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Lakefield College School:
The Our Kids Report
Grades Gr. 9 TO Gr. 12 — Lakefield, ON (Map)

Lakefield College School:

Leadership interview with Anne-Marie Kee, Lakefield College School

  • Name
    Anne-Marie Kee
  • Title
    Head of School

Anne-Marie Kee, Head of Lakefield College School, says the school emphasizes more than just academics, fostering deep connections among students from around 45 countries, and encouraging outdoor adventures, and environmental activism. The dedicated staff, focused on relationship-building, works closely with students to nurture a community-first culture. Students enjoy a well-rounded education, participating in various activities, including outdoor education, while also having a significant say in the school's functioning. The school's vision is to nurture responsible, globally aware leaders, supported by an alumni network keen on ensuring economic accessibility for prospective students.

Video Contents

Highlights from the interview

  • We are on an incredible campus. In fact, I just came off of a paddleboard where I saw a huge bald eagle. And so the fact that we have this kind of opportunity is amazing.

  • This is a group of people who are so passionate about students that they know everything about them and go the extra mile. We have amazing staff at the school.  I would say what distinguishes our staff from others is they are focused on relationships. I constantly hear that from our parents and our students that they can’t believe everything that staff do.

  • We are a school that is about so much more than academics. We really invest in art and athletics. We’ve identified a few signature programs recently: nordic skiing, because we have these amazing trails; sailing, because of the lake; and musical theater. So there’s a lot of talent at the school, and we really celebrate that school is about more than just academics.

  • We start four days a week in Chapel, and it’s a really important part of who we are—that time together as a community. We take time to focus on global issues in Chapel. We start with some mindfulness moments. We sing. There’s a lot of joy, a lot of laughter. And it’s a really great time for me every single morning to say good morning to everybody, to be with them, hear what’s on their mind, and kind of just get a pulse of what’s happening in the community.

  • We have a house model at the school, and so I meet with students by house, and that’s something that I do throughout the year. Every fall I spend my evenings going into the houses and having snacks with them. So I get to see them in their environment. And then with our Day Students, I have them into my house for cookies and chocolate milk. And then in the winter, I have all the houses through into the living room.

  • This is our school, and it’s a great school because we’re all committed to making it even better—the best it can be. My time is really spent listening as much as possible—listening to students. It’s a priority for our school. It’s a real priority for me that they feel a sense of ownership. And we’ve all bought into that culture. It’s not for everyone, but it works because we’re just a tight-knit community. We say ‘Community First.’

  • We’re a school that does a lot for the environment, but the students felt like there were a number of areas that we could do even better. Our Co-Head Students made that their mission this year—and it was amazing. We have a program that’s committed to environmental activism called LEAF (Lakefield Environmental Action Force), and they prepared a presentation and brought it to the leadership team, so that we could do more composting and recycling in all of our twelve houses. And the students raised it, we talked about it, our students took it on, and they saw that one through.

  • We talk about how we’re not a school that’s as focused on rules as we are on what it means to be a good person, what’s the right thing to do, and we talk about that a lot. It really keeps all of us on our toes because the students do have a voice. I think it also really holds us according to our values, and we all talk about that a lot at the school.

  • With all this time spent on student advocacy, it means that there’s that list of issues to tackle and we have to make sure that we’re always coming back to it and the students see it. A big example is the way that our food has really improved over the years. It was always good food, but the students wanted to see more fresh fruit, more vegan options, a variety of vegetarian meals. And our staff listened. It’s just really important to the culture when we all feel like this is a place we love and we’re going to make it a great place together.

  • We wanted to break down the obstacles that were separating the Day Students and the Boarding Students, and so with the house model, now all of the Day Students will have a spot in one of the 12 houses. That way they’re going to get the benefits. I’m coming to the end of my third year as Head of School and in my first year I saw a really big divide between Day Students and Boarding Students in the younger grades. We’re a school that’s only Grade 9 to Grade 12, and by Grade 12 you couldn’t tell the difference between Day Students and Boarding Students—but you could in the younger years. So one of our big initiatives was with a house model.

  • Now more than ever, I think it’s important that students have deep connections with kids from a variety of countries. The way to learn global competencies isn’t sitting in a training workshop. We’re from about 45 countries on this little campus of ours, so the more that the Day and Boarding Students can be integrated and together, I think that’s one of the huge benefits of a boarding school education. Nothing makes me happier than when I see that the kids are going to each other’s places on weekends or March Breaks or holidays. There’s a lot of that that goes on. I think that’s what we mean by ‘authentic learning.’ It’s real. This is about life—not just going to university.

  • The kids that are attracted to Lakefield, I think, have a bit of a sense of adventure. They like the outdoors. If they don’t like the outdoors when they arrive, then they love the outdoors by the time they graduate. And we hear a lot of those stories.

  • If you’re only interested in academics and then you want to go home at the end of the day so you can do all of your homework, this isn’t that place. You kind of are all in. We attract students who want a well-rounded education. We do Advanced Placement. We offer an incredible number of academic courses.  At Lakefield, you buy into the relationships with each other, with teachers. You buy into the spirit events. You’re here on the weekend. This is your life. I think it pulls you out of your comfort zone, when you’re living in this kind of an immersive environment.

  • Our vision right now is to help teenagers to inspire teenagers to become leaders who figure out what they care about. The important part is then contributing back. And I think that’s where we are forcing students outside of the bubble and realizing that they have a responsibility to give back. I think when you’re surrounded by such compassionate staff that influences the students, and so they know it’s not good enough to live within your own self in your own world—you’ve got to expand your mind and give back.

  • I chose to come back and work here at Lakefield in part because of the influence that students have here, including on student discipline. We live according to our school life guide, but our students are very much part of figuring out the peer-review process, and what the consequences of actions will be. We’re a community that holds each other accountable to those high standards, and I think that it’s a safe community, in part because students are sometimes harder on each other than adults are, and they take that job really seriously.

  • One of our alumni, who spoke in Chapel a couple of years ago, said that Lakefield is ‘the least pretentious school in the country’—and he pointed at the students and said—‘and it’s your job to keep it that way.’ So I attribute that to the fact that we are an outdoors kind of school  and the families are very down to earth, very committed to our community, to community in general. I bet you there’s a high number of our families who have also spent time at camp, and there’s a real link between camp culture and Lakefield—in fact, our kids call Lakefield ‘Camp Lakefield’ in the spring. So that’s a kind of person who loves the outdoors and loves people and loves learning.

  • Wherever you come from, people are often choosing our school because of the campus and because of the belief in the benefits of nature and being outdoors and engaged. At Lakefield, you’re going to be camping during three seasons. The whole school goes skiing for a day. Everyone’s out running or doing Gladiator Day, which is a big day where there are all these water events and the students are out on the lake. It’s required for all students to take outdoor education in Grade 9.

  • We don’t avoid conflict at the school. We’ll have difficult conversations. I think there’s just a lot of trust within our community. We’re a little bit different. Because we have a house model, all of our Advisors are also tied into the house model, and I would say our parents really understand that the first point of contact is with their son or daughter’s Advisor. And those relationships are tight: they start right in Grade 9.  And so I don’t want to say we have no conflict, but I think because we establish relationships early on, and they’re real, and we have a value here where we believe that we’re co-parenting with students and parents and our staff.

  • There’s something about Lakefield that is special, that you can’t quite put your finger on. And we say the key is that you never stop trying to express it. We can’t describe it. You have to be here. It’s a feeling. You see it in the way that kids are so inspirational and so resilient. And in how the staff just keep digging deeper and coming up with more creative ways to connect with kids and to teach. There’s a passion here.

  • People come back to this school and they connect with people, they connect with place, and there’s something very spiritual here. There’s a deep commitment to mind, body, and spirit.  There’s something here that sticks with you for the rest of your life and changes who you are.

  • Our alumni are incredible, and a passion of theirs is not so much to give to buildings—it’s to give to financial aid. We have a large endowment at the school and a really deep commitment to making our school as accessible as possible. It’s expensive, for sure. But because we’re so fortunate to have alumni and parents who give us this help, we can have a really high number of students here on financial aid—so that if we have a great student come to us, our goal is to admit great students, regardless of their family’s economic status.

  • Parents have to come to terms with the fact that it’s a gift that you’re giving to your kids, for them to spend their teenage years at Lakefield. I watch parents visiting Lakefield and I see, if kids are on campus, they fall in love. I think it’s hard for parents to imagine sending their child away to boarding school, and so I think that parents today are really struggling with this concept of their babies going away to Canada or to the little town of Lakefield. I see it—and as a mom, I felt it. I felt a little bit shamed that our son was living in boarding school and not with us.

  • Starting summer, 2021, we’re going to open up the school and make it optional for students and staff to continue their studies through the summer. The school year is September to June, and the crazy thing about our school is that it’s beautiful in July and August. We have also just made a commitment to make our campus our priority.  We’re just excited about that. We’re excited about offering teenagers a more flexible learning environment—so you could take math, and then go for a sail, or go for a stand-up paddleboard, and see an eagle.

  • I think we’re seeing an increased interest in mental health support, and it’s top of mind for me as we’re launching a health and wellness initiative. We have so many programs here: we’re committed to positive psychology, positive education, we’re committed to the outdoors. We have a Thrive program. Our teachers have been trained in all kinds of character education and leadership programs, and we’re going to do a big review because we just think schools can’t do that well enough.


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