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An Enriching Educational Environment

Independent schools offer students extraordinary learning experiences that extend beyond the classroom

Each independent school has its own unique culture and areas of expertise. With that said, the search for the right school for your child should begin as early as possible.

Janis Clark, director of admissions at Collingwood School in West Vancouver, says that parents should begin looking at schools at least a year in advance.

Collingwood School is the largest independent day school in Canada with 1,265 students, and by spring the school is pretty much at full enrolment for the following year. “Make sure you contact the school to schedule a tour, see the school in action and meet as many people as you can,” she says. “We love the relationship that starts with this first in-person meeting, and we develop a good comfort level with our families. We also encourage families to visit more than one school so that they can compare and contrast programs and facilities in order to make an informed application decision for their child.”

For help in the research process, parents are turning to the various resources provided by Our Kids Media. The free website ( is Canada’s largest website about private education. Its most popular feature is a school search, which allows parents to find a school by location, grade level or programs. The site offers school profiles with information about tuition, ratings, scholarships and details about the application process. The site also offers listings of open houses and helpful articles on topics such as the application process and financial aid.

Our Kids Media also publishes an annual magazine aimed at helping parents navigate the world of private education. Published every fall, Canada’s Private School Guide is a comprehensive overview of 44 private schools in B.C. and 312 private schools across Canada. It also features the latest trends in education and offers a glossary of terms such as International Baccalaureate and Advanced Placement. Canada’s Private School Guide is available at Chapters bookstore or at

Another great way to learn more about independent schools is to attend the Our Kids Private School Expo on November 16 at the Westin Bayshore Hotel. Representatives from up to 30 schools will be available to meet with prospective parents, and a panel of education consultants will host information seminars on choosing, applying and paying for private school. “These are experts in the field that know the schools and they are able to give parents some answers in a casual environment,” says Agnes Stawicki, of Our Kids Media. “It gives them a better idea of what kinds of questions they should be asking the schools and how to choose the school that will be the right fit for their child.” More information about the event is available at

Unique Programs

Many parents choose a school because of a specialty or a unique program. This is certainly true at Queen Margaret’s School, which has a long-established and well-respected equestrian program. About a third of the school’s Grade 4 to 12 female student body participates at levels ranging from recreational to elite. Students have the option of riding horses during their Physical Education blocks, and competitive riders train after school and on weekends as well.

“Our approach is that we are student-centred, and our equestrian program provides students with opportunities that honour their gifts and talents,” says Wilma Jamieson, head of school. “Speaking to the heart of many of our students, the equestrian program meshes both academics and their love of riding while building a variety of lifelong skills and personal attributes.”

Several of the school’s senior female riders have competed in equestrian competitions at national and international levels, earning strong results. Queen Margaret’s School aims to support equestrian athletes in both their athletic and academic goals. “Our support of our equestrian student-athletes mirrors the importance we place on meeting the unique needs of every one of our students,” says Jamieson. “We pride ourselves in being able to offer a wide range of experiential learning opportunities both inside and outside of the classroom through fine arts education, athletics, outdoor education, global studies and our welcoming boarding residence.”

St. Margaret’s School in Victoria runs a unique program called Outweek, which also reflects the school’s larger philosophy. The youngest students participate in an adventure close to home, while the older ones go on outdoor trips such as whitewater kayaking or rock climbing. Some go as far as Japan or Ecuador. “We call it challenge by choice,” says Jennifer van Hardenburg, communications coordinator. “It’s always really incredible to see them come back from their trip with a real sense of accomplishment.”

St. Margaret’s is a secular school of 350 students from Jr. Kindergarten to Grade 12. As a small school, programming can be nimble and progressive. “Our goal is to provide a space that is uniquely for girls, and an education that empowers them for life. We are able to look at the needs of individual girls and specific age groups. For example, how do we set her up with great self-confidence at the age when we know girls lose self-confidence? How do we give her challenges so that she is able to find her voice and discover her interests?”

The misperceptions about a school for girls are things van Hardenburg hears all too often. “People think we must be Catholic, the environment must be stodgy and ultra-conservative, and that the girls will grow up and not know how to relate to boys. In fact it’s quite the opposite.”
New Learning Practices

Founded in 1996, West Point Grey Academy (WPGA) has always been focused on growing both their student body and innovative educational programs. “We want to be a model for schools offering experiential, interdisciplinary programs and partnerships,” says Tam Matthews, head of school. “At West Point Grey, we have invested fully in our people and programs. That’s how we have created classrooms with leading teaching and learning practices.”

He references Harvard research that defines quality teaching by three characteristics: rigour, relevance and relationships. WPGA’s professional development for teachers includes a mentorship program, training in attachment theory and partnerships with renowned educators and University of British Columbia professors. Such practices have produced excellent outcomes. WPGA students excel in external testing, and 100 per cent are accepted to university, including the top schools around the world.

Despite its young age, Meadowridge School in Maple Ridge has already established itself as an outstanding academic institution with an innovative approach. The school is one of five International Baccalaureate Continuum schools in B.C., meaning that all grades from Junior Kindergarten to Grade 12 are accredited by the IB Program.

In June 2014, Meadowridge’s first IB Diploma class graduated, with excellent results. Eighty-four per cent of the class attempted and received the diploma, which is equivalent to first-year university. The exams are scored internationally, and Meadowridge students scored 12 per cent above the world average scores. “The IB Diploma Program is considered to be the most rigorous curriculum in the world,” says headmaster Hugh Burke, “so we were very happy with that.”

He attributes the school’s success to a lot of diligent work over time. “We are not as selective as some schools in the application process. What we really want to measure is the growth of our students from when they arrive to when they leave. We very carefully track data to see what our students are good at and what they need to work on.”

Students receive a lot of individual attention, from the school’s highly educated teachers. “We believe that when you invest in teacher development,” says Burke, “you increase student achievement.”

Personalized Attention

Brockton School in North Vancouver is what head of school Karen McCulla describes as “a hidden gem.” Established in 2004, Brockton is a co-ed International Baccalaureate World School from Kindergarten to Grade 12. “As a smaller school, we can give personalized attention to our students,” says McCulla. “We’re not entrenched in particular ways of doing things, and are able to flex and flow with the needs of our students; supporting them where they need to be supported, and stretching them where they can be stretched.”

If a student has a particular interest in aviation for example, the teacher can tailor the learning to include an experiential exploration of that area of study. Brockton also fosters students’ interests outside the classroom through athletics, arts, music, outdoor education and service. Students in the outstanding World Music Program have represented Canada on an international stage. “At Brockton, we see ourselves as preparing students to succeed and get the most out of today, while preparing them to thrive in their futures, with an appreciation of their personal, local and global responsibilities,” says McCulla.

Education For Life

Another young institution is Kelowna’s Aberdeen Hall, which has grown from 91 students to almost 500 in the past eight years. Located on a 40-acre property overlooking Glenmore Valley, Aberdeen Hall has recently completed an impressive $23-million campus. The school draws students from Vernon, Penticton and the Kettle Valley, and head of school Christopher Grieve says the opportunities offered at Aberdeen are unique in the area. The school has also built up a scholarship fund, offering financial assistance to many students.

Aberdeen Hall enjoys a special partnership with University of British Columbia Okanagan (UBCO), whose campus is a direct neighbour. About 25 school parents are UBCO professors, and they have helped promote the sharing of facilities and intellectual capital in the faculties of education, engineering and sciences.

Aberdeen offers Advanced Placement courses, and its first graduating class in 2014 received 100 per cent university acceptance. “We have extremely dedicated, passionate teachers,” says Grieve. “They are our greatest asset.”

Along with strong academics, Aberdeen Hall offers an excellent music program, a growing athletic program and a character education program. It offers the Character Counts program for Kindergarten to Grade 6, and has developed its own Cornerstones program for senior students. Both focus on skills like generosity, organization and friendship. “We want to prepare our students for success in university and in life,” says Grieve. “We teach them that all members of our community have a responsibility to watch out for those that may not be as fortunate as they are.”

In addition to delivering a rigorous academic program, and strong athletics and arts programs, Crofton House School looks at other ways to fulfill its mission of educating girls for life. “This year our overarching theme is self-esteem, and working with our Parents’ Auxiliary we are focusing on what we can do to promote our girls’ self-esteem in concrete ways,” says head of school Dr. Patricia Dawson.

In September, the school hosted JoAnn Deak, the well-known author of How Girls Thrive, for a parents’ meeting and then a workshop with staff. Deak’s work focuses on the three components of a positive self-esteem: competence, confidence and connectedness. “We’ve always focused on the unique challenges for girls, but this year we’ve chosen this framework to help us apply these ideas each and every day.”

Financial Assistance

Many schools offer financial assistance, such as Vancouver’s York House School, a leading independent day school for girls. York House completed its senior building in 2013, winning an Urban Design Award from the City of Vancouver. Now, the school is turning its fundraising focus to scholarships. “Our goal is to increase our number of scholarships so that we have a truly diverse student body in every sense of the word,” says Kathy Kealey, assistant head of school. “There are some fabulous girls in this city that we would love to have at the school.”

York House is located in Shaughnessy and has space for about 660 girls from Junior Kindergarten to Grade 12. “We will never grow larger than that,” says Kealey. “But the girls have opportunities they would find at a school twice the size.” She lists Advanced Placement courses, and high-calibre music, arts and sports programs. Another unique program was started last year, called Teacher Advisory Group. Every day, senior school students meet in a small group with a teacher outside classroom time. The program has been a resounding success. “We know that we have a rigorous academic program and it can be stressful, so this is another opportunity for the girls to connect with an adult in the school and get additional support,” says Kealey.

Beyond the Classroom

At Brentwood College School in Mill Bay, Vancouver Island, students have unrivalled access to opportunities outside of the classroom due to its unique Tripartite Programme. It is this program that allows the school’s 490 students to participate in so many activities of their choice. Students complete their academic studies in the morning and then spend six afternoons a week immersed in both the arts and athletics. It is this balance that makes Brentwood so unique.

Students can choose from among 35 arts courses, including visual, technical and performing arts, and 24 sports. “It builds a very special kind of school,” says Clayton Johnston, director of admissions. “Education goes beyond the classroom here. It occurs on the water, on the courts, in the studios and on the stage. It’s amazing because kids arrive here perhaps thinking they’re interested or successful in only one area but soon find out about all these other opportunities and begin to develop other passions. It’s the time of life when you want to be exposed to different experiences and at Brentwood it is safe to explore your options.”

Brentwood offers a day program in Grade 8, but is mainly a Grade 9 to 12 boarding school where 84 per cent of students live on a 49-acre oceanfront campus with modern facilities and a West Coast vibe.

The unique extra-curricular program and the campus lifestyle have fostered a very satisfied student body, and Brentwood’s attrition rate is far below average. The school regularly achieves university placement for 100 per cent of graduates, and last year 84 per cent went to their first choice university. “Students would say our extra-curricular program is one of the coolest things about the school,” says Johnston.

International View

Glenlyon Norfolk School (GNS) in Victoria is attracting a growing number of international students, with its International Baccalaureate Continuum Program and membership in the Round Square association of schools. In order to accommodate these international students, the school offers a 7-Day Family Boarding program. “A host family can be either one of our own staff, or the parents of current students at the school,” explains head of school Simon Bruce-Lockhart. “So you’re putting the children into homes that are already closely tied to the school and committed to it.” The program matches the interests of the boarding student with the family, and has been a great success. Now, the school is introducing a 5-Day Family Boarding program, for students who live close enough to go home on the weekends.

One of those students is Rory Macklin, who lives on Gabriola Island. He decided last summer that he would like to try a new school, and started Grade 11 at GNS this September. He has been living just a short walk from the school with another student’s family. “It’s kind of like I’m part of the family. I got inducted so fast,” he says. He is also enjoying the new style of teaching offered by the IB program. “All the topics are linked together, so there’s parts of chemistry in biology class and even in English class. It gives you a broad world view,” he says.

The IB program, says Bruce-Lockhart, is one of the school’s ‘centres of excellence.’ Another is its soccer program, which ranks amongst the best in the province, and its debate program, which is amongst the best in the country. The school’s membership in the Round Square gives students opportunities to participate in conferences, exchanges and service trips around the world.

Dwight School in Shawnigan Lake, 45 minutes north of Victoria, offers students a small but diverse environment with a large percentage of international students. “As an International Baccalaureate World school, we are trying to have our students always look for a new perspective and to try and see all the ways that we are actually connected to one another, rather than looking at how different we are,” says principal Andrea Spinner. “That’s particularly interesting to do in a school environment where you are bringing together students from 15 different countries.”

Dwight School Canada was founded in 2009 by Jerry Salvador, head of school. His goal was to create an opportunity for Canadian students to be educated in an intercultural setting. The school has 125 students from Grade 6 to 12, with 80 of them boarding, and has grown significantly each year. The list of extra-curricular activities includes the expected, such as basketball and drama, and others such as sewing, horseback riding, First Nations art and a Japanese club.

Spinner says that Dwight’s committed and caring staff help to create a culture that is more like a family than a school. “We’re not just looking at the academic life of a student. We’re actually trying to support them as they navigate through the turbulent years of being an adolescent.”

After-School Enrichment

Most parents want to help their child succeed in school, and it’s that desire that prompted a math teacher named Toru Kumon to develop the materials and guiding principles behind the Kumon Method. He was helping his eight-year-old son with math homework, and the program he developed expanded to a reading program, and is the largest after-school learning program in the world.

New students complete a placement test, and are then given an individualized learning plan. Unlike a conventional tutoring program, Kumon aims to help children learn to learn on their own, and to work efficiently. “We work on having students develop confidence and independence, not just in their studies but in all areas,” says Debbie Marno, who owns a franchise in White Rock. “It’s based on daily practice, the way you would become proficient at the piano or a second language.”

Students who complete work that is one year, two years or three years above their Grade level are recognized with their name on the honour roll. “So when their teacher at school is presenting material, the Kumon student has seen it already. That’s when they get that deeper understanding of the concepts, because they aren’t so focused on the basic skills.”

Giving a child the exposure to new opportunities and ways of seeing the world can be a lasting gift to a child, one that goes beyond the classroom and impacts his or her entire life.