Halifax, NS | Grades JK - 12 | Shortlist
My time at Sacred Heart School of Halifax was incredibly memorable. I often hear people talk about high school as an experience they are happy is over, however that wasn't close to my experience. I loved high school and that was because of Sacred Heart. The culture of care was incredible. The feeling that you would get when you saw Carol at the reception desk in the morning wasn't like walking into school but into another home or community. We all used to get to school early or stay late just so that we could hang out with each other or chat with our teachers. I really enjoyed the small class sizes and individualized learning experience for each student. I felt that the small classes and single-sex education really created a space for us to become confident. As well as having opportunities to participate in so many things, such as students' council, which had a large impact on my confidence and led me to continue in student leadership roles in university. Even though SHSH is small they still have many resources for students to add to their experience. The academics at SHSH are challenging but once you get to university you will feel so incredibly prepared that it is all worth it plus you have the support of amazing teachers to help you along the way. I know that Sacred Heart had a huge impact on my next steps in life from confidence and organization skills to public speaking and being academically prepared. If you are considering Sacred Heart then expect to be challenged academically and socially, have the opportunity to try new things, gain the confidence to be who you truly are meant to be and join a community that will help you grow. I highly recommend it!
The school leadership and administration changed while I was at SHSH but even with a shift at the administration level, the students were always supported. The students respected the teachers, staff and administration, and the student council was often included in decisions that really affected students which was great. Issues were handled appropriately, and the overall school environment was positive and nurturing for the growth of students and their character and confidence. Communication was always great with students and parents. In terms of handling issues fairly and judiciously, there was sometimes a difference in how the boys were dealt with versus the girls which was sometimes difficult.
The teaching at Sacred Heart is what made all the difference for me. The quality of instruction and personal connections teachers make with students really pushes students to be successful. The dynamic between teacher and student I would say is informal with a level of respect. The teachers were who made us passionate about our classes through their passion. They were creative, unique and always adaptable to what was best for the students in the class. For instance, when studying Shakespeare our English teacher Ms. McGuire didn’t just have us read it, she had us understand, watch it and act it out in class to truly grasp an understanding of what we were learning. Ms. Blaine went to extra lengths to use our class to not only teach us dynamic history but also prepare us for university by using different lecture styles and teaching us different note-taking types to help us as students find what style suited us best so that we were prepared when heading off to university. The supportive environment for presentations and original work really gave us confidence and had a positive impact on both our academic and personal development. The teachers at SHSH go the extra mile and that is what really prepared me for university.
The academics at Sacred Heart definitely challenged you however, with the options between academic and advanced classes and a supportive culture it was the right type of challenge. Students could often be competitive due to the academic focus of the school but not to a point where it would do anything but motivate others. In terms of academics, I think Sacred Heart’s strengths lie with its great teachers, small class sizes, individualized extra help, and adaptable teaching styles. Where there may be weakness is what every small school faces in terms of how many different diverse classes they can offer. However, Sacred Heart did a pretty good job with trying to make that happen. Overall, having classes all year round, writing exams in December and June, and being supportively challenged really prepared me for university. I found that it wasn’t too different from high school which made the transition a lot easier and allowed me to enjoy my university experience more. This was not something all my classmates at university experienced, so I knew it was my time at Sacred Heart that prepared me.
For a small school, Sacred Heart kept up with providing extracurricular opportunities for students. Between sports, clubs, leadership opportunities, performing arts, etc. there was always something for every student to enjoy. The neat thing about Sacred Heart being small is you didn’t have to be a star player to make the soccer team, for example, students of all capabilities were able to participate in extracurriculars where they could learn from their peers who were more well versed in that sport or club. This allowed the activities to be more well-rounded and provided development opportunities for students in different ways. Within performing arts SHSH hosted a play and a musical each year with students from grades 7-12 from the boys and girls school creating a space where all ages could learn from each other, interact and become friends. With the students’ council, there are opportunities from grades 7-12 with the executive being in grades 11 and 12. All council members truly gain a lot of experience in leadership, event planning, conflict, policy and how to work together within different age groups. The administrative leader of the students’ council also provides great professional and leadership development for students and the boys and girls council works together to host fun events for the school. Overall, the experience of extracurriculars at SHSH was well-rounded and there is something for everyone.
The student body was around 500-600 students from junior primary to grade 12, I believe, so your average class size was around 20 students which really allowed students to gain confidence and learn well. In higher grades classes could be even smaller as they got divided up by interest and academic vs. advanced classes. The feel and spirit of the student body I can best describe as a community. The students are very diverse in background and experience and each has something to bring to the community. Sometimes it’s difficult and students face hardships but at the end of the day, everyone is there to support one another. You will always see someone you know walking down the hall whether they are in grade 7 or 12 and the age difference didn’t create a hierarchy. The typical student at Sacred Heart I would say is one that is focused and looking to achieve high academic standards and be involved in extracurriculars however that does not mean they have to be type A and only focused on academics. The typical Sacred Heart student is well-rounded and interested in more than just their grades. However, there is a range within the student body of all types of students so the experience is not as sheltered as one may think. Respect and, for lack of a better word, popularity at SHSH came from being a good student and a leader rather than your stereotypical persona which I think speaks to the student body itself and what values they share. The ethnic and socio-economic background of students was quite diverse and was a larger range than you may expect from a private school as Sacred Heart does not have a preppy persona. However, you do get a mix of students which can create interesting and at times difficult dynamics when students are in a time of life when they are learning who they are and becoming themselves. SHSH students are by no means perfect and conflict and stress of course do arise, but no more than any other school and probably less.
I loved attending Sacred Heart. I didn’t mind going to school, I wanted to be there early and stay late to hang out with my friends and interact with the community. As I mentioned, I never really understood when everyone says they hated high school and are glad it’s over. I loved high school and was truly sad to leave even though I was prepared and ready to. I think the quality of life came from the supportive community, from Carol at the front desk to the administration and teachers. If something ever happened, you knew there were people there you could count on. Students were for the most part extremely engaged in student life and were happy. As comes with the territory of being in high school, students were often stressed about academics however, we truly learned how to be organized and resilient which definitely has helped later in life. As well, the traditions and culture that come from attending a school as old as SHSH are what I truly enjoyed most from Winter Carnival and Lip Sync Battles to the Christmas Fair and Conge. Especially around graduation between Last Will, the Headmistresses Tea, the Chain of Love ceremony at prize day and the community involvement at prom and graduation. It wasn’t just graduating from high school, you graduated from a place where you grew as a person and became your true self. I think how hard it was to leave speaks to the incredible experience the school has to offer.
The community at Sacred Heart includes everyone. Parent involvement is a large part of the SHSH community in whatever capacity they would like to be involved in from volunteering to being on the Board. Even siblings who didn’t attend the school felt a part of the community. Being a part of the alumni community in some ways feels like you never left when you read updates from the school or are able to pop by and say hi or attend alumni events. I have definitely kept in touch with students younger than me especially the few years after graduation offering advice to incoming head girls and keeping up friendships. As well I have kept in touch with some administration and teachers. When I’m in the city I will often stop by the school to say hi and it once again feels like I never left.
SHSH being in the heart of Halifax on Spring Garden Road was a large perk. You were in the centre of the city where there was so much going on. Students often ventured beyond school grounds to study in the public gardens on their free period or grab lunch and be engaged in the wider Halifax community. The location also allowed for students to be able to have more opportunities such as walking to different Social Action volunteer placements in grade 11 or heading as a school to Neptune Theatre for a musical. It was the best place to be and you always felt safe. It also made sure that students weren’t stuck in a private school bubble, you were truly immersed in the diversity of Halifax and that added to your development and growth as well. The only difficult thing is parking :)
The admission process for me was quite smooth. I applied to Sacred Heart for grade 10 so remember feeling nervous when I went in to write my entrance exam, but everyone was so kind, and the environment was so welcoming that my nerves quickly went away. My one piece of advice is Sacred Heart isn’t looking for you to be anything but yourself. They aren’t looking for you to fit into a mold so don’t try to. When you’re applying to Sacred Heart being your honest self is the best way to see if the school is a good fit for you. The admissions officers will help you throughout the entire process, including scholarship applications, and be able to show you what Sacred Heart is all about to see if it’s truly a place for you.
The university counsellor I had, Mrs. MacKenzie, who is still at Sacred Heart, was incredible. She truly cared about all of her students and her goal was only to help students find what the right university was for them and help them be successful in applying there. There was no pressure to go to any type of school or a right or wrong choice. We were truly supported in helping us find our passions and then finding a school and program that aligned with those passions and our own values. Even if each student wanted something different, that was okay. Mrs. MacKenzie provided us with the opportunity to learn all about different universities and colleges and when we were ready to make our decisions of where to apply, she helped us through every step of the way to make sure we were as successful as we could be. I don’t think there is any way I could’ve felt more supported. I was accepted into all the schools I applied to and when we each chose which university we were going to there was always a big celebration, everyone was truly excited for each other. I loved the university I chose and would never have applied there if Mrs. MacKenzie hadn’t truly understood what I was looking for and helped me find it in a place I didn’t even know was there. She truly helped us look beyond where we thought we had to go to find where we truly wanted to go. We not only received guidance on applying for university but also being successful in university as a student and in student life. At the end of the day, Sacred Heart as a whole truly prepared us for university and the application process was just the next step. I felt completely supported and am incredibly grateful for the help and guidance I received.