Diversity - it's a theme you hear time and again from students, parents and staff. First and foremost, in a multicultural Canada, the independent schools have more than kept up with our changing population profile.
From Kindergarten to Grade 12, the scholarship and prize lists, the sports teams, the choirs, the concerts, the young volunteers engaged in community projects, are just as likely to feature the children of first-generation immigrants as they are the names of Canada's founding groups.
Adel, 16, was off to Kenya this summer on the St. Andrew's College outreach program building a school. He returns to school in September as head prefect, as his brother was before him. "Everything I am now, I learned at this school," says Adel, whose parents are from Uganda by way of Saudi Arabia (where Adel was born). "My parents love the school. They come to all the events. I have made some very, very strong friendships that I am sure will last-even overseas friendships."
That's another aspect of diversity: Canada's independent schools are a magnet for parents all over the world. Amazingly, Albert College, founded in 1857 in Belleville, Ontario, has students from 24 countries among its 110 boarders. Larger boarding schools throw an even wider net.
Mostly, says Heather Kidd, in charge of admissions at Albert College, overseas students hear about the school through word of mouth. For Kidd and for assistant head Kristopher Churchill, this means regular trips to Asia, Europe and the Caribbean to interview students and parents. This past summer, Kidd was off to Switzerland-a new destination on the Albert College list and an interesting reversal of the usual trend for Canadian kids to attend schools in Switzerland-while this fall, Churchill is in Russia.
Albert College could have filled the 10 positions in its newly announced Foundation Language Year program instantly last year, but that would have meant accepting five Korean students. It decided to limit the number-for the sake of diversity.
Diversity expresses itself in many other forms-in the range of philosophies that drive schools, from Catholic-based De La Salle College to the military model of the Robert Land Academy, from the Advanced Placement options of The Abelard School to the outdoor-themed Canadian Ecology Centre.
And more than anything, diversity expresses itself in the programs offered-students' gardens at the Toronto Waldorf School, hands-on experience of ancient objects at the museum-based Dragon Academy or Grade 8ers creating a Lego robot at Elmwood School.
The message everywhere, day in day out, at these schools is that the world is a wide and varied place only waiting to be explored.