The world is a constantly changing tide. Out with the low spring tide and in with the neap. The change is gradual, but like transitioning seasons, noticeable.
Being at a boys’ school has that same transition. For those who attend Royal St. George’s College School those transitions include more inclusivity and continuing the practice of respecting others and holding themselves accountable for their actions.
These are life lessons, the soft skills, that director of admissions Tom Stevens, says the school instils in its student body.
It’s an all-boys school, but every year there’s a reminder of one of Canada’s greatest tragedies, the Montreal Massacre. Students were taught about the 14 women who lost their lives for taking engineering classes at École Polytechnique in Montreal. Marc Lépine is the name associated with the crime that was Canada’s worst mass shooting and an example of anti-feminist violence.
It was a lesson that stayed with Grade 10 student, Ryan Gross, who left Cedarvale Community School to attend classes at RSGC.
“Once or twice a week we have a school sermon, which is a life lesson sometimes tied into religious beliefs,” he said. “You would suspect most of the sermons are about guys. Often times we’re talking about issues relating to women.”
The recent Harvey Weinstein scandal sweeping Hollywood has been another subject that has been shared with the students. It’s taught as an example of how not to behave in society and even more importantly an education in empathy.
Often times, Stevens said, it’s easier to share these lessons without a co-ed student body.
“It’s worth mentioning that we have a great opportunity to educate boys about respect,” he said, adding that when an inter-school dance is planned, the boys are taught the importance of conduct. Not just for themselves, but for their dates as well.
“If someone is under the influence, the boys are held responsible,” he said. “They’re going to be asked to correspond with their parents and talk about what happened.”
There are no distractions, Grade 12 prefect Spencer Canavan said, when learning a lot of these lessons, whether they be from a fellow prefect volunteering with the Gay-Straight Alliance group at the school or of the tragedy that happened almost 30 years ago.
“Because it’s an all-boys school, it is taking into consideration certain struggles that females go through,” he said.
The goal is to eliminate toxic masculinity. Inclusiveness means a place where any student can take up his interests whether he is a talented flutist, a provincial tap dancer or a choir singer performing a solo.
“You want their emotional quotient to be very high and have them be aware,” Stevens said. “It’s a very different world certainly from what I grew up with, and the boys recognize the merits of being empathetic and aware.”
For Gross, that’s comfort food. He left his former school due to severe bullying. At Royal St. George’s he’s able to take up ping pong, journalism, debating and ultimate Frisbee, as well as engage in conversations with anyone.
“The huge difference I notice is it’s more academically oriented and it results in a lot fewer cliques being formed and a lot less social boundaries, exclusion and bullying,” he said, acknowledging some co-ed schools have a hierarchy based solely on how successful the boys are with girls.
These discussions are encouraged and are vital to the curriculum, as Stevens said some schools mark strictly for how tidy and neat the student appears to be.
“Very rarely do you have on those report card, ‘Bobby has great ideas and his contributions further develop the lessons,’” he said. “It really does focus more on how well he’s behaved than how he learns. I think most boys learn by doing.”
Learning to be more productive members of society who hold themselves accountable for their actions is just one facet of being at an all-boys school like Royal St. George’s.