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St. Clement's School:
The Our Kids Report > Key Insights
Grades Gr. 1 TO Gr. 12 — Toronto, ON (Map)


St. Clement's School KEY INSIGHTS

Each school is different. St. Clement's School's Feature Review excerpts disclose its unique character. Based on discussions with the school's alumni, parents, students, and administrators, they reveal the school’s distinctive culture, community, and identity.

What we know

  • The school is committed to academic success in partnership with emotional and social well-being.
  • Its community, across generations and grades, provides a cornerstone for the culture of the school.
  • Its leadership is adept, responsive, and progressive.
Read our Feature Review of St. Clement's School

Our editor speaks about the school (video)

Handpicked excerpts

St. Clement’s School (SCS) is an independent day school for girls with a population of 460 students across the 12 grades, averaging just shy of 40 students per grade. The program, housed within a single building, is divided conceptually between the Junior School, which includes Grades 1 through 6; the Middle School, which includes Grades 7 through 9; and the Senior School, which includes Grades 10 through 12. Grade 9 isn’t included within the Senior School in part to provide a longer Middle School experience. That said, Grade 9 is nevertheless an entry year, as it is in most schools of this size and focus. Each division has its own head of school and its own faculty, with some support staff, such as the librarians and the administrative team, serving them all. 

The feeling at SCS is that while we don’t live in a single-gender world, the all-girls environment ensures the students are ready for the real world. Says Martha Perry, principal, “As we say, you need to see it to be it. And every leader at St. Clement’s is a young woman, so students are seeing female leaders.” There are leadership opportunities for the students to move into, which they do, perhaps more so having seen strong leaders, ones that come from a community of engaged women. “I would suggest a small school, and a girls’ school really allows the students to feel authentic.” 

SCS identifies itself as a small school, though that’s perhaps less for the size of the population—it’s not tiny by any means—and more for the sense of place and community that the population, that its size, imparts. This is the kind of place where students are known by name and where girls move together through the grades. It’s the kind of place where the principal greets the students each day, by name, as they arrive, and indeed, that’s exactly what happens. “It’s not an insular school—small doesn’t mean that it’s closed in,” says a parent. “There’s a real sense of exploring the world, seeing what’s beyond the boundary of the school. But also, when you come back to the school, there’s a real sense of home. And the best way I can describe that is when I’m dropping Lauren off and I’ll see Miss Perry, the principal, holding the door open as the students walk in. And you just feel like, you know, ‘I’m home again.’” 


SCS sits in one of the denser areas of midtown Toronto, and space is at a premium. The property is bounded on all sides by what is a predominantly residential neighbourhood, so all development of the property takes place within the parcel of land the school acquired in 1922. A photo in the collection of the Toronto Reference Library shows the property as it looked then: a lone farmhouse sits behind some aging apple trees. At the time it was remote from the bustle of the city, though with the creep of urban growth and the extension of the Yonge streetcar line, followed by the subway in 1954, it was eventually surrounded by a substantial residential and business community. Today the neighbourhood is home to businesses big and small. 

Founded in 1901, the school’s identity and sense of tradition is old. The building, however, is new. As it was developed in stages over successive projects, you’d nevertheless need to look very hard to find the seams between them. Even then, they would be easy to miss. The feel is comfortable and modern, with lots of clean lines and natural light. 

Through capital development, SCS has been able to do a lot with the space they have. While there is only one building, it houses all the teaching and administration spaces, two full-size gyms, four science labs, a drama and dance studio, a fitness room, a music studio, and a 350- seat theatre, Powell Hall. 


SCS is known as a university preparatory school, though there is an awareness that students increasingly have options, and instruction intends to ensure that all remain available. “Academic rigour looks very different in 2020 than perhaps it did in 1980 or 1990,” says Heather Henricks, vice-principal, “and administration is keen to define what they mean by academic rigour, given that it can mean very different things to different people.” Says Perry, “For us, it’s about ensuring that our girls are afforded opportunities to learn deeply and really delve into topics and subjects. It’s really important that they’re learning across particular disciplines … nurturing a real sense of critical thinking, of discernment, of the ability to apply things and make connections.”

Instruction is varied, though it tends, more often than not, to be centred on project-based learning and small group engagement. Says Perry, “The way we’re working with kids on math is very different than it was seven or eight years ago,” and that stands true for other disciplines as well. Grade 11 students are involved in STEAM projects, teams tasked with approaching a real-world issue, and then proposing, designing, and often prototyping solutions to it. “My group made a prototype, which we presented,” says a student. “I loved it because I think it was very applicable to life and it wasn’t mostly focused on one subject.” Says another, “My favourite was cultivating a group of bacteria using plasmids from jellyfish.” She says that with the kind of smile you’d expect from someone who is up to no good: impishly delighted. “The purpose was to explore antibiotic resistance through genetic recombination and an interesting side effect—a glow under UV light—which was really cool to see.” 

Teaching spaces are modern and flexible, allowing opportunities for instructors to vary delivery to meet the demands of the content and the curricular outcomes. On any given day, you’re as apt to see classes engaged in anything from a lecture to Harkness discussion to group work around a piece of project-based learning. The design of the classrooms is equally flexible, and you’d be hard pressed to find the front of any of the rooms; furniture is movable to create pods of interaction as easily as full-group discussion and presentation. “The key is engagement,” says Amy Paradine, Head of the Middle School, “and that means engagement with the teacher, with the learning, with the environment, and with each other.” There is a Harkness table in one senior classroom, contrasting with movable pods and seating in another. While all spaces are supplied with technology, it’s nicely stowed, with lower-tech tools, such as white boards, more prevalent than screens. 


That the facilities are shared between divisions contributes to the culture that has developed here, one that is organized to optimize a cross-generational experience. It’s common to hear references to being under one roof—it’s more an expression of community than architecture, though indeed it’s both: one roof, one community. The entire school meets together twice a week, something that is seen as a cornerstone of the life of the school (and which was continued online during the pandemic shutdown). 

The current principal, Martha Perry, is herself an alumna of the school, and as such has a detailed appreciation of what it means to be on all sides of those generational divides. “In Grade 7 I remember coming in and meeting the Grade 13s then and thinking ‘Wow’—these were women,” says Perry. “They were grown up, and that they were wise. … there’s that perception that you have these people to whom you can look for their decisions, their actions, and that’s great. And on the other side, when they’re in Grade 12, they have to remember that there are six-year-olds, you know, looking up to them.”


Students and instructors regularly comment on how interacting with the youngest students can rekindle an interest in learning, that playful, un-self-conscious approach to the world around us. “As staff and as senior students, we can be reminded a lot about curiosity, and the passion and joy of learning, from our younger students daily.” Girls at all levels meet regularly in the halls, as well as in shared spaces, such as the library, where you’re as likely to see a story time as a group involved in a research project, and, indeed, those and more at the same time. Faculty and staff continue the theme. Says Elena Holeton, director of admissions, “We have school accountants who coach soccer, and the human resources department [staff] being part of the Harry Potter Club.” 

Students’ successes are seen as their own, rather than only viewed in relation to the successes of others. A key component of assessment is attention to how the girls are accessing their own skills, says Perry. “There’s so much out there in the world right now, what they call soft skills, and I don’t see them as soft skills—I see them as core skills,” such as critical thinking, communication, and collaboration. 

“I think in the past it used to be really felt that, you know, a rigorous education was one where there were five hours of homework every night. ... For us, the challenge for our girls is that they’re gaining those competencies to be able to really access and blossom in terms of their own individual and independent thinking … to enhance their capacity to be able to learn, period, regardless of where they are.” 
—Martha Perry, principal 


There is a dedication to experiential learning, which includes outdoor experiences as well as those in a range of professional settings, within the city and beyond. Grade 7 and 8 students attend camp sessions hosted at Camp Arowhon and Camp Timberlane, which, it has to be said, are two of the foremost camps in the country. Those trips are seen, yes, as a chance to get into nature, though often the most lasting results come from getting the girls out of the familiar, urban environment. “They get to make new friends, which is particularly important in Grade 7,” says Paradine, “and to get to know themselves, perhaps in new ways.” 


Says Henricks, “We’ve worked to define well-being as a state in which every individual challenge is balanced by resources,” and they’ve used the LINCWell umbrella as a means of providing those resources. Inaugurated about 11 years ago, it has become a defining feature of the school. It was the brainchild of then Principal Patricia Parisi, and the name is an acronym: Learning, Individualization, Nurturing, Creativity, and Wellness. The intention was as all-encompassing as the program ultimately became, namely servicing the girls in all the areas where they may sometimes fall between the cracks. Admittedly, coming at it cold, the concept can seem so broad—the website says that the goal is “to enable our girls to learn well, lead well, and live well”—as to lack focus or any real teeth. The reason for the breadth is an understanding that, just like learning, wellness doesn’t have any clear boundaries. Esteem can come from math, and can be supported through effective counselling, and expressed in co-curricular programs. The impetus for LINCWell was the understanding that to consign health and wellness to just the counselling suite is to miss a range of opportunities to serve the student population. “It isn’t just counselling, and it isn’t just curriculum development,” says Holeton. “It really is absolutely everything.” Students’ lives aren’t siloed, and the approach to support, the thinking goes, shouldn’t be either. 


THE OUR KIDS REPORT: St. Clement's School

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