Our Take: Shawnigan Lake School
Shawnigan was founded in 1916 with just six students and cast in the mold of the leading English grammar schools. Its direct model was Westminster School, whose history stretches back to 1179. As such, it provides, aesthetically at least, a contrast to Brentwood, which neighbours the school. Both, as well as Brookes to the south, have some of the most stunning campuses that you could hope to find. The setting of Vancouver Island simply adds to the luster. The founders of Shawnigan Lake felt that all of those things—buildings, vistas, space—were important aspects of learning, and that a school’s setting should be inspiriting. And, certainly, it is. What the campus might lose in terms of warm and cuddly, it gains in a sense of tradition, organization, and consistency. The centennial celebration included school founder C. W. Lonsdale’s 1932 Packard convertible, adding a touch of the Great Gatsby. Still, there is a nice mix of modernity as well, perhaps most obviously in Genius Hour, a program developed by Wendy Milne, assistant head of academics. It’s a cross-grade, cross-curricular program in which students are challenged with creating their own project and seeing it through to completion. The only provisos are that each project involve collaboration, have a clear guiding question, and involve research. All of that—cross-curricular, cross-grade, hands-on, collaborative—are hallmarks of the Shawnigan approach. And, in Genius Hour and beyond, the results are impressive. The student who will do best is one who is a self-starter, operating at the top of his or her peer group, and able to dive in, making the most of the breadth of opportunity provided.