Extracurriculars round out education

How private schools emphasize extracurricular activities

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Look inside private schools to see ways in which they emphasize extracurriculars and the personal development that goes along with it.

Endless options: In-school homework equals at-home freedom

Many private and independent schools have a unique take on before- and after-school programs. Classes may end at 3:15 p.m., but the school day isn't over: Students spend an hour on homework, followed by an hour of phys-ed.

At 5:30 p.m., these students have something that many kids don't: Free time.

"Students do all their homework at school, which means they are free to participate in extracurricular activities or family time," says Tracey Quinn, Director of Admissions at Venta Preparatory School in Ottawa, Ontario. "Our parents really appreciate it."

The program makes the school a great fit for several elite athletes, who need their evenings to train. - MGG

Creative learning: Not your average science experiment

Trafalgar Castle School, in Whitby, Ontario, is turning technology into a creative tool. The all-girls school may be old, but it's always eager to innovate. Trafalgar has been a laptop school for about 10 years, says Principal Brian McClure, with information technology skills emphasized throughout the curriculum.

"We use technology to teach them how to do proper research, prepare projects and make presentations," he says.

But it's the school's robotics program that's really exciting. "We'd reached a plateau in terms of IT skills, when General Motors approached us about sponsoring a robotics team," McClure says. "Students in Grades 6, 7, and 8 start with a basic course where they learn about the principles of robotics in science class."

Older grades can participate in an extracurricular club where they work together to design and build a robot with the help of professional mentors and parents who are engineers. The club is divided into a tech team and a business team, who work on budgets and marketing for the project.

"It's great to expose the students to a non-traditional profession for women," McClure says. "Many students would never have the opportunity to do this, but our school motto is 'Girls can.'"

Newly found athleticism

There are many children who do not think of themselves 'jocks,' of course. However, at many private schools, these children find that they can 'make the team' or simply find that the smaller class and school size makes them less self-conscious. In any case, making the varsity squad encourages teens to get active and opens them up to many other benefits of sports involvement not otherwise available to them.

Rising to the challenge

Andrea loves sports, but she had always shied away from rugby until she transferred to an independent school for Grade 12. With a heavy emphasis on extracurricular activities, her new school mandates that students select a different after-school sport for the fall, winter and spring sessions. Encouraged to try something new for spring, Andrea tackled rugby.

"Never in my life would I have tried it. I was afraid I might get hurt," she says. "But when all your friends are playing and they tell you how fun it is and how great the tournaments are, you want to try it too."

Andrea not only survived the season physically unscathed, she actually enjoyed adding the sport to her usual regimen of soccer and basketball-playing for all three teams last year at Stanstead College, an independent boarding and day school in Stanstead, Quebec. The best part, she says, were the friends she made in the process. "I didn't know anyone when I came to the school, but since sports were such a big part, it brought us together," Andrea says. "Being part of a team and sharing a common goal gives us a sense of pride in the school and ourselves."

Hitting their stride

Participating in sports at school can be intimidating for some children. Spencer was one of them.

When Spencer first entered Paula Sweeny's gym class at TEAM School, a special needs school in Mississauga, Ontario, he was six-years-old and very shy.

"He was afraid he was not good enough-often trying to hide in a corner of the gym," says Sweeny.

The class would play against other schools just for the fun of it, emphasizing participation and confidence building, not competition. As a result, Sweeny has noticed a change in Spencer.

"We never kept score. His skills and confidence have greatly improved," she says. Now 10, Spencer is trying out for almost every sports team available to him and loves soccer, floor hockey and softball most of all.

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