AN INDEPENDENT APPROACH TO LEARNING : York Region’s Independent Day and Boarding Schools

It takes a generation to change the world. Today’s young students will define what our future will look like. They’ll be the ones tackling tomorrow’s urgent challenges, driving real change around the world. Fortunately, they have decades to learn the leadership skills required to cultivate the next big ideas. They just need the educational foundation to help them get there.

This is exactly what Pickering College, an independent day and boarding school located in Newmarket, aims to build. The school is on a mission to instill in students both the ability and the responsibility to change the world. “What we’re trying to do is prepare students to be successful not just in university, but in life,” says Pickering College Headmaster, Peter Sturrup. “We want to give our students the skills to look at any issue, whether it’s local or international, and first have the creativity to come up with a new idea to address that issue, and then have the skills to execute what they want to do.”

This undertaking inspired Pickering’s global leadership program, which is fully integrated in the school’s core curriculum, benefiting students from kindergarten to grade 12. “Most independent schools have a focus on something they do really well; some may be stronger at sports, others are stronger at arts or sciences,” says Sturrup. “For Pickering, we’ve developed a reputation for our global leadership program.”

St. Andrews College (SAC)—an independent school in Aurora dedicated to the “development of the complete man, the well-rounded citizen”, differentiates itself by challenging students academically in an all-boys setting, while offering the most comprehensive athletic program in the country. “Many of our teams travel to tournaments across North America, and many athletes go on to play university sports,” the independent school’s website reads. The school caters to students from grades 5 to 12. “We are able to break down gender stereotypes and empower boys to pursue their interests without having to impress or show off,” the website reads. “For this reason, it is not unusual for a top athlete to also play the saxophone or have the lead in a school play.”

Both SAC and Pickering boast a rich history. While SAC was established in 1899, Pickering was founded in 1842 as a Quaker school and is celebrating its 175th year in operation. Quakerism follows the guiding tenant that there is God in every person. “We translate that in an educational sense to say there is goodness in every person, there is an inner light in every child and it’s our job to help that light shine,” Sturrup explains. “Quakers believe in service to the broader community, in standing up for, and taking action in—the areas they feel strongly about. This has been a wonderful philosophical framework for us in developing our global leadership program.”

Independent schools are known for their close-knit school cultures, with smaller classroom sizes (Pickering averages 16 to 18 students per class) and thriving student-teacher bonds. This is a value-add many parents look for when determining the best educational paths for their children. Surveys have shown parents place safety and security at the top of the list, in addition to a focus on values and education.

“We have a strong sense of community, where the teachers know all the kids in the school, not just the kids in their own grade,” Sturrup says. This allows for a more personalized approach to teaching, since teachers get to know students as early as kindergarten and are able to support them in their growth and progression all the way through to grade 12.

“As our students go through school, they’re pushing one another to succeed because they all have a common purpose,” says Sturrup. “There’s a mutual motivation to succeed because they see opportunities beyond [Pickering].”

This includes students of all genders. “I think co-education is the real world,” Sturrup says. “It opens up our eyes to the opportunity to learn from a variety of different perspectives, and helps to teach the skills needed for respectful interactions.”
The Country Day School (CDS) in King City also caters to both male and female students from kindergarten to grade 12. CDS offers an academic program focused on balance – pairing a solid foundation in math, science, language and social science with visual art, drama, music and a multitude of extra-curricular activities. “We challenge our students to become well-rounded, to reach their full potential and to make a positive contribution to society,” the school website reads.

Parents and students of York Region are fortunate to be faced with myriad choices when it comes to pursuing robust academic opportunities. While making this critical decision, Sturrup reminds parents to focus on their child’s individual needs and aspirations, and then research what schools will best meet those criteria. He says, “The most important thing for parents to figure out is what it is you’re looking for in terms of learning environment, and how that will suit your own child.”



Pickering College

St. Andrew’s College

The Country Day School

Leave a Reply