The city noise is cranked to headache intensity by the bone-shattering whine of heavy construction work. It's happening right on their doorstep, otherwise Havergal College For Girls, located in Toronto where Lawrence Avenue West meets Avenue Road, on 22 acres of green and pleasant - and extremely prime - land. The campus is very much an oasis. If not a mirage.
Girls in private-school green - kilts, knee socks, striped ties - the sun highlighting the thick, clean hair falling over their scrubbed faces, dot the new-mown grounds. Some sit cross-legged, bent over schoolbooks; others are laughing, arms draped over one friend's shoulder as they lean in to listen to another. An Enid Blyton novel, a distaff Boy's Own Annual come to life?
As the girls themselves would say: Oh, pulease. There are 874 students here, only 64 of whom board and most of whom are too busy with school and all the extra-curricular activities to bother bolting like a Blyton heroine over the walls and away for adventure - or boys.
"You can see them after school," Grade 11 student Caroline Chua says with a shrug.
It's clear it's no big deal for her, although she confesses it was when she first came to the school. She fought that change in her life for a whole year. Her friend Lesley Henry remembers "bawling" in the uniform shop.
Now Caroline likes the all-girls environment. "You get to know people for who they really are. No one's into impressing people," she says.
And Lesley now believes wearing uniforms helps her and her classmates act naturally. "I don't want to have to worry about how I look," she says.
The girls think they're avoiding the competitiveness among girls found in some mixed-gender high schools - and believe there's no double standard, either.
At Kira Campbell's former public school, there were eight sports teams for boys and five for girls. "Here we get a chance to do all sports," says the Grade 7 student. "It's fair." In fact, Havergal has a total of 44 teams for all its age groups, from junior kindergarten on up.
Head prefect Ashley Morris says it's what Havergal has, not what it hasn't, that counts. "After the first year, you forget there are no boys here," she says. "There's lots of stuff going on, there's lots of energy." She's off to study at Yale University, a fact pounced on by Lesley, who jokingly accuses Ashley of living out the private-school cliche.
Although she knows Lesley is making fun of people's misconceptions about private school, Ashley does seem chagrined. "I didn't want to live up to the stereotype of private school, then Ivy League university. I tried to chose the least pretentious."
But the fact remains: A private school education is a ticket to success - it provides a good education, statistics make clear. At the same time, a private school is a good place to meet the "right people," the kind likely to be advantageous to know later, in the real world.
Both reasons are why parents pay $13,545 a year to educate their daughters at Havergal when adequate schooling is available free at, for instance, Lawrence Park Collegiate Institute, one of Ontario's finest public high schools, and so close to Havergal the two practically abut.
Parents of boarders pay even more. It costs $27,245 for a girl to board at Havergal for a year.
Aniya Emitage, although homesick for Barbados, where she hopes one day to practise law, knows she's getting the best of both worlds and is delighted with her Canadian experience.
She loves Havergal - but not unconditionally. "I don't think entering university should be the first time we're exposed to guys," she says.
Another boarder, Emily Mueser of Wheatley, Ontario (near Windsor), says she has to work "really hard" to re-connect when she goes back home. In adolescence, that can be hard work.
So why do it? Why endure being away from home, being accused of elitism, at great cost to your parents? What motivates so many parents to write those cheques?
A ratio of one teacher for every 10.5 students might be a factor; as might Havergal's $12.9 million annual operating budget. So might the safer environment of a private school and the opportunity to have their children learn within a shared belief system, high standards, higher expectations. But most say it's the school's academic record they're buying.
Of the 107 graduates of the Havergal class of 1998, 98 went to university. (The others took a year off to travel or work before going to university.) Of those in universities, 24 per cent are studying sciences, maths, computer science or kinesiology, 18 per cent business, commerce or economics, seven per cent engineering or architecture. Only three per cent of the grads chose to study fine arts and theatre.
So much for that other private-school stereotype of producing ladylike girls to marry well. In 1997, 55 of the 87 Havergal grads were Ontario scholars and 15 of those had averages higher than 90 per cent. "Here the standards are higher," says Ashley Morris, "because they're our own standards."
They are all motivated to get to university. And from 1993 to 1997, that was Queen's University in Kingston, hands down. Next in popularity was University of Toronto, followed by McGill University in Montreal, the University of Western Ontario in London, then American universities such as Brown, Cornell, Princeton and Stanford. Bright girls, big futures.
About that construction at Havergal. It's a new Junior school, plus an extension to the elegant main building, whose stone is blanketed in shining ivy. There also are a new dining room, theatre, student common area, science classroom, a library extension and music room.
This expansion is the first since 1979, and certainly the most extensive ever, says the principal, Susan Ditchburn, a composed and elegant Australian-born woman whose occasional wry, sidelong glances say more than words.
Despite the rooms of computers, the pizza lunches, the hip hop/awesome hall talk and the plethora of math and science grads, Havergal prides itself on its tradition, roots and, especially, its Anglican Church heritage.
But it now has students of many faiths, which may partly explain why attendance was dwindling at the school's traditional annual Founder's Day service at St. Paul's Anglican Church on Bloor Street East. It was also no longer mandatory.
Last year, that changed. In a significant break from tradition, the service was held in nearby St. Clement's Church on a school day. Ditchburn says it did ruffle a few feathers belonging to some Old Girls, who are determined to reconnect with St. Paul's and mark the day in the same way - and in the same place - as before.
Nor will members of the 5,000-plus contingency of Havergal Old Girls or graduates - they include writer Jane Urquhart, Liberal MP Dr. Carolyn Bennett and former New Brunswick lieutenant-governor Margaret Norrie McCain - change their name. They recently voted against it - resoundingly. Ditchburn admits their decision "took me aback."
Then she smiles. "But they like it." In Calgary, where she lived before coming to Havergal two years ago, Ditchburn belonged to a group exploring opportunities for women in education. While curriculum superintendent for the public school board there, she also helped set up single-gender classes focussed on different ways of teaching the two sexes. At Havergal she's determined to rectify what she sees as a lack of emphasis on feminist issues. She wants to set up a course on women's issues, even as she acknowledges the students are "wonderful, extremely focused, high achievers and high energy." They're comfortable with the mesh of school and their own family values, Ditchburn says.
They are privileged - only 57 students received financial aid last year - but they know they bear the responsibilities that accompany that state of grace."
This is about going to school to learn how to make a worthwhile contribution," Ditchburn says. "I look at these kids and they radiate good health and confidence. They have a sense of who they are and where they are heading."
Elmwood School (est. 1915)
Elmwood School is Ottawa's pre-eminent school for girls from JK to Grade 12. Our high academic standards, small class sizes and safe, supportive environment ensure that each girl is inspired to reach her full potential. [View profile]
|Standard-enriched||$12,956 to $22,980||Preschool Kindergarten Elementary MiddleSchools HighSchools Girls Day||12956|
Branksome Hall (est. 1903)
Branksome Hall is an all girls school in Toronto, from JK to Grade 12, including 56 boarding students. Tuition ranges from $28,995 to $31,245 for day students. [View profile]
|Standard-enriched||$29,590 to $56,855||Kindergarten Elementary MiddleSchools HighSchools Girls Boarding Day||29590|
Trafalgar Castle School (est. 1874)
Located just 45 minutes east of Toronto, Trafalgar Castle School offers world-class curriculum in a small-school environment that inspires and encourages growth. * Day and boarding * All Girls * Grades 5 to 12 [View profile]
|Standard-enriched||$21,860 to $52,230||MiddleSchools HighSchools Girls Boarding Day||21860|
Hawthorn School (est. 1989)
Hawthorn School is an all-girls school in Toronto that offers programs from toddler to grade 12. Our unique mentoring program is tailored to each girl to help them reach their full potential. [View profile]
|Accelerated||$10,000 to $31,400||Preschool Kindergarten Elementary MiddleSchools HighSchools Girls Coed Day Homestay||10000|
St. Margaret's School (est. 1908)
St. Margaret's School (est. 1908) is an independent school in Victoria, BC, offering empowering education for girls from JK to Grade 12. At SMS, girls don't just get equal opportunity; they get every opportunity. [View profile]
|Standard-enriched||$9,500/program to $49,300||Kindergarten Elementary MiddleSchools HighSchools Girls Boarding Day||9500|
Alive Montessori & Private School (est. 2014)
50% off the first three months for new elementary students. [View profile]
|Accelerated||$7,500 to $14,500||Preschool Kindergarten Elementary MiddleSchools Girls Boys Day||7500|
The Bishop Strachan School (est. 1867)
Located in Toronto, The Bishop Strachan School is Canada's oldest independent JK to Grade 12 day and boarding school for girls, welcoming students from Toronto and around the world. [View profile]
|Student-paced||$31,740 to $60,130||Kindergarten Elementary MiddleSchools HighSchools Girls Boarding Day||31740|
Crofton House School (est. 1898)
Crofton House School in Vancouver, BC is a university preparatory school with JK to grade 12 classes. Tuition starts at $16,000. [View profile]
|Standard-enriched||$18,960||Kindergarten Elementary MiddleSchools HighSchools Girls Day||18960|
Miss Edgar's & Miss Cramp's School (est. 1909)
Miss Edgar's & Miss Cramp's School offers programs from kindergarten to grade 11 in Westmount, Quebec. Its average class size is 18 students. [View profile]
|Accelerated||$17,095 to $19,570||Elementary MiddleSchools HighSchools Girls Day||9999999999|
Havergal College (est. 1894)
Havergal College is an all-girls school in Toronto for students in JK to Grade 12. Preparing Young Women to Make a Difference Since 1894. [View profile]
|Standard-enriched||$31,725 to $58,000||Kindergarten Elementary MiddleSchools HighSchools Girls Boarding Day||31725|
St. Mildred's-Lightbourn School (est. 1891)
Oakville's SMLS continues to be a premier independent school for girls Preschool to Graduating Year since 1891. "Millie" graduates take on the world with confidence and the knowledge that they can do anything. [View profile]
|Standard-enriched||$9,000 to $26,300||Preschool Kindergarten Elementary MiddleSchools HighSchools Girls Day||9000|
The Study (est. 1915)
The Study offers a bilingual mother tongue programme in both English and French from kindergarten to grade 11 in Westmount, Quebec. The average class size is 12 to 18 students. [View profile]
|Standard-enriched||$18,415 to $20,735||Elementary MiddleSchools HighSchools Girls Day||18415|
Trafalgar School For Girls (est. 1887)
Based in the heart of downtown Montreal, Trafalgar School for Girls is a diverse school community that challenges and inspires girls to love learning, build confidence and shape a better world. [View profile]
|Standard-enriched||$15,875||MiddleSchools HighSchools Girls Day Homestay||15875|
The Linden School (est. 1993)
The Linden School provides a challenging academic program for girls from JK - Grade 12. We create opportunities to discover the joys of learning and foster the development of critical thinking and physical well-being. [View profile]
|Standard-enriched||$14,000 to $19,400||Kindergarten Elementary MiddleSchools HighSchools Girls Day||14000|
St. Clement's School (est. 1901)
St. Clement's School develops outstanding women who are intellectually curious, courageous and compassionate. [View profile]
|Standard-enriched||$28,350||Elementary MiddleSchools HighSchools Girls Day||28350|
Venture Academy is a therapeutic treatment and education program for students who may be struggling with ADHD, learning challenges, underachieving, behavioural issues, and a variety of clinical diagnoses. [View profile]
|Student-paced||not provided||MiddleSchools HighSchools Girls Boys Homestay||9999999999|
Holy Name of Mary College School (est. 2008)
Holy Name of Mary College School in Mississauga, is an independent Catholic school for girls in grades 5-12 offering an enriched university preparatory programme. The average class size is 12 students. [View profile]
|Accelerated||$16,350 to $44,500||MiddleSchools HighSchools Girls Day||16350|
Queen Margaret's School (est. 1921)
Queen Margaret's School is an independent day/boarding Senior School for girls in Grades 8-12 and co-ed Junior School from Preschool to Grade 7 in Duncan, BC. [View profile]
|Standard-enriched||$5,325 to $53,600||Preschool Kindergarten Elementary MiddleSchools HighSchools Girls Coed Boarding Day||5325|
The Sacred Heart School of Montreal (est. 1861)
The pre-eminent All Girls English Catholic high school in Montreal, with 156 years of experience graduating young women of action with solid skills and tools for success. [View profile]
|Standard-enriched||$13,764 to $49,492||MiddleSchools HighSchools Girls Boarding Day||13764|
Buffalo Seminary (est. 1851)
Independent day and boarding school for college-bound girls. Our STEAM curriculum is unique, and creative, independent thinking is valued. Located in Buffalo, NY, girls access the best of city living. [View profile]
|Accelerated||$19,840 to $46,715 USD||HighSchools Girls Boarding Day||19840|
Villa Maria (est. 1854)
Villa Maria offers programs from grades seven to 12 in Montreal. Its average class size is 28 to 32 students. [View profile]
|Standard-enriched||$4,175||MiddleSchools HighSchools Girls Boys Day||4175|
York House School (est. 1932)
York House School provides an exceptional education for girls from JK to Gr. 12. We instill in each girl the belief and confidence that girls can do anything! [View profile]
|Standard-enriched||$20,600 to $21,400||Kindergarten Elementary MiddleSchools HighSchools Girls Day||20600|
Venture Academy is a therapeutic private school providing educational and clinical support services, individualized instruction and engaging interaction to get students back on track and restore confidence. [View profile]
|Student-paced||not provided||MiddleSchools HighSchools Girls Boys Homestay||9999999999|
Joan of Arc Academy / Academie Jeanne d'Arc (est. 1954)
In our all-girls environment, academic achievement in both official languages is the norm. A Joan of Arc Academy bilingual education prepares the women leaders for the challenges of tomorrow. Come and see the difference. [View profile]
|Student-paced||$14,825||Kindergarten Elementary MiddleSchools Girls Day||14825|
Pensionnat du Saint-Nom-de-Marie (est. 1905)
École secondaire francophone privée pour jeunes filles située à Outremont, Qc. Les frais de scolarité sont de 3 800 $ par année. Elle offre les profils Éducation internationale, Danse-études et Musique-études. [View profile]
|Standard-enriched||$4,000 to $9,150||MiddleSchools HighSchools Girls Boarding Day||4000|
Collège François-Delaplace (est. 1963)
COLLÈGE FRANÇOIS-DELAPLACE is a private Traditional / academic boarding school in Waterville, Quebec. The school offers programs for grades 7 to 12 with enrolment of 200 boarding students. [View profile]
|Standard-enriched||$7,950 to $30,300||MiddleSchools HighSchools Girls Boarding||7950|
Heritage (est. 1984)
Heritage offers expert care for at-risk adolescents including those diagnosed with Mood Disorder, depression, anxiety, defiance towards authority figures and those on the Autism Spectrum. Learn more on our website. [View profile]
|Student-paced||$138,000 USD||MiddleSchools HighSchools Girls Boys Boarding||138000|
Alpine Academy (est. 2001)
Alpine Academy isn't just a school, it is an experience that prepares young women for life beyond our campus. Students learn to engage in not only academics, but also family, community, and interpersonal relationships. [View profile]
|$120,000 USD||MiddleSchools HighSchools Girls Boarding||120000|
OHS has three programs: Core Comprehensive, Pre-Professional Dance, and Equine Science & Equestrian Studies. Tuition inc. overnight OEE trips & riding lessons. School starts at 10am with 1hr of yoga, dance, or fitness. [View profile]
|Student-paced||$3,100 to $37,995 /program||MiddleSchools HighSchools Girls Day||3100|