Gavin knows what a difference a year can make. Last September, he left his home in small-town British Columbia for the first time and moved into an unfamiliar room on campus, about two hours away, to begin Grade 9. Now, he’s the one showing the newcomers the ropes.
Gavin is one of a select group of students who was invited back to school early to help guide the new students through their first days of boarding school life. And he can hardly wait to return himself.
“Before I started Grade 9, I had never been away from home for more than a week,” he says.
He remembers how, before long, the school became home and the strangers living around him became friends.
“I really like living in the dorm. All my friends are right here,” he says. “My parents don’t have to drive me to see them.”
He now boasts a collection of friends from all over the world.
“They’re from Korea, China—people I probably never would have met if I never left home,” he says.
At Brentwood College School living on campus also means being responsible for assigned “house jobs” and ensuring his room is clean enough to pass inspection every morning before class. The increased responsibility, he says, has helped him grow.
“Learning to live without parents, you have to handle things without them,” he says. “I feel I’m a lot different now.”
Of her favourite things about boarding, “one of the best is living with my friends,” says Caitlin, 16. The experience at Toronto’s Havergal College has changed her.
“At first I was really homesick, but now I’m so glad with my decision. I’ve learned about myself. I’ve grown as a person; I’m more independent and outgoing. I’ve learned to take risks.”
She recently returned from a six-week exchange to Tasmania, and next year she’ll be a junior don in residence—a leadership role in the dorm that is home to girls from Germany, Russia, Korea, Hong Kong, Isle of Man, Mexico, Spain and Quebec. Caitlin is looking forward to helping them adjust as well as she has. It helps, she says, that there is so much to do.
Tennis courts, an indoor swimming pool and a new fitness centre make evening and weekends fun. “Whatever interests you, you can do. I’m so glad I came here.”
Phil thought boarding was no big deal—until he became a boarder. Phillip, 17, attended Albert College in Belleville for five years as a day student. He was still putting in long hours, arriving early, attending evening events before finally making it home.
Then Phil, the school’s head prefect, boarded for his last year. “I saw a different side to the school,” he says now. “For five years, this was the place I came to work, and then went home. But it’s a really neat feeling to be able to relax here as well. After school is over, it’s your home. I love waking up on Saturday morning, not hearing the bell until 11 o’clock, and going to brunch.”
And, he says, living alongside your teachers, you get to know them even better.
There are practical benefits too. “At home, I didn’t really have the structure. I would tell my mother I will get my homework done later.” For boarders, though, there is a 7:00 to 9:00 study period from Sunday to Thursday—one reason he has an 89 per cent average.
Phil also thinks boarding was the best possible preparation for his next step: He has been offered a scholarship at Glasgow University, where he will be in residence.
Sean is only 16 but he reckons he’s ready for university. Two years ago he transferred from his high school in Kanata, near Ottawa, to Stanstead College in Quebec’s Eastern Townships, as a boarder. “I wanted to get into the university of my choice, and this seemed the best way,” he says.
Maybe Sean didn’t realize it, but one of his biggest gains from switching schools would be in the area of life skills. Parents talk about it, schools promote it, but acquiring life skills is a lot harder to describe and measure than, say, winning a scholarship or scoring a goal.
Sean remembers: “The hardest thing was switching my personality—manners at the dinner table, and being courteous. It took a little bit of work.”
Promptness and application were two other qualities he acquired. He was used to being at school at 9:00 and going home at 3:30. But at Stanstead, the day starts with assembly at 8:10 and classes at 8:30, with sports or club activities like jazz or debating at 3:30 and a two-hour study session before bed. The first year his marks dropped about five per cent, but have since picked up. By the end though, he was a prefect, and was offered a scholarship to take commerce at Queen’s, the university of his choice.
“I guess I have learned I am capable of reacting to change,” he says. “I am a much more rounded person.”
Christian Wells, assistant headmaster at Stanstead, sees it as a whole package of life skills—from the family-style lunches with place settings that students enjoy with their advisers in the first four weeks of school, to the emphasis on public speaking at the daily assemblies, to learning time management. “I think certainly in a boarding school, you learn to handle yourself and that gives you a great advantage in the first year at university.”
Part of it, he says, is, “we keep the kids extremely busy.” It’s a theme repeated by Courtenay Shrimpton, assistant headmaster and director of student life at St. Andrew’s College. “Here, it’s cool to be involved,” he says. “Heart, mind, body and spirit, through academics, clubs, leadership, sports. The spirit of this place is that those who are most involved are the ones who are most admired by the school community and the other students.” The school’s mission, he says, echoing the ideal of many institutions, “is to produce the complete man.”
Cora, 15, from Pictou, Nova Scotia, is nothing if not single-minded. “It was my decision to come here,” she says of her switch to King’s-Edgehill School two years ago. “I am an only child and my parents were a little worried at me moving away from home. But once they heard my stories and how much I loved it, they were so glad.”
Her reasons for the move: “Smaller class sizes, individual attention.”
Now, says Cora, a flute player who won the woodwind class in the provincial music festival, “I would not want to be anywhere else. It seems more like a family than a school. Everyone is so close.”
Tamires Sogre is 18 years old and preparing for a promising future. She plans to complete an undergraduate degree at Carleton University in Ottawa, Ontario, then hopes to attend medical school.
Just one year ago, Tamires was living in her native Brazil, prepping for a one-year trip to Canada to study at Archer Preparatory College, an independent school in Toronto, Ontario. “For the first time, I was going to be far away from my parents for that long,” Tamires says. “I think you have to prepare yourself for the mental part because it’s hard.”
While she had attended private school all of her life, this was Tamires’ first time boarding away from home. She knew she’d miss her family and face new experiences and responsibilities. To make sure she had a clear idea of the expectations, she researched the school before she arrived. Still, Tamires says there isn’t much else she could have done to prepare herself for Archer. “There’s not a right way to say ‘Oh, if you do that, you’ll be ready.’ It depends,” she says. “Just have an open mind.”