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Allowing boys to be boys at St. Andrew's College
Boys rush from their living quarters at St. Andrew's College, in Aurora, Ontario, to class, the sounds of their shoes echoing through the hallways. They're anxious to get to class but make time for quick stops to greet friends and catch up on the day's events.
On the walls, posters advertise the theatrical extravaganza Focus Festival Of The Arts, a 10-year tradition that allows students to display talents some of them didn't know they possessed. The boys are involved behind the scenes and on stage, writing, directing and acting in the plays and contributing art to exhibits.
Students also participate in a three-night cabaret during the festival, when the school's tuck shop is transformed into an intimate theatre with a small stage and seating for 60. An informal event, the cabaret gives students a chance to take to the stage to sing and perform on instruments.
This year marks the 100th anniversary of the boys' school nestled in 110 rural acres near Aurora, Ontario, that is home to more than half of its 470 students in Grade 6 to OAC—as well as more than half of its 49 faculty.
During its century of providing excellence in education and personal development, St. Andrew's has been acclaimed for its high standards in academics and outstanding performance in sports. Add to that now an acclaimed drama program, as well as a plethora of other activities aimed at developing the whole boy—mind, body, heart and spirit.
In an age when other single-gender schools are opening their doors to both boys and girls, St. Andrew's has remained resolutely committed to the education of boys only.
Struan Robertson, a St. Andrew's alumnus who is now the school's co-director of admission, says the absence of girls "allows boys to be boys... to have frank discussions and not get embarrassed."
Adds teacher William Scoular, "An environment like this is supportive. They can take risks and realize that it can be cool to be smart." And there are plenty of opportunities, including school dances, to interact with the opposite sex.
Robertson says the boys don't complain; in fact, they prefer it this way. Grade 8 student Patrick McGrath agrees, saying one of the benefits of not having girls at school is that "you can concentrate more on school." And with a schedule like his—performing in a school production of A Midsummer Night's Dream and Focus Festival of the Arts, soccer, basketball and rugby—who has time for girls?
Grade 11 students Jonathan Lau, Chris Bibby and twins Tatenda and Tapfuma Musere agree that the absence of girls allows them to focus on school work.
Competition is alive and well at St. Andrew's, "but it's not for looks," says Tatenda. "It's a different kind of competition, to be better at academics and sports. It's healthy."
Lau says he prefers a girl-free academic environment—"I like it better"—although he admits it's difficult to meet girls when you live on campus.
It's difficult to imagine where most students would find time for girlfriends. They study science, economics, literature, art and business. They play sports and are involved in band and debating. The four Grade 11 students formed a Christian fellowship group to share and pray together.
"You sacrifice a lot for school," says Chris. But it's worth it: "the school gives a sense of community and family."
That sense of family is reinforced by the presence of the faculty members who live on campus, Scoular says. And the school's traditions live on, even when students have graduated and gone their separate ways.
The diversity of extracurricular activities is evident as boys scurry from class to sports practices to cadet meetings to play rehearsals. Their schedules are packed, but no one complains.
The campus boasts nine football fields, six tennis courts and enough room to accommodate many of the 19 sports offered—including fencing, cricket, rugby and lacrosse. A cadet program—mandatory for students in Grade 8 through OAC—offers training in first aid and formal leadership and sports such as rock climbing and scuba diving.
The school's reputations for academics and sports speak for themselves, says Scoular, who added its newest tradition when he founded St. Andrew's drama program 12 years ago. His approach is to teach the boys that "to be an artist or an actor is just as natural as being an athlete or a scholar."
Students are encouraged to take part in what Scoular calls some of the "most exciting productions possible." Last year, the school staged a fall production of William Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream, a winter production of The Fantastiks and a spring production, Focus Festival '99, in which 142 students had roles either on stage or behind the scenes.
"No other school in Canada or in Britain can produce plays like this school," says Scoular.
A Shakespearean play is staged every fall, reinforcing the importance of the playwright's work in the school curriculum and giving aspiring thespians a taste of the real thing. "One of the most prestigious feelings is being in a Shakespeare play," Scoular says. He celebrates the high calibre of the sets and costumes, as well as the acting. They "bring people to a professional theatre."
Scoular, who comes from a background in the arts and has worked with such actors as John Goodman and Keith Carradine, makes sure the students have a chance to work with professionals. They have included actor Elizabeth Shepherd, who has credits in Broadway and London West End plays as well as in the films Criminal Law and Damien: Omen II, and underground musicians Kurt Swinghammer and John Alcorn, both of whom performed in the festival.
Music is an important part of St. Andrews's culture, says Robertson. Taken both for credit and pleasure, the music program produces musicians accomplished enough to perform at recital nights as solo performers and in the school's jazz and cadet bands. The program also offers credit courses in piping, an age-old tradition at the school. Andrew Douglas, a Grade 8 student who has won a major award in an amateur piping competition, is one of many who hope to graduate with credits in piping.
A highlight of the year is the choral group's performance on the first Sunday of every December at St. Paul's Anglican Church. "To hear the young voices echoing in the church is quite powerful and moving," Robertson says.
Despite the many changes it has seen, St. Andrew's has retained its original motto—words to live by for boys today as they have been for 100 years. It reflects the hope that the students of St. Andrew's College will leave as well-rounded citizens who will contribute meaningfully to their communities and keep close to their hearts the traditions and values of their school: "Quit ye like men; be strong."