Middle schools by definition serve as a ‘bridge’ between elementary and high school, and accommodate grades 5, 6, 7 and 8. By their exclusion, they tend to offer a more specialized approach to education and a different experience to their students. Add a single-gender component to the mix, and voila – you have a setting where boys are excited about coming to school and learning.
Last October, the Director of the Toronto District School Board, Chris Spence, wasn’t making a knee-jerk decision by advocating for ‘boy-friendly’ classrooms to address the growing decline in male academics. Researchers have advocated this for years. According to the International Boys’ Schools Coalition (IBSC), over the past few decades “ground-breaking brain research using fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging), investigations into the developmental differences between boys and girls, and studies of the sociology of schools have all helped us understand how to best educate boys and girls. At the same time, it has become clear that an alarming number of boys – most of whom are attending coeducational institutions – are not succeeding in school. One of the results has been a growing understanding of the benefits of single-gender educational settings, and an increased awareness of the advantages of boys’ schools.”
At St. Andrew’s College, an all-boys boarding and day school in York Region, the Middle School resources are allocated, the teachers are chosen, and the programs are developed with only one goal in mind – to meet the educational and developmental needs of young men. Faculty are well-versed in teaching techniques that engage the attention of young boys, such as activity-based learning, humour, group projects, and an element of competition in the classroom, thereby bringing learning to life for their students. Boys who may have been underachieving in their previous schools due to lack of interest or teaching styles that cater to girls (told to be quiet, long lectures, more feminine reading assignments and lessons) unearth a passion for learning that they never knew they possessed.
“Our faculty attend conferences all over North America,” explains Mike Hanson, the Director of the Middle School. “We also host regular guest speakers for our students and parents who reinforce and address the character-building messages and boy-specific issues we are teaching our students throughout the year, including: respect, integrity, community service, cyber-safety and anti-bullying.”
Naysayers may argue that the curriculum at an all-boys school is basically the same as what a coeducational public school has to offer – so why should a parent absorb the additional expense of sending their son to an independent school? While this may be true to a small extent, the difference in class size and knowledge base of teaching boys is very different. Factor in the additional opportunities to explore the arts, the extensive sport offerings, and the specialist teacher model – then you can understand why parents choose to send their sons to St. Andrew’s starting in grade 6.
“Our average class size for grade 6 is 15 students,” says Sabrina D’Angelo, Assistant Director of the Middle School. “Grade 7 offers an average class size of 16 and grade 8 – 20. Boys meet with their advisors (home room teachers) first thing in the morning and at the end of the academic day, to check in on how they are doing and help with organizational skills.”
At St. Andrew’s, students are taught by teachers who are specialists in their area of study and change classrooms for each subject. In addition to the compulsory athletics program (offering 18 different sports throughout the year), each Middle School boy must participate in the Arts program, where they have an opportunity to explore and discover their individual passions for music, drama, debating piping or drumming, or visual arts. Middle School students also receive two credits toward Upper School, a math credit and a comprehensive arts credit.
For the past 40 years, French Immersion schools have been growing in popularity across Canada, and St. Andrew’s has recently launched an Enriched French Program that includes extended course offerings beyond the core level French, as well as a week-long exchange program and billeting experience in Quebec. “The boys who arrive in grade 6 or 7 with a strong French background, love this option,” says Ms. D’Angelo. “They remain challenged and can continue this stream in our Upper School through the Extended French Program.”
Athletics have been viewed as a central part of the educational process at St. Andrew’s since the School was founded in 1899. The compulsory athletic program offers Middle School boys the benefit of trying out a new sport all three terms. Even a boy who may not be athletically inclined, when offered a choice of up to seven different sports a term across rep and house league teams, can discover the pleasure in realizing he can be part of a team – whether it is the game of soccer he has played for most of his life, or a new sport such as cricket, softball, volleyball or squash.
“We believe athletics are a huge component of our mission statement, the development of the complete man, the well-rounded citizen,” says Mr. Hanson, who remembers a former Headmaster saying, “a sport match is a metaphor for the human struggle – and at its moments of greatest intensity, it seems to contain a complete and powerful image of life – life’s beauty, vulnerability, despair and courage … What you get in exchange is confidence, self-knowledge, the thrill of success, and a small but precious sense of how reality works.”
“Our Middle School program at St. Andrew’s offers boys something unique,” says Headmaster Kevin McHenry. “We offer parents and their sons the complete package: a boy-centric curriculum in a friendly ‘school within a school’ setting with a wide array of athletics and arts to choose from, faculty who care about their students’ success, and a community where even the Director of the Middle School knows everyone’s name.”
Boys can be boys at St. Andrew’s College. Their uniforms get dirty at recess; they play-wrestle in the hallways; and they need to be reminded to straighten their ties and tuck in their shirts regularly. But it is here where they are taught the skills and given the tools to think independently and be successful in the Upper School, where they will be confronted with challenges and big decisions on a daily basis. Students who have received this foundation in Middle School are ready to handle almost anything in Upper School. By grade 9, these boys have discovered a love of learning and possess a high degree of confidence in who they are. They transition to Upper School visibly more focused and prepared to make the most out of their high school years.