How boarding school offers essential life skills

Beyond academics, choosing a boarding school for your child can help them develop independence, responsibility, self-care and much more.
The Bishop Strachan School
MAC_Feature BSS

In her first few weeks at university, Ashley He noticed something interesting: many of her peers were struggling with living away from home for the first time in ways she just…wasn’t. Many of them weren’t used to being responsible for the administration of their lives, from getting their laundry done to managing their time effectively—and it was sometimes challenging to learn how to do that while also juggling a heavier and more demanding workload, trying to make new friends and dealing with the occasional bout of homesickness. But He had been comfortable with these kinds of tasks for years, thanks in large part to her time spent attending The Bishop Strachan School as a boarder.

“Boarding has made the transition to university incredibly smooth,” she says. “Others will be freaking out about the same laundry/self-regulation problems you figured out in grade 9!”

It’s true. According to Stephanie Jean-Paul, dean of boarding at the school, boarding “fosters independence in its students through providing a curriculum that is rooted in trust. One example of this is empowering student leaders to demonstrate responsibility by taking younger boarders around the city of Toronto. From planning transit routes, calculating trip costs and asking for ‘check-in’ phone calls, boarding students are trusted to be accountable for the safety of their fellow peers.”

BSS student, Ana

Teaching independence with boundaries

And students don’t just learn how to be responsible for one another; thanks to the school’s robust support system, BSS boarding students are given a chance—and the freedom—to learn how to be responsible for themselves. For example, BSS hosts regular workshops on time management, organization, examination preparation and university preparation. Boarding staff also help students develop healthy routines and academic study plans. And students in grades eight to 10 are required to attend supervised Evening Study sessions from Sunday to Thursday, which are intended to help them develop independent study skills. That’s why, in their final two years of schooling, grade 11 and 12 students are trusted to set up their own study schedules and spaces.

He also speaks highly of the school’s approach to orientation: “After the first week of boarding, I was incredibly comfortable being away from home,” she says. “BSS, in particular, really makes an effort to orient new boarders in the first week to settling into their new home away from home!”

It didn’t take long for Kris Martin, a BSS parent, to see how the experience of boarding—and especially the chance to share space with people who came from different backgrounds and even sometimes countries—benefited her daughter.

“Established boarding schools are often steeped in tradition and certain rights of passage, but good boarding schools evolve and continuously improve those traditions and rites of passage in a timely and thoughtful way,” Martin says. “BSS does this with a focus on immersing the student in community, a sense of belonging and a family outside of the traditional definition. This all resulted in a progressive awareness, growth, maturity, curiosity and confidence in self and capability to navigate the world and all it may offer.”

Pictured here are BSS students in the boarding lounge. From back to front: Anabelle, Nandani, Vivian, Nevaeh, Crystal, Sophia and Ana

The importance of wellness

Of course, students sometimes struggle, which is why BSS also offers ample wellness-focused resources. “We have a large community of care; support extends beyond the boarding staff,” Jean-Paul says.

Students have access to Wellness Centre nurses, plus the school psychologist, chaplain and guidance counsellors. In 2021, it began to offer access to a Student Assistance Program, a completely confidential online resource for wellness services offered through Homewood Health. And since administrators believe individual relations are key, they will often try to match boarding students with other local supports, such as a day student, local family, external tutors or health practitioners.

“BSS provides a safe environment for my daughter to take risks with her thinking,” Martin says. “It encourages out-of-the-box leadership, innovation and a receptiveness to leveraging different tactics and coping strategies that enable growth and development on a personal, social and academic level. It provides an opportunity for a young person to spread their wings and learn about themselves outside of the home.”

To get more information on The Bishop Strachan School programs and offerings, click here.