Star Academy continues to give Pakmen a helping hand

  • November 10, 2023


When COVID-19 swept across our shores in March of 2020 igniting a modern-day plague, it filled our lives with fear.

Our days consisted of staring at all four walls in our homes, or waiting in ever stretching lines to purchase what little was still on store shelves

In just two months, restaurants, pubs, houses of worship, gymnasiums and most stores were ordered to shut their doors.

Overnight, our lives were brought to a standstill; the disease sucking all joy from our lives.

When the Ontario Government began relaxing restrictions and allowing businesses to open to half capacity a year later many owners had already felt the brunt of the shutdown and closed their doors for good.

Finally, on February 17 of 2022, life returned to some form of normalcy with gyms and other businesses getting the green light to return to full capacity.

Such was not the case for the Pakmen Volleyball Club. While gyms and clubs across the province were welcoming back long suffering patrons, the Peel and Dufferin Peel School Boards kept their gymnasiums closed.

“We were in a bind because schools did not re-open their gyms for a long time after they were permitted to,” explained Pakmen founder and president Kelly Smith.

“The Halton Peel Catholic District School Board and the Peel District School Board didn’t open their gyms for weeknights until November 2022. And the PDSB didn’t re-open their summer permits until July of 2023 and their weekend permits in September of 2023.”

Facing certain gloom, if not doom during that barren time warp, Smith and his club received a welcome reprieve from the mother of two of their club members.

Heather Rees, the mother of Pakmen members Charlotte and Warren and a co-owner and director of Mississauga’s Star Academy, offered Smith a lifeline with the use of the school’s gymnasium to Pakmen teams.

“Heather’s daughter was playing in one of our programs at the Canlan Sports location and when she found out we were turning away hundreds of kids due to limited gym space, she contacted us and offered to help,” said the eternally grateful Smith.

“She was a lifesaver.  We rented her gym on weekends and evenings which helped us remain afloat.”

“My connection to Pakmen began when Charlotte was participating in Pakmen programs in Oakville,” recalled Rees. “I remember receiving the Pakmen newsletter and there being a request for anyone that knew of available gym space since during COVID the school boards were no longer permitting access to their school gyms.”

Rees volunteered the use of Star Academy’s gym and soon Pakmen teams were practicing there Monday to Friday evenings and all-day Saturday and Sunday. This continued until Pakmen secured its current facility on Sismet Road.

Charlotte continued playing for Pakmen, and then brother Warren got hooked during the 2021-22 season and wanted to learn to play volleyball. That year Warren joined the development league, then Pakmen Plus, and finally he tried out for the 13U team. Warren is now in his second year with Pakmen on the 14U team.

“Charlotte and Warren are solid rep players in our club,” said Smith. “Both are fully committed to the sport and are highly motivated. They play beach volleyball in the summer and attend our optional specialty training programs on weekends.”

Rees thinks it’s terrific that her children have decided to play a sport that she is familiar with.

“As a teenager I played for Peel Selects and when I attended university I started refereeing. As a teacher at Appleby College, I coached a number of sports including, volleyball, basketball, and baseball. Now, in my role as Director at Star Academy I run a volleyball club for children interested in learning to play. Currently my evenings are very busy with driving kids to practise and weekend tournaments; however, I think it’s worth it.”

And recently Rees’ Star Academy took the relationship with Pakmen a step further by becoming a club sponsor.

Through her relationship with Pakmen, Rees has learned that the Star Academy and Pakmen have a few similarities.

“Star Academy has an affiliated not for profit Charity called the Learn to Love to Learn Foundation,” said Rees. “One of the mandates of the foundation is providing financial aid bursaries to deserving students whose families cannot afford private school tuition. We are able to do this through donations to the charity, just like Pakmen is able to support deserving students that wish to play volleyball. We have had a few of our students play in various leagues at Pakmen. Pakmen has again kindly donated a program session to our annual silent auction in support of the Learn to Love to Learn Foundation.”

Rees added, like her school, Smith’s club goes the extra mile to make the Pakmen experience a complete and fulfilling one.

“From what I’ve seen, Pakmen coaches are also developing the whole child/athlete,” said Rees. “The program obviously includes volleyball skills and fitness, but also healthy eating, and the need for rest and recuperation.

“They make sure players take the time to properly heal when injured.”

Rees speaks from first-hand experience after her daughter Charlotte partially tore her rotator cuff last winter forcing her to miss two months.

“The club also teaches the mental aspects of the game and (life) skills like perseverance, hard work, teamwork and that through practice you can improve at anything,” added Rees. “We teach those same skills at our school.”

Speaking of the Star Academy, it, like Pakmen, goes the extra mile in making the learning experience a special one.

Star Academy is a small, private school founded in 1997 that features a low student-teacher ratio, project-based learning, and outdoor education within a flexible learning environment. In 2017, Rees and Julie Benneyworth became the new owners bringing over 50 years of combined experience in private education to the school creating a model that offers students of all levels and abilities access to the benefits of a private school.

At Star Academy, students are involved in a rounded curriculum that includes weekly art, music, dance and drama, technology and outdoor education. Students can participate in a wide variety of clubs and sports.

At the school, daily physical education and French begins in Kindergarten for all children. And, there’s an extended academic year as tuition includes a July learning program. Children of all abilities are welcome as there is additional programming and resources including Orton Gillingham and 1:1 tutoring for children with learning disabilities.

Rees stresses that the main philosophy of Star Academy is Learn to Love to Learn. Through their programs, they aim to engage students in meaningful experiences that excite them throughout the learning process. With the low student-teacher ratio, teachers get to know their students, and can challenge them as individuals both inside and outside of the classroom. Rees and Benneyworth believe that all children should love learning, and they want parents to know that regardless of academic outcomes, it is possible for a child to love school.

Rees and Benneyworth say they are lifelong learners and are inspired when they see children showing enthusiasm and excitement for learning and trying something new or realizing an undiscovered passion.

It’s no wonder that graduates from Star Academy excel after graduating whether that be entering the public school system or continuing down the private school path.

“Our students do well regardless of where they head after Star Academy” said Rees. “One of my children went to a public high school offering a speciality arts program and is now studying landscape architecture in university. My other two are currently in another large private school in Oakville and doing very well academically and also taking on leadership opportunities in their clubs and teams.

“Star Academy students learn the skills they need to be successful in future life, regardless of the environment, because our program incorporates all aspects of our five pillers of child development – social, emotional, physical, global and academic. Smaller classes mean more opportunities for meaningful group collaboration and they have significant oral presentation opportunities so often they are more comfortable speaking up in a larger class.

“Some of our families choose to stay in private high schools with smaller class sizes because that worked well for them in the elementary years,” added Rees. “If someone comes to us at Star and is behind with their academics, we have the resources to help them catch up with reading, writing and math.”

Earlier this year Rees read the following article by Chris Rhodes and felt it really resonated. She is sharing it here as parents of athletes will likely relate.

“People always ask, “Why do you pay so much money for your kid to do sports?” Well, I have a confession to make; I don’t pay for my kid to do sports. Personally, I couldn’t care less about what sport he does. So, if I am not paying for sports what am I paying for?

– I pay for those moments when my kid becomes so tired he wants to quit but doesn’t.

– I pay for those days when my kid comes home from school and is “too tired” to go to his training but he goes anyway.

– I pay for my kid to learn to be disciplined, focused and dedicated.

– I pay for my kid to learn to take care of his body and learn how to correctly fuel his body for success.

– I pay for my kid to learn to work with others and to be a good teammate, gracious in defeat and humble in success.

– I pay for my kid to learn to deal with disappointment, when they don’t get that placing or title they’d hoped for, but still they go back week after week giving it their best shot.

– I pay for my kid to learn to make and accomplish goals.

– I pay for my kid to respect, not only themselves, but others, officials, judges and coaches.

– I pay for my kid to learn that it takes hours and hours, years and years of hard work and practice to create a champion and that success does not happen overnight.

– I pay for my kid to be proud of small achievements, and to work towards long term goals.

– I pay for the opportunity my child has and will have to make life-long friendships, create lifelong memories, to be as proud of his achievements as I am.

– I pay so that my child can be in the gym instead of in front of a screen.

– I pay for those rides home where we make precious memories talking about practice, both good and bad.

-I pay so that my child can learn the importance of time management and balancing what is important like school and keeping grades up.

I could go on but, to be short, I don’t pay for sports; I pay for the opportunities that sports provides my kid with to develop attributes that will serve him well throughout his life and give him the opportunity to bless the lives of others. From what I have seen so far, I think it is a great investment!”

Star Academy is pleased to again support Pakmen’s teams and Community Fund.

Heather and Julie invite families to visit Star Academy ( Their door is always open and they offer academic assessments for students applying to Kindergarten-Grade 8. They are happy to talk to parents and offer suggestions on how to help their child reach their potential.