By Michelle Pressé
For senior high school students, applying to university usually means making appointments with overbooked guidance counsellors or asking older siblings for help. But at Sacred Heart School of Halifax (SHSH), students take a mandatory university preparation course one period per week that teaches the process of applying, what expectations they need to meet and what schools are right for them.
“School’s fun for our kids,” says Headmistress Anne Wachter. “It’s not a pressure-packed environment. They like their teachers and they work hard. It’s not a factory.”
While some students pursue their post-secondary education in the province, most go to universities in Ontario. Each year, Queen’s University and Carleton prove to be popular choices.
Wachter, a Nebraska native with rosy cheeks, says that 100 per cent of students go to university, and are also accepted into their first school of choice.
“We’ve had students in the past take gap years and pursue personal projects before going to university, but they do eventually go. And when they do go, they succeed.”
Breaking the stereotype
When you think of a school that has such a dramatic claim, you might picture ribbons from science fairs or students being careful not to make eye contact with teachers. However, artwork and crafts made by students are hung on the walls.
“This is a door-open kind of place,” says Wachter, pointing to a newspaper clipping of graduate Jillian D’Alessio, a Canadian sprint kayaker who won two gold and two silver medals between 2003 and 2007.
The key to success
“Our students are well-rounded. They’re not just here to learn about how to succeed academically. We want them to see education as a lifelong endeavour and strive in all aspects of life.
“When our students go on to university, they know they’re ready, because they spend so much time preparing for it.”
Approximately 470 students are enrolled at the school this year, where teachers work one on one with graduating students. Last year, the graduating class consisted of 36 students.
But while the promise of success that the school seems to offer is ideal, it comes at a high price. Depending on the grade, tuition fees vary from $11,500 to $14,500.
Sara Macdonald, a 2012 graduate of SHSH and second-year student at the University of King’s College, says class size definitely has an influence on how much help teachers can offer their students.
Room for improvement
While the history major felt that going to university was the right choice for her, she thinks the school should consider making other options more available to students.
“I think they do a great job with that [preparing for university], but your plans are very much publicized to the rest of the school,” says Macdonald. “Everyone just wants to know what school you’re going to, so I do feel that there’s quite a bit of pressure.
“I don’t think they give that much of, ‘These are your other options for what you could do.’ There’s no real, ‘Instead of going to school you can do a gap year…’ They don’t tell you those things.”
Wachter says the reason the school doesn’t advertise other options is because university has become the social norm.
“Most people need to get a university degree in order to a successful job. I wouldn’t say that we really advertise not going, but we don’t discourage students from making other decisions if that’s what they decide to do.”