Beamsville, ON | Grades 9 - 12 | Shortlist
Many people look back on their high school days and groan, but I look back and smile. I loved going to school every day, and I am confident that going to Great Lakes was part of the reason why. The thing that I liked the best about Great Lakes is that it isn't just about academics. Great Lakes has an amazing sense of community. Part of this is due to the smaller size of the school, but there are many ways for students, staff, families, and the public to get involved with events, volunteer opportunities, and extra-curricular activities. Going to a Christian school was a really great way for me to build the foundation of my faith during an important transitional stage in my life. I enjoyed being part of a Christian environment where I knew that there would be positive influences and good role models surrounding me.
Great Lakes is unique because of how much the staff genuinely care about their students. When I was a student, each and every staff member knew me by name and made a point to get to know me. All of the students loved and respected the school leadership team. We always felt that the decisions that they made were appropriate. There is a low tolerance for issues, so any problems with students were always dealt with quickly and taken seriously.
Academically, I thrived when at Great Lakes. The smaller class sizes certainly helped me learn and get extra help from teachers if I needed it. The teachers know all of the students on an individual level, so nobody would ever fall through the cracks. The students were collegial and there was not a competitive environment. Students of different levels and learning needs all got along well. When I attended the school, there were not very many options for elective courses, but this has changed quite a bit in recent years and they now offer courses such as entrepreneurship, food and nutrition, and design and technology that were not available before. I have also been impressed with the improvements that Great Lakes has made in terms of providing academic accommodations for students with exceptionalities. I ended up completing a Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology (following a BA - Honours, and MA), and I believe that the academic foundation that was set at Great Lakes contributed to this success.
All of the teachers at Great Lakes are very friendly and they take the time to get to know each student on an individual level. The dynamic between students and teachers is generally very warm, and more on the informal side. Because of the small school size, the teachers are always available and easy to track down if you need anything from them. The teachers genuinely care about the students and they go above and beyond for their students. For example, they regularly hold study hall so any student can get extra help after school. One positive experience was in a particularly difficult science class. I remember it being the first time that I took ownership of my grades and I felt like I wanted to study more so that I could learn the material and do well. I think that this approach helped to prepare me for university.
The extracurricular activities at Great Lakes are a big part of what made me enjoy going to the school so much. It was so easy to get involved with several different activities. Because of the small size of the school, it is not very competitive to become involved. For example, I joined the volleyball team even though I am not very athletic, where this opportunity would not likely have been available to me at a bigger school. Great Lakes has excellent music extracurriculars, specifically the chorus. We learned to sing in 4 part harmony and had the opportunity to travel around Canada and the US to perform at different churches. Going on Chorus Trips was certainly a highlight of my time at Great Lakes. Great Lakes also has several extracurricular activities that are spiritually-focused, such as groups for girls/boys, devotions, and worship nights. There is dedicated staff for spiritual life who do an excellent job of mentoring the students, especially international students.
Great Lakes is really like a big family. There are a wide range of people who attend the school. Some academically focused, others more athletic, and some who are more socially-inclined. At Great Lakes, everyone is included and can find their place. Even students who are quieter or struggle socially were not excluded or bullied. Everyone was very kind and would make a point to reach out to students who may have been struggling. I made so many great friendships while at Great Lakes, and many of them continue to this day more than 10 years later. I also met my husband at Great Lakes! There is a surprising amount of diversity at Great Lakes- in cultural backgrounds, socio-economic status, and spiritual backgrounds. Many students come from Christian families, which helps to promote the Christian atmosphere. There is a good mix of international students which allows for learning about different cultures and languages. When I attended, there were many students from Asia (Korea, Hong Kong), but now it seems like there are more Nigerian students which adds even more richness to the school's diversity.
I absolutely loved going to school at Great Lakes. High school was one of the best times of my life, and I believe firmly that going to Great Lakes was what made that difference. I loved being able to go to a place that was a Christian environment. I was able to get involved with many extracurricular activities that made my experience so much more enjoyable. Most of the students were quite involved with the things that are going on in school. Every night it seemed like there was something going on that you could be a part of. The relationships between students, staff, teachers, and other community members also made it a positive place to be.
The community at Great Lakes is absolutely phenomenal. I have never been aware of any other school that had so much involvement and connection with its alumni. Many of the teachers and parents are alumni themselves and so they care genuinely about the school and the students. Great Lakes has a dedicated women's auxiliary group that consistently does fundraising for things like scholarships for students. There are strong connections between Great Lakes and the local churches (and other churches around Ontario). If there was ever a need, I am confident that it would be met by someone in the community. Even though I graduated a long time ago, I still attend events at the school, as do many other alumni. For example, some alumni will attend school plays, graduations, etc. even though they do not have a personal connection with a specific student, but rather to support the school. Some students will live with a local family as a homestay student, so they can still have a family atmosphere instead of the dorm.
Great Lakes is located in Beamsville, Ontario, which is a small town. It is a 10 minute walk to "downtown" Beamsville, which includes some restaurants, grocery store, library, skating rink, etc. Residential students would often walk into town to get food after school, or to hang out at a restaurant. The town is small and safe. Some students find that it is boring because it is not part of a bigger city. They often take a bus load of students to St. Catharines (a nearby city) to go to the mall on weekends. The long weekend program also takes students on outings to other locations.
The admission process was extremely easy for me. I honestly don't remember very much of it because I was not very involved. Being a local Canadian day student there wasn't very much to be questioned. I always knew that I wanted to go to Great Lakes for high school so it was not a very difficult decision. I had been familiar with the school before from youth events. In grade 9, there were not very many options for classes, so it was not difficult to make my course schedule. It was nice being able to go to a welcome barbeque before the first day of class and do the orientation and everything. They now have a shadow day, which is a good opportunity for students to check out the school to know if it will be a good fit or not.
The university placement system at Great Lakes is very individualized because of the small size of the school. I remember meeting with the guidance counselor and telling him that I was interested in Psychology. At the time, he made sure to explain to me that an undergraduate degree in Psychology does not often lead to meaningful job experiences and that graduate work would likely be necessary. I ended up pursuing a Ph.D. in Psychology, so his advice was relevant to me! I had no difficulties with the application process for Ontario universities. I was accepted into all of the programs that I applied to and was offered competitive scholarships due to my academic background. I remember having presentations from other colleges or universities so that we could make informed decisions.