Beamsville, ON | Grades 9 - 12 | Shortlist
As someone who attended in the past and has had opportunity to reconnect with this community, I have been asked what has changed. While there are definitely some physical and procedural changes, the core of what has always made Great Lakes great remains the same. This school was, and is, a faith-based community that is focused on the student. The same reasons that I loved this school as a student are the reasons I would send my child as a parent. Teachers and staff are dedicated and have the utmost care and concern for the students. The school is small yet academically rigorous. It prepared me very well for university and gave me lifelong friendships. It holds a special place in the hearts of many.
The leadership of the school has an attitude of service - serving the school community, serving the students and serving the community at large. I felt greatly respected as a student. I felt safe, and that the school environment was, overall, a positive one. There is a high level of dedication amongst the staff and it starts with the administration of the school. Discipline is handled well and fairly, and there are always avenues for student feedback. With a small student body, the administration is able to communicate well with both students and parents in an even more personal way than in larger environments. You never feel like just a number.
I found the teachers to be passionate, knowledgeable, always well-prepared as well as professional while being very personable. They inspired us to achieve our best and provided help and support when needed. With smaller class sizes, the teachers are able to connect with the students and you get to know the teachers well as a student body (the Geography teacher who spins on the podium, the Biology teacher that tells the best stories - and the worst puns - and the History teacher who gets so excited that you have to watch for spit flying). I felt the teachers worked hard and put their students' needs first. The quality of teaching at Great Lakes is constantly improving and there is a clear commitment to providing support.
Despite the small size, the academic rigor of the school is fantastic. In a lot of ways I was far more prepared for university level courses than other students in my first year. There is not the same breadth of academic choices as at larger schools, but this is improving, and the school does what it can to accommodate students who need courses not offered (i.e. online courses, or making arrangements with another, local high school). I find the academic culture to be more collegial than competitive and that it was challenging and focused on preparation for next steps (i.e. if a student is on a university track, those courses are focused on preparing a student for that - teaching how to tackle university level courses). In my first year of university I found some of my peers were less prepared - seemed almost unable to write a basic essay. I was so grateful for the preparation I received at Great Lakes.
I was able to participate in a lot of extracurricular activities at Great Lakes. With the small size, they are very accessible. There are a lot of activities that are available that are 'just for fun' and a lot of school community activities that engage students - providing opportunities to be involved in non-academic pursuits. There is a keen focus on a well-rounded student. Any student who wants to be involved in extracurricular activities will have great access to these opportunities.
As a residential school which also includes local, day students, Great Lakes includes a broad range of students. It offers a unique opportunity to meet different people from all over the world. Students who lead in the school are hard-working, jovial and friendly. You are able to know everyone in the school by sight and name. It makes for a nice, family atmosphere. School-wide events become opportunities for us to be all together as one large community and celebrate together. The values are Christian values. There is love and acceptance, grace and forgiveness, support and encouragement. There is a lot of fun and a lot of encouragement to work hard. Students are helpful and polite and courteous. Often they are seen as distinct from other students (on school trips for example) because of this behaviour.
The size and engagement of the staff, the school community, and the students all make this a wonderful place to attend. As with any school you will always find students who don't want to be there, but the majority of students are there because they want to be and are generally happy. Student engagement is fairly high. With the high level of support from staff and teachers, there is a lot of help and students who are stressed are quickly identified and given the help they need. Most alumni speak very highly of their time at Great Lakes and are passionate about the school. School life at Great Lakes is what a student makes of it - a student can be involved and engaged or can be disengaged and removed.
There is broad community support from the faith community that supports the school. The alumni is quite active as alumni groups go. Parents are very welcome to be involved and many are. I have kept up with a number of students from my time at Great Lakes. The alumni often volunteer their time and there are a number of students who come back to visit the school. There is definitely a broader community holding up this school and supporting it. It a special place for those who have graduated. There are churches within the surrounding community that help to support the residential students and a broad base of people who are connected to the school from over the years that contribute to the success of the school.
The school is located in a very small town. There are a few places within walking distance that students go to regularly (and become nostalgic about after leaving). It is a quaint, safe town. But also a nice, big, charming campus. For international, residential students, it is also located closely enough to other destinations (Niagara Falls, Toronto, etc) that they often have opportunities to visit during their time here.
The admissions process is not daunting and the staff work tirelessly to aid students in the process. It is not stressful. For residential students, early application can ensure a place in the dormitories as they can fill up. In my own experience, if someone wants to attend Great Lakes Christian High School, the school does what they can to make that possible. There is nothing particularly tricky about the admissions process, just apply early and be honest.
This is another way that, again, the small-school advantage helps. The guidance counsellor who helps the students through this process knows the students well and is able to provide really helpful guidance. I do not remember the guidance I was given, but if anything, I feel this is something that has improved a lot within the school. There is a lot of support for this process for students and a keen focus on providing students with what they need for advancement beyond their high school careers. Students have ample access, time and guidance for the process. Great Lakes is very focused on preparing students for university and does a very good job at the entire process - starting from the beginning of the high school career, right through.