Educating the Masses

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In 1918, Sylvia Pankhurst stated openly that “You cannot educate the mass.” In many ways, I feel her pain. Boarding schools have a lingering stigma. Convincing the public that people cannot actually “send their children away” to Brentwood College School is a never-ending task for my Admissions team.

“Where do you work?” I am often asked. “I work at a boarding school” I reply proudly (albeit awaiting the inevitable judgment). The looks, smirks, comments and asides are tedious by now, but I’m used to it. I understand; I was one of them. I was a public school guy who thought that since desperate parents were unable to control their wicked children, they had no choice but to send them off packing to some private boarding school hell. Poor sods!

Then I discovered Brentwood.

Consider this: at Brentwood we only accept student who choose to be there. Think about it: every student, all 471 of them, chooses to come to our school. Any families attempting to send their non-complicit child is quickly convinced to look for other schools. It is not happening at Brentwood.

Hard to believe, perhaps, but true.

In many ways, because of this modern philosophy, students have helped design our school. Since Brentwood only accepts those who want to be a part of something special, it is inevitable that they become the keepers and builders of this amazing community of young people, the proud protectors of the Brentwood community. It is a self-fulfilling prophecy.

While educating the masses is still tough, nowhere is it harder to break down the historical prejudice about boarding schools than in many parts of our southern neighbor, the United States of America. There still exists a stigma deeply engrained that anyone with a child at a boarding school must be a horrible parent of an equally horrible child. On top of this, Brentwood’s brave and visionary American families (currently 7% of our student population is American) must continually convince their neighbors that their children did, in fact, choose to leave home for 8 months a year to enhance their education. Even harder is convincing their neighbors that Canada was their destination of choice!

Education is, in many ways, about breaking down stereotypes and unfettering clarity. It is also about destroying stigma. The more people learn about our special school on the Pacific Ocean here in Canada, the more obvious it becomes that students want to be a part of it – regardless of what their neighbors may say.

I invite you to come visit us and see for yourself.

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Curling Parents

‘Curling parent’ is a term I first heard from the Head of School at Phillips Academy, John G. Palfrey, at the SSATB Conference in Philadelphia this past fall. It certainly resonated with me as I’ve seen a few of these in my years in Admissions!

You know the type: the parents who are always trying to sweep all barriers out of the way of their children.  Hurry hard! They are the ones intent on making sure their kids get everything they need, leveraging every advantage.  The kind of parents who seek to eliminate every ounce of stress, friction and adversity for their offspring.  From the cradle to university, they lead the charge in creating an obstacle-free environment for their children.

But then what?

Think about it; if students never have to fail, how can they learn to succeed? How do they learn to grapple with difficult situations and find a solution without melting down?  If they have never had to overcome adversity, how can they function in the real world of university and beyond? Unfortunately, many of them can’t.

People have asked me about our policy of only accepting students if it is their choice to be here. This is one of many reasons why they choose us. Once our students decide to come to Brentwood, they are signing up for many things, and among these are independence, fortitude, challenge, maturity, autonomy, responsibility and … grit.

Brentwood is a university preparatory school.  Not only are we expected to prepare students academically for university but we also need to set them up for life by allowing them to make decisions and, at times, face considerable adversity.

At Brentwood we believe that developing ‘grit’ means that every student will have to learn to deal with some rough waters.  To be blunt, this happens in life so we all need to get used to it. On occasion, confidence may be shaken and egos bruised and students will have to learn to advocate on their own behalf.  They will not always have someone there ‘sweeping away the problems’ and because of this, we believe that ultimately our students will be a stronger and be more successful human beings.  Falling and ‘skinning our knees’ on occasion helps us learn about balance, making prudent decisions, and navigating the inevitable obstacles that life throws at us.

Boarding schools have always been good places to get a little ‘grit’ because they demand independence and a certain degree of separation from traditional support structures.  Don’t get me wrong, at our school we care deeply about our students and the relationships that are established here are nurturing, caring and empathetic – beyond belief at times.  However, most of our students are still away from home and must make day-to-day decisions on their own.  Keeping with the curling metaphor, in many ways, they become the ‘skipper’ – the determiner of their own course. Sometimes they slip up, but most times they negotiate things effectively, learn to adapt, and achieve unimaginable success.

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It’s Your Choice

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Whatever you do, don’t send your child to Brentwood!

Why? 

Because we won’t accept them if it isn’t their choice to be here. There are plenty of other good options for you. No student is ‘sent’ to Brentwood; this is the number one criteria I, as Director of Admissions, look for in the admissions process.

We currently have 471 students who have made the choice to venture from home to pursue their high school education at our school; this is fascinating when you think about it. Why would a young person choose to do this? 

Unless you visit our campus, it will be very hard for anyone to comprehend. One has to see it to believe it. There is something powerful and dignified about our student body. They are unified in their desire to be at our school and the synergy and compassion that emanates from them is simply magical.

Why us? 

Obviously the facilities and the location are big influencers at first. Where else in the world can you see seals, whales and eagles outside the windows of your classroom? But this is only part of it; when you only accept students if they have decided to come to your school, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.  The happiness factor at our school is incredible and our attrition rate is perhaps the lowest in North America because of it. Our students make our school what it is. Our students are Brentwood College School.

Many traditional boarding schools still work on the principle that if you send your kids there, the school will build character and knock some sense into them, get them on the right track, and set them up for life. This is a popular belief and it works for some families. But at our school, we look at the collateral damage of this philosophy. At Brentwood, we know that it only takes a few students who don’t want to be there to make life for those associated with them miserable. This is not what students sign up for so we stand firm and are insistent that everyone truly wants to be here. And it works!

I cannot emphasize enough that it has to be seen to be believed. Come and visit us and check it out for yourself; talk to anyone (we do not have tours led by students trained on what to say; our philosophy is that visitors can speak to any student at any time). We try to make it as real and authentic as possible so that the school you sign up for is the exact one that you will arrive at in September.

We look forward to seeing you on campus!

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The Emotional Intelligence of Boys

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Definition: noun: emotional intelligence

the capacity to be aware of, control, and express one’s emotions, and to handle interpersonal relationships judiciously and empathetically.

Jane Fonda recently offered a very powerful few minutes at the end of an interview, explaining, in a brutally honest way, that we have let down the boys in our society in terms of nurturing their emotional intelligence. As she explained, boys who are emotionally connected (heart and mind), are often bullied and harassed at school and considered to be ‘sissies’.  Other boys ostracize them often in order to prop up their own esteem issues. In short, in most cases in the world of North American adolescent boys, anyone in tune with his heart is considered weak.

How did we go wrong as a society?

Watching this interview awoke something in me because for a long time I have been trying to articulate how the “Brentwood Magic” (what I have called it for years) works.  Why is it that in our school that boys can, within months of arriving at the school, be on stage singing, acting or dancing; or in the studios feeling liberated to express themselves?  How can the macho ‘’alpha males’ in our school actually be deemed to be cooler when they are in the choir, musical theatre or the art studios? When you think about it, all 24 of our Olympians were seen on our stages and in our studios.  It is part of our culture.  It wasn’t like that when I was in high school!

I realized after watching this brief interview that what Brentwood does is create a safe haven for the development of emotional intelligence.  This is a powerful thing. Beyond this, and perhaps even more importantly, Brentwood removes walls, shields and barriers.  It destroys pre-conceived impressions.  We make it safe to let down guards and to ‘be human’.  Within days, our students realize it is ‘okay’ to explore their artistic sides and push boundaries.  Because of our unique Tripartite Programme, members of our rugby team feel empowered to be in the choir and in musical theatre.  They are in fact ‘cool’ because they have tried to ‘give it a go’.

How cool is that?

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The Brentwood Magic

aerial2012The Brentwood Magic is what we call it on campus.  It happens every year and it is a joy to watch.  Incomprehensible perhaps, but wonderful nonetheless.

What is it?

Over 180 new students join us each September. This is more than a third of our total school population. They come from all walks of life, different cultures and educational experiences. You would think this would create havoc in our community and change the dynamics on campus, yet within weeks they look like they have been here for years.

Abracadabra: the trust and the commitment, the openness and shared kindness, the focus and enhanced study habits, the support, the desire to improve and excel, the degree of effort and the pride. Like ‘magic’, all of this occurs within a few weeks of arrival. Needless to say, their parents can hardly believe it.

The Brentwood magic doesn’t happen by accident. It is embedded deep within our culture. Almost imperceptibly, new students become immersed in it. The Brentwood family engulfs new students and it is amazing how quickly they feel that they are an integral part of our community. The buy-in is remarkable. Of course, when you only accept students into your school if it is their choice to be here, the transition is often an easy one.

The key factor underlying all of this is that our students really care for one another.  It is easy to fall in love with the place when one experiences empathy and kindness; it’s like magic.

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Where the World Comes to School

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181 new students have joined our campus this fall.  They have come from the farthest reaches of our planet and from just across the street.  Brentwood really is where the world comes to school.  While I understand why North Americans want to be here (81% of our school is from Canada and the USA), it always amazes me that students want to travel from across the globe to attend Brentwood.  Our international students (19% of our school population this year) come from nearly 35 countries around the world; they all come for the same reason: to be a part of this amazingly caring, nurturing and unique school.

Even as this year quickly unfolds, our Admissions office is already planning for the 2014-2015 school year.  International travel this fall will include visits around the world (see below).  No matter where you are in the world, we are always excited to tell you about this amazing school.  For more information, please contact us at admissions@brentwood.bc.ca.

Proposed Fall travel schedule for fall 2013

Sept.  18-21, Philadelphia, USA

Oct. 2nd – Calgary, Alberta (Admissions and Parent and Alumni Reception)

Oct. 3rd – Edmonton, Alberta (Admissions and Parent and Alumni Reception)

Oct. 3-6 – London, England

Oct. 7-8 – Berlin, Germany

Oct. 9-10 – Hamburg, Germany

Oct. 11-13 – Cologne, Germany

Oct. 14 – Wiesbaden, Germany

Oct. 15-16 –  Heidelberg, Germany

Oct. 17-18 – Munich, Germany

Oct. 20-22 – Kuwait City, Kuwait

Oct. 22-24th – San Francisco and Napa Valley

Oct. 23-25 – Dhahran, Saudi Arabia

Oct. 26-27th – Dubai, UAE

Nov. 1st, Seattle, Washington (and Parent and Alumni Reception)

 

For a more information about these events, please email Lorraine Walsh (lorraine.walsh@brentwood.bc.ca)

I look forward to seeing you on the road!

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Seasons Change

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2012-2013 has been one of the most successful years in school history. Stellar academic results and impressive university placements, coupled with stunning athletic and artistic performances, have all been celebrated and recognized locally, nationally and internationally.  But perhaps most importantly, we have enjoyed a campus community that is the happiest and most tight-knit that I have ever seen during my 20 years of living here.

So how does all of this happen?

A lot of factors contribute to these kinds of successes. Obviously the quality of the programmes and the relationships between our staff and our students are fundamental in making this past year so memorable. As well, the world-class facilities and resources available are unrivaled; these contribute to ‘raising the bar’ in all areas of our community. I truly believe, however, that the essential source of our success is our students. The young people who choose Brentwood are, in a word, special.

Our policy of only accepting students who choose to be here means that no one is ‘sent’ to Brentwood. It is something young people aspire to. There is something palpable in the air at Brentwood; it is inspiring to simply walk around a campus and observe so many positive, engaged and happy kids. Synergy happens as a result of common motivations, intentions and commitments. Our community is amazingly supportive, diverse and caring. As the latest student survey reveals, the sense of ‘family’ is one of the most fundamentally important aspects of the Brentwood experience for them.

The 2013-2014 year promises to be another incredible one. Already over 150 new students are lined up to join our Brentwood Community in September. 76% of our students will be from Canada, but we will also be extremely diverse with students from over 35 countries around the world (next year we will be graced by students from nations as exotic as the Philippines, Mongolia, Russia, Malawi and Pakistan).

As the Director of Admissions, it is my honor and privilege to enroll these amazing students in Brentwood. I know how special this school is because of them.

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