BCBusiness Stratford Hall
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Credit: Stratford Hall

Students at Stratford Hall strive for excellence, confidence and service in an academically challenging, pluralistic community where everyone thrives and belongs. But that is only the beginning. Stratford Hall brings students beyond the globally minded and socially conscious education that full International Baccalaureate (IB) Continuum schools are known for and offers kindergarten to grade 12 students something truly special, something that is not learned from a book: design thinking.

Stratford Hall’s reputation for going beyond the traditional is most evident in its Idea Lab on the institution’s East Vancouver campus, where students of all ages gather to create, innovate, invent, network, explore, and share ideas and resources.

“Creative thinking facilitates critical thinking, and both are vital to the education process and crucial to success in the 21st century work world,” says Andrea Ryan, Idea Lab Coordinator.

stratford-hall-2Stratford HallThis is especially salient to Stratford Hall, given that its intent is to prepare young people for the challenges of the world they will inherit.

The Idea Lab is not only a physical space where students can design and fabricate objects (among other things, it contains a ‘garage’ full of equipment like laser cutters, plus a fully-functional kitchen)—the experimenting and inventing enable students to develop as creative thinkers.

Meg Peñafiel, Stratford Hall’s Primary Years Programme Teacher-Librarian K-5, adds, “The Idea Lab encourages children from kindergarten to think through problems, and while the process is a lot of fun—our students do everything from making 3-D models to creating menus based on the culinary needs of clients—this type of thinking benefits their proficiency in every aspect of our curriculum, from math to science.”  

The independent, gender-inclusive school has a unique genesis. Burnaby-based Elaine Lee and Cindy Leung founded Stratford Hall in the late 1990s when they wanted a university preparatory option for their children and decided that IB would be the ideal solution.

stratford-hall-3Stratford HallToday, Stratford Hall is one of only 239 schools globally offering the complete IB Continuum, and its learning experience has been described as modern, progressive and urban, with a healthy degree of dedication required by all.

But it took considerable planning and effort to achieve these attributes. The school first opened in 2000 with only 40 students, and it wasn’t until 2003 that it gained authorization for the IB Primary Years Programme, the first school in Western Canada to do so. That same year, Stratford Hall was accepted into the Independent Schools Association of BC, and in 2005 it was recognized as a member of the Canadian Association of Independent Schools.

Also in 2005, the institution achieved authorization for the Diploma Programme (DP), ensuring that its first graduating class would be Diploma candidates; four years later it attained full authorization for its Middle Years Programme MYP), making it a full IB Continuum School.

Throughout this lengthy development, parents were attracted to Stratford Hall’s mission and vision—the institution added 40 new students each year, and today the current enrolment exceeds 530 students. 

Just as Stratford Hall developed methodically, so, too, did the Idea Lab. The brainchild of the institution’s teachers and supported by students and parents, it began in 2014 in the basement of the DP building for grades 3 and 4 students and eventually encompassed the PYP and MYP with a much larger dedicated space.

“Meg and I pushed the programming aspect of the Lab and ensured that its content remained fluid and flexible, since the interests of students change regularly,” Ryan says.

Stratford Hall students work in the Lab at least once a week for the entire school year, and the brainstorming of ideas and interests leads to the physical act of creation, whether it be developing menus, figuring out how to grow kale, or making stands for iPads. “So, creative thinking goes hand in hand with creative development, with the entire process being a fun experience for them and us,” Peñafiel says.

stratford-hall-4Stratford HallThe skills gained from the Lab work dovetail nicely with both PYP and MYP. The former is designed to help students grow and mature, while equipping themselves with intellectual tools, strength of character, and a global perspective. The latter encourages students to embrace and understand traditional subjects and their connection to today's world, and to become critical and reflective thinkers.

Combined, these initiatives lead Stratford Hall students to the Diploma Programme, which is designed to equip them with the academic skills needed for university study, further education, and their chosen profession, in addition to developing them as good people who can make a difference in the world.

With the Idea Lab an integral and engrained component of learning at Stratford Hall, Ryan and Peñafiel say their job will be to continue to develop new loose frameworks of activity to keep students inspired. “Every year we reinvent the units of the Lab to keep things fresh rather than regimented,” Ryan says.

“It’s especially gratifying that the purpose of the Lab has been so strongly supported by parents as well as Stratford Hall administration,” Peñafiel adds. “It goes a long way in supporting Stratford Hall’s vision of students gaining a deep understanding of the world around them and excelling to the best of their abilities.”

Learn more | stratfordhall.ca

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Created by BCBusiness in partnership with Stratford Hall