Why enrollment in B.C.’s independent schools continue to rise

The challenging and varied educational experiences Independent schools provide, help students develop the skills and character traits needed to thrive in the future

(Left to right) Brentwood College is always in search of new ways to elevate its students’ learning experience; Urban Academy connects its curriculum to technology, the arts and outdoor education

The challenging and varied educational experiences Independent schools provide, help students develop the skills and character traits needed to thrive in the future

British Columbia boasts more than 60 private schools, offering everything from boarding schools and day schooling to coed, all-boys and all-girls schools.

The many benefits of independent schools have been well documented and include a more diverse approach to education, a positive learning environment for each and every child and open communication between students, parents and administration.

According to the latest Statistics Canada study, independent high-school students score significantly higher than public high-school students on reading, mathematics and science assessments at age 15, and have higher levels of educational attainment by age 23.

Trying to decide on the right school for your child, however, can be a daunting task.

Resources, including The Independent Schools Association of British Columbia (ISABC) and Our Kids Media, provide step-by-step guides to assist parents in finding the school that “fits” their child.

Independent schools aim to bring out the best in their students through programs that target students’ unique learning needs and interests. Vancouver Island’s Brentwood College School is an independent coed boarding school that attracts students from Grades 8 to 12 due to its innovative approach, university preparatory programs and breathtaking oceanfront setting.

Brentwood’s unique tripartite system provides students with access to an impressive variety of educational options, and creates an environment that assists students in developing their own effective learning strategies.

Using the constantly evolving tripartite system that balances academics, arts and athletics, Brentwood takes a progressive all-inclusive approach. Just last year, Brentwood created an Academic Plan that includes five commitments: thinking, global mindedness, being learner-centred, being experiential and providing inspirational teaching. This year, students and teachers will look to live out that plan.

“Our goal is to foster globally minded students who embrace the values of grit and joy. Grit means taking a realistic approach and preparing students for life. We work to maintain the balance between encouraging students to become independent learners and experiencing failure, while providing the necessary support to allow them to succeed,” says Cheryl Murtland, director of academics.

Brentwood consistently seeks new ways to enhance learning and further foster collaboration with progressive cutting-edge programs like the bio/civic class combining biology with ethics and civic studies. The school is also consulting with the Malahat Nation as Brentwood implements the new provincial First Nations curriculum.

“It’s extremely important to partner with the local community and set the standard globally for inspirational and transformative learning,” says Murtland.

New for this year, students are enjoying a completely refurbished and inventive learning commons space.

“This is very exciting for all of us. Its adaptable space configuration means students now have a choice of seating arrangements, from singular spaces to seminar rooms, and its modern glass wall that overlooks the ocean creates an inspiring space where students can work together,” says Murtland.

West Point Grey Academy (WPGA) also takes an innovative approach and exudes an entrepreneurial spirit and a youthful energy that is reflected in its students, staff and parents. The school prides itself on being authentic, community-minded and nimble, with the ability to adapt and introduce new programs.

 “The hallways are packed every day with parents connecting with each other. It’s a supportive, family-oriented environment, with open communication between students, teachers and parents,” says Megan MacMillan, communications director.

Included in West Point Grey Academy’s innovative approach to education is an excellent outdoor environmental program

Set on 18 acres overlooking English Bay and the North Shore mountains, WPGA offers future-focused academic and co-curricular programs to 940 students from Junior Kindergarten to Grade 12. Among its many offerings, the school has strong engineering and outdoor environmental programs. Last year a newly built makerspace enabled students to further develop their technological skills with the latest 3D printers and technologies.

The school’s language programs (French, Mandarin and Spanish, comprehensive service program and global education initiatives (that include its Global Studies Diploma in partnership with UBC’s Liu Institute for Global Issues, and membership in Global Online Academy [GOA]) are examples of the school’s commitment to prepare students to succeed in a diverse, rapidly-evolving world.

“In our second year as the only Canadian member school in GOA—a consortium of over 60 leading independent schools internationally offering collaborative, globally inspired online learning—we are seeing great success,” explains MacMillan.

Central to WPGA’s core values, which include innovation, character and balance, is ensuring each student at WPGA experiences an educational journey guided by inquiry and filled with joy.

Since 1908 St. Margaret’s School (SMS) in Victoria has been empowering young women from Junior Kindergarten to Grade 12 through inquiry-based learning.

SMS is the first girls’ STEM school in Canada. Beyond creating an acronym for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, STEM is an interdisciplinary educational philosophy centred on question, observation, reflection and communication.

“Through STEM learning we nurture the ability to tackle complex problems and the vision that any career is possible, no matter your gender,” says Jennifer van Hardenberg, communications coordinator.

St. Margaret’s empowers young women through inquiry-based learning

This year the school is holding its inaugural STEM Leadership Conference and expanding its STEM partnerships to establish an apiary on campus.

At SMS students receive an education focused on developing the resilience, courage and confidence needed to become architects of the future. Students are encouraged to better understand the significant role of women in leadership and emerging industries.

“We’re lucky in Victoria to be able to draw on the burgeoning tech sector to amplify our programs,” explains van Hardenberg. “Exposing girls to role models can be a powerful contributor towards the goal of gender parity.”

Also new this year, the school has introduced a five-day boarding option for B.C. girls who thrive on independence and challenge.

Many parents are now choosing International Baccalaureate (IB) programs as they challenge students to excel in their studies and in their personal development. Between February 2011 and February 2016, the number of IB programs offered worldwide grew by 46.4 per cent.

As an IB Pre-Kindergarten to Grade 12 school, West Vancouver’s Mulgrave School is internationally renowned for providing students with a globally relevant education

Mulgrave School gives students a globally relevant education through its three IB programs

“We aim for our children to become global citizens,” says John Wray, head of school. “It is important to all of us for students to have an international understanding and perspective, as well as the core life skills and competencies that will enable them to happily succeed in life, wherever they find themselves in the future.”

Mulgrave School is proud to be innovative and to continually learn from the best practices around the world and incorporate that in experiential learning.

“We understand that each child is unique and we are committed to pushing the boundaries of student-centred learning so every child is challenged to explore and excel to their highest ability,” says Wray.

This idea is enshrined in Mulgrave School’s Centre for Innovation, which encourages the sharing of innovative practices that will have a measurable, positive effect on teaching and learning.

The collaborative learning and sharing of ideas with teachers, partnering universities and the community is also deeply rooted throughout the school to create a harmonious and progressive environment.

At South Delta’s Southpointe Academy, Kindergarten to Grade 12 students are provided with a balanced, open approach to education that produces confident, well-rounded students, who are creative, independent thinkers and communicators.

This year, students in Grades 10 to 12 scored 11.9 per cent above the provincial average and eight per cent above the Group 2 Independent School average on provincial examinations.

“We are very proud of Southpointe students, past and present. We see Southpointe’s role as providing a solid stepping stone that fully prepares them for their life ahead,” says Shahin Virji, director of admissions.

“Just recently, student Meaghan MacKenzie won Gold at the Canada-Wide Science Fair and a scholarship to the University of Western Ontario, and graduate Max Kirshenblatt joined the BC Ski Team… our students are truly inspirational,” says Virji.

As an IB Primary Years Programme (IB-PYP) school and a candidate Middle Years Program (IB-MYP) school, Southpointe is committed to provoking curiosity and inspiring learning for life.

Its intimate learning environment and community spirit—demonstrated through touches like the Edu Cafe coffee shop, open at the beginning and the end of the day for parents to mix with fellow parents and members of the leadership team—help foster a real sense of family.

Over in New Westminster, Urban Academy (UA) uses an academically enriched approach linking core subjects to technology, the arts and outdoor education. This approach engages the whole child and offers a variety of experiences for students at every age.

Using technology to deliver instruction, programs are carefully refined and developed to ignite students’ passions to learn and explore.

“We focus on what makes the most sense and the needs of each age,” says Cheryle Beaumont, head of school. “Whether that’s teaching primary students to be mindful, thoughtful learners or senior students to become strong local and global citizens.”

UA’s activities match the growing and changing child, and help mould students to become powerful thinkers, communicators and engaged risk-takers.

To further cater to student needs and growth, UA has secured land to construct a purpose-built school for 450 students. “Construction will break ground in the new year and be open for Fall 2018,” says Beaumont.