Both my kids attend Braemar, and both started when they were three. In our first year, as the mother of a very shy, very young child, I was nervous about how our transition would go. I had no reason to be nervous. In Braemar my children have found their second home. They are loved and supported to be exactly who they are by not only their classroom teachers, but the entire staff. The net effect is that they, along with their classmates, feel safe and happy. As an educator, I know that these are the best conditions for learning. My children do not complain about going to school, but rather look forward to it, and celebrate all the milestones throughout the school year (trips, concerts, plays, special events). The staff go well above their job description to provide ample enrichment and special activities. We could not have asked for a better experience for our children.
Running a small independent school is hard. Running a small independent school that strives to make a welcoming home for its students is even harder. The administrators do a fabulous job of managing school issues in a calm, fair manner. They are refreshingly realistic about kids, and set the tone for a joyous, upbeat community that treats kids with love, respect and humour. They balance this with the need to maintain privacy and solid boundaries when families are experiencing turmoil. They have gone out of their way to support kids who are struggling (as happens at every school), while keeping a steady hand on the school as a whole.
My kids receive enriched curriculum tailored to their needs throughout their early years - this includes things like swimming and working in a food garden to grow their own fruits and vegetables, as well as a solid grounding in all academic subjects. My daughter - a prodigious reader but highly disorganized - has been well supported to develop her skills, but is not made to feel different than her peers. At the second grade level this is just the kind of support she needs in order to learn how to excel. I am happy that Braemar has never neglected the arts and physical education, which are critical to the development of whole children. My only complaint is that the music curriculum does not span the whole year, as I think daily music is important!
Yes, the school does a great job of focusing on the "whole child." My children are very young, so have not yet had the chance to try out all the extracurriculars offered, but have had the chance to join choir, reading club, the "green team" and the cross country team. I anticipate that they will enjoy all that Braemar has to offer as they get older, but am so impressed by all that they have gotten to do so far.
One of the things I love most about Braemar is how the students interact with one another and with other members of the school community. When we first enrolled our daughter, we couldn't believe how kind and loving the other students were - particularly the older students who take special care to look out for littler students. The students are encouraged both to do their best in competition, but also to support and celebrate other students' successes. For example, at a recent cross country meet the students ran as hard as they could, and then cheered as hard as they could for fellow students who were still running, developing a deep sense of teamwork and shared pleasure in one another's victories. The student body is warm and relaxed - there is a deep sense of camaraderie, shared joy and ease amongst the students - a real rarity in this particular cultural moment.
My children feel deeply at home at Braemar House School. They enjoy the kind of happiness at school that comes with a sense of security, comfort and stimulation. It is exciting as parents to see them grow into willing and eager learners with a real sense of love for education. The yearly routines are exciting - they look forward to participating in the school play, in special assemblies, whole-school lunches and events, and take pleasure in the day-to-day routines of learning. Being in a school with a big range of ages means that the kids can look ahead to when they are older and get to participate in different ways in the life of the school. They adore their teachers and they love their fellow students. Braemar provides the kind of school life all kids should be able to enjoy.
The teachers at Braemar are wonderful. They are thoughtful, creative and kind. They have done a great job of knowing and noticing our kids and their strengths and weaknesses and have responded as such. They are receptive to feedback and exciting ideas for programming. The teachers are beyond committed to the school community, each lending their unique talents to the school through enormous amounts of extra involvement. Their enthusiasm for the school and for the kids shines, and makes the school a very special place. There is ample communication, beginning with the administrators welcoming students and parents into the building each morning, and continuing with blogs, communication books and daily check-ins at pick up and drop off. The teachers are always present, and always available to help think through student challenges, big and small.
One of the thing Braemar does well is incorporate parents into the school - the school understands that it benefits from the energy and enthusiasm of parents and, as such, looks for parent involvement. The school is open to parents in the broadest sense - they are welcome to be in the school (unlike some public schools where parents are not invited inside), but also invited to participate in a variety of activities and groups - from social organization to fundraising to school governance. This is unique - many private schools close administrative and governance opportunities from parents - at Braemar parents are highly involved. If anything, Braemar may provide too many opportunities for parents, who sometimes have strong and divergent views about how the school should run. However, the administrators have done excellent work in helping shape a unified vision for the school and inviting parents to be part of this larger goal.
The school is tucked into a residential neighbourhood, within a large green space. This makes the school feel both accessible but also tranquil - it is not next to a busy road or a strip mall. There is a lovely, well-treed space for kids to run around, a new baseball diamond, soccer pitch and outdoor learning centre where the food garden lives. Kids stay on the grounds, which feel situated within a pleasant neighbourhood.