Interview with St. John's-Kilmarnock School Alum, Tommy Newton
- University (major)
Western University (Business)
Tommy was a “lifer” at St. John’s-Kilmarnock School, attending from K-12, and was very proud to be nominated to be valedictorian for his class. He is currently attending Western University, studying business and law. He feels that the IB program at St. John’s-Kilmarnock taught students to be well rounded, articulate, and good at writing.
Highlights from the interview
I don't know how much SJK influenced my area of study at university. Maybe a bit. That was more personal interest and family influence. SJK definitely did influence the choice of university because SJK is a university preparatory school. So pretty much everyone goes to college or university after they graduate. A lot of students go to Western, Queens, and McGill, and some go west, but those are the really big ones.
The secondary years, Grades 9 to 12, is when I got the most involved with the school, and also when I started actually liking academics and studying more. SJK has the IB, the International Baccalaureate program, so we had to select our courses from a breadth of different areas. For example, math, sciences, social sciences, arts. Overall, you're expected to do a course from each category, at least in the diploma program in your last two years. I would say my favourites were visual arts. I really loved it and it was just like such a great environment. But they also made it really challenging. It wasn't just making art. There was a whole writing aspect to it. I feel like I learned a lot of valuable skills in terms of writing and expressing my ideas. Just being a good writer because that was a big component of the course. You have to write a bunch of essays to graduate. Overall, I think it teaches students how to be really articulate, also well rounded and good at writing.
One of my proudest memories from SJK was graduation day in Grade 12. I was nominated to be valedictorian for my grade, so that's a huge honour for me. And having been at the school from K to 12, I was there for 13 years. It was an emotional thing and a huge accomplishment on graduation. On graduation day all the seniors do a pond jump. It's really fun because there's a pond at the school and we all hold hands and jump in.
Another great memory was in Grade 10. SJK offers so many things to get involved with, and they do service trips. Every other year they would organize a service trip to Nepal. It was literally one of the most amazing experiences. I'll never forget it. We have a sister school there. We help out two schools, and they're in the mountains, in the Himalayas. And so it's a trekking trip. You have to apply to go on the trip. There were probably 20 of us from different grades in high school with a couple of teacher chaperones. I've never been so immersed in a culture that was so different from mine. It was so amazing to spend that time with my peers and also my teachers. There's such a deep connection that SJK had to the schools in Nepal that it felt very meaningful.
From what I've heard from my parents, what they really liked about the school was that educational aspect. SJK offers really good education. In my opinion, and in my parents opinion, they have really excellent teachers. And another aspect that I think goes along with that is that it's quite a small school and a very close-knit community, and we got to know our teachers very well because of that. You can get unlimited access to your teacher for help and you build a connection with them because there are such small class sizes. You become so close with your classmates and it really gives you the opportunity to excel.
The things I appreciated the most about St. John’s-Kilmarnock became that close-knit community and how small the class sizes were. When I got to high school, I realized how much of a benefit it was for me educationally to have a small class. I had more opportunities to learn and be involved with the learning and also just to get really close.
One thing that makes SJK so special is the amount of opportunity. You can get involved with literally anything you want at that school. And if you want to do it, you can do any sport or anything. Because it's such a small school you didn't really need to try out for teams, you could do any sport you wanted. If you wanted to, you could do anything they offered, like creativity, drama, service trips. I think the opportunity that they give students really sets them apart.
Three words to describe the personality of St. John’s-Kilmarnock are well rounded, involved, and diverse. I don't really know if “involved” describes a personality, but I want to say, involved, because you're very involved with not only the school, but with everyone else. You're involved with your teachers, you engage with them, and you're involved with classmates a lot. I would say diverse because there is such an appreciation of people from different backgrounds and cultures. They have a great international student program at SJK.
Integrity is SJK’s highest value in practice because there's literally no tolerance for cheating or bullying or anything like that. If something like that happens, you take full ownership for it and you learn from your mistakes. Every student that I know that has graduated from there has good integrity.
I think it's surprising the amount that was expected of kids in Grades 4 and 5. The projects we did and were pretty impressive. Now that I think back, we did some pretty crazy projects, science fairs and things like that. I remember the kids in my class coming up with the craziest ideas that actually make sense in Grade 4. I feel like we learned a lot at a young age. We took French from Grade 3, and I don't think that's a thing at a lot of other schools.
Everyone relates very well to each other because they're all so close because of the small classes. You get to know the people that you're with every day so well and you can relate with your classmates about all the classes you're in because you're pretty much in all the same classes until Grade 10 or 11. Then you get a little bit more choice. Every student is well rounded, I would say, and that's something they can relate to.
My experience at St. John's-Kilmarnock School definitely shaped the person that I am in terms of academics and those kinds of skills. My literacy and writing skills and communication skills were largely shaped by my time at SJK. Maybe also my ability to connect with people close to me. But there was one drawback. When I first went to university, I felt like my time at SJK had shaped me so that I wasn't used to being in such a large school. I just felt like a number. And then, sitting in this lecture room of 900 people, you feel a little insignificant. It's kind of overwhelming. But that has changed. It took a year at university to adjust to that sort of thing.
In some respects I feel conflicted about the size of the school. The size was kind of a drawback when it came to going to university because I felt like I wasn't prepared for the social aspect and the sheer size of a university class and being around that many people. But at the same time it was nice from a learning perspective to have small classes. So I don't know if I could say that I would change that about the school.
My perspective on St. John’s-Kilmarnock four years after graduating is very positive. I've been involved with a number of alumni things. I'm the alumni representative for my grade and I've been involved with a few initiatives like an alumni task force and I'm on the planning committee for their fiftieth anniversary. So I'm still very much involved and I still connect with my classmates from my graduating class. I think they're doing a great job.
One of the biggest reasons someone should choose St. John’s-Kilmarnock is the opportunity. The school offers anything ranging from sports to extracurricular activities, service trips, recreational trips, all of that. If your kid wants to, they can get as involved as they want. There's just so much opportunity and I would definitely recommend that they take advantage of that if they go to SJK.
Families considering SJK should be aware that there’s a commute to the school. Nobody really lives in Breslau. There’s going to be a 20-minute drive to school every day. One other thing is that the IB program is really good and I highly recommend it. It's really good for growing, learning kids. During my time there, they were just starting out with IB, so there weren't too many course options because they didn't have the teachers yet to offer too many courses. They had the basics and a few extras but now I think they've expanded a lot more. I think they're really growing in that aspect and that's something that's becoming a lot better.
A family who’s visiting SJK should notice the new building. That building is so amazing and I wish I had more time with it. I only had it for a bit of my last year. Other than that they should check out the pond and the boathouse and the whole grounds outside as well. There's so much space in the fields. Students have space and freedom when they're on break and can go canoeing and stuff.
The piece of advice I would give to a new student would be to get involved. You're going to have to get involved to some extent because there's obviously requirements to graduate for both the OSSD and your IB diploma. You have to fulfill some extracurricular requirements, but if you do it because you want to, you're going to get a lot out of it. So get involved in anything you can as much as you can.