Stories from inside private schools demonstrate the beneficial effect of a fresh, positive environment for struggling teens troubled by low self esteem and related issues.
"I have totally turned my life around," says Cassie, a 15-year-old boarding school student. Cassie was having trouble fitting into her previous school system. She had developed a drug addiction and stopped going to class.
"I was doing nothing and had nothing," she says. "It was the worst time of my life." When she arrived at Rocklyn Academy in Meaford, Ontario, just over a year ago, she found the teachers incredibly supportive. Though she was caught up in her past, the staff encouraged her to look toward the future.
"They said to me, 'You're smart, you're amazing, you can really do this,'" she says. "I was finally ready to accept help and it was here for me."
Cassie will graduate this January, a year-and-a-half early, and plans to go on to university to study medicine. Why medicine?
"I love a challenge," she says. "And, I've seen a lot of doctors in my past who were very judgmental. . . I don't think that's fair. I want to be the one person who says, 'No matter what you've done, it's okay!'"
At the start of the year, Katia, 11, was fairly quiet and reserved. She would put her hand up in class, but would only answer with a "yes" or "no."
It wasn't until she participated in an annual Grade 6 public speaking event that she really came out of her shell.
Her speech on the history of the printing press, which she presented to parents and a panel of three judges, captured first place.
The experience has not only given Katia more confidence, but has led her to re-think her future. "I wanted to be a dentist, but now I think it would be fun to be a politician," says Katia. "You can express all of your feelings in front of a lot of people."
Having seen her talents, Katia's parents and teachers now think she'd make a great politician. "Public speaking taught her how to articulate her thoughts and opinions," says Elaine Kliem, her teacher at Hawthorn School for Girls in Toronto, Ontario.
Katia looks forward to her public speaking event next year, when she will be in Grade 7. "Now that I've seen how much fun it was. . . I'm excited to try again," she says.
Grade 9 student Taryn says that her school environment has helped her a lot. "It's a really great place. It's less pressure, which is the biggest thing. We don't feel pressure to put on a certain kind of appearance," she says. "You can just be yourself, and say what you need to say."
Now, Taryn is taking classes above her grade level and focusing on the future. "I want to get into journalism when I graduate," she says.
Taryn is just one of many students who has benefited from year-round schooling. The program, offered by Rocklyn Academy in Meaford, Ontario, helps the girls overcome personal issues, including low self-esteem, social and family problems.
"A lot of students come here for one semester to get back on track," says Laura Murray, assistant director of academics.
Being among other women also helps, according to Murray, who says that the girls-only education takes away the distraction of boys and helps students focus on improving their grades.
"The girls form close friendships," Murray says. "It becomes very important-many are not close to home."