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Independent Schools Help Students Reach Their Potential Through Unique Program Offerings

Independent schools are bringing the best out of their students through program offerings and a curriculum that are equally challenging as they are enriching

There are as many reasons why parents choose to send their child to an independent school as there are choices. However, one thing is fairly certain: many parents feel that a private school education offers children the necessary skills needed to navigate the fast, ever-changing world we live in. 

With options ranging from special programs to boarding schools to modern alternative curriculums, there is a school to match each and every child. Having said that, it can be a daunting task trying to discern what school will be the right fit for each child. 

With so many schools to choose from, many parents don’t know where to start. One of the easiest ways is only a click away. Our Kids Media is one of the best resources for parents searching for a private school that will be perfect for their child. It is Canada’s only free and largest website dedicated solely to private education.

Our Kids Media managing editor Agnes Stawicki suggests parents should firstly identify and prioritize their expectations as well as their child’s needs. “Parents must take a good look at their child and evaluate their strengths and weaknesses,” she adds. “Will they do better in a single-sex school, is French Immersion or religious studies important, is your child gifted … all of these factors need to be considered when searching for the best school. When parents take the time to assess their child, they have a better chance at finding the right environment for their child to reach their full potential.”

On its site, Our Kids Media provides an Essential Parent Guide to Private Education, a six-step online manual that features a questionnaire parents can download and bring to interviews at prospective schools.

Once parents have had time to evaluate their children’s specific needs, parents can explore a number of schools by visiting fairs such as Our Kids Private School Expos. Vancouver’s upcoming Expo will be held on November 8th at the Westin Bayshore Hotel. The fair provides an opportunity for families to learn about independent schools and meet with exhibiting private schools and education consultants, as well as access helpful resources and tools.

“The fair also features 40-minute information sessions,” says Stawicki. “Choosing to place your child in private school is a large investment. By attending an Expo parents will be armed with the knowledge to make the best informed decision for their child’s needs.”

Enriched academic opportunities
For parents of gifted children, an increasingly popular choice across the country is the International Baccalaureate Program (IB). Dwight School Canada in Victoria is the only international university preparatory school in Western Canada that offers boarding for its IB students.

“The IB diploma program provides a solid foundation for post-secondary-bound students,” says Jerry Salvador, head of school. “Grads say the focus on university prep gives them a distinct leg up. We had a young student who received credit for 30 units at Simon Fraser University for her IB courses.”

Though it may seem like a program for academic elites, that’s not the case, adds Salvador. “We have such a variety of students that come through … care is given to help each student reach their potential and create well-rounded students,” he says, adding that the school has a rich diverse student body. “The program is not a passive one and is designed for those students who have a strong work ethic and a passion for learning.”

The environment at Dwight School Canada encourages independent thinkers from Grades 7 to 12. Its educational ideology reflects the IB philosophy with a challenging curriculum that helps students become the leaders of tomorrow.

At West Vancouver’s Mulgrave School, all of its students, from Pre-Kindergarten to Grade 12, follow the IB curriculum with nearly all pursuing the full IB Diploma Program.

“We network and partner with both public and private schools worldwide who take part of the IB program,” says John Wray, head of school. “By working collaboratively and sharing innovation together, we can bring about changes much quicker.”
As an independent, non-denominational, co-educational school with just under 900 students, Mulgrave offers the Primary Years, Middle Years and the Diploma programs.

“As an International Baccalaureate Continuum School, we are focused on forward-thinking global education for all of our students,” adds Wray. The result of its strong IB focus is an impressive university placement for 100 per cent of its students.
Mulgrave also prides itself on its holistic approach to teaching. It is based on a philosophy of education that believes each student finds meaning and purpose in life through connections to the community and to humanitarian values such as compassion and peace.

“We have the ability to offer a broad and holistic education that is focused on personal skills, service learning, athletics and the arts, all the while fostering a strong sense of community,” explains Wray.

Vancouver Island’s Brentwood College School is another co-ed university preparatory boarding school that prides itself on innovative and unique programs. Its Tripartite Programme is designed to provide students with equal parts of academics, athletics and arts.

Although academic studies are at the core of its curriculum, students also participate in athletic and art programs.

“Students are required to enroll in one to three art courses, whether it’s in the performing, visual or technical arts. It can be anything from public speaking, pottery, digital art or music,” says Cheryl Murtland, director of academics. “You might have an artistic student who balks at athletics, but once they try something new they often get really engaged and in the process learn something new about themselves.”

When it comes to its athletic component, students can opt to join a competitive sport, yoga or CrossFit right up to outdoor pursuits such as hiking or kayaking. 

“We have a tradition here of making sure we graduate well-rounded students,” says Murtland. “There is a real commitment to a balanced approach to education.”

Another important element here is a strong focus on social responsibility. Brentwood offers a selection of leadership opportunities on a local, national and international level. The benefits are many—students assist those in need while expanding their knowledge and compassion for others, both outside the school and across the globe—and its aim is to put them on the path to a lifelong commitment to philanthropy.

“We have nurtured many community partnerships; our students make sandwiches for our local soup kitchen and the whole school takes part in our Community Day to raise money for charity,” she adds. “We also have some of our Grade 10 students who partner with local elementary school children to create children’s books.” 

At Aberdeen Hall Preparatory School in Kelowna, its proximity to the University of British Columbia – Okanagan Campus (UBCO) has forged a dynamic relationship between the two schools. In addition to its senior students regularly taking part in classes at UBCO, the non-profit school benefits from the fact that 25 of its parents are UBC professors. They regularly come in to teach students about topics such as education, engineering and medicine, to name a few.

As those students prepare for post-secondary life, they also take part in practical learning through career planning, job shadowing and community outreach.

Sitting atop a mountain on 40 pristine acres, Aberdeen Hall consists of three buildings; an Early Learning Centre, Junior Hall and a Senior Hall for students from preschool to Grade 12. “We recently completed our new 60,000-square-foot facility, which includes a brand new digital design studio,” says Christopher Grieve, head of school.

This relatively young school has experienced unprecedented growth since its opening a decade ago—from 70 students to 550 students this year.

“That’s an average yearly growth of 10 to 12 per cent,” adds Grieve.

Along with its strong academic program, Aberdeen Hall offers flexible programming for its students pursuing high performance arts or elite athletics; receiving credits for their unique gifts.

“We are also an innovative research-based institution with ties to top research schools across North America,” adds Grieve. That translates to faculty regularly evaluating its courses to ensure it tailors programs for the distinctive needs of the Okanagan.
Unique programs
Founded in 1996, Vancouver’s West Point Grey Academy (WPGA) has a long rich history of creating unique, future-focused programs. Today, the school of 940 students continues its quest to embrace new ideas and ways of thinking.

One of its most exciting courses is the Global Studies Diploma Program, which partners with UBC’s Liu Institute for Global Issues and the Global Online Academy (GOA). Consisting of 65 of the world’s top schools, its partnership with GOA allows Brentwood’s teachers, and students studying international relations, online access to the best international teachers. In addition, students benefit from being mentored by PhD and master degree students at UBC’s Liu Institute to initiate solutions to worldwide issues that can be implemented at a local level.

“We are the only Canadian school to be a member of the Global Online Academy,” says Tam Matthews, head of school. “Students join a class of approximately 20 students worldwide to engage in blended learning. Our teachers then become master teachers in the school … it’s a win/win for both teachers and students,” he adds.

With its Global Studies Diploma, International Outreach and Outdoor Environmental Education programs, students become citizens of the world. With that vision and open culture, WPGA fosters an exceptional school experience. 

Located in Victoria, St. Margaret’s School (SMS) is Western Canada’s only all-female boarding school. Established in 1908, it is one of the oldest leading independent day and boarding schools in the province for students from Junior Kindergarten to Grade 12. SMS’s goal is to create a learning environment that reflects the diversity of the world in which we live and prepare its 350+ student body for engaged citizenship.

To that end, SMS’s programs are designed to build confidence, competence and connectedness. “Our mission is to help girls build well-balanced foundations for personal and professional success in a changing world,” says Jennifer van Hardenberg, communications coordinator.

With that in mind, the school offers the STEM program—an acronym that stands for science, technology, engineering and mathematics. (SMS is the only all-girls STEM school in the country.) STEM’s curriculum is based on the idea of educating students with an interdisciplinary and applied approach.

“Rather than teach the four disciplines as separate and distinct subjects, STEM integrates them into a cohesive learning paradigm based on real-world applications,” says Jennifer van Hardenberg, communications coordinator.

A sense of wellness and balance is also weaved into the fabric of the school, with a wide selection of courses in the arts and athletics disciplines.

Renowned for its tradition of academic excellence, Vancouver’s Crofton House was founded in 1898 as a university preparatory day school for girls from Junior Kindergarten to Grade 12.

In its quest to build a sense of community within the school, this fall Crofton House unveiled its new Manrell Hall.

“The hall is a gathering space where large assemblies and daily community lunches are held,” says Pat Dawson, head of school, adding they also opened a new senior school gym and fitness centre. “We made a commitment this year to have our students take 20 minutes every day to engage in meaningful conversation without any technology.”

Fraser Academy’s mission is to prepare its students, all of whom are dyslexic or diagnosed with language-based learning differences, for post-secondary opportunities. As a non-profit, co-ed, day school, serving 225 families, Fraser Academy uses individualized, multisensory teaching methods to provide an educational setting where its Grades 1-12 students can thrive and reach their potential.

“We offer personalized one-to-one or small group learning, as well as classrooms with a maximum of 10 students,” says head of school Maureen Steltman.

Its success lies in the fact that Fraser Academy offers instruction specifically designed to meet the needs of the individual. “We train our teachers with the most effective research-based methods available in order to achieve learning success,” says Steltman, adding proudly that her students are very capable and very bright.

The model has resulted in 90 per cent of Fraser graduates being accepted into college and university.

Notably, Fraser Academy is one of the first schools in North America to implement a strategic Executive Function Curriculum and school culture. Skills such as personal organization, study habits, working memory strategies, time management and self-advocacy are taught explicitly and reinforced in every class every day.

The school-wide 3C (Critical, Creative, Collaborative) Thinking curriculum is another explicitly taught program that helps students develop skills that are most sought after by employers, such as critical thinking, creativity, collaboration and communication skills.

For parents who need financial assistance, Fraser Academy offers bursaries to 15 per cent of students each year, covering up to 50 per cent of the tuition costs. “We truly believe that all students, regardless of economic situation, deserve an education in a setting where they can learn and prosper.”

Like other independent schools, Alexander Academy offers a challenging curriculum for its 98 students in Grades 10 through 12 preparing for a college or university education. What makes this school stand out is its location, says its head teacher Berenice Lewis.

Situated in the heart of downtown Vancouver, Alexander Academy’s students are naturally exposed to a culturally rich learning environment.

“Having an outdoor classroom, our students receive an education that goes well beyond our four walls,” adds Lewis.
Another attraction for its 98 students—many of which are international students—is its High Performance Program (HPP).

“Our HPP is able to accommodate students in elite arts or sports by providing half-day academic learning or a flexible program,” explains Lewis. “That allows students to pursue their chosen activities such as dance, music, hockey, rowing and many others.”

Alexander Academy’s integrated curriculum blends individual and group instruction with meaningful, ongoing assessment. The school takes a holistic approach to teaching each student—academically, artistically, physically and socially so that its students strengths and interests are able to shine through.

“No two students or journeys are alike and we will go out of our way to find and nurture each student’s unique abilities,” adds Lewis.

New Westminster’s Urban Academy has the distinction of being the Lower Mainland’s only arts-infused private school for students from Junior Kindergarten to Grade 12.

“We incorporate drama, music and visual arts into our academic courses,” says Cheryl Beaumont, head of school. “For example, you might have a Grade 5 science class studying the human body. For the art portion of the project they might be assigned to draw a cartoon characterizing the organ they are discussing in class.”

Urban Academy realizes the important of offering a diverse educational experience. “It’s about finding ways to keep our students engaged and encouraging them to awaken their artistic side within a dynamic learning environment,”
adds Beaumont.

Ultimately, the goal of all independent schools is to nurture the potential of each student.