Deciding to send a child to boarding school
is a tough decision - one of the most difficult for parents looking not only for the right kind of education for their children but for an environment in which they can thrive. Will they be all right so far away from your direct influence? And what about boys and girls living alongside each other at co-ed schools? At beautiful Lakefield College, kids are soon over their home-sickness, having a great time and sorry time is flying by so quickly.
"I was sad to see her leave the nest."
"I have made some of the best friends I've ever had."
"I thought it was going to be like
parties every week."
"After seeing the school, Michael told us in the car, "I want to go there so badly!'"
Voices heard at a school regatta. Voices of students and their
parents, talking about a decision that can often be difficult - whether
boarding school is the right choice for a young person. And, once the decision to board has been made, whether to choose a co-educational boarding school.
On this cool, sunny day in May, Lakefield College School
is like a slice of Stephen Leacock's older, simpler Canada. White sails dot Lake Katchewanooka and cheers and laughter sound for hapless competitors tipped from their canoes into the chilly waters.
The school, near Peterborough, Ontario, is a bit like a small Ontario town, with charming white clapboard buildings and green shingle roofs suggesting little has changed since it admitted its first class of 20 boys in 1879.
Two framed photographs in the school entrance tell another story. The first shows the school's football team, gritty boys in laced-up shirts, photographed on December 14, 1896.
The second, taken exactly 100 years later, shows students in modern sports gear, toting skis, oars and field hockey sticks - many of them girls, because Lakefield went co-ed in 1989.
Today, roughly half of the 335 students - 210 of whom are boarders - are girls, a notion with which some parents still have to grapple. Parents, especially those with daughters, often ask how those teenage hormones will play with boys and girls living alongside each other, says assistant head of school Susan Hazell.
In fact, she says, the residences, with an average of 20 students each, are divided by gender.
"We do have expectations and codes of behaviour," Hazell says. Boys and girls can visit opposite-gender residences at certain times, but doors must be left open, and curfews are strict.
It's often said these days that girls, especially, flourish in a same-gender
environment. But, says Hazell, "I look at what is important for young women today working in the big world. If they are given proper support and proper role modelling, working with boys can be very rewarding. I find they are very comfortable putting forward their opinions, and are strong competitors in everything, from the jazz band to debating."
On the sports side, Lakefield has no football team; instead, the boys
concentrate on soccer in the fall term, the girls on field hockey, and intramural hockey is co-ed.
To board or not to board may be the bigger question.
"I didn't originally want to come here," Jonathan Houghton, 14, of Collingwood says as he sits on a dock watching the races. "My parents really wanted me to come, but I had a choice. I was here (to visit) three or four times. I really liked the look of the school. I was already into mountain biking and skiing, and I thought, "Why not?'"
Having been a summer camper, Jonathan was used to being away from home, "and I wasn't homesick at all."
And the school work was easier than he expected, although it has a reputation for being rigorous and includes Saturday-morning classes. "There are smaller classes (average size 16) and the teachers are more helpful. I've had a great time," he says, looking back on his first year. "It was a lot of fun. It's gone by fast."
As for the co-educational nature of the school, Jonathan says: "I would not go to a boys school. I like being around girls."
Wendy Hepburn of Toronto came to Lakefield at 17. "I was homesick the first couple of weeks," she says, "but my mom told me to jump in at the deep end and get involved - and I did. I got involved in debating, and I liked that."
Parent involvement is crucial, Hazell says.
Wendy misses her twin sister, Meredith, "but we talk on the phone all the time. And one of the best things here was this person," she says, nodding to her friend Alison McBee, who was her
Alison, 18, is from Pittsburgh, and, says Wendy, "we had a lot of American-Canadian debates, especially at 1 in the morning. A lot of the stereotypes I had have washed away."
When it was Alison's turn to give the senior student chapel talk at morning assembly in Lakefield's handsome, recently restored chapel, she began by announcing: "I am a Yankee.
"But sometimes I feel more Canadian," she added. "Probably I am a bit of both now."
An only child, Alison says she was unsure of how she would take to living with others. "But I have made some of the best friends I ever had."
Boys? At high school, says Alison,
couples tend to cut themselves off from the group. "Here, everyone knows each other, so it's hard to distinguish couples. It's part of the scene."
As Tristan Boyle, 17, puts it: "At my last (public) school, you were either really cool or you were a loser. Here there are no outcasts."
That does not mean conforming at
Margot McQuaig, 15, says she was happy to come to Lakefield to get out from under two older sisters. "I thought it was going to be like parties every week, with no supervision," she says with a laugh. "But it's more structured than at home."
Concedes her mother, Diane Boyle: "Margot was not a team sort of person. She was deathly white at the icebreaker (a get-to-know-you social on the first day). We thought we better sneak away before she wanted to come home."
Margot definitely was not the outdoorsy type. "More a fashion girl," says her dad, Don Boyle, smiling.
"I just learned to adjust," says Margot. "I went home (to Toronto) a lot at the beginning, but then I got involved. I go horseback riding, I don't mind canoeing now, and I'm on the rowing team."
"On the rowing team!" echoes her father in disbelief. "She's really
And Margot's mother adds: "She came here to get away from home, and now home life is kind of special to her."
Boarding is a test as much for
parents as for children.
Maureen Sinden of Carleton Place, near Ottawa, who now has
a third child at Lakefield, 17-year-old Danielle, admits she cried when their first, Michael, left for school and there were four plates instead of five to put out on
But late one night, when Michael's time at Lakefield was almost up, he sat down at the kitchen table and thanked his parents for the sacrifices they had made for him.
"There is no place I would rather have been," he said.