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Academics main focus but extra-curricular activities also important

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While academics are the main focus at Quebec's private schools, they take great pride in their vast array of extracurricular activities and their reputations for being trusted homes away from home.

Trafalgar School For Girls, founded in Montreal in 1887 with eight students, now has 208. Sandra Keymer-Temple is so fond of the school that she decided to become a "lifer."

"I went to the principal after my first day of school and said 'Thank you very much, I had a very nice day and I'll be back tomorrow,'" says Keymer-Temple, who now is the school's director of alumni relations. "And I've been going back for 55 years."

For 17-year-old head girl Melanie Wright, graduation last spring was a mixture of joy and sorrow. "The comfort and security I've had here, I know I will never get again and I'm really going to miss that," she says. "I've had a really fun five years. It's been a lot of work and Trafalgar definitely pushed me more than any other school could have."

Clare Hunt says her time at Trafalgar changed her life.

"Coming into Trafalgar, I was really self-conscious, a real introvert," says the 17-year-old. "I've learned a lot about voicing my opinion. I really have gained so much confidence."

Hunt says it was a bonus for her to be able to follow in her mother's footsteps at Trafalgar. She took great pride in being initiated into the same house her mother was in more than 20 years ago.

Lower Canada College (LCC), in Montreal, is justly proud that almost 100 per cent of the co-ed school's graduates go on to university.

Denys Heward, a teacher at LCC for 30 years, says the school attracts a certain type of student. "LCC is not for everybody," says Heward, who was an LCC student himself for 10 years. "It's for motivated students who want to work and will work hand-in-hand with the staff."

Focusing on individual student strengths is of utmost importance, Heward says. "The staff has the highest expectations of the students, and it is our job to transfer that to them. It isn't what the student doesn't have, it's what the student does have that we build on."

Costa Ragas, who's in Grade 11 this fall, says he appreciates the one-on-one attention he receives at LCC. "It's the teachers and the relationships they have with the students that is so important," says Ragas, who is head boy.

Ragas says he also appreciates the diversity of the school, which teaches the importance of always being open-minded.

"There are people from all different backgrounds here," he says. "We are all different, but we're all the same as well. We all have to face the same problems."

Alicia Crelinsten, the school's head girl, says the co-ed nature of the school is particularly beneficial. "I think co-ed enhances your education," she says. "Boys and girls have different points of view, and it's important to be able to share that, and learn more. We all work together."

Since 1908, Selwyn House has focused on providing challenging programs to its students. Today, about 560 boys are enrolled in the single-gender school. The secret of the school's success? "It's the people," says James McMillan, Selwyn House's director of advancement, who also teaches music. "We refer to the triangle of commitments that makes the school a success. It's a commitment from the teachers, the students and the parents.

"Having a staff that cares is where you start from. You can't buy that, you have to cultivate it. The programs are delivered by good teachers, good coaches and good mentors."

Matthew Menzar, who just graduated from Selwyn House, says his education will help him go far. "At Selwyn you're taught how to deal with tough work and the future," says Menzar, who was head prefect and president of the student council. "It offers a good education and good preparation to move on. If I'm ever faced with anything difficult in life, I know I'll know how to handle it."

Menzar is going to miss the school, especially "the closeness and the homey feeling," says the 17-year-old, who was a student there from Grade 7. "We all feel like it's a second home."

McMillan says Selwyn students are keen to learn - a pleasure for any teacher. "I love coming in here every day, and I don't think I'm the exception to the rule," says McMillan, who has a son at the school. "I'm a life-long student - there's always something new to learn. We believe in that for the student, and I certainly believe it for myself."

At Montreal's College Prep International, the sounds of 35 different languages fill the halls.

School director Ursulene Mora-Farmer says it emphasizes bringing out the talents and strengths of its 150 students. Adjustments are made annually to do just that.

"Each and every year, you have to look at your student clientele," says Mora-Farmer. "One year you may have a lot of talented musicians, the next year it may be something else."

There are no entrance exams for College Prep; instead, all candidates are interviewed. "We just happen to be a small school and we can afford to be selective," Mora-Farmer says.

The student population often includes the sons and daughters of diplomats and government officials stationed in Montreal. Only about 10 percent of students are boarders and they are placed with the school's 15 home-stay families.

"We're really like a family here," Mora-Farmer says. "We call ourselves a prep-school family because when you're here, that's just what it is."

At Sedbergh, situated eight kilometres from Montebello, students learn that there are no bounds to a classroom. "Yes, we are a school and academics are important, but the classroom has more than four walls," says Beth Steel, the school's director of admissions.

Set amid 1,200 acres of mountains, valleys and forests, Sedbergh was established in 1939. With numerous outdoor activities, Sedbergh students make full use of their surrounding environment.

One hundred students are registered, 90 percent of them boarders. About 40 percent of the students are from outside Canada.

The school is committed to offering "the education of a lifetime" in a small, student-centered community and preparing young people for university and for life's challenges.

Steel says Sedbergh graduates should have a love and appreciation for the outdoors, a healthy lifestyle and an understanding that learning is a life-long skill that can take place anywhere.

"We are a high-energy school. Kids who are willing to try new things get the most out of our program."

Seniors at the school are expected to be leaders in several ways, from helping out in the dorms to assisting on weekend outdoor education trips and acting as assistant coaches.

Marie Duval says she learned a lot about independence in her four years at Sedbergh.

"I wouldn't change anything, if I had it all to do again," says the 17-year-old, who graduated last spring. "I loved my experience at Sedbergh. It gave me a chance to do things I would never have done if I was at a different school."

At Miss Edgar's and Miss Cramp's School (ECS) in Montreal, 12-year-old Brianna Gibson is excited about the new challenges of Grade 7. "I like sports and there's lots - and they encourage you to participate," says Brianna, who hopes to pursue a career in sports medicine.

Brianna says the small class sizes enable students to receive help whenever they need it.

ECS turned 90 this year, and has 315 students. Mary Sue Gibson, who teaches Grade 3, says she was delighted by her daughter's decision to join her at the school.

"The first thing that pops into my head about the school is how most of the girls are very eager to learn," says Gibson. "We encourage students to develop at their own rate and that development is very exciting to watch."

She, like the teachers at all of the Montreal private schools, takes great satisfaction in seeing her students flourish.

—Sara Baxter
Private School Expos
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