Independent Schools: A Class of Their Own

With small class sizes, experienced instructors and an array of academic and co-curricular experiences, independent schools offer students the chance to get more out of their education and Calgarians have a variety to choose from.

From educational approaches that help hone universal skills to academic programs that create a competitive edge, discover more about how an independent school, both within Calgary and beyond, can help your child shine.

Lycée Louis Pasteur

Students at Lycée Louise Pasteur have access to cutting-edge technology. Photo coutesy Lycée Louis Pasteur school

GRADE LEVELS preschool to grade 12

From coding and scientific method to communication and adaptable critical thinking approaches, Lycée Louis Pasteur focuses on honing skills that will serve students well, no matter where life takes them.

“What we’re really doing is providing them with the lifelong skills to adapt, adjust and constantly learn what they would need to learn,” says Head of School Frédéric Canadas. “Those fundamental skills are going to remain essential, I believe, for the next 50, maybe 100 years.”

Established in 1966, Lycée Louis Pasteur is located in the quiet residential community of Garrison Woods. It is one of only seven schools across the nation (and the only one in Calgary) that implements the French Ministry of Education curriculum taught by French certified teachers with the Alberta curriculum taught by Canadian teachers. The result come graduation is two diplomas — an Alberta high school diploma and a French Baccalaureate — which gives students an edge on a world-wide scale.

“[The combination] creates global citizens who understand the world. That’s a big advantage,” says Canadas, noting that the French perspective expands the Alberta curriculum, particularly around culture and the history and geography 
of the world.

Grade levels span from preschool to grade 12 with a student body of just 425 students, guaranteeing small class sizes and a tight-knit community. In addition to French and English education, students also study Spanish from grade 6 onwards as part of the French curriculum, meaning all students are trilingual upon graduation.

Beyond the Calgary campus, Lycée Louis Pasteur is part of a much larger network of more than 500 schools that teach the French curriculum — known as “lycées” — in nearly 150 countries. This international network allows for increased mobility for students should families need to relocate, and the opportunity to study abroad for a trimester or more.

While students are immersed in French language and culture through lessons at school, Canadas notes that about 80 per cent of student families don’t speak French at home. As such, it’s a priority of the school to create an unintimidating environment to calm any concerns or hesitation from parents considering enrolling their child.

“Their kid is not alone in the class. They won’t be the only child not speaking French at home,” says Canadas. Should students require additional help with French, teachers are available for daily study hall time after school.

The small student body also makes the school unique. Spanning 13 years of education, Canadas says Lycée Louis Pasteur fosters a community in which teachers and administrative staff truly know the students they serve. High retention rates mean many students stay with the school from preschool or kindergarten straight through to graduation, creating lasting bonds within the Lycée Louis Pasteur family.

“We’re a small team — we meet regularly with teachers and see [students] grow and improve,” says Canadas.

“We know exactly from one year to the next where they are and how we can support them better to be successful.”

Shawnigan Lake School

Shawnigan Lake’s Canada Field is
a training base for Rugby Canada. Photo taken before COVID-19. Photo courtesy Shawnigan/ Arden Gill.

GRADE LEVELS grades 8 to 12
CLUBS 38 arts and activity focused clubs
SPORTS TEAMS 18 different sports to choose from

Situated just north of Victoria, B.C., Shawnigan Lake School on Vancouver Island uses its diverse and beautiful surroundings, along with world-class facilities, to their full potential.
The independent boarding school is home to co-educational students from grades 8 to 12 in an environment that embraces new experiences. Founded in 1916, the school has developed a unique balance of tradition and innovation in education.

“I think we foster an incredibly warm and embracing culture, and the students want to be here,” says Headmaster Larry Lamont, who’s now in his third academic year at Shawnigan Lake School.
Shawnigan’s opportunities for learning, 
particularly its access to nature and purpose-
built facilities, are unlike anywhere else in 
Canada. Students can gain experience living 
independently while exploring a myriad of outdoor activities such as climbing expeditions, week-long ski excursions, fly-fishing trips and more. Exploring and understanding the outdoors, along with an emphasis on connecting with 
surrounding communities and First Nations, 
allow students to gather a complete education around Canadian history, heritage and values.

On campus, world-class facilities include a salmon hatchery, recording studio for music programs, observatory and robotics lab among other spaces for academic and extra-curricular exploration. Athletic facilities also allow students to try new experiences or further develop their skills. Facilities include Canada Field (a training base for Rugby Canada), the rowing waterway (a training base for Rowing Canada) and Charlie Purdey Arena, which houses Shawnigan’s growing hockey program.

Within the classroom, Shawnigan’s experienced faculty deliver a blend of traditional and contemporary education, including AP courses designed to support and challenge students across the curriculum and beyond. In pursuit of future-proofing students, university preparation courses teach skills, such as collaborative work and research methods, to better equip students for post-secondary education.

While Shawnigan is one of a handful of boarding schools in Canada, Lamont notes that the country is home to a relative few full boarding schools when compared to the United Kingdom and other parts of the world. This distance from traditional models of boarding schools has allowed Shawnigan Lake to create its own identity — one that Lamont says he strives to make unpretentious and inclusive at every turn.

“When you drive through the gates, there is a feeling of welcome and homecoming,” says Lamont. “And I do think there’s something very special about the supportive community at Shawnigan.”
Adding to the inclusive nature of the school is the financial aid program, which helps ensure the Shawnigan experience is accessible to a broad array of students. Lamont notes that more than 40 per cent of students at the school receive financial aid to attend, allowing for a more socio-economically diverse intake.

When speaking about Shawnigan’s student body, Lamont refers back to the “Four C’s” the school uses to define its experience: curiosity, compassion, community and courage. While he acknowledges that parents may be nervous about sending their children to live and learn away from home, he’s found that many feel the strong sense of camaraderie fostered within the gates immediately upon visiting.

“What we want most of all for students and staff is that sense of belonging,” Lamont says. “And parents feel that sense of community and welcome on arrival.”

Strathcona-Tweedsmuir School

Strathcona-Tweedsmuir School sits on 220 acres offering plenty of space for outdoor exploration. Photo taken before COVID-19. Photo courtesy Strathcona-Tweedsmuir School/ Chipperfield Photography.

GRADE LEVELS K to grade 12
SPORTS TEAMS 14 different sports and 35 athletic teams

While Strathcona-Tweedsmuir School (STS) challenges its students with rigorous academic programming, its teachers also recognize that learning doesn’t only happen inside the classroom. STS’s campus and facilities, assortment of co-curriculars, and supportive, caring environment help students develop strong academic, social and emotional skills and become well-rounded individuals beyond the classroom doors.

The academic offerings at STS challenge students to push their boundaries and become thoughtful problem-solvers. STS is the only continuum International Baccalaureate (IB) school in Alberta, offering IB programs for students from kindergarten to grade 12. IB programs provide students with an enriched education that prepares them intellectually, personally, and socially for a globalizing world.

Anand Mahadevan, Senior School Principal, explains that as students go into grade 11, they can choose to do the Alberta program of studies, a full IB diploma or take fewer courses for a partial IB certificate.

“The IB program positions learning within a global context,” says Mahadevan. “For example, when our grade 10 science teachers talk about genetics, they also discuss skin pigmentation
 and students develop their understanding of 
anti-racism. IB allows students to see that learning is interconnected and that they are connected to the world.”

Carol Grant-Watt, Head of School, says the school campus and its high-calibre facilities also provide learning opportunities, inspiring students and supporting their education. STS is located on 220 acres just south of Calgary, with large fields, walking trails, a pond and impressive views of the foothills.

“The campus really is spectacular. It allows us to interact with the great outdoors as part of our scheduling and programming,” says Grant-Watt. The school features on-site campsites for outdoor education training as well as an outdoor classroom which “sits in an aspen grove, and is a unique place for students to reflect, learn, and come together while physical distancing.” STS’s sizeable campus allows teachers to maintain a high standard of teaching without compromising physical distancing safety measures during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In addition to classrooms filled with natural light to inspire focus, the campus has a range of impressive facilities, including a theatre, a gymnasium and state-of-the-art science labs.
At STS, students are seen as individuals and have the opportunity to explore their interests. 
Students can participate in co-curriculars such 
as speech and debate club, Model United Nations, 
and drone club, where students become drone-
certified pilots. There is also room for students to start their own clubs and projects.

STS has a welcoming and inclusive feel, and the school’s recent expansion into the community — offering before- and after-school programming as well as summer camps for children who aren’t full-time STS students — reiterates STS’s commitment to caring for the Calgary community.

“There is a rigorous, challenging learning environment here, but the support for students, teachers and parents is really remarkable,” says Grant-Watt. “The sky is the limit for our students and our STS community.”

West Island College

WIC students practice their drumming skills in socially distanced classes. Photo courtesy West Island College

GRADE LEVELS grades 7 to 12
CLUBS 35-40
SPORTS TEAMS around 35 total teams across nine sports

West Island College (WIC) faculty know that success takes many forms, which is why helping each student navigate towards their calling sits at the core of what WIC does.

“There are many different paths that kids can go through here and come out the other end successful,” says Jim Rieder, Head of Institutes and strategic development at West Island College. “Everybody can find their people here.”

WIC hosts students from grade 7 to 12, providing a variety of programs to suit individual learners along the way.

The school’s Institute Programs, for example, offer students experiential education to explore potential career paths. Students can choose from programming in the fields of business, fine arts, health sciences, engineering, liberal arts and international languages & culture.

Students access the Institute Programs’ offerings in grades 9 and 10 through Focus Friday sessions, which include guest speakers, site visits and more. Beyond these experiences, students can choose to pursue and earn a subject-specific certificate come graduation in the areas that really interest them. Participation in meeting certificate criteria can begin as early as grade 7 and remain a focus for students throughout their WIC journey or be selected later in their academic years. Institute courses include organized activities such as an annual trip to New York City’s Financial District through the Business Institute or annual drama and band camps through the Fine Arts Institute. The program also provides mentoring, internship, job shadowing and networking opportunities within disciplines from industry professionals.

“We want them to see the possibility out there and find their passion, and that happens all the time,” says Rieder, adding that Institute certificates create a competitive advantage come application time for post-secondary schools.

Elsewhere at the school, a full French immersion program, in which about 60 per cent of 
students’ education is delivered in French, allows bilingual learners to flourish. Students can also pursue an International Language & Culture Certificate, which exposes them to different cultures and prepares them for an increasingly globalized world.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, WIC has continued to create valuable learning opportunities by organizing high-profile 
guest speakers to video conference in, such as through a collaborative grade 9 project with Canadian senators. Additional cameras have also been installed in each classroom so students can attend school from home if need be. Instead of regularly scheduled drama productions, performances were live-streamed. Band classes have also evolved to socially distanced drum courses while restrictions on wind instruments are in place. The majority of student clubs and leadership opportunities continue to run whether in-person or online.

“We’ve been trying to add value over and above the classroom in a lot of different ways,” says Rieder of the transitions.

The community fostered by WIC’s team of dedicated and veteran teachers not only allows students to find their callings but also creates personal connections. Rieder says the sense of pride the team feels in helping students along 
on their journeys transcends that of a typical school experience.

“When our students graduate, our teachers cry,” says Rieder. “They are so proud of the work they have done and the young adults they have helped create.”

Calgary Academy

Calgary Academy offers a variety of hands-on programs including the metalworks program and the construction lab. Photo courtesy Calgary Academy.

GRADE LEVELS K to grade 12 (Collegiate); grades 2 to 12 (Academy)
CLUBS 15 to 20
SPORTS TEAMS 30 to 40 teams, 10 different sports
AVERAGE CLASS SIZE 12 to 20 (Collegiate stream); 8 to 10 (Academy stream)

The teachers at Calgary Academy (CA) know that each student is unique, with different talents and challenges. That’s why the faculty prides itself on offering its students a personalized education.

Tim Carlson, Principal of CA, says the school focuses on the individual needs of each student by offering two streams of learning: Collegiate and Academy.

“The Collegiate program is for [more] typical learners who may or may not have a learning disability and are looking for smaller class sizes and an engaging, holistic and in-depth approach to learning,” says Carlson. “Our Academy stream is for students with a designated learning disability. We are very effective at closing academic skill gaps within [a] caring environment.”

CA’s low student to teacher ratio enables personalization and creates a supportive environment that inspires a love of learning. Depending on which grade a child is in, there are between 12 and 20 students to one teacher in the Collegiate program and between eight and 10 students to one teacher in the Academy program. Having these two streams is advantageous to families, as students don’t have to change schools and can stay within the CA community as their academic needs change.

CA is a welcoming, accepting community that operates around five core values — Respect, Enthusiasm, Altruism, Commitment and Honesty — and these values are a cornerstone in every classroom and program.

CA’s many co-curriculars enrich students’ athletic, artistic and altruistic sides, as well as their academic skills. (While some co-curricular activities are on hold due to the pandemic, they will be reinstated as soon as it is safe to do so.) Typically, students can participate in the school’s musicals, which are staged twice each year. Its numerous sports teams have a no-cut policy, which encourages participation as all students can have the opportunity to play a sport. There are outdoor education and multimedia and robotics classes, as well as opportunities to participate in hands-on programs, such as the metalworks program or the construction lab. And all programs, academic and co-curricular, are taught by dedicated teachers who are experts in their field and trained to teach students with a variety of learning needs.

Students in each grade and learning stream also learn the value of giving back. All CA students contribute to Calgary by supporting local initiatives like Brown Bagging for Calgary’s Kids or joining in adopt-a-family programs during the holidays. Another instance of CA’s focus on altruism is its optional International Travel Studies program, which will return after the pandemic. Through the program, students in grades 10 to 12 travel to a developing country where they volunteer with local organizations.

With dedicated and conscientious staff offering personalized learning, embracing holistic programming and maintaining a close-knit school community, all CA students can thrive.
“CA students are engaged in their learning and resilient [to] challenges,” says Carlson. “They are excited about what they are doing and excited for their future.”


Rundle teaches its students to adapt to change and rise to the challenge of a global pandemic. Photo courtesy Rundle/ Kaitlin Barker, Kindsight Studio.

GRADE LEVELS K to grade 12
STUDENT BODY POPULATION 1,133 (884 at Rundle College, 249 at Rundle Academy)
AVERAGE UNIVERSITY ACCEPTANCE RATE 100% (Rundle College); 90% (Rundle Academy)

Whether students are enrolled in Rundle College or Rundle Academy, a program dedicated to grades 4 to 12 students with a diagnosed learning disability, they learn to become resilient, lifelong learners and thoughtful leaders.

Rundle’s 160 faculty members offer each student individual support and address their specific needs inside the classroom. This personalized approach is made possible by small class sizes, which range from six to 15 students, as well as teachers dedicated to making a difference in students’ lives. Besides academics, Rundle focuses equally on co-curricular opportunities, such as volunteering, music, arts and athletics.

The school also nurtures students’ character development, preparing them for success by teaching essential 21st-century life skills. 
Jason Rogers, Rundle’s Head of School, explains that all students learn what it means to have a growth mindset when tackling challenges.

“We [teach] perseverance, grit, and antifragility,” says Rogers. “Perseverance is finding ways to endure through difficult times. Developing grit is the will to overcome a challenge and antifragility is allowing ourselves to experience difficulties but grow and become stronger as a result of it.”

And in a year filled with COVID-19 disruptions, these life skills are more important than ever. Rogers has seen how students have put these skills to the test as they adapt to change and rise to the challenges of a global pandemic.

“Our [main] goal is to help each student reach their potential,” says Rogers. “But [we also want] to nurture leaders that lift people in the greater community, so that they can reach their potential too.”

[This story has been updated from its original print version to reflect that Strathcona-Tweedsmuir School has an average class size of 16 to 22, not 6 to 22.]

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