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Australia - First Impressions by Isabel, Grade 10

Immediately after stepping into Brisbane airport, the humidity nearly made me walk straight back to the plane. However, the need to stretch my legs and the excitement to start my exchange kept me by the luggage carousel (our suitcases took so long I probably could’ve flown back to Vancouver, grabbed a book I meant to bring for the plane ride, and flown back). But I wasn’t going to let the airport itself alter my first impressions, so I kept an open mind for the rest of the day. 

Luckily, the people I met on my first day were lovely. Since Pauline and I were brought to school immediately for uniform fittings, I got to meet some of my classmates and teachers while also visiting St. Margaret’s impressive campus. Like Crofton House, St. Margaret’s is an all-girls private school but with larger grade sizes and boarders. 

You will come to notice by walking onto campus that the uniforms are quite different here. Brimmed hats, long navy skirts, a matching top and brown dress shoes are the common (and required) fashion here. Even though the hats were odd to me at first, the constant sun here in Brisbane justifies their requirement. Although I miss my Crofton House crewnecks and sweatpant violations, the change is good and I’ve enjoyed having something to cover my bad hair days.

Because I started Grade 10 in September and they were just on their second week here, I got to experience the back-to-school rush again. That being said – the curriculum and courses, although similar, are different than back at Crofton House. But I’ve been enjoying my economics class here which I didn’t get the opportunity to take in Grade 10 at Crofton House, and it’s given me exposure to the topic. 

Looking forward, I’m excited to visit more beaches with my exchange family and avoid the rumoured sharks in these Australian waters. I’m also going to Sydney, as St. Margarets takes the exchange students there each year. I’ll see Sydney Opera House, Bondi Beach and hopefully Hugh Jackman. 

I’m very fortunate and thankful to be here right now, so a special thanks to my exchange coordinators, teachers and parents. You guys have set this up to be an amazing experience, and I’m honoured to say that it is! 


New Zealand - First Impressions by Abbey, Grade 10

In the two weeks I spent in Hamilton, New Zealand, I had an amazing and unique experience. When I arrived, we went to a beautiful beach called Ōhope. It was so hot compared to the Vancouver winter I had come from. We rented a house similar to an Airbnb they call “batches”. I got the opportunity to go surfing. It was such a fun experience and a cool feeling to ride the waves! 

On my first weekend, I got to go blackwater rafting and see glow worms in the Waitomo Caves. The second weekend, I visited Raglan, a coastal town with a black-sand beach where I got to sightsee, shop, and have a delicious lunch. 

New Zealand has a relaxed culture compared to the busyness of the city. The pace of life is slower (they even walk slower), which allows you to take your time and enjoy the country's natural beauty. Many people walk around with bare feet, even in grocery stores. 

During the morning of my first day at Waikato Diocesan School for Girls (Dio), they had Pōwhiri, which is a Maōri form of welcome. This made me notice how integrated the Maōiri culture is in their lives, as many songs are in Maōiri and it is even taken as a language option at school. They have much more of a connection to the Maōiri than we do to Canadian Indigenous culture. 

The school atmosphere in Waikato Diocesan School for Girls is quite different in teaching styles and students get much less work, but compared to other schools around New Zealand, Dio has much more homework. Here at Dio, students all bring their own devices because they don’t have school computers. 

Though we both have similar uniforms, the Dio uniform is more modest. Since Dio is an Anglican school, teachers are stricter on uniform rules than Crofton House. For example, they can only have very small stud earrings and no other jewelry unless it has cultural significance, like a cross; girls even got in trouble for their pearl studs being too big! 

The religious aspect of the school means we go to chapel twice a week to listen to service and sing hymns. While at Dio, Reese (another CHS exchange student) and I were part of an Ash Wednesday service. 

The Dio students have ‘morning tea’, which is a snack time for around 20 minutes at 10:30 am. The students all pack their snacks and lunches from home rather than a prepared SAGE dining service and must eat outside on the beautiful campus. I enjoyed going to the cafe to buy ice cream at lunch and ‘iced chocolates’ (which are like chocolate milkshakes).

The Canadian and New Zealand schools have a similar school day structure. Both schools start around 8:20 am and end at 3:20 pm. Dio has early dismissal on Wednesday rather than a late start. Both schools use a flex block with a form group for assembly, extended form, chapel, or special C (singing). This is very similar to our flex block between the first and second periods. Some of the classes offered are the same, as I am taking French here, but they also have many different classes, including dance, which I take during the school day.

In New Zealand, they also have 5 years of high school,   starting in years 9 to 13, rather than grades 8 to 12. I was   surprised to find out that students in my year were born in   2008 and 2009, so some girls are still 14.  

From questions about Canada to smiles in the hallway, I   have felt so welcomed and supported in my first couple of   days here and feel more comfortable across the world. For   the next 5 weeks in New Zealand, I am looking forward to   my trip to the beaches in Nelson on the South Island, trying new food and exploring other parts of this beautiful country,   including visiting Auckland, Mount Maunganui, and   Rotorua. I can’t wait to meet more people during my   adventures here and learn more about the Kiwi culture! 

Visiting authors are an important part of the Junior School's literacy program. During the Writer-in-Residence visits, students from Senior Kindergarten to Grade 7 have the opportunity to learn with authors through readings and workshops. This January, we were thrilled to welcome New York Times bestselling author Julie Berry, to the Junior School. 

Julie specializes in historical fiction for youth - one of the CHS library’s most popular genres - and this year it was Crofton House students who inspired Julie Berry’s arrival. Students were reading Julie’s books and “it was a great influence in having her. Her book for Grade 6 and 7 students, The Lovely War, is one of our most popular historical fiction, with elements of fantasy, romance and mythology woven in,” said Sophia Hunter, Junior School Teacher Librarian.

Capturing the Mind 

Fiction has the freedom to entertain, capturing the mind through stories and conveying facts and knowledge about the world around us. 

Julie’s framing of the story in her novel, Lovely War, narrated by Greek gods, instantly captured student interest. “I started reading Lovely War because I found the perspective of Greek gods to be interesting. I haven’t read many books about war but listening to her talk encouraged me to, I found the history behind the war very interesting information including how her own family was affected by it,” shares Cecily, Grade 7.

“I truly feel that my most important job is to entertain. I want my stories to be their own reward. I take that seriously. A lot of it has to do with empowering girls and encouraging girls to develop their skill with language because language is a power with a democratic quality,” says Julie.

Empathy and its Applications

In Julie’s interactive presentations, she harnessed students’ creative thinking by developing the ability to approach their writing process with empathy.

“When creating something new, I try to allow the brain to do whatever it wants, I try not to impose any judgement on the creative process. What can be sad, though not surprising, is when learners vocalise a self-destructiveness about their work,” says Julie Berry.

With an awareness of how learners may lack self-empathy towards their own creative vision, in the ‘Develop a Story’ workshop for Grade 4 students, Julie encouraged students to elevate their creative ideas by sharing something they liked about their own work as well as sharing what they liked about two other students’ work.

“I was very strict in that there was to be nothing negative at all. Obviously, to produce works of professional quality, we need to have some pretty good critical judgement. But that is not how you develop a creator. You develop a creator by encouraging and praising what is and by encouraging them to love their work. It's that love and that positivity that creates the confidence to make something,” says Julie. 

Expanding Reading and Writing

When asked what they appreciated most about the Writer-in-Residence program, students were excited to share their thoughts.

“There are a lot of books in the library and you don’t get to appreciate all of them. Beyond a fun, hands-on way of learning, Writer-in-Residence brings to light a lot of books we have in the library, introduces you to new genres and makes you interested in reading more books!”, shares Amy, Grade 7.

Grade 7 students also shared how the Perspective workshop improved their ability to empathise and how they could relate this to other areas of their learning. “In Humanities we are learning about hunter-gatherers. We’re working on a project where we write a day-in-the-life of the people at that time. After Julie Berry’s presentation on perspective, it's easier to write their point of view, how they must have felt, and understand who they were,” concludes Amy, Grade 7.

In her final reflections, Julie shares, “The most important thing, to whatever degree possible for families, is to engage with stories together. Make shared reading a way of life, have books everywhere… never be anywhere without a book. The more that children see their parents read, the more that reading is normalized.” And on ideas and writing, “Ideas are of incalculable value. I strongly believe there aren't any good or bad ideas, there's only successful or unsuccessful execution. So I just want students to believe their ideas matter, write them down, and do something with them, and have the audacity to believe that your idea deserves to be a book in the world.”

Above: A nursing scene from 1918 - Sketch from Croftonian 1919.

Above: Photograph of Katie Snyder


CHS students and alumnae supported the war efforts of World War I and II during these periods of significant change for communities, countries and the world. From gestures big to small, their courage is reflected in the range of positions and contributions they made at home and across the globe. We explored the archives to learn more about the CHS community's involvement.

Many alumnae became V.A.Ds (Voluntary Aid Detachments) who helped nursing in hospitals, such as tending to injured soldiers and driving ambulances in areas of conflict. They found themselves dispatched to locations including England, France, Italy and Russia, and carrying out necessary support needed at home on Canadian soil. 

Alumna Katie Snyder, part of the Canadian Army Service Corps, was one such ambulance driver who saw active service in France during the First World War, operating just a few miles behind the front line. Under heavy shell fire and air raids, she helped rescue
soldiers and evacuate them to areas where they could seek safety and medical attention.  

On the Canadian homefront, the departure of individuals, particularly men, led to substantial labour shortages in various industries. In response, many CHS alumnae filled these gaps in areas such as offices, banks, hospitals, educational institutions, and farms. 

By the Second World War, the number of women present and the range of positions for the war effort increased dramatically. CHS Alumnae served in areas such as the Canadian Women’s Army Corps (CWAC), the Royal Canadian Army Medical Corps (RCAMC), the Women’s Royal Canadian Naval Service (WRCNS), the Royal Air Force (RAF), and many more divisions. 

Above: CHS alumnae harvesting fruit during World War 1

Those who couldn’t actively serve (such as those who were current students at the time) volunteered to raise funds through CHS Chapters of organizations such as the IODE (Imperial Order Daughters of the Empire in Canada) and the Canadian Red Cross. Supporting the war effort was a Whole School affair, with even the Junior School students participating in the formation of the ‘Ivy Leaves’. The School's fundraising efforts initially focused on raising funds for the Red Cross. This initiative later led to the establishment of the School's Bazaar, which has evolved over time to support new initiatives such as KidSafe.

The stories unearthed from the archives remind us of the sacrifices made by communities across the country and how these conflicts impacted life all across the globe. It's heartening to see that, over time, the invaluable stories and experiences of
women during wartime are gaining well-deserved recognition.

To learn more, read this CBC article on Canadian female veterans of World War II.

Below: Portrait photographs of alumnae who served in World War 2, 1944

This year, CHS proudly hosted the 2023 International Independent Schools' Public Speaking Competition (IISPSC). The four-day event welcomed over 150 students from around the world onto campus to compete in a multitude of performance categories. 

The IISPSC, Grade 10-12 students, usually members of the Debate Club, put their names forward for a rigorous selection process. This year, Vanessa, Grade 10, Lucy, Grade 11, and Michelle, Grade 12, were the three students to represent Crofton House at IISPSC. 

The anticipation builds from early in the year as students learn of their selection, spending the summer meticulously preparing under the guidance of our committed debate coaches. 

But what does it take to get to this moment and what are the benefits students experience along the way?

A Love for Expressing Yourself

“The exciting thing is seeing students find their voice and this creative aspect of themselves they may not have known they had. Watching a student develop this high level of competence is a really powerful thing which translates into all aspects of life and opens up all kinds of worlds for students,” says Marc Foley, Senior School English Teacher and Debate Club Sponsor Teacher.

Vanessa, Grade 10, IISPSC Impromptu Speaking finalist, explained why she cherishes her opportunities to speak in front of others. “Having a voice is so important, especially in a society that may not place much value on the voices of the youth. I think it’s so important to be able to express oneself because, historically, the voices of females weren’t counted in political elections or valued heavily in society. It’s also just really fun!” She adds, “Being the daughter of first-generation immigrants, I appreciate the importance of being able to speak eloquently and thoroughly. The ability to express myself is something I value very heavily.” 

A Journey of Patience and Perseverance

The Debate Club is one of the largest Senior School clubs. Students are able to join in Grade 8.

Lucy, Grade 11, who finished 7th overall at IISPSC, qualified to attend the 2024 World Individual Debating and Public Speaking Championships (WIDPSC) in Canberra, Australia. Lucy began in Grade 8 and in Grade 9 she qualified for one category semi-final. By Grade 10, Lucy had broken into all categories and qualified for Nationals.  

Lucy shares an important message on growth through personal interest. “In the beginning, I wasn’t trying to win or anything, I just thought it was fun because I like talking. I think the progression just shows if you like what you’re doing, yes, you will get better. This year went particularly well, I broke into all my categories, placed 7th overall at IISPSC and qualified for Worlds!”

Developing Essential Skills: From Critical Thinking to Confidence

Public speaking and debate transcend the competition floor, equipping students with a repertoire of essential life skills: from critical thinking and analytical writing to empathy and teamwork.

Michelle, Grade 12, who placed 12th overall at IISPSC, shares some of the many benefits she has seen through public speaking. “Preparing for a speech means researching a lot of topics to find a topic that is compelling and unique. At IISPSC I spoke about loopholes in medical device regulation. In that, you learn a lot of research-based skills while greatly expanding your general knowledge from reading books, listening to podcasts and watching videos of high-level debates. For speech delivery, I learned how to build momentum and the need to balance softer moments to draw emphasis in your speech and not wear out your audience’s attention.”

From left to right, Vanessa, Grade 10, Lucy, Grade 11, and Michelle, Grade 12.


Beyond Competition: Building Friendships, Embracing Fun

“Being able to meet new people and being exposed to different perspectives beyond the CHS community is one of my favourite things about these experiences. The amount of diversity in the competition is just unparalleled,” says Vanessa, Grade 10.

“My favourite moment at IISPSC was meeting people. I really enjoyed the chance to meet people outside of the competition room. There were opportunities to socialize; we went to see an improv show as a group at Granville Island!” says Michelle, Grade 12.

“It was really fun to meet other students from around the world. It’s nice to know each one of us is working really hard towards the same goal and that we’re all here together,” shares Lucy, Grade 11.

“The debate and public speech community is really amazing for students. Yes, it's an opportunity to compete and build skills, but it's also an opportunity to make a lot of friends with other schools and people from all over the world. It's a really unique bonding experience from the camaraderie of being in competition together and forming lifelong friendships at these events,” concludes Mr Foley.

Middle School years are recognized as one of the most significant transitional periods in a girl’s life and a complex stage for students to navigate. This week, we were fortunate to host Phyllis Fagell, the author of best selling books, Middle School Matters, and Middle School Superpowers, who facilitated an evening session with parents, as well as spending time with students in Grades 5 to 8. Phyllis is a school counsellor, therapist, educational consultant, author and journalist and helped answer questions for parents and students about how best to approach this age and stage.  

Fluctuating Social Dynamics and Emotions

Young people in this age-range, regardless of gender, experience emotional sensitivity based on a range of factors like hormonal changes and puberty, a prefrontal cortex still in development, and changing and developing social dynamics, such as friendships, which are extremely important to them at this time. For these reasons, Phyllis gave insights into social situations, building social skills and breaking down social myths.

As a self-reflective exercise, Phyllis asked students questions about social scenarios to highlight key areas that can have emotional impacts. For teachers and parents, she shared approaches to addressing some common concerns that middle schoolers face, which can affect their attention and performance in school. 

Breaking Down Middle School Scenarios and Social Myths

The following are some of the social myths that were dismantled for students, teachers and parents: 

Social Myth 1: “When someone excludes you or bails on plans, they know it’s mean.”

  • Key Takeaway: Work on relationships: know the difference between an acquaintance and a friend.
     
  • Phyllis explains: “There's no way to take away how hurtful it can feel to be excluded. But often, when kids feel like they weren't invited to something that they wanted to be invited to, it's a sign that maybe the relationship is different in their eyes than it is in their friend's eyes, and knowing the difference between a stranger, an acquaintance or a school friend and a real friend. When you have those hard feelings that you weren't invited to something, it's because that person is a school friend, or an acquaintance and it's a sign to you that this is a relationship you want to invest more in, that you would like to be included in the things that they're doing. It's not necessarily that they don't like you, it's that you have to put in more work into that relationship.”
     

 Social Myth 2: “I can help my friends with “big deal” problems (and vice versa).”

  • Key Takeaway: Recognize the hard stuff: know when you are overwhelmed and when to ask an adult for help.
     
  • Phyllis explains: “Kids can have very little awareness of what's happening in their life internally, they don't yet have a broad ‘feelings’ vocabulary and it's also not yet become natural for them to ask for help. And so, many of them end up supporting one another which is not great for either child. Neither one of them is in a position where they can help. As I told students, sometimes, not only are you not equipped to help your friend, you might be preventing them from getting the help that they need. It might be something that an adult with specialized training needs to be involved in. Especially if it's a big problem like an eating disorder or when they're saying alarming things that are related to their mental health. We want to make sure children know when to ask for help and give them that language to say to their friend, ‘that sounds like a really big or hard issue you're dealing with, are you talking to an adult about it? Do you want me to help you find an adult?’.”
     

Social Myth 3: “Either it’s protective to have a best friend, or, it’s better to have lots of friends than one or two friends.”

  • Key Takeaway: Encourage mental flexibility: discern the difference between meanness, bullying and emotional discomfort.
     
  • Phyllis explains: “Children this age pretty much live in discomfort and 98% of everything they struggle with is likely emotional discomfort. Your child might come home and convince you they encountered bullying or meanness because they'll present in that way but it really boils down to it's uncomfortable. Emotional discomfort can be wanting to hang out with a friend alone and not wanting this other friend there. It can be walking up to a group of people, and they stop talking and there's that awkward moment and they don't know what to say. It’s walking into a cafeteria and trying to figure out where to sit and not being sure where to go. If they don't get the reaction or outcome they want, it's very easy for them to think or really believe ‘they didn’t want me there’, ‘they didn't want to talk to me’. As uncomfortable as it is, we want them to understand that they can manage their discomfort. We want to move them away from that despair-cycle and coach them in having more cognitive flexibility and continue to take risks despite being self-conscious.”

Learn More From Her Book

Phyllis goes in depth about social myths and provides extensive ways to build skills and strengths to create resilient children in her book, Middle School Superpowers: Raising Resilient Tweens in Turbulent Times.

Description:
Discover how to bolster any middle schooler’s resilience by leveraging the 12 Middle School Superpowers they need to manage disappointment, self-regulate emotions, take healthy risks, and recover from any setback. Middle school can be one of the toughest times in a kid’s life—for them and for their parents and educators. It’s filled with transitions, upheaval, and brand new experiences that can be overwhelming and intimidating.

Whether they lose a friend, get cut from a team, make a mistake on social media, bomb a test, struggle with negative body image or identity-related issues, or feel weighed down by societal problems, these “superpowers” will help them find their place and thrive. Middle School Superpowers is the key to raising confident, self-aware, independent, and resilient kids who can recover from any setback—now and in the future.