Smaller schools mean tighter communities for girls

Two schools talk about how their students grow in nurtured environments

Linden School students and teacher
(Photo courtesy The Linden School)

Sometimes the smaller the student body, the more a community grows.

It’s the feeling parents may get when they chat with the administrative staff at the Linden School and St. Clement’s School.

The two share a connection most schools do not as one of the founders of the Linden School is a former principal at St. Clement’s.

Diane Goudie is one of two co-founders of the Linden School and her origins in academia stem from St. Clement’s.

What she started with Eleanor Moore is a small school focused on the education of girls and young women. With the passing of International Day of the Girl, it’s more important now to focus on young girls who slip through the crack of the public education system.

Linden School communications director Farida Sheralam, takes a moment to pause and then explain the benefits that a small school, which caps its classes at 16, has for young girls.

For starters, the philosophy is rooted in feminist pedagogy, which is not necessarily focused on a zeitgeist but a basic principle: equal rights.

“We’d like to see more women in technology,” Sheralam says. “If you want to be a scientist or a graphic designer, go ahead. There is no judgment.”

The emphasis is to break the glass ceiling on industries that are traditionally male dominant, and that includes media producers, directors, engineers, politicians and video game developers.

“We’re not just teaching girls to be consumers of technology, but to create technology,” she adds.

The idea of encouraging growth comes from a desire for change, through social justice, and through the interdisciplinary approach of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math). Social justice is the second benefit Sheralam places emphasis on.

Justin Trudeau at The Linden School
Beth Alexander was presented the Award for Teaching Excellence by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau this summer for creating a STEM-focused curriculum at The Linden School. (Photo courtesy The Linden School)

The school’s faculty has taken it a step further by creating a curriculum geared to girls in Grades 1 through 8.

It’s even earned Linden high praise from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. Beth Alexander was awarded the Award for Teaching Excellence this summer for creating a STEM-focused curriculum that had students climbing inside a life-size model of a computer. Additionally, the curriculum targets digital literacy, online citizenship and coding skills.

“Research, and my own experience, increasingly shows that students are not born with a fixed set of abilities, but are able to pursue skills to the highest levels given time, practice and support,” Alexander said in a statement, “For that reason, I believe that every child should receive a ‘gifted’ education.”

That ties nicely into the third benefit Linden provides, which is the interdisciplinary approach to teaching. Math, science and arts are all brought together and is shared in a community, rather than having a teacher stand at the front of the class, writing on a blackboard.

“Everyone’s working together,” Sheralam says. “Girls learn better and are more engaged in their studies.”

The century-plus institution houses 470 students from kindergarten to Grade 12. Ask the director of admissions, Elena Holeton, about the benefits of working in a tight community, and she’ll respond with élan.

“We’re big enough that we can offer an enormous curricular and co-curricular program and yet with a small enough student body, we’re able to have a high participation rate co-curricularly and nice-sized class curricularly.”

Clementine country

A homey atmosphere is also a befitting word to describe St. Clement’s School, which is nestled in the heart of North Toronto.

Its current building was constructed in the 1970s, but St. Clement’s has been entrenched in the community since 1901, getting its start inside the church.

Class at St.Clement's School
The diversity of options available to St. Clement’s students is vast and often times surprising to them. (Photo courtesy St. Clement’s School) (Photo courtesy St. Clement’s School)

St. Clement’s makes it a point to teach the girls that there’s more to the community than just inside its walls.

“Maybe with the small school, we don’t have all the facilities that the other larger schools have on site, but we use our community resources,” Holeton says. “We’re able to leverage those and give our girls the opportunities of other schools.”

Eglinton Park is a great location for a warm-up jog for students.

Still, that doesn’t mean there aren’t facilities on site, as St. Clement’s has a great gym and an auditorium that seats 350 comfortably.

The key takes from St. Clement’s size is that they are “all known, nurtured and valued”; they can take part and share the confidence in being a part of a community that knows each other well.

“One thing to stress, we’re quite unique in being small and how much we offer,” Holeton says.

“Girls are consistently surprised and impressed by the academic opportunities here.”

In addition to the environment where opportunities and success abound are advanced placement courses that are provided. Those courses test high school students at the university level.

That provides plenty of opportunities. With that in mind, as well as the United Nations’ International Day of the Girl just passed, it’s all about creating the leaders of tomorrow.

“It’s what we do every day —celebrating the young women in this school and preparing them for the world they will face after school.”

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