Halifax, NS | Grades JK - 12 | Shortlist
My partner and I are parents of 3 girls. When our youngest daughter was ready to begin Primary we weren't happy with the school our older two children were attending, and we weren't ready to put our youngest daughter into a school that wasn't working for us. We had tried just about every option our town had to offer except Sacred Heart, but I have to say, after the first year we knew we had made the right decision. Our youngest daughter, who was shy and used to having her family and sisters nearby, blossomed under the guidance of a compassionate environment that made her feel safe and nurtured. She's now the first one out the door each day! That's a real transformation from those early first days, and it helped ease my concerns as a parent to know she was in good hands.
This year has been a struggle for parents of school-age children. We had no idea how we were going to juggle work, life, family and educational needs within ever-changing public health measures. Sacred Heart provided stellar leadership that kept us updated every step of the way, and they consulted local professionals to help them create a plan that would work no matter the circumstance. When the school year began in September, we were confident that our children would be kept safe and continue to thrive and learn. What could have been a really traumatic year of school has ended up being a real gift. We're very grateful to the faculty and administration for their efforts each and every day.
Our kids entered the school and different ages of elementary, but we've seen each one of them develop and gain strengths over the past 3 years at the school. I admit that our youngest wasn't an eager learner at home, she resisted reading and writing, but just this week she wrote a poem all about her love of books. She's also been developing a love and mastery of French, which I envy! Our older children have started to fine-tune their interests, notably in robotics, science and sports, and they have instructors who have brought those fields to life at Sacred Heart. The school is hands-down 100% responsible for the love of robotics and science, as my husband and I are both in the humanities. During the pandemic, the teachers have managed to make even the remote learning (when we've had to use this option) accessible and engaging.
The school academic program in lower elementary involves a concurrent stream of both English and French learning. They spend a half-day in both languages and have two primary teachers, switching classrooms after lunch. This has been the perfect balance for our family, as it avoided the frustrations of French Immersion we had experienced in the past with our older kids. I also think the switch of classrooms helps younger kids stay engaged. For our daughters in Junior High, they have the opportunity to test themselves in the advanced stream, but more importantly, they're given exams beginning in Grade 7. Taking exams is a skill in and of itself, and the school recognizes that and seeks to teach children the art of exam-taking in a low-risk environment. The children are encouraged to challenge themselves, but they're also met where they are at when they're struggling.
In the first year at the school, our kids did everything from robotics to skating. These activities were fun, built a sense of community, and kept our kids active and engaged during the long winter months. Robotics was particularly important to our then 10-year-old, she really took on a leadership role as they worked towards the local competition. Skating at the outdoor Oval each week with their French teacher was also a real highlight! Last year, they also started doing more competitive sports and took the opportunity to learn debating. Though things are a little different during the pandemic, we're still enjoying the debate club and new performing arts club.
The school is in the heart of Halifax, which means that they can take advantage of walks to the Public Gardens, local museums, and older kids can leave the grounds for lunch. Sadly, the downtown location also means there's no parking to speak of, but parents have made it work. We carpool with friends. The school grounds are safe and secure.
Parents are absolutely encouraged to be a part of the Sacred Heart community. Depending on your availability, you can participate every day, just for special events, or just join a class outing. I've had the option to help out with Halloween parades, school-wide events, field trips, and winter walks. I've gotten to know some incredible parents and staff along the way. This year I've transitioned to working full-time, which has meant less time to spend at the school, but I'm kept in the loop by our class parents. Class parents work with the teachers to send out weekly updates to parents to remind us of any upcoming events and share what's happening in the classroom and the school community at large. On a Sunday evening, when you're laying out school uniforms after a long weekend, those communications can be a lifesaver!
At Sacred Heart, the classroom sizes are just right. In the co-ed elementary school, class sizes for our children have hovered around 12 children per class. This allows the kids to make close friends and take full advantage of learning but it also means that they can change their seating around and get to know other classmates and groups. I've seen real growth in my children's social skills since we arrived at the school. In the Junior High, the class sizes are similar, but our girls are in a classroom of their peers and the boys are in a separate school. The dynamic in our first two years was positive, older kids were often partnered with younger kids for reading "buddies" and mentorship. This year, we don't have the same level of options, but I'm confident that they'll return.
There's simply no other school I'd rather have our kids in. They all have a sense of pride in the school, and they talk about their experiences with joy and feel secure as soon as they walk through the doors each morning. As a parent, there's nothing more I could really ask for. Our youngest adores her elementary teachers, who are simply gifted with big hearts and even bigger imaginations! She comes home eager to share what she's learned with us. For our Junior High students, they feel that the school is preparing them for their futures. They are getting more and more focused on planning towards university, and they're working hard to get there. Because our kids are so self-motivated, they could sometimes do with a reminder that they're still young and they have lots of time left to learn (a reminder their teachers often give them and we reinforce here at home). The first year of exams in Grade 7 was stressful for our kids, but we've seen already the difference just one year of exam experience has made in preparation and the ability to work calmly under a little pressure in our Grade 8 student.