Victoria, BC | Grades K - 12 | Shortlist
Our son likes the quality of the students, the teachers and the professionalism of the school best. It is the overall quality of everything that he enjoys. It is simply a much higher level school than he would have experienced in New Brunswick public schools. The challenges he has been able to partake in have been a highlight. He is constantly learning and availing himself of new things. The student body and the friends he has made are also much better than he experienced here in New Brunswick. He loves to engage in meaningful discourse - not the usual teenage drivel - and that has been a highlight to find like-minded kids. Being a theatre enthusiast has also meant a lot to him as he has been able to enjoy stellar training and quality in the SMUS theatre and arts programs. The only reason it is a 9 instead of a 10 is because it is far from home for us (New Brunswick to Victoria) and because he often finds himself doing too much. This is not a school issue, but for a kid who wants to do everything, he can't seem to stop himself from signing up and trying to do too much.
Our experience has been outstanding with school leadership and administration. We cannot say enough about how we as parents, and our son has been treated. The Director of Admissions, the Marketing Director, the program leaders and of course the Head of School have all made direct and personal connections with both us and more importantly our son. We feel like he has the direct and personal attention of everyone from the Head of School down and for that we could not feel better. Most important to us as parents is the leadership example that is being set. The school focuses on teaching leadership to its students, and therefore it is vital that its leaders walk the talk. From everything we have seen and experienced, SMUS leadership is a shining leadership example.
We have four essential comments which make SMUS and its teaching staff outstanding: 1. They love their jobs and it always shows. There is no replacement for enthusiasm and wanting to teach. 2. They are always available to our son and always trying to help. They have his genuine best interest at heart. 3. They are personally connected and engaged with our son. His teaching is customized to his needs. Given they still have to follow curricula which is often sub-optimal for today's latest teaching techniques, we always appreciate knowing they do their best to be current. 4. As a parent, we feel like teachers are measured in their performance and offered help and training to improve. This level of professional approach and professional growth ensures SMUS is attracting top talent and helping them stay current in the latest teaching. We also feel like there is a mix of longevity with refresh in the teaching staff. This is a wonderful balance to a school, whereby the culture of excellence from long-standing teachers can be mixed with the enthusiasm and freshness of younger teachers.
The school is in an excellent location. It is in a safe neighbourhood within safe walking distance of malls, restaurants and entertainment. It is on the bus lines, making access to downtown Victoria easy. It is near the University of Victoria, which is also a real benefit to the students seeking first-hand university exposure and experience. The campus feels like a campus, an island oasis even, yet integrated to the community. The only downside to SMUS (perhaps more unique to our family) is that Victoria is very far away from New Brunswick. That said, we have found access to be easier than we originally thought it would be and the opportunity to visit has rekindled family and friend relationships for us and our son which would not have happened otherwise.
We believe the academic culture at SMUS is excellent. It mixes some of the latest thinking, such as experiential learning, Advanced Placement and leadership, while staying grounded in the academic realities of how students are measured when seeking their chosen university. We feel that our son is being taught the type of independent study habits he needs when he goes to university, while also being taught time management to pursue his chosen extracurricular activities. As parents, we are strong advocates of experiential learning and using the latest techniques and thinking to allow individualized learning excellence. SMUS has tried to integrate and open itself to this approach while staying rooted in a system that still forces traditional curricula. The most outstanding element of academics at SMUS for us as parents (and for our son) is the individualized academic advisory help he receives. We view our son's academic advisor as a much better version of ourselves as parents. The individual attention, advice and guidance he receives is perhaps the single most important part of SMUS. His academic advisor provides help and expertise that very few parents could provide themselves. His advisor seems to balance academic and life advice that is expertly unique to our son.
It is clear when meeting the students at SMUS that they are very mature, polite, confident and well mannered. They all appear to have strong social IQ and emotional IQ's demonstrated by their comfort with making eye contact, offering a smile and a good handshake. It may sound like an unusual comment, but this type of interaction sets a positive tone right away. The atmosphere at the school feels positive. It feels like a good campus - almost from the minute you drive in. There is a "je ne sais quoi" about the feel and look of the campus that simply feels good or comfortable. Most of our student interactions have been with our son and his friends in residence, and there always appears to be a sense of friendship and camaraderie. Our most extensive exposure has been during the annual school play, and the atmosphere amongst those both in the play and the students attending is excellent. A combination of enthusiasm, goodwill, and encouragement that is heartwarming for us as parents.
Our son has enjoyed outstanding extracurricular activity at SMUS. His focus is on politics, leadership, community service and theatre/arts. And while he is decidedly uninterested in team athletics, SMUS has still afforded him outdoor pursuit opportunities which have been far more akin to his athletic, leadership and exercise interest. The school focus on healthy body and healthy minds has made a strong impression on him, and we are thankful that he is encouraged to pursue a healthy body despite his lack of interest in team sports. While our son has generally not participated in the many team sports offered at SMUS, we well aware of the excellent opportunities offered to students who do excel in athletics. Both of us were strong athletes, and while our first-hand exposure to the team sports at SMUS has been limited, our impression is that they are equally as strong as the academics at SMUS. The extracurricular activities at SMUS are broad, well-organized, thoughtful and valuable. We also appreciate the opportunities that our son has had to contribute to the community initiatives in the Victoria area. The importance placed on making a contribution locally is important to us. We cannot think of anything our son is lacking in this area.
Our son loves St. Michael's University School. There is no single thing that makes him love it, but rather the combination of everything that has been asked throughout this survey. He loves the atmosphere, the students, the house parents, the teachers, the extracurricular activities, his academic advisor, the leadership - everything combines to make it an exceptional experience for him. At a more detailed level, we believe the academic/school calendar is very thoughtfully prepared and allows for excellent breaks in study, but hard and focused work while school is in session. As a parent of a boarding student, we are very grateful for the calendar. It is a big contribution to overall school life. In the case of our son, sometimes the hard work and compressed academic calendar makes for stress in some of his courses, but we would attribute most challenges in this area to be of his own making, and the school accommodates anytime there is legitimate scheduling issues for tests or assignments. His teachers and house parents do all they can to keep him on track and on task.
Most of our direct experience with the extended SMUS community has been virtual, because we live far away in New Brunswick. That said, the communications with us is always excellent and we are made to feel part of the community regardless of the distance. When we have been in town there have been several offers from local families to stay or share a meal. They have also opened their homes to our son and treated him like family on weekends where he was hosted off campus. There are many invitations and opportunities to input to the school and directly participate as parents so we are very positive about this aspect of the school. The parental education offered is also excellent and appears to have excellent speakers and content. As a parent living remotely, it would be nice if the school could contemplate a little more live streaming of some events so we could actually feel closer and more involved. We would participate in these if available, and while still an imperfect medium, it would help us feel a little closer.
Our experience with admissions was unique, because our son was fortunate to be a recipient of the Best School Year Ever scholarship in his first year. In this regard, we could not have been more pleased. The Admissions team had an excellent combination of empathy and understanding (it was a big step for us to send our 14 year old across the country to school) with encouragement to allow him to flourish. The personal and ongoing contact made from the Admissions team - particularly the Director of Admissions - has made for an exceptionally good experience for us as parents. The Admissions team was there to walk us through the process of applying for Apple financial to ensure that our son could continue at St. Michael's after being a recipient of the Best School Year Ever Scholarship. We were very happy with the admissions team and felt very comfortable to reach out as needed. Again, we never contemplated applying to the school in the beginning, it was something that our son pursued mainly on his own. We never dreamed that he'd be having the experience that he has been provided by St.Michael's. In the past 2 years he has had every amount of guidance needed to plan for his final 2 years of high school and beyond.