Preparing high school students for a changing world

How St. Michael’s College School brings the real world into classrooms

In the evolving landscape of education, experiential learning has transcended its origins from the '80s to firmly establish itself as a cornerstone of modern high school education. It's not just about book knowledge; it's about molding well-rounded global citizens prepared for the real world. At the heart of this movement, St. Michael's College School in Toronto stands out.

Why experiential learning matters

Experiential learning goes beyond textbooks. It offers students tangible interaction with the real world, allowing them to navigate potential career paths and become better global citizens. As Daniel Lumsden, the head of community engagement & learning at St. Michael's, aptly puts it: "Our aim is to immerse students in diverse cultures, professions, and ways of life, crafting not just scholars, but responsible citizens. With experiential learning, the goal is for kids to be well-rounded global citizens. We want them to be exposed to various cultures, professions, and ways of life, making them better citizens overall," says Lumsden.

Education for a diverse culture 

St. Michael's College School is an independent Roman Catholic day school for boys offering Grades 7 to 12. It has embraced the educational shift toward experiential learning. 

Following COVID-19 shut downs that put everything on pause for a couple of years, independent schools like St. Michael’s have gradually returned to real-world programming. The rebuilding process has, in some cases, offered a chance for refocusing. 

For St. Michael’s, the refocusing has meant seeing their experiential offerings through a lens of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI). “We’ve been doing DEI work for the last three years with our teachers,” says Lumsden. “This year, we’re focusing more on students. We are exposing them to different environments that they haven’t experienced before.”

Field trips are an opportunity

One example of that is an upcoming field trip to Maryland. “We’ll be visiting the Smithsonian African Heritage Museum and Howard University,” says Lumsden. Howard is known for educating Black pioneers and professionals, so a visit there offers students a view into a pre-eminent university while also highlighting the significant contributions of Black alumni.

On the home front, St. Michael’s proudly hosted Ontario's first-ever CIS Black Student Conference, showcasing their continuous drive to celebrate and uplift diverse voices.

The focus on diversity and inclusion shows up in other places at the school as well. “One thing that we did last year is that we held the first ever conference for Black students,” says Lumsden, noting that the school welcomed Black students from independent schools across Ontario.

Exposure to post-secondary options 

Another key aspect of St. Michael's College School's approach is engagement with post-secondary institutions. For instance, Lumsden recounts how accounting students recently had the opportunity to visit Toronto Metropolitan University (TMU), gaining insights into its business program. Such initiatives help students identify their ambitions and prepare for future endeavours. 

Students may also interact with professionals to get a sense of the kinds of workplaces they might encounter. For example, St. Michael’s law students recently visited a law firm in downtown Toronto. Science and engineering students will also have an opportunity to attend a breakfast with 20 members of the school’s alumni who work in STEM fields.

Service opportunities provide healthy balance

Developing strong local ties is very important to the school, which is nestled in Toronto’s Forest Hill neighbourhood. Through service opportunities, St. Michael’s students get to know organizations located near the school and contribute to the community-based missions of those organizations. 

In addition to the 20 hours of community service required by the Ministry of Education, St. Michael's College School asks for 20 hours of Christian service over the course of a student's high school journey.

Service opportunities are fertile ground for inner growth, Lumsden explains. “It gives a better understanding of the world. It’s teaching faith and discipline. It’s having a conscience in the real world.”

Experiential education is now an important part of consideration for families when selecting a high school. A robust experiential program offers kids valuable real-life skills that are essential for future success. 

Students seem to enjoy it, too, according to Lumsden. “By the time they get to Grade 11, something really clicks. They start to say: ‘Can we do this again?’”

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