Victoria, BC | Grades K - 12 | Shortlist
Our daughter started at SMUS as a boarder in Grade 11. She moved from a very large public day school in the United States. The experience at SMUS could not have been better. The smaller size of the school allows for each particular student to truly flourish and shine in a more manageable and inviting setting. The rooms are comfortable and the food is as good as can be expected! She has been an active participant in the boarding community and it has allowed her to expand her leadership wings in both dorm life and various clubs. Academically, she has had no complaints about her teachers and is thriving.
School leadership is exemplary. The Acting Headmaster is kind, and engaged, and well loved by the students. The Senior School Interim Director is fair, and easily accessible to the students. The house parents are kind and fair, and also quite fun. They make it so that the students' home away from home is as comfortable as possible. We have, fortunately, not have had to be involved in discipline issues first hand. However, as with any population of students, there are always a few situations that do require immediate action. As far as we can see, any situations are dealt with quickly, fairly. One suggestion I would have is that the school newsletter have a monthly or bimonthly update from the Directors and Headmaster.
Our daughter has truly enjoyed all of her teachers since arriving at SMUS. Like anywhere, some are better than others, but all are highly qualified and engaging. The curriculum is definitely challenging. There are plenty of AP classes to choose from. Because our daughter started in Grade 11, we allow her to handle any academic issues herself. However, on the rare occasion we have any questions, they do respond quickly. This is the first school our daughter has attended where the report cards include written comments along with grades. These comments obviously take a lot of time and thought. They are helpful in giving parents who cannot attend parent teacher conferences a better understanding of what is going on in the classroom.
Who could ask for a more beautiful setting than Victoria, British Columbia? The climate is great. The school is located close to downtown, the University of Victoria and even some beaches. Boarders are allowed to go on "Leave" from the school (rules vary by age). Because of the natural beauty of the west coast, their Outdoor Education classes take place in mountains, and on the sea (kayaking). There is a hospital very close to the school. Our daughter had the opportunity (!) to experience it first hand. As parents, we were delighted with the response of the school doctor, the house parents and the medical staff at the hospital. U Vic is also close by, and has some amenities available to SMUS students.
If you are looking for a school that will challenge you, this is a great school. Critical thinking and academic rigour are the norm, but it's a balanced approach. All students are required to partake in physical education and arts classes. One of the best things about SMUS is the Outdoor Leadership program, which offers students three outdoor trips from kayaking to mountain climbing in their Grade 11 year. Then in Grade 12, they help lead the Grade 11s. This school offers a large selection of AP classes. They have been ranked as the leading program amongst independent schools in Canada. The pass rate on the AP exams is 82% which is exceptional.
There is a huge variety of extracurricular opportunities. Usually, sports comes to mind when people read this, and they have excellent programs in many sports, both at a competitive and recreational level. The sports facilities are excellent. They even offer sailing! For those not so into the sporting scene, there are lots of other after school activities There are clubs for chess, volunteering, language and culture clubs and environmental clubs. If you don't find a club you like you can start your own. Every year, there is a large scale musical production. The majority of the senior students participate. Many perform, others prefer working backstage. There is something for everyone, and the quality of the final production is impressive.
The entire student body numbers about 1000. Our daughter has only attended senior school, which numbers close to 600 students, with about 250 boarders. The population is diverse, with over 20 countries represented. This gives kids an opportunity to learn about other cultures that they might not normally get in a traditional school. The graduating class is about 150 each year. This is small enough to allow most of the students to know each other, but large enough to encourage students to spread their wings socially. The students are genuinely excited about the successes of their classmates, in the classroom and in sporting activities. Vivat!
Our daughter decided to go to boarding school on her own, and did her own research. Her initial search led her to a different school a bit further north of Victoria in a very rural setting. Upon visiting the other school and SMUS, she wholeheartedly preferred the urban environment of Victoria. One item for improvement is that there could be more emphasis on getting the day students and the boarders to mix more. There doesn't seem to be much weekend socialization between the two groups, although they get along well in class and have fun at school events. I believe this to be a common theme in boarding schools. Overall though, our daughter has had a great social and academic life at SMUS.
This is an area of excellence at SMUS. The counsellors are familiar with Canadian, American and UK applications processes, as well as a few other international schools. They offer student trips to tour West Coast American universities, along with one for Ontario/Quebec universities. There is also a required class in grade 12, Grad Transitions. During that time they are in class with a counsellor and they do applications, resumes, essay writing skills. Students from SMUS get accepted at numerous Canadian Universities, as well as "Ivy Plus" schools. Our daughter will be attending University of North Carolina on a full Morehead Cain scholarship. We would never have known about this scholarship without attending SMUS and are very grateful for the help in the application process.
I'm not sure if our experience is the norm, but our admissions process could not have been easier. SMUS has rolling admissions, so there is no deadline, but earlier applications are better to ensure space. We filled out the online registration, sent in her standardized test scores and a copy of her latest report card and we had a Skype interview with the admissions counselor very shortly after that. She was offered a spot that day. I'm not sure if this is the norm or not, but we were delighted. We toured the school and others, and the decision was made. Admissions staff was exceedingly helpful in answering questions, sending us information, and generally just made the process smooth and welcoming.
It's different for parents of boarders, but if you are a parent of a day student, there are ample opportunities for involvement at the school. I wish I lived closer to become more involved. However, the parents who organize events such as the Christmas Gala and the Graduation Gala are good about sending out information as needed and if you have any questions the parents are responsive. The school is involved in many community activities, and the students are encouraged to pursue volunteer experiences in a variety of places.