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University prep

It's what private schools are 'all about'

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It's September again, and beneath late summer maples on campuses across Canada another new crop of students, all excitement and anticipation, starts the great adventure. Going to university--it is the dream most parents harbour for their children from kindergarten on. And, although there are many reasons for opting for private school, it is one of the chief ones.

Rightly, many independent schools make no bones about university being a first priority. "We are university-preparatory," declares Tony Macoun, head of Mulgrave School, in West Vancouver. But he adds: "We also want to produce good citizens who are lifelong learners."

Like more and more independent schools, Mulgrave, a young institution that has so far graduated only three classes, offers the International Baccalaureate (IB) as an internationally accepted credential giving its students access to universities worldwide. It's one of many schools offering the international baccalaureate program.

Do private students do well in the university stakes? Gary O'Meara, headmaster of Armbrae Academy, in Halifax, has some interesting evidence. His coed school goes from kindergarten to Grade 12. It's very hard to predict at the kindergarten level, he says, whether youngsters will shine later. Yet, he says, allowing for a few who fall by the way, most "will go on and do very well."

His school, he believes, recruits "average and above average" kids. The above average ones, of course, do well with Armbrae's enrichment. "But what we love doing is working with kids who elsewhere might not do as well," Gary says. "The peer pressure here is to do well."

To Paul O'Leary, head of senior school at Royal St. George's College, in Toronto, getting a kid into university is the easy part. "Preparing them for success at university" is the harder part. The top 20 per cent of his Grade 12 students are offered the Advanced Placement program, recognized by most U.S. universities, and under which the student takes a university credit in the last year of high school. (Read more about advanced placement.)

Canada's independent schools are setting up a program to monitor their graduates' progress in university, but RSGC already has a good handle on that progress.

Paul credits the willingness of graduates to come by the school, not only to report on their success, but to tell staff what works and what doesn't in preparing them for success.

"They'll tell me, 'While I was in high school I had no idea what I wanted. But I found that teacher truly prepared me.'" Many of those independent school graduates starting university this fall will have similar stories to tell.

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