Other students, alumni and proponents of boys education also share their experiences with all-boys schools in their testimonials below.
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Thank you to the boys of St. Andrew's College and Upper Canada College.
(This video, from /school, is produced by Our Kids Media. Videographer: Luke Krajcarski)
Focus on team-building
Bjorn Dawson has just finished rowing. The recent Grade 12 student at boy’s school Selwyn House School in Westmount, a suburb of Montreal, Quebec, logs some of his gym time on the water, thanks to the school’s flexible phys-ed policy that allows students to choose their favourite activities three times a week.
“There are tons of different options, like rock-climbing, cross-country skiing, basketball and track,” says Dawson, who has attended Selwyn since kindergarten.
Dawson appreciates the close relationships he has developed at Selwyn House School. The school fosters friendships by facilitating team-building activities at a local ski hill at the beginning of each school year, where the boys can catch up and reconnect.
Keeyan Ravanshid, a Grade 6 student who has also been at Selwyn since kindergarten, enjoys the school’s frequent field trips, including excursions to Montreal’s Biodome, the Musée de Montréal and Quebec City. “It’s nice to see how people used to live,” he says of his recent trip to Quebec City.
Neither Keeyan nor Bjorn feel like they’re missing anything by being at an all-boys’ school. “You never have to think about impressing anyone —there are no distractions,” says Bjorn. “There aren’t any cliques here. We all know each other and get along.
—Annette Bourdeau, Megan Griffith-Greene
A different learning style
Alex, who recently completed Grade 7, will quickly tell you what impressed him the most about his experience at an all-boys school: the teachers. “They’re just really nice and they focus on you. You feel like they really care,” says Alex.
“Boys often have a different learning style than girls,” says Tom Stevens, director of admissions at Royal St. George’s College (RSGC), in Toronto, Ontario. “You can tell a young boy to sit and read a passage and write about it, but most boys would rather talk about a story and act it out.”
RSGC adapts its curriculum and teaching methods to best suit the learning style of boys, Tom explains. For example, in his Grade 10 enriched math class, he often has small groups figuring out a problem together at the blackboard, rather than sitting at their desks and tackling it alone. “They’re standing up and can move and, at the same time, they can get positive feedback from their fellow students, and I can clearly see how they’re doing,” Tom says.
Core courses like math, language and sciences are held in the morning, music classes are held every day and phys-ed every other day. “The school day is structured to take into account the activity level of most boys,” says Tom.
“We celebrate the way they are”
Boys, we’re told, don’t like reading; more girls than boys now go to university; and in coed situations, the impression comes through that boys only inhibit and hold back girls by their loud and bombastic behaviour.
So what’s to be said about all-boy schools? “In the last 10, perhaps 20 years, boys’ schools have changed,” says Mary Gauthier, director of the Wernham West Centre for Learning, a research and support element of Upper Canada College in Toronto, Ontario.
Nothing shows that change more than the extent to which boys in all-boy situations “are comfortable in theatre and creative arts,” says Gauthier, who spent 15 years in a coed school before joining UCC. “The first thing I noticed,” she says, “was how in assembly when the boys sing, they really sing.”
“We know that learning takes place where people are socially accepted and they feel comfortable and respected. It’s the same for boys as for girls—they need to be valued as individuals.”
An example of the new approach: In Grades 6 to 8, boys are often seen as impulsive and disorganized—so different teaching techniques are required. UCC teachers in those grades, says Gauthier, are encouraged at the start of class to remind the boys what they learned in the previous lesson, tell them what this lesson will be about, and personally acknowledge each student. “You have to be very intentional about what you’re doing,” she says. “It helps the boys work to their potential.”
The aim, of course, is to produce boys who are more aware, sensitive and awake to the world around them. “We celebrate the way they are,” Gauthier says.
Preparation for life
Peter Merrick is enjoying a wildly successful finance career: the Thornhill, Ontario-based certified financial planner consults on investment, risk management, and succession planning advice for some of North America's largest financial institutions and accounting and legal firms. While financial savvy, strong drive, and a robust work ethic have contributed to the 41-year-old's success, one factor he also counts is the middle school education and preparation for life he received at Robert Land Academy, a private school for under-achieving boys in Wellandport, Ontario.
"It was a highly structured learning environment with small classes, low teacher-to-student ratios and lots of confidence-building, which I needed at the time," says Merrick, who attended the non-profit military boarding school from 1980 to 1984.
Merrick started at the school in Grade 6 with a learning disability in reading and spelling, and he says its rigorous approach to academics helped him overcome this hurdle by the time he left after Grade 9. Today, Merrick is a published author of three finance textbooks and more than 300 magazine and journal articles on his industry.
Merrick also benefited from the academy's strong focus on varsity athletics, participating in the hockey, wrestling, and cross-country running teams, and from intensive physical group activities, such as rock climbing, martial arts, and the school's annual 90 km march.
"Boys have a lot of energy, and you need to get that out of your system before you can focus," Merrick says.
Boys' schools prepare for life, argue proponents
The academy's tailored and highly structured programming and extra emphasis on athletics and confidence-building are qualities that are found, to varying degrees, at boys' schools across Canada—and to positive effect, says Michael Zwaagstra, a proponent of all-boys' education.
"Boys tend to thrive in a more competitive environment with more physical activity, and an all-boys' school can tailor its format to these specific learning needs," says Zwaagstra, a high school social studies teacher in Manitoba, research associate with the Frontier Centre for Public Policy, and author of What's Wrong With Our Schools: and How We Can Fix Them.
Indeed, a 2005 Cambridge University study on gender differences in education found that separating children for some subjects helped boys concentrate and improved their exam scores.
Greg Hewitt, admissions officer at the Robert Land Academy, is proud to witness students evolve from unconfident, immature boys into self-assured, self-disciplined young men, prepared for life in the adult world.
"We take away the typical adolescent distractions of girls and gossip and focus on their interests," Hewitt says. "They graduate with boatloads of self-esteem, good grades, in great physical shape, and with all the tools they need to succeed."