St. Mildred’s-Lightbourn School

The Educational Journey of Her Lifetime

For well over a century, St. Mildred’s-Lightbourn School (SMLS) has provided the educational journey of a lifetime for girls, and is recognized as one of the premier independent schools in the country, offering education from preschool to university entry (Grade 12). SMLS was founded in 1891 in Toronto as St. Mildred’s College, and in 1968 the school amalgamated with Miss Lightbourn’s School in Oakville, where it resides to this day.

SMLS provides 21st century education to meet the needs of our dynamic and ever-changing modern world. The school’s highly experienced teachers instill in their students curiosity and a love of lifelong learning; its curriculum addresses real world issues important to humanity. SMLS students are encouraged to think outside the box and work collaboratively using technology and multimedia to study local, national and global issues, and the school’s lessons are structured with meaningful cross-disciplinary integration of core subjects, and where the instruction is differentiated to ensure success for all students.

The Canadian Business Journal recently spoke with Dorothy Byers, Head of School at SMLS, about the school’s approach to the education of girls and young women, and about the positive impact that an all-girls environment has on their developmental growth.

“We thoroughly investigate development in current research about learning, particularly learning for girls. This research informs our teaching practices which reflect enhanced opportunities for our girls. In other words, research into areas such as brain development affects our educational approaches. For example, research proves that by nature, girls are very collaborative, and our teaching reflects this research. Our curriculum focuses on developing students’ inherent skills, such as excellence in collaboration, and encourages girls to challenge themselves in new situations,” says Byers.

Byers referred to the work of JoAnn Deak, PhD., an internationally recognized child psychologist who focuses on brain research, specifically in terms of optimal learning environments for girls and boys. Deak illustrates the concept of brain development by referring to elastic bands that represent the dynamic growth of skills. Areas of strength have easily stretched bands; others requiring further development are more difficult to stretch. The educational environment coupled with teachers’ expertise enables understanding of the student that engenders customized age and grade appropriate learning. The result enhances learning opportunities.

Dr. Deak last visited SMLS in the fall of 2012, and commented that the best place for girls to be during their school years is in an all-girls school, where their learning is supported through programs developed specifically for girls and the way they learn. This concept is supported by many studies, most notably by UCLA (2009) and Harvard (1990s). It also informs SMLS’ strategic priorities, as the school continues to develop its programs according to the latest research on how girls develop socially, emotionally and intellectually.

Girls thrive in a single gender environment, where they learn that they can do anything they want to – and they do. Whether in the classroom, on the stage, in the gym or in the local or global community, SMLS students are encouraged to step outside their comfort zone.

The SMLS curriculum encourages students to take meaningful risks and be proud of their successes, thereby building a set of comprehensive transferable skills that enable students to take on the challenges of post-secondary programs and the world beyond the school doors with confidence, motivation and determination. Data from the Harvard Study on Single-Sex Schools indicates that girls who attend single gender schools develop a greater sense of self; they are self-directed and possess great self-reliance.

According to Byers, the most recent educational focus shift is towards providing students with real life skills they will need once they graduate. For example, new technologies affect our work and study environments at a fast pace, and the technologies that these girls will use in the workplace have not yet been invented or implemented; therefore having the skills to adjust is more important than the traditional knowledge.

“We are looking at formative learning, and because of our smaller class sizes, we are able to focus on the developmental learning for the girls. The most important work we do is equip our students with skills for this ever-changing world. Yes, we do educate our students in all the subjects, but skill development is prevalent in our program, as students need these skills and abilities to move on to the next challenge in their learning,” says Byers. “This is what 21st century education is all about.”

The ultimate goal of St. Mildred’s-Lightbourn School is to inspire, challenge and support girls, and to develop exceptional young women who have the resilience and character to excel and contribute to society throughout their lives. Ultimately, 100 per cent of SMLS graduates continue on to higher education at post-secondary institutions in North America and abroad, and a large number enter fields that are traditionally male-dominated, such as engineering, science and business, due in large part to the solid foundation they established at SMLS.