persistence has won out. In the spring of 2021, Rouge Restaurant called him about the role of Sous Chef, and he’s been cooking up a storm there ever since – even though they are already back to take-out and patio-only dining. The Calgary Academy community is so proud of all you’ve accomplished Sean, and thank you again for the delicious chocolates!

Summer School Launch

We are delighted to announced the launch of a high school summer course program for summer 2021 for school-aged students looking to get a jump-start on the upcoming school year. Throughout the month of July, students from Calgary Academy and the broader community may enrol in intensive summer programs for English 30-1, Chemistry 30, Biology 30, and Social Studies 30-1. Each course will run for 4.5 hours per day in either in the morning or the evening. These courses will be taught by expert Calgary Academy teachers in-person and on site at the Calgary Academy school. All students must have the pre-requisite course in-progress or completed prior to registration. To learn more or to sign up, please visit to learn more.

Exemplary Practice and Student Showcase

Twice a year the Board of Directors recognizes staff and students for exemplary work, leadership, or contributions to the school community. This February, the Board was honoured to present Grade 7 student Will and teacher Jaclyn Demmers with this special honour! We are delighted to announce Jaclyn Demmers as the recipient of the Exemplary Practice award for her work inside the classroom and as part of the Balanced Assessment committee. Grade 7 Student Will P. was honoured as the recipient of the Student Showcase award for his efforts building the CA Minecraft world, and for serving as a role model to his peers. Both recipients were presented their certificates and honoured at the February Board Meeting. Exemplary Practice: Jaclyn Demmers Ms. Demmers has been with Calgary Academy since 2016, teaching math and science in junior high in innovative and creative ways. While still early in her career, Jaclyn has actively sought ways to build her knowledge, apply her expertise, and share her experiences with her colleagues. Working alongside a veteran project-based learning teacher, Jaclyn came to deeply appreciate and understand the value of integrative learning in the Calgary Academy learning model. She has advanced the junior high approach to math and science, as evidenced by her exceptional Ecosystems project this year, where students researched, built, and described their ecosystems in a documentary film of their own making. This project was an exemplary model of how both engagement and rigour to meet academic outcomes can coexist. Going over and above her classroom commitments, Jaclyn was one of the first members of the Assessment Working Committee, lending her math and science background to the development and dissemination of the Balanced Assessment Framework. She has led professional learning workshops with large groups of staff and remains committed to promoting assessment practices that build the confidence and competence of learners. Jaclyn is an excellent example of a teacher demonstrating excellence, leadership, and innovation to the Calgary Academy community. Congratulations, Jaclyn! Student Showcase: Will P. Will is an incredibly gifted and creative thinker demonstrated by the leadership he shows in all of his classes, particularly in Multimedia. His imaginative and inspired take on Minecraft: Education Edition has been fundamental throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. He has shown his teachers how it can foster an inclusive community and encourage a broad reach of learning even beyond the classroom. This has also inspired a collaborative environment as he encouraged his fellow students to add their creative flair to Calgary Academy's Minecraft Server. Will worked independently with one of the IT Administrators to build "Halloween Town" and "Christmas Town" for younger students to explore as a fun, creative activity. These are just two examples of how his empowered and creative leadership approach has given younger students memorable and interactive experiences. Outside of class, Will also serves as a noble role mode to his peers. He volunteers as a Student Moderator for younger grades on his own time and has quickly become a beacon of guidance and support for younger students. Will is not only enthusiastic, patient, and calm, but his spirit has created an inclusive community for his fellow students and teachers to learn from, making him a shining example of what REACH is all about. Congratulations, Will!

Strategic Planning: What We Heard

Over the last six months, it has been an amazing process consulting with our community on our next strategic plans, and once again we are asking for your feedback! The Imagining Possibilities survey launched in October of 2020 led to the creation of our survey summary, which highlighted feedback from almost 600 individuals. That summary informed ten focus groups with students, staff, parents, alumni, and board members, and today we are thrilled to present the What We Heard document that summarizes all of the feedback collected to date, as well as the draft Goals and Outcomes for each plan. Now is your chance to share your feedback on these plans prior to us finalizing our path to 2025! Imagining Possibilities Survey Summary What We Heard  

New Program Alert: Blended+

What if school was designed to fit your family’s life rather than your family’s life fitting school? More than ever, traditional school experiences based on standardized seat time are only one way to approach learning. In 2021, students no longer need to learn at the same time—and at the same rate—and in the same place. School can be different. Online learning has disrupted traditional in-person education, and it’s evolved to provide increasingly flexible and personalized learning options. While students can now learn anywhere and at any time, this raises some good questions. What’s gained and lost? What about relationships, a sense of belonging, and connections with peers? With our Grades 9-10 Blended+ program (with future enrolment including Grades 7-12), it’s not an either/or choice. We’ve taken the best parts of in-person learning and combined them with the best parts of online learning. Expert teachers work with students on campus and online to meet individual needs in an engaging way.

The “+” in Blended+ refers to our extensive extra-curricular programs as well as the frequent integration of authentic off campus learning experiences that take advantage of facilities and expertise in our community.
Built into the tuition (no added costs), these frequent and rich off-campus experiences are designed to engage learners while reinforcing curriculum outcomes. For example, the Biogeoscience Institute at the University of Calgary provides students in Biology 20 (our Grade 10 group next year) with classroom instruction combined with guided field studies in the Kananaskis. Additionally, Physical Education moves beyond the gyms to include learning activities off-site such as kayaking, curling, wall climbing, and much more! An instructional design difference in Blended+ is that learning materials and assignments are released online weekly and due at the end of each week. This provides anywhere/anytime access. Actively guided and supported by their teachers, students make meaningful decisions about their own learning. They can get into the zone by working on a particular subject for an extended time without the day being chopped up by arbitrary bell schedules. Students can accelerate their learning within the week to make time for competing priorities, or they can slow down their learning and get more teacher support in an area of need. Teachers regularly conference with students to guide their development with academics and transferable skills. Learning is a social activity, and students need social experiences. During the week, teacher-led online lessons provide live, interactive direct instruction. Classes also get together on-campus where students focus on hands-on learning including labs, projects, integrated studies, and physical education. We make the time together in-person count. Hybrid-flex time, which is built into some afternoons, provides students the option of working on campus with peers, at home, or anywhere they have internet access. The future of learning is flexible. Are you ready to take the next step? Sign up for one of our upcoming admissions presentations or reach out to speak directly with our team about the Blended+ program.

Unleashing Deeper Learning with Assessment

When you hear the word assessment, what comes to mind for you? Likely, you are imagining a quiz, or a test, or some other event where you had to prove that you had learned something. Our background knowledge of assessment comes from our own experiences in school. When you think back to your time in school, what kind of student were you? Straight A student? C+? Barely passing? How accurately did this grade represent who you are as a learner and what you retained from each course? For many of us, school was a game of scoring points while the assessments were the playing field. But isn’t the purpose of education to prepare students for the world of work? Well, if that’s the case, most of us would be out here writing tests to prove our competence to our boss. Of course, that’s not the case. One of the goals of our 2018-2021 strategic plan was for students to surpass their potential. To do this, our community advocated to change the traditional narrative of assessment and reporting which meant a shift in our thinking around their purpose. If assessment could be used as more of a tool than a test, and reporting as a meaningful communication of that learning, we know that our students will truly be prepared for life after school. But why disrupt the narrative? After all, aren’t tests and grades what motivate students to learn? Well, no. As it turns out, grades merely motivate students to avoid intellectual risk to ensure they can maintain a high mark. What drives learning is challenge. While this is not a new revelation and has been demonstrated in academic research, this fact gained widespread attention during the COVID-19 pandemic. With tests and grading put on pause, teachers and students alike felt liberated to engage in deeper learning and build more sophisticated 21st century skills. This collective experience prompted Maclean’s magazine to challenge Canadian universities to go gradeless, and The Washington Post to proclaim the end of America’s obsession with standardized testing.

In the recent community survey to build our next strategic plan, a grade 11 student summarized this need for change by stating, “People are smarter than their grades, but in a system where grades are seen to be more important than anything else, it makes students feel bad about themselves, which leads to them putting themselves down, and eventually leads to them giving up... and that's not a good mind set/system.”
In many ways, we have been ahead of the curve at Calgary Academy. Over the past two years, a dedicated committee of CA teachers has worked to create and implement an assessment framework that aims to unleash confident and competent learners with a growth mindset. The framework promotes deeper learning for all students by establishing clear learning goals and empowering students to partner with their peers and teachers to embark on a personalized journey towards achieving them. We understand the value of clarity and flexibility for our diverse population, and the framework captures those values. The assessment committee is now working towards creating a reporting system aligned with our new assessment framework and there are a couple ways you can get involved in this work:
  • Complete a survey following the February parent/teacher conferences to capture your feedback on our current reporting system.
  • Join a parent focus group to discuss how we might improve assessment and grading at Calgary Academy.
If you have any questions or concerns regarding assessment and reporting at Calgary Academy, please contact our principal, Tim Carlson, or our Assessment Instructional Design Lead, Natalie Vardabasso.

January 2021 Agenda

  1. Welcome/ Call to Order
  2. Approval of the Agenda
  3. Chair Report- Carolyn Whitelaw
  4. Reports:
    • Volunteer Update – Shannyn De Kruyff
    • Student Council Co- Chairs (CASE) – Thomas D. and Zoe T.
    • Principal Report – Tim Carlson
    • Calgary Academy 40th Celebration – Lindsey Meredith
  5. Next Meeting - February 22, 2021 6:30pm
  6. Future Agenda Items
  7. Q &A
  8. Thank you/ Adjournment

School Garden

This feature is one of a weeklong celebration of altruism at Calgary Academy! Altruism, the heart of our REACH Principles, is a concern for the welfare of others, and the CA community exemplifies this in may ways. Each day this week we will feature an example of our community giving back – either by volunteering their time, leaving a legacy, or making a generous donation. We’re asking all parents to help spread the word by sharing the link with friends and family, making a donation, or by submitting an impact story on the difference CA has made in your family’s life. Learn more at

GaGa Ball Pit

In August 2019, a group of people came together under the sun to cut sod, pound dirt, and build a strange, octagon-shaped structure. These volunteers were comprised of alumni and staff, and they were working to build the Class of 2019's Grad Gift - a GaGa Ball pit. As a school community, we weren't yet familiar with the concept of GaGa Ball. Known as a softer form of dodgeball, GaGa Ball is is played by ducking and dodging a soft foam ball aimed below one's knees. Games are short, face-paced, and an enormous amount of fun. Lunch time and recess is often filled with cheers and groans all coming from the pit located just off the Multipurpose Room. Head of Physical Education Tracy Sullivan describe it as a welcome, and needed, addition to the school experience:

The GaGa Ball pit has been such a great addition to our school. The Grads of 2019 gave our students a way to be active at recess, and learn how to problem solve together. The GaGa Ball pit gets more use than anything else on the playground because it is so fun! We are so lucky to have it.
In terms of a legacy, this student-given gift to students is a great example of altruism. For the graduating class, their time at Calgary Academy was largely over, but they wanted to leave a gift to benefit the students that would follow after them. The GaGa Ball pit is now a staple of out outdoor time at Calgary Academy, and continues to be used safely even amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. This feature is one of a weeklong celebration of altruism at Calgary Academy! Altruism, the heart of our REACH Principles, is a concern for the welfare of others, and the CA community exemplifies this in may ways. Each day this week we will feature an example of our community giving back – either by volunteering their time, leaving a legacy, or making a generous donation. We’re asking all parents to help spread the word by sharing the link with friends and family, making a donation, or by submitting an impact story on the difference CA has made in your family’s life. Learn more at

Outdoor Learning Circles

Throughout September, our forest was filled with activity as students and staff worked to clear three areas within the aspen trees to encourage students to spend time outside. At the same time, work was underway on the elementary side of the school to create an actual outdoor classroom for our youngest learners as well. With a campus that borders the mountains and is surrounded by aspen trees, it's no surprise that there's always been a passion for moving learning outdoors, and the encouragement to get outside this fall only spurred the desire to create outdoor learning spaces. Thanks to a dedicated group of passionate staff, and the ongoing support of students to maintain the Outdoor Learning Circles, the aspen forest has housed many classes ranging from topics such as reading time, mindfulness, and more. For the outdoor classroom, a small group of generous individuals and businesses provided the materials needed for a creative learning space. We can give of our time, our talents, or our treasure, and these outdoor spaces are an example of all three! This feature is one of a weeklong celebration of altruism at Calgary Academy! Altruism, the heart of our REACH Principles, is a concern for the welfare of others, and the CA community exemplifies this in may ways. Each day this week we will feature an example of our community giving back – either by volunteering their time, leaving a legacy, or making a generous donation. We’re asking all parents to help spread the word by sharing the link with friends and family, making a donation, or by submitting an impact story on the difference CA has made in your family’s life. Learn more at