The Selection for Excellence in a Canadian School District

Earlier this year I was back in Canada and had the chance to speak with two young students attending schools in Vancouver. They described to me their experiences with special programs set up by the Vancouver School Board District 39 to select and prepare excellent students.

One of the students attends McGee Secondary School. McGee operates a special curriculum that allows selected students to study for their high school diploma while they continue preparing for a performance related activity. Students who enter the program study core subjects for 2 or 3 hours a day. The rest of the day, and up to 25 hours a week, is taken up with performance-oriented activities, such as sport or dance. These activities must be recognized by the school and include activities such as rhythmic gymnastics or practice with certain types of sport teams. The student I spoke with attended a private ballet academy.

Because of the freedom given to students to receive high school credit for pursuing competitive activities, admission to the program is highly sought after by top performers and athletes. Many Olympic-level athletes are in attendance in the program and most of the students in the program come from outside the official catchment area of the school. I was told of one student whose family lives on the Sunshine Coast, but who lives with a homestay in Vancouver so she can attend.

Another program set up for high achieving students is the mini school system. The webpage of the Vancouver School Board contains information about the different mini schools that it runs. These can be found here and include some that are taught in French. As the webpage indicates, attendance at a mini school is quite selective. Less than 50% of the students who audition are accepted. Mini schools are offered by the individual school and each of them have distinguishing features of curriculum.

The student I spoke with was applying to Templeton Mini School. The webpage of the Templeton Mini School describes the selection process;

As a designated District Program, Templeton Mini School is open to all students residing in the City of Vancouver. Identification and selection of students will consider the following, cognitive skills, gender equality, intellectual ability, visual and performing arts talent, positive attitude and respect for all, communication, teacher nomination, creative or productive thinking, inter-personal skills, responsibility and motivation toward learning, and leadership and involvement in school and community.

A previous standing of B or better in English, Mathematics, Science and Social Studies is generally required to ensure a student’s academic success in this program. However, underachieving students who have demonstrated that they are capable of high performance in specific subject-related areas or fields of interest may also apply. The program is designed to challenge and support students who show the potential to make an original contribution to a field of study.

I spoke with the 12-year-old girl about her involvement with the selection process. Initially, she had to send in a complete resume. Then, along with 70 to 100 other children, given a paper and pencil test that examined cognitive functioning, math skills and asked students to write an essay analyzing a poem.

The second stage of the selection process involved a detailed interview. Interviewees discussed academic topics, as well as aspects of her personal life. She was asked about her intellectual habits such as reading, whether she followed the news, and to describe current interesting news and why it was interesting. She was also asked how she heard about the program and what she wanted from it, as well as self-perceptions of her leadership ability and how she handled stress.

I don’t know what happened to her application, but I’ll be going back to Canada this summer. I hope to be able to provide more information about special schools such as these and other programs used in Canada to select and train for excellence.

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