Halifax, NS | Grades JK - 12 | Shortlist
Our daughter joined Sacred Heart School as a shy student whose early years experience robbed her confidence and her joyful nature. She stepped into her Grade 4 classroom at SHSH as if into the arms of family. Her teacher that year (and in all subsequent years) showed a genuine interest in her as an individual person. Her teacher's ability to be lovingly kind while holding consistently high expectations for our daughter's performance created a safe pathway for our daughter's spirit to come back to life. Throughout her time at Sacred Heart, our daughter was generally a 'reluctant' student, more interested in the relational aspects of school than in academic pursuit. Her teachers journeyed alongside her in ways that respectfully nudged or pulled her to academic success beyond what we had imagined could be achieved while ensuring she had space and support to engage with others in ways that filled her relational tank. In Grade 11 our daughter was recognized for her contribution to the spirit of the school - an award that was fitting for the person she aspired to be and one that sums up perfectly her experience of Sacred Heart as a place where academic success matters and where contribution to others is rewarded.
Without Sacred Heart School's preparation I am confident that my daughter would not have made it to university in terms of both marks and interest in attending post-secondary education). And I am absolutely confident that, had her guidance teacher not been a trusted confidant and wise guide, my daughter would not have enrolled in the university that has been the perfect place for her. Sacred Heart approaches university counselling in a holistic manner considering not just the outcome (university placement) but also the series of challenging decisions and emotions that are part of this formative experience. My daughter was shepherded throughout her Grade 12 year as she considered a range of possibilities, came to terms with the realities of what living away at university would mean, and discerned her preferred academic and university life goals. This support allowed our daughter to make a confident and independent decision (thanks in part to the guidance counsellor's advice that I step back to allow this to happen) and to learn valuable lessons about how to discern options when the stakes feel high.
Sacred Heart is located in the heart of downtown Halifax - across from the historic public gardens (great for grad photos), at the edge of an eclectic shopping and restaurant district, and adjacent to a teaching hospital and Dalhousie University. The neighborhood is well-populated with university students and urban dwellers during the day making it a safe and lively community. The school has an extensive modern play structure and free play area within its fenced yard. Older students can easily walk to a number of parks and the restaurant and shopping area on breaks. The school is easily accessible by public transit.
I experienced Sacred Heart's community as welcoming, open, caring, and respectful. The school's values of educating to a social awareness which impels to action and to the building of community as a Christian value are lived out in the life of the school's community. Parents and families are an integral part of school life and I always felt welcomed to be part of school activities and events. Parent volunteerism is strong at Sacred Heart and there are opportunities for contributing across a wide spectrum of gifting. The school also invites the broader community to participate in school life through service learning, the Christmas Fair, and an open Advent program. I also experienced an openness from the teachers to visit the classroom and to ask questions and advice.
My first impression of Sacred Heart's leadership was that they genuinely cared about educating the whole student. Two examples come to mind for me: - my daughter was struggling academically and despite different strategies, she didn't seem to be making the progress I longed for. The school principal was a collaborative partner with us through this time offering insights and ideas, sharing perspectives, and providing patient encouragement. Ultimately, the principal's wise counsel proved right - my daughter bloomed when she was ready and in the meantime, the love and respect she was shown maintained her forward momentum. - the school has open and continuous dialogue about the values of the school and how these are to be lived out. Faced with an incident of bullying, my daughter had the tools to deal with the situation in the moment. The school's leadership responded appropriately and expediently to the issue (which had additional complexities as many of these situations often do). My daughter felt supported, the other student was stewarded thoughtfully to a better learning situation and the issue was contained in a way that respected all involved. As part of the Board, I was also able to witness how the school managed a range of challenging issues and in all cases, I observed a 'student first' approach to decision making, courage in taking the right action and a humility to acknowledge and learn.
Sacred Heart's teaching is set apart! My daughter's teachers demonstrated an understanding of my daughter's unique learning style, her interests and her potential. They definitely held her to a higher standard of performance than she would have set for herself and were challenging and supportive in the right measure. When my daughter was falling behind (often in March when she became exhausted by the routine of winter), the teachers were quick to flag this for us, to develop strategies to help us support our daughter and to ensure appropriate pathways for recovery. We received insightful and honest feedback on our daughter's academic performance at each grade level. We always had the sense that our daughter's teachers had a sincere interest in her learning and were never just going through the motions. The teachers demonstrated a clear grasp of their respective subject matter and a strong grounding in personal development. We found that the amount and nature of homework were appropriate to prepare our daughter for higher education but not so burdensome that it interfered with an active extracurricular life.
For our family, the academic program at Sacred Heart was sufficiently broad to address the learning needs and interests of a range of students. While academic excellence was clearly a priority, the programming allowed for students who were not naturally inclined or interested in top academic performance to be challenged to reach higher and positioned to be successful at the top of their potential. Our eldest daughter attended Sacred Heart for Grades 11 and 12. Academically inclined and capable, she found that she was challenged by the academic programming and learned in an environment that made it 'safe' to pursue academic excellence, to challenge ideas and thinking and to excel. Our younger daughter is less academically inclined and we appreciated the range of teaching approaches that teachers at all grade levels were able to bring to engage her and to encourage her to achieve.
My daughter enjoyed the range of extracurriculars - from knitting club to hockey (where she was the first girl to play on the team)! I found the teachers to be as interested in leading and making a range of extracurricular events available as they were in their academic programs and experienced the value of developing the whole person lived out through the extracurricular programs. The school did not have strong athletic teams for all sports which was an advantage for my daughter who got to play on a range of teams that she would not have been 'qualified' for had the school had more competitive programs. My daughter also had the opportunity to coach a field hockey team for the lower school which was a terrific benefit to her development as a leader and fuel for her passion for coaching and working with athletes.
At Sacred Heart, we felt like we were part of a family. In Grade 4 (my daughter's first year), my shy daughter was greeted at the door every morning with a warm smile and personal chat and on the days when she came running after me as I walked away, her teacher gently walked her back giving me a reassuring glance and nod. In upper years, teachers and staff consistently took an interest in what was happening in my daughter's full life asking after her weekend activities, her older sister and her grandparents. I'd characterize the atmosphere at Sacred Heart as a combination of loving and respectful. In ways big and small the students are formed to care for one another. My daughter's class (several of whom were at the school for 13 years) got along very well with one another and have continued to be in touch since graduating.
I am not exaggerating when I say that Sacred Heart is the reason my daughter was successful at school and able to enrol in and now perform very well in university. We transferred her to Sacred Heart because it was clear that she had fallen into the cracks in public school and no one intended to pull her out. From the time she joined the school, she didn't look back! She enjoyed the balance of academic programming and extracurricular activity, the relational approach that teachers have with students, she felt cared for and seen, and was able to blossom as a leader. My daughter is active in her Catholic faith and she found the school to be a welcoming place to express and practice her faith in a lived rather than in a rules-based way.