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Life skills learned at school

Private school teaches more than academics

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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 College, 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 College, 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."

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