August 11, 2014
Jennifer van Hardenberg, St. Margaret's School

For parents new to navigating the options offered by independent schools, there are a number of things to keep in mind in your search for the right school for your daughter.
Kathy Charleson, the director of admissions at St. Margaret’s School, has this advice:
“Victoria has a handful of very strong independent schools, so it comes down to a question of fit: where is your child going to be given the right kind of opportunities and support to achieve her personal best. Think about your family’s values as well as your daughter’s needs and interests. Ask lots of questions when you visit – both of the staff and the current students.”
St. Margaret’s School (SMS), has served Victoria since 1908, making it the oldest and only girls’ school in Western Canada offering both day and boarding programs.  Spanning Junior Kindergarten to Grade 12, SMS offers a rigorous university preparatory program with an emphasis on STEM learning (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) and girls’ leadership development.
Although physically tucked away in a quiet neighbourhood in Saanich, SMS students are often recognized by their iconic red blazers.
“When it comes to single-sex schools, we find people often have misconceptions,” says Ms. Charleson. Walking onto SMS’s modern and expansive campus, it certainly looks different from what most of us expect a school to look like – single-sex or not. So we asked Ms. Charleson to help separate fact and fiction to dispel some common myths she encounters in her work.

#5 Myth: Girls’ schools are all Catholic.
Fact: St. Margaret’s School (SMS) is actually a secular school. Our namesake, Queen Margaret of Scotland (1045-1093), was canonized for her charitable work and is the inspiration for our motto: Servite in Caritate ~ Service with Love.

#4 Myth: Independent schools only are for privileged kids and troubled teens.
Fact: Independent schools can have the greatest diversity because their student body isn’t limited to their immediate community. Our students come from diverse backgrounds and join us from all over the world. Parents choose SMS because of our rigorous academic programs, and our ability to customize instruction to support and challenge each child. Families believe in the difference SMS makes in their daughter’s life and development and often make sacrifices in order to send their children to our school. That said, the school also offers a number of scholarships and bursaries to help deserving students access the unique opportunities provided here.

#3 Myth: Girls’ schools don't have athletics.
Fact: Our teams not only exist but this year our volleyball team took gold at the ISA tournament and one of our grads was offered a full-tuition scholarship for rowing in Boston.  In addition to PE and traditional team sports, we offer many extracurricular athletics including triathlon, sailing, golf and tennis, and see high participation rates. In fact, as a small school we are able to boast enviable participation rates (as high as 95% at the elementary level) with many students joining not one but multiple teams.  Students have an abundance of opportunities to join a team either to experience a sense of camaraderie or to hone their skills.

#2 Myth: An all-girls environment isn't necessary for Middle School.
Fact: The early teen years are when girls are particularly prone to low self-esteem and begin to doubt their ability to compete with boys. It is also a time where hormones and emotional drama comes to the fore. In a girls’ school, this drama is minimized because boys aren’t part of the equation. At SMS girls are never afraid to speak their mind whether it’s raising their hand in class or taking the microphone to lead their peers. It’s like strength-training for girls’ self-confidence. Our new Middle Years program was designed to address the developmental needs of girls at this age.

#1 Myth: My daughter won't know how to relate to boys.
Fact: SMS girls have boyfriends, go to dances and have "normal" relationships with the opposite sex.  Grads often report how much they value the opportunity to focus on their own goals without the distractions or extra pressures caused by having boys in the classroom. Though boys aren’t around from 8:30am to 3:30pm, our students interact with male faculty, staff and coaches at the school, and boys are still around after school and on weekends. It’s a girls’ school not a convent.
In an all-girls environment, students are not worried about what boys will think about them, and shed traditional ideas that they should be demure or don’t have the aptitude for certain subjects or activities. When students look around our school they see other girls excelling in all areas; instead of limits they see possibility every where. It's a different perspective on the world that they carry with them through life.
Bottom line: this is a community that cares deeply about girls and their long term success.  Girls here are given every opportunity and challenge to excel – the foundation of our mission statement: Confident girls. Inspiring women.

SMS is still accepting applications for fall 2014. Click here to start your journey.