Lakefield College School KEY INSIGHTS
Each school is different. Lakefield College School's Feature Review excerpts disclose its unique character. Based on discussions with the school's alumni, parents, students, and administrators, they reveal the school’s distinctive culture, community, and identity.
What we know
- An emphasis on the full spectrum of learning, including social, physical, and academic development.
- A close, connected school community and a faculty that knows the students from the time they enter the school until the time they graduate from it.
Our editor speaks about the school (video)
Lakefield College School (LCS) is an all-gender, non-denominational day and boarding school. Founded in 1879 on a 25-acre property, the school has acquired additional land over the years, growing to the current 155-acre main campus that includes a sizeable shoreline on the gloriously named Katchewanooka Lake, which also provides access to the Trent-Severn Waterway. In addition to the active lakefront, the main campus includes instructional facilities, boarding houses, extensive hiking and Nordic skiing trails, sports fields, a regulation outdoor hockey rink, high and low ropes courses, and a wealth of green space. In 2007, Northcote, a secondary campus, was established, adding 160 acres of property. Northcote is the site of Lakefield’s new regenerative farm project and central to its commitment to providing outdoor experiences tied to environmental responsibility, transformative learning, and student well-being.
ON THE PHYSICAL ENVIRONMENT
“[The students will] all find their little space,” says Anne-Marie Kee, the head of school and foundation, “be it the Grove, the trails, the Chapel, or someplace else entirely. They’ll talk about how they walk by the lake going to classes.” Most classes take place in the school block, though the grounds are always a pull. It’s not uncommon for students to go paddle boarding during a free period. “Even in the winter, they’ll go outside to get to the dining hall. That’s pretty special.” She’s right, of course. It is.
ON THE ACADEMIC PROGRAM
There is a focus on authentic learning, with an emphasis on experiential learning and self-discovery in addition to what one might expect. This approach allows the students the latitude to engage with the content while exploring their personal relationship to it, to learn who they are, and to find how they will be able to best contribute. As such, instruction is student-centred, with opportunities for them to personalize their learning, ask questions, engage with peers, and otherwise be active agents of their learning.… Different programs naturally tend to different approaches, and instructors rightly follow their instincts. Outdoor education includes some classroom instruction, but it is, understandably, predominantly experiential. Likewise, language instruction is very personalized, allowing students a lot of voice, choice, and customization of their learning tracks. In science, things tend toward inquiry-based instruction, with a growing attention to cross-curricular learning. English is founded on a deliberate development of Harkness-style discussion-based learning.
ON SCHOOL LEADERSHIP
Anne-Marie Kee is not at all new to independent education. She served as executive director of Canadian Accredited Independent Schools (CAIS) for more than a decade. She’s been a teacher, the dean of studies, and the chair of the integrated technology implementation program at Lower Canada College in Montreal, Québec. And those are just the highlights. In all, it’s safe to say that there’s no one in the country who has as much first-hand experience and insight into independent education. And her commitment to LCS is a deep one—even before she joined the school herself, she had enrolled her children here.
“She has an abundance of energy interacting with students,” says Dave Darby, Assistant Head of School: Enrolment Management. “That’s very good for the school. It makes everybody’s work easier when the students really like the head, and they feel she gets them,” adds former science teacher of 40 years, Mike Arsenault. “And she listens.” That sounds like a simple thing, perhaps, but it isn’t. If there’s one skill that defines an effective leader, that’s it. When asked what she aspired to be in the eyes of students, Kee answers: “Someone who asks good questions.”
Professional development is ongoing, including online and in-person courses from Harvard’s graduate education program, among other courses and resources. The teaching culture is one of reflective practice, looking into one another’s classrooms and meeting both formally and informally to share ideas and trade best practices. There are school-wide initiatives that are offered to all the faculty, and instructors are tasked to apply for development programs. The Associate Faculty role invites recent graduates from teacher’s college to apply to both teach and assist with residential duties in the houses. The mentorships that develop further underscore that culture of reflective practice.
ON THE STUDENT COMMUNITY
No school is for everyone, but it’s difficult to imagine the kinds of students that would have a hard time finding a place here. It’s challenging, welcoming, and supportive in equal measures. We spoke with a student who came from Bancroft (about an hour away) and another who came from Bequia (an island in the Grenadines). The latter had never seen snow before; the former has probably seen enough for a lifetime. And both are happy, contented, and thriving. In that, and so many ways, the diversity of the student body is a model for other schools, as is the robust program of tuition assistance created in the service of building all forms of diversity. Life on campus is active, to be sure, but not onerous—all the activity seems to come with equal helpings of welcome challenge, spirit, and fun.
ON OUTDOOR EDUCATION
LCS has long been a leader in outdoor education, due in no small part to the physical assets of the campus. “A lot of other schools have what they call outdoor education,” says associate head of academics, Dean Van Doleweerd. “[At other schools,] students are bused up to a camp, they spend two or three days, and it’s only done in one instance, or a couple instances, throughout the year. Whereas, at Lakefield, we can integrate it into everything that we do. “We have an incredible learning farm, forests, and water access, canoes, all the climbing equipment, etc., everything for outdoor learning and adventure. It allows us to integrate academic disciplines with nature and other real-world experiences and provides our students with really impactful learning.”
ON THE ACADEMIC ENVIRONMENT
The location is, in large part, responsible for why the community has grown up in the way that it has. Where urban schools are an interface with the city around, country schools have the benefit of isolation, and Lakefield is a great example of those benefits. “The students feel a connection to [the] place here, beyond a school,” says Kee. “Lakefield is about relationships. We’re teaching students a sense of commitment to their communities … and to think about who they are and who they want to become.” That the property is so well defined, both geographically and otherwise, encourages that. In the morning, it’s a common sight to see the boarding students bustling across campus to meet the day student buses on their way to Chapel.
In Grade 12, all students are required to take weekly classes with a guidance counsellor in addition to individual appointments. “Some students we’ll meet with 20 times over the course of six months,” says Dean Van Doleweerd, Associate Head: Academics. That would be the high end, but in all, it’s case-by-case. The guidance offices are just off the library, so they are in a high-traffic area, both accessible and visible to students daily. Says Van Doleweerd, “Our guidance staff to graduate ratio is among the best, and we’re always available—let’s put it that way.” And certainly, they are.
ON ACADEMIC COUNSELLING
Every student has an advisor they meet with at least once a week, both individually and within a group.… The advising process is founded upon a specific advising curriculum based on the practices of positive psychology. “A lot of advising,” says Van Doleweerd, “is chatting with kids and sorting out their various problems—being a supportive adult and helping them self-advocate, take responsibility, and support them as they develop to become fully independent. But there is an underlying curriculum as well that’s available to advisors that they can tap into around well-being, study skills, and those sorts of things.”
Teachers have long histories at Lakefield. The faculty clearly share a sense of purpose, both in the classroom and beyond. All is underwritten by the understanding that there is power in teenagers developing relationships with professional adults who love their work and love their community. It adds dimension to the school experience and creates connections to it that remain, in very many instances, for the rest of their lives.
ON THE SCHOOL’S VALUES
As with any school of age, Lakefield has changed over the years—perhaps most notably in 1989, when it became coed. “The introduction of girls made a remarkable difference,” says science teacher Mike Arsenault, who has been here for upwards of 36 years. “Any school goes through peaks and valleys, and when I started it was one of the valleys. So, I’ve watched it grow and change with time.” The founding values have remained consistent over the years. With recent development, new facilities, and a new head of school bringing fresh energy to the program, Arsenault and others see this as a particularly high point in the life of the school.
“In life, you have to be resilient and to be able to rely on each other,” says Van Doleweerd. Those are the kinds of lessons that the environment at LCS has been developed to provide, both in the classroom and beyond. But it’s also about place. “To be rooted,” wrote Simone Weil, “is perhaps the most important and the least recognized need of the human soul.” Certainly, the middle of nowhere has as much claim as anywhere else to being the centre of the universe. For many of the students and faculty we spoke with, that’s the position Lakefield occupies in their lives.
THE OUR KIDS REPORT: Lakefield College School
Next steps to continue your research: