BCBusiness BC Independent Schools
private-school
Credit: Brentwood College School

Independent schools in BC are uniquely positioned to make the best of change and forge a brighter path forward

No one has felt the pandemic like children. From strained social interactions to routine disruptions and missing extended family members, our youngest have had to navigate a changing landscape with more than a few curveballs. For many, school has been the staple, and BC’s independent schools have been uniquely positioned to move forward in constructive ways, often leveraging pandemic related pivots to forge new paths to even brighter student experiences.

BRENTWOOD COLLEGE SCHOOL

brentwoodBrentwood College School
Brentwood College School in Mill Bay is back to its fully functioning tripartite system that places academics, art and sports in set blocks that run all day until 6 pm, six days a week and ensure students an interdisciplinary education without having to compromise cross-curricular activities.

“This structure really provided us with the foundation to forge ahead and offer the boarding and school experience that we thought was so essential for young people,” says Liam Sullivan, deputy head, student life “When you think of wellness and the mental health impacts many young people faced, we are so happy that we were able to offer a sense of community that wasn’t available for many students in Canada.”

Bentwood is well positioned to manage change, regardless of a pandemic, because it is 100% committed to boarding. “Our boarding numbers far outweigh our day population, and our whole structure is devoted to the student experience all day, every day,” Sullivan says. “Because of that if we need to talk about change or innovate, we are all here together.”

While the end of the pandemic can’t come soon enough, the school is currently dealing with far fewer constraints than it was last year. The focus now is the vaccination program, which has been adopted and allows the rest of Brentwood’s activities to flow freely.

“There is a freedom that you feel across our campus that wasn’t there last year,” Sullivan says. “Just like everywhere, there was a depletion of positivity and energy because of what was happening, but this year feels much better and brighter.”

GLENLYON NORFOLK SCHOOL

gnsGlenlyon Norfolk School
In the spring of 2020, when all schools had to shift to remote learning, Glenlyon Norfolk School in Victoria launched GNS GO! (Gryphons Online)—a platform that allowed students to continue their learning for the remainder of that year.

Although GNS was operating full-time, in person last school year, it remains poised to be able to deliver GNS GO! again, if necessary.

“Last year, we continued to offer a robust co-curricular experience for our students,” says Trevor Mannion, director of enrollment at GNS. “We put on virtual events, live streamed or recorded performances, or simply continued to train and stay engaged while having fun through intramural sports.”

Moving forward, GNS will continue its policies around health and safety and managing communicable diseases, and it will keep the school nurse role and additional mental wellness support indefinitely.

GNS’s ability to pivot stems from its greatest asset: its people. “In many situations, our parents and guardians were unable to come to campus last year and so they remained connected to the school through our communications,” Mannion says. “Now that they are beginning to have opportunities to come back to campus, they are more eager and engaged than ever before and that continues to strengthen a wonderful partnership. Our students and employees have proven very resilient, and the pandemic bonded us closer together as a community.”

MULGRAVE SCHOOL

mulgraveMulgrave School
Although the pandemic brought some negatives, John Wray, head of school at Mulgrave in Vancouver, says the team has taken away some important positives.

“The first is the fundamental importance of well being,” Wray says. “We have seen that young people are particularly affected by school closures and by online learning. Therefore, we have become even more focused on ensuring well-being sits at the heart of what we do.”

Mulgrave continues to stress how important the student-teacher relationship is and ensures the right supports are in place to address wellness needs.

“Having a deep sense of social and emotional skills is important, and a sidebar to that is the value of being outdoors,” Wray says. “The experience of working in isolation from peers and resulting loneliness has made it clear that online learning is not for every student.”

Mulgrave is currently experimenting with offering older students the choice to learn some subjects or units online or in class, encouraging students to embrace the chance to personalize their learning.

“What we are not doing is forcing students to pick one,” Wray says. “We are introducing a degree of choice based on participants’ learning style and student preference.” 

WEST POINT GREY ACADEMY

wpgaWest Point Grey Academy
Because its campus features considerable outdoor space, West Point Grey Academy invested in several outdoor tents—complete with heaters and technology—to hold classes outdoors, when possible. This was just one step toward protecting the health and wellness of students, faculty and staff.

“WPGA also invested in mental health and wellness sessions for students, staff and parents across all grade levels,” says Megan MacMillan, communications director for WPGA. “These included virtual workshops with mental health experts and our school counsellors, and access to the Indieflix mental health series for all families.”

The school also expanded its CARE (character development) program in the Junior School, which includes character strengths learning to help students build their resilience and self awareness. “In the Senior School, we created the PEAKS advisory program with a focus on student mental health, self advocacy and personal connections,” MacMillan says.

Curriculum delivery has remained as vibrant and personalized as it was pre-pandemic. In a faculty survey on “Covid-keepers” (operational practices and safety protocols to keep moving forward), teachers suggested having permanent teachers-on-call, staggering lunches, having parents meet students outside for pick-up, and having students use more of WPGA’s outdoor space.

“WPGA was founded on a growth mindset, which includes an openness to new ideas and change and the desire to always be learning and innovating,” MacMillan says. “Like many schools, we aspire to be as proactive as we can, but the pandemic reinforced the need and strengthened our capacity to be nimble and adaptive in reacting quickly and confidently.”

URBAN ACADEMY

urban-academyUrban Academy
Anyone following the Urban Academy journey is not thinking about the pandemic. They would probably agree that the defining term for the 20-year-old school is growth, starting as a JK to grade 1 school in 2001, and growing the depth and breadth of the program to  include JK to grade 12 students and parent body over these last two decades.

“In the last seven years, UA has gone from one heritage campus to two, and finally to its own purpose-built facility that we moved into in March of 2019,” says Mike Slinger, Urban Academy’s head of school. “The building is currently four floors housing 365 students from JK to grade 12.”

As the school was being built, the rapid growth in the student population and interest from surrounding communities indicated that UA’s leadership needed to think bigger. As the plans were being finalized, and the foundation was being dug, the writing was on the wall that four floors of urban school was not going to be enough.

“Back to the drawing board we went, revising plans, to prepare for what we knew was coming,” says Slinger.

With a final (and so far unchanging) plan, the concluding stage of work at Urban Academy has begun. The fourth floor will open at some point this school year, while the fifth floor reaches completion inside, ready to open to students in September 2022. ■

Learn more: 

Brentwood College School | brentwood.bc.ca

Glenlyon Norfolk School | mygns.ca

Mulgrave School | mulgrave.com

West Point Grey Academy | wpga.ca

Urban Academy | urbanacademy.ca

Created by BCBusiness in partnership with BC Independent Schools