Private Schools: Keys to student saftey

With small class sizes, it is the attention we're able to give each student that makes our school safe." - Aaron Sawatsky, director of St. Jude's Academy, Mississauga, Ontario

School safety is gaining increasing attention from parents and educators across the country. In fact, a recent study funded by the Society for Quality Education indicated that school safety was among the top five reasons why parents chose to send their children to private schools.

"We were quite surprised to find that safety was at the top of the list," says Patricia Allison, the study's co-author and a part-time professor in the Faculty of Education at the University of Western Ontario.

Allison says that a number of the parents surveyed identified a problem with safety within their previous school system or said they weren't willing to take a chance.

According to Allison, the largest factors in creating a safe environment are school size and low student-to-teacher ratios. "Most private schools are much smaller so you can oversee everything going on within the school at all times," she says. "It's harder for safety to be a problem in a small school."

Also, most private schools have a clearly articulated disciplinary philosophy, which ensures student safety. "While in private schools, parents simply won't put up with a dangerous situation and so the school will respond accordingly," says Allison.

We found many examples of ways in which private and independent schools across the country are ensuring their students' safety.

Practice Counts

Once a term, every term, the students at Collingwood School in West Vancouver are taught a lesson that isn't found in their textbooks: lockdown. It's only a drill, but provides a vital test of reaction times and practice in responding to emergency situations. Various fabricated scenarios, such as potentially dangerous wildlife wandering out of the nearby woods and making its way to the school's doors or a human intruder to the facilities, teach students how to react and what to do, training their muscle memories in the case of a real-life threatening event.

"As a school, we're very proactive with it," says Andrew Shirkoff, director of emergency protocol for the Collingwood School. "It's become accepted as the norm."

Although there's never been an actual emergency requiring lockdown at the school, staff makes it a priority to ensure that students will be prepared if the need ever arises.

The school has also established a risk management committee to make sure that students are kept safe during all aspects of school life. The group, which advises the headmaster, evaluates all school activities, from what takes place on the athletic fields to student excursions around the world.

"We take student safety very seriously," Shirkoff says.

Staff-to-student ratios are second to none

For the Central Montessori Schools in Toronto, Ontario, safety means knowing where children are at all times and strictly controlling access to the schools.

"Parents hand their children off to a teacher in the morning and pick them up directly from their classroom at the end of the day," says Rosa Marcellino, a supervisor at the school. "When our kids go outside to play, they go in very small groups with at least three supervisors, unlike typical recess at public schools."

The high staff-to-student ratios and regular emergency preparedness training ensures safety is always top of mind.

Bonus marks

Stepping up safety not only protects the physical and emotional wellbeing of students, but enhances their learning experience.

"Studies have shown that kids can learn more if they feel like they are in a safe environment," says Sawatsky. "When children aren't worried about what's going on around them, they can focus on obtaining the information being presented to them."

—Hailey Eisen and Lisa Van de Ven

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To get more insight and to meet with different schools, come to one of our Private School Expos, being held across Canada.

Vancouver expo:

Media interviews with parents, schools, students and speakers can be arranged before or during the event with Our Kids Media.

For more information on the upcoming Private School Expos, or to register visit: /expo
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