St. Clement's School - Interview with School Leadership
“We put a bit of a call out,” says Elena Holeton, director of admissions, and “it's been quite lovely to see what the girls came back with.”
The call was for students and alumni to make videos to share during virtual open house events. In one, an alumna is sitting in what is likely her bedroom in her parent’s home, her books and laptop on a desk behind her. “High school is a time when you really need to get a strong sense of self and a strong foundation of who you are,” she says. “Because when you enter the real world, you know, things are thrown at you. University is a bigger place, med school is a bigger place, the world is a bigger place. But St. Clement's really fostered a sense of who I was.”
In another, a current student says that “It makes me happy that, although I’m graduating I'm going to be able to come back and I'm going to be able to visit and I'll still feel like I'm part of this community. And, yeah, it makes me really thankful that I'm part of a place that I'll be able to come back to and still feel as if I belong there.”
The videos were created to address the needs of a specific moment, and not intended to be a permanent expression of the school. Still, they provide answers to questions that parents don’t typically think to ask, yet likely should. Parents want to know about academic programs, career counselling, the quality of coaching. They want to hear about university acceptances and scholarships earned. In the videos, the girls don’t speak of any of that. Instead, they spoke about little things, recalled with a smile. Says one, “I think it was my Grade 7 history teacher, Mr. Will, who taught us how to properly take notes. And still, to this day, I take notes the same way.” They talk about being together, of feeling a part of something bigger than themselves.
The girls were chosen to speak on behalf of the school, and Holeton knew that they’d say positive things. The point was to promote the school. But it’s what they choose to talk about, and to talk about so passionately, that is the most telling. They didn’t see their time at SCS as transactional—that it was a stepping stone to post-secondary programs—but as an important environment in their lives, one that shaped them personally, and which they feel a part of. There’s perhaps no better sign of the health of a program than that.
St. Clement’s (SCS) is an independent day school for girls with a population of 460 students across the elementary, middle, and secondary grades, averaging just shy of 40 students per grade. The school has a long, quiet history of academic excellence. The alumni are impressive—historian and author Margaret MacMillan is a standout, but she’s in great company—as are the acceptance rates, the scholarships garnered, the marks achieved, and awards conferred. It’s also a stellar example of its type. When the administration says they want it to be at the forefront of girls' education, they are. SCS is a prominent member of the National Coalition of Girls Schools, an organization for which Martha Perry, the current principal, sits on the board and has served as chair. SCS is a school that, rightly, is looked to as a resource by educators, one that demonstrates innovation and best practices while also staying true to a long, established heritage.
So, by various measures, it’s objectively within the top institutions of its kind. That said, the students, when asked, don’t seem to care about any of that. For them, it’s a great school because it’s where they have come to know themselves, where they first began broadcasting themselves to the world, and where they found spirit and support. It’s where they made the friends they may well keep in touch with for life, as the enthusiasm for alumnae events suggests. Certainly, the size of the school almost guarantees that. “We have a lot of ways to get involved in our community despite being a small school,” says a student currently in Grade 12 who entered in Grade 7. “So you end up knowing everybody from Grades 1 through 12 or at least being able to recognize them as a familiar face and say hi in the halls.” This is a community in which it’s hard to hide, and so inviting that few would be inclined to try. All schools say they foster a sense of home, though few are able to achieve that at the level, and so tangibly, as SCS does. The academic program is challenging, though the delivery is supportive, the class sizes small yet expansive. In a sentiment that is shared by those within the graduating class, many miss it before they even leave.
St. Clement’s was founded in 1901 by Canon Thomas Wesley Powell, rector of St. Clement’s Church of the Diocese of Toronto. Classes were first offered in the parish hall, though they soon moved down the street to the current property. It was initially, if briefly, coed and Powell’s son Francis, at age 4, was one of the first students enrolled. “My father could do anything!” Francis later said, and indeed many shared his perspective. Powell’s goal for the school was to be different than what was found typically at that time—schools taught by rote, with clear hierarchies of authority and deference. Powell wanted to inspire children rather than subdue them, teaching the basics while also fostering a spirited appreciation for what the world had to offer. Curiosity was key, and students would be allowed to follow their interests, ask questions, and share the space with students and teachers of a like mind and similar outlook. They’d have a sense of responsibility, though not one born out of a fear of punitive measures. There was a loose association to the church—Powell was a canon; he named the school after a saint—though that was more cultural, noting a larger tradition without being tethered to it. Then as now the leadership of the school was independent and secular.
The school continued to grow and develop in order to meet the demands of the time and the needs of the students. In 1932 SCS was rededicated to specifically girls’ education. The ‘60s was a time of social change and developments within the school reflected what was happening in the culture at large. “We must not be afraid of change,” said Alma Conway, Junior School Principal at the time, “Change means growth. But we must be careful to keep what is of value to the past.” The ‘70s marked a period of capital growth, with the first of three major capital campaigns adding new buildings and new instructional areas to the campus. Similarly, two other major campaigns would be launched at intervals over the next decades, each refining the school in its way. The goal wasn’t just to renew, but to respond to new practices, including co-curricular learning and to allow space for experiential learning. The Building on Spirit Campaign, launched in 1992, expanded the buildings, renovating the interiors. Then, in 2006, SCS doubled its physical size, incorporating the addition of a building containing a performance and lecture hall, a second gymnasium, classrooms, an arts wing, a science wing, and a library.
Through that capital development, SCS has been able to do a lot with what they have. While there is only one building, it houses all the teaching and administration spaces, two full-size gyms, four science labs, a drama and dance studio, fitness room, music studio, and a 350-seat theatre—Powell Hall. The school is old in terms of its cultures and traditions, though the building is new and modern, created to reflect current pedagogy and teaching styles. While developed in stages over successive projects, you’d need to look very hard to find the seams between them. Even then, they would be easy to miss. The feel is comfortable, surprisingly spacious given the limits of the property—it’s exactly the same size it was when the school bought it in the early 20th century—with lots of clean lines and natural light.
The program, housed within a single building, is divided conceptually between the Junior School, which includes Grades 1 through 6; the Middle School which includes Grades 7 through 9; and the Senior School which includes Grades 10 through 12. Grade 9 isn’t included within the senior school in part to provide a longer middle school experience. That said, Grade 9 is nevertheless an entry year, as it is in most schools of this size and focus. Each division has its own principal and its own faculty, with some support staff, such as the librarians and the administrative team, serving them all. As a small school, there is a capacity to be nimble, coupled with a staff that has been hired for the strengths that each member can bring, particularly those that fall outside of the focus of the curriculum.
SCS sits in one of the denser areas of midtown Toronto where space is at a premium. The property is bounded on all sides by what is a predominantly residential neighbourhood, so all development of the property takes place within the parcel of land the school acquired in 1922. A photo in the collection of the Toronto Reference Library shows the property as it looked then: a lone farmhouse sits behind some aging apple trees. At the time it was remote from the bustle of the city, though with the creep of urban growth and the extension of the Yonge streetcar line, followed by the subway in 1954, in time it was surrounded by a substantial residential and business community. The neighbourhood is home to businesses big and small, including the national headquarters for Canadian Tire, the Heart and Stroke Foundation, and the TVOntario studios. (Just as a bit of trivia, the school is also a block north of a national historic site, the location of Montgomery's Tavern from which William Lyon Mackenzie led a failed rebellion against British rule. There was a battle in 1837, and the school sits literally on the site where it happened.)
That the facilities are shared between divisions contributes to the culture that has developed here, one that is organized to optimize a cross-generational experience. It’s common to hear reference to being under one roof—it’s more an expression of community than architecture, though indeed it’s both: one roof, one community. The entire school meets together twice a week, something that is seen as a cornerstone of the life of the school (and which was continued online during the pandemic shutdown). The current principal, Martha Perry, is herself an alumna of the school, and as such has a detailed appreciation of what it means to be on all sides of those generational divides.
Today SCS is entirely non-denominational and no longer maintains an affiliation with the Anglican Church. The tradition remains apparent, as during Wednesday assemblies which often include a hymn and a prayer or meditation. The common thread that binds the current school with its past is a focus on the liberal arts, curiosity, and the promotion of civic commitment and responsibility.
Martha Perry is one of those rare instances where the head of the school is also an alumna. She arrived in Grade 7 and graduated from Grade 13. (She was one of the last girls to attend that culminating grade, which was removed in 1988.) She’s had a long and very personal life with the school and it shows when speaking with her. She’s tempered her experience with positions at Trinity College School and Pickering College before becoming head of school at SCS in 2010.
“In Grade 7, I remember coming in and meeting the Grade 13s then and thinking, Wow these were women. They were grown up, and that they were wise. … there’s that perception that you have these people to whom you can look for their decisions, their actions, and that’s great. And on the other side, when they’re in Grade 12, they have to remember that there are six year olds, you know, looking up to them.”
Her leadership style reflects those kinds of cross-generational relationships. Given the size and physical layout, there is a lot of interaction between grades, and that’s true for students, faculty, and staff. There is a sense that everyone is in it together. Students and instructors regularly comment on how interacting with the youngest students can rekindle an interest in learning, that playful, unselfconscious approach to the world around us. “As staff and as senior students, we can be reminded a lot about curiosity, and the passion and joy of learning, from our younger students daily.” Girls at all levels meet regularly in the halls, as well as in shared spaces, such as the library, where you’re as likely to see a story time as a group involved in a research project, and, indeed, those and more at the same time. Faculty and staff continue the theme. Says Holeton, “We have school accountants who coach soccer, and human resources department [staff] being part of the Harry Potter Club.”
It’s those kinds of interactions that Perry seeks to promote in the development of the curricular and co-curricular programs, precisely because of what they do to shape the student experience. “For me, what I've always believed, you can get into an arms race with facilities,” perhaps subtly referencing some of the grander campuses that exist beyond the margins of the city. “But it's not about space it's about the place and the way the place feels.” She adds that “First and foremost for me, I want people within our environment, regardless of who they are, to feel known and valued for who they are as a person. And that is the most important thing. That their identity is appreciated.”
The school is known to be academically rigorous, and indeed it is. That said, rigour can mean many things, and there are some important provisos to be made. One that Perry raises is that academic rigour looks very different in 2020 than it did in 1980 or even 1990. “I think in the past it used to be really felt that, you know, a rigorous education was one where there were five hours of homework every night.” Perry says that “For us, the challenge for our girls is that they’re gaining those competencies to be able to really access and blossom in terms of their own individual and independent thinking. … It will always be a challenging educational experience for them. But it’s challenging to enhance their capacity to be able to learn, period, regardless of where they are.”
“For us it’s about ensuring that our girls are afforded with opportunities to learn deeply and really delve into topics and subjects. It’s really important that they’re learning across particular disciplines and silos. And really important that it’s nurturing a real sense of critical thinking, of discernment, of the ability to apply things and make connections.” Learning is connected across disciplines and to authentic, current issues and problems. Instruction is varied, though tends more often than not toward project-based learning and small group engagement. Says Perry, “Girls learn differently [than boys], they value the opportunity for collaboration, but they still need to learn how to do it effectively.” Following on, there is a real vision for learning here, over and above the delivery of the curriculum. “What does it mean to “reimagine” learning?” says Vice Principal Heather Hendricks. “Historically, learning has been defined as the acquisition of knowledge and skills; but, this has shifted over time. Deep learning means going well beyond the acquisition of surface skills and knowledge. To thrive in today’s world, people need to embrace the messiness of learning, they need to think creatively and critically and apply their learning to authentic issues. It sounds simple, but schools can be slow to change.”
Teaching spaces are modern and flexible, allowing opportunity for instructors to vary delivery to meet the demands of the content and the curricular outcomes. On any given day, you’re as apt to see classes engaged in anything from lecture to Harkness discussion to group work around a piece of project-based learning. The design of the classrooms is equally flexible, and you’d be hard pressed to find the front of any of the rooms; and furniture is movable to create pods of interaction as easily as full-group discussion and presentation. “The key is engagement,” says Amy Paradine, Head of the Middle School, “and that means engagement with the teacher, with the learning, with the environment, and with each other.” There is a Harkness table in one senior classroom, contrasting with moveable pods and seating in another. While all spaces are supplied with technology, it’s nicely stowed, with lower-tech tools, such as white boards, more prevalent than screens.
“It’s not a stand-and-deliver method,” says Perry. “The way we’re working with kids on math is very different than it was seven or eight years ago,” and that stands true for other disciplines as well. Grade 11 students are involved in STEAM projects, teams tasked with approaching a real-world issue, then proposing, designing, and often prototyping solutions to it. “My group made a prototype which we presented,” says a student. “I loved it because I think it was very applicable to life and it wasn't mostly focused on one subject.” Says another, “My favorite was cultivating a group of bacteria using plasmids from jellyfish,” she says with the kind of smile you’d expect from someone who is up to no good. “The purpose was to explore antibiotic resistance through genetic recombination and an interesting side effect—a glow under UV light—which was really cool to see.” That was one of the investigations she completed within her AP biology lab.
While SCS requires much of its students, faculty work to ensure that the context supports the challenges. “The academic program is built around the notion of balancing challenges with resources,” says Vice Principal Heather Hendricks, including a culture of achievement rather than one of competition, and that girls are well equipped to “balance the social and emotional challenges that children and adolescents inevitably face.”
Assessment is conducted in a similar vein, at least to the extent possible. Students are aware that grades are important—as per the conventional wisdom, they are what they’ll be using to apply to university—while aware of their limits, and that as a metric of success, grades are necessarily incomplete. “There’s so much out there in the world right now, what they call soft skills,” says Perry, “and I don’t see them as soft skills, I see them as core skills,” such as critical thinking, communication, and collaboration.” Grades are also presented as personal, not comparative: students are encouraged to see that their successes are seen on their own merits rather than only viewed in relation to the successes of others.
SCS is an AP school, and indeed offers more AP courses than any other school in the country. The dedication to AP is based on an understanding that it meshes better with the Ontario curriculum than other curricula, such as the International Baccalaureate. The number of AP courses taken by each student is at their discretion, and they are free to take as many or as little as they like. Graduates are conferred with the OSSD, and no AP courses are required to complete it.
There are some schools, such as those with elite sports programs, in which co-curricular programs are seen as a means to other ends, be they to achieve academic admission or professional careers. SCS isn’t that. Here the approach, including the competitive teams, is seen as an extension and augmentation of student life, not a foundation for it. The co-curricular programs are viewed as a means for students to try new things, to stretch themselves, to meet new people, and to grow new interests. There are annual grade-wide trips that serve to solidify the grade communities, as do spirit events distributed throughout the yearly calendar. There is a dedication to experiential learning, which includes outdoor experiences as well as experiences in a range of professional settings, within the city and beyond. Round Square provides an entrée to international experiences. Grade 7 and 8 students attend camp sessions hosted at Camp Arowhon and Camp Timberlane which, it has to be said, are two of the foremost camps in the country. Those trips are seen, yes, as a chance to get into nature, though often the most lasting results come from getting the girls out of the familiar, urban environment. “They get to make new friends, which is particularly important in Grade 7,” says Paradine, “and to get to know themselves, perhaps in new ways.”
In Grade 7 and 8 there is a play mounted each fall. Recent productions were Anne of Green Gables and The Velveteen Rabbit. (“It was amazing,” said a parent about that one.) For Grades 9 and up there is an annual production which is often a musical, though not always. Recent productions have been Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and The Sound of Music. Co-curricular productions take part in regional competitions.
The offerings are surprisingly broad given the size of the student body, and there are plenty of options for involvement. They include the full array of teams clubs, as well as some, such as the philosophy club and the classics club, which are less common elsewhere. The musical offerings are equally broad, from chamber choir to jazz band. The size of the school belies the breadth and enthusiasm within the co-curricular programs. There is a lot going on, and a lot of options for girls to choose from. The culture is one of participation, and the students feel comfortable trying new things as well as drilling down to build on existing skills and interests.
The athletics program is deceptively developed, and while the school doesn’t have any outdoor facilities on site, there is a wealth of resources nearby, and the school makes very good use of them. PE classes are hosted, weather permitting, at Eglinton Park, and cross-country practices are held there in mornings before school begins. The campus includes two full-size gyms. Also within walking distance are facilities for ice hockey, swim, and tennis. Says Holeton, “Just because we don’t have our facilities right within our school walls doesn’t mean that we don’t compete well in those sports.”
The school offers a broad and balanced offering of competitive sports competing in CISAA and OFSAA events. There are 40 teams, and they are strikingly successful given that they compete against much larger schools. In the last year of competition prior to the pandemic, SCS achieved golds in CISAA cross-country, skiing, and tennis. Notwithstanding the core thrust of the athletic program is activity, and recreational options are equally varied and broad. It’s supported by an ethos of active living, which is reflected in participation: 75% of students take part in at least one team.
As with the co-curricular programs, the culture of participation rules the day. Yes, it’s nice to bring home ribbons, though the force of the athletic program, made clear when speaking with the coaches, is to inspire active lifestyles and involvement.
St. Clement’s identifies itself as a small school, though that’s perhaps less for the size of the population—it’s not tiny by any means—and more for the sense of community that has developed there over its life as an institution. The principal greets the students each day, by name, as they arrive. “It’s not an insular school, small doesn’t mean that it’s closed in,” says a parent. “There's a real sense of exploring the world, seeing what's beyond the boundary of the school. But also, when you come back to the school, there’s a real sense of home. And the best way I can describe that is when I’m dropping Lauren off and I'll see Miss Perry, the principal, holding the door open as the students walk in. And you just feel like, you know, I'm home again.”
As seen amply during a walk through the halls, students are known by name. While at larger schools, students may be divided between a number of classes within each grade level, here there’s effectively only one class per grade. As a result, girls move together, as a single cohort, through the grades. In many ways, that’s something that defines the school. “I think the fundamental thing that I take away from St Clement’s,” says a recent alumna, “is it taught me how important community is to me.”
The feeling at SCS is that while we don’t live in a single-gender world, the all-girls environment ensures the girls are ready for the real world. “As we say,” says principal Martha Perry, “you need to see it to be it. And every leader at St. Clement’s is a young woman, so girls are seeing female leaders.” There are leadership opportunities for the girls to move into, which they do, perhaps more so having seen strong leaders, ones that come from a community of engaged women. “I would suggest a small school, and a girls’ school, really allows the girls to feel authentic.”
“We were really all driven to do the best we could,” says a Grade 11 student about participation in a regional drama festival, “but it was easy to laugh about some things, some mistakes that were made along the way.” It may be hard to define resilience, though that would be a good starting point. “You obviously want to be really driven, and want to do really well, but it’s really easy to laugh about some mistakes and de-stress while doing the projects.” That response was to a question about what she liked best about St. Clement’s.
“The house system is one of the reasons I came to the school,” says a recent graduate. “I just really love all the passion and the spirit that’s involved.” The four houses are named after British royals houses—York, Stuart, Windsor, and Tudor—complete with colours, mascots, student leaders, and faculty. A House Cup is earned annually by the house that has the most points at the end of the school year. The entire student population gathers en masse twice a week, something that is seen as essential to the culture of the school.
Perry describes the student population as “an evolving though still fairly homogeneous community.” While the student body is diverse, diversity is seen as a strength, and there are programs in place to develop it further. Likewise, diversity is seen principally as a range of perspectives, including cultural, economic, and geographic.
“We’ve worked to define well-being as a state in which every individual challenge is balanced by resources,” says Vice Principal Heather Hendricks. One of the ways they’ve done that is through the development of LINCWELL, a program addressing values, attitudes, and habits towards learning. Inaugurated about 11 years ago, it was the brainchild of then principal Patricia Parisi. The name is an acronym: Learning, Individualization, Nurturing, Creativity, and Wellness. It includes curriculum development, co-curricular offerings, counselling, and even the physical structures within the facility. It reflects an understanding of both the limits and the opportunities of what the school can provide. Says Hendricks, “We know we can’t teach our girls everything, but we can and do prepare them for the specific realities of our changing world.”
Admittedly, coming at it cold, the concept can seem so broad—the website says the goal is “to enable our girls to learn well, lead well, and live well”—as to lack focus or any real teeth. But there’s indeed a real method here. The reason for the breadth is an understanding that, just like learning, wellness doesn’t have any clear boundaries. Esteem, for example, is found in many ways, and it can be supported in many ways, too, from finding success in math, to accessing effective counselling, to feeling a sense of inclusion within co-curricular programs. Students’ lives aren’t siloed, and the approach to support, the thinking goes, shouldn’t be either. As such, the impetus for LINCWell was that to consign health and wellness to just the counselling suite is to miss a range of opportunities to serve the student population. “It isn’t just counselling, and it isn’t just curriculum development,” says Holeton. “It really is absolutely everything.”
There are many tools, resources, protocols, and practices throughout the school that are tangible evidence of the program. There are a number of spaces dedicated to it, and delivery is overseen by the LINCWell staff. There is also a very intentional blurring of the lines between the social and the therapeutic. The LINCWell Centre is home to the counseling offices, including those for emotional counselling and academic counselling, There are study carrels, a table, as well as cushions on the floor. On any given day, at any given moment, you’re as likely to see some student leaders hosting a mindfulness activity, to students just using the space to have a hang. There are scheduled events, such as weekly hot chocolate mornings and after school homework clubs, though drop-ins are just as common.
The goal, says Holeton, is to “provide the students with a toolkit of strategies that will help them as they move forward in life,” including those for organization, academics, communication, and mental and physical health. “We wanted to make sure that this wasn't a program that was seen as something just for when you had, you know, an academic problem or something. This is really supporting the girls in that full growth so that they can tackle whatever comes at them as life goes on.”
The main entry years for admission are Grades 1, 6, 7 and 9. Those are years where the school is accepting more than 10 new girls, though entering the school at other grade levels is certainly allowed. There are about 16 students entering at Grade 9 each year, chosen from 70 to 80 applicants for those spots.
Applications typically begin online via the website, and parents report that there are no surprises along the way. The usual enclosures with the application are those that you’d expect for any school of similar size and scope, including three recent years of report cards. Applicants into the upper school are required to sit the SSAT, and it can be written any time up until the end of January.
An admissions interview is required, with the student being interviewed alone, and then joined by parents for about half of the time, and parents joining in for the other half. It can sound foreboding, perhaps, though Holeton takes tangible pride in making the process as friendly and straightforward as possible, and parents confirm her success in that regard. Says a student, “it was very different from the other interviews I've done not year because it felt more natural and more like a conversation,” and admissions seconds the thought.
“I hate using the word ‘interview,’ because it really is more of a chat. It’s not something you need to prepare for,” says Holeton. “There’s no preparation necessary, because the girls know who they are, and that’s something we want to find out, too. … and it’s a chance for them to ask us questions as well.” She notes that it’s very much a two-way street, and parents should take the time and the care to ensure that the school is the right fit for them. “There are a lot of great school out there and it’s about choosing a place that you can see will be the right community for your daughter and your family.”
“Admittedly it’s a stressful process for everyone,” says a current parent, “but the admissions team is there for you.” Parents of the school also note the importance of not feeling that you need to tread lightly: ask any questions you can possibly think of; reach out to parents and students, something that admissions can help you with; and make use of any opportunities to get into the school. That can include speaker evening events that are open to the public. It’s not school, admittedly, but nevertheless can shed a lot of light on the culture that has developed there, and the values and priorities that undergird it.
“The application process was absolutely seamless and well-organized,” says another parent. “and then once Lauren was accepted at St Clement’s the transition process as well was just so well organized so well laid out. Before we even had a chance to have a concern it was already spelled out for us. For example new students are often concerned or worried about starting at a new school and … the school had scavenger hunts for new students at the school, and so they had a chance to see where all the classes were lockers …. there was a picnic for all the new girls and there they had a chance to get to know some of those students who were already at St Clement’s.” The application period begins in August and the deadline is December 1 for the following September. Admission decisions go out the last week of February. Financial aid is available for students applying to Grades 7 through 12, and the school awards in excess of $750,000 annually. Assessments are made through a third party invigilator, Apple Financial, and applications for aid should be complete by the admissions application deadline.
Pernilla Ingram, a parent of two students currently enrolled at the school, says that “we’re very happy, and she’s very happy.” SCS regularly scores high marks for the depth, breadth, and substance of its communication with parents. “Before you even have a question or concern,” says a current parent, “there is some sort of seminar or information that comes out about … and there's always substance, whether it’s a mail-out, or the principal’s blogs, there's just always something that I learn. And, so, as a parent I enjoy that.”
The quality of the economic program gets high marks as well. “It builds confidence and skills,” says a parent, “and, you know, after Gradet 12 there they have a great foundation to do whatever they want to do at that point.” Another adds that “there is time for fun as well as the academics,”, which is absolutely good to know, and indeed is clearly a priority on the part of the administration.
The online offering during the pandemic is often remarked upon, not only for what it was, as well as the close attention that it was given, and how quickly it was mounted. “We feel very happy and blessed to be part of the community,” says a parent, “and for Sienna to have the teacher as a visitor right in our kitchen through the computer … it has worked very well and it has a lot to do with the teachers and the administration and just the community spirit of the school itself.”
The pivot to online learning was seen as an example of the quality of the faculty. Says a parent, “The teachers are very inspiring, and they just make the girls feel very comfortable to go outside their comfort zone and explore … opportunities they wouldn’t have had in other environments.”
The 2020 school year was challenging, to be sure, though it also served to reinforce the values that schools hold, and provide opportunity to pause and consider what it’s all about. That was very true at St. Clement's. Perry began the remote fall term by reading a story to the entire student body, as she does every year. “I felt the need to ensure that from the start of the year we reflected on the important difference between feeling welcomed at St. Clement’s School, and fostering a community in which everyone feels they belong … a place of belonging as opposed to one where people are simply included.” The place was different—most students were watching the live stream from home—but the values weren’t: inclusion, belonging, and serving all the relationships that provide a foundation for learning.
For many students, it’s that culture—the postures that it encourages in our interactions with others and our understanding of ourselves—that remains the lasting and defining element of their time at SCS. “The environment nurtured a confidence in me by allowing me to feel a proud comfort with who I was,” says Perry. “I was able to be me. I continue to carry that confidence, which enables me to bring voice to my thoughts, convictions, and ideas.”
The strength of the school lies as much in providing strong academics as it does as a foundation for being resilient and responding productively to successes and challenges. “How we react and respond is a choice,” wrote Perry in a blog post during the COVID-19 pandemic. That includes meeting challenges with a sense of humour and a playful attitude. “I believe in happy endings. We will get there because we are tougher than we seem and think.”
Perry was writing from the perspective of living within a pandemic, though that thought—we are tougher than we seem and think—is one the school has long worked to impart to its students. “One of the things we say is that for girls and young women to aspire, they need to ‘see it to be it.’” Says Sarah Gleeson, Head of the Junior School, “At the junior level, it is really important to be able to provide strong women for the girls to look up to,” she says. “From day one in the Junior School, the girls are exposed to ‘the big girls’ – the reading buddies, the Prefects, even the older Clementines who babysit outside of school,” she says. “It allows the girls to see positive young women in their lives and has an immeasurable and lasting effect on their psyche.”
Any experience with the school underscores those attributes. In all, it’s just a very strong offering. St. Clement's School provides a well-rounded, balanced, and supportive learning environment founded on academic excellence. Mentorship is prized, and the school is committed to delivering on a mission to develop exceptional women who are compassionate, curious thinkers and open to new experiences. Girls are guided on their own paths of discovery with the support of a strong school community. That approach is coupled with a progressive 21st century curriculum and lessons reinforced by lived experience. An inclusive, energetic dynamic is the product of a mixture of small classes sizes and interconnected grade levels.