Seeing is Believing: First SMCS Family Day Leaves an Impression
One of the unique domino effects of a multi-year global pandemic unfolded with little fanfare.
"It was the first time that I’ve actually, in my whole life, been in St. Mike’s," says Dr. John Shin, who, along with his wife and son, attended the first St. Michael’s College School (SMCS) Family Day.
Shin’s family, like many others, was not permitted to visit the school in-person — during their process of researching prospective schools.
Lockdowns, government mandates, and other restrictions brought on by COVID-19 scrapped school tours, shadow days, open houses, and other in-person opportunities for potential future students — for 20 consecutive months — from March 2020 to November 2021.
For Dr. Shin and his wife, the long wait finally ended — recently.
"It was fascinating. I was astounded," says Dr. Shin, reflecting on touring the school building and visiting his son’s classrooms during the May 13 event, organized by the SMCS Admissions Department. "Everything added up, everything was to expectation, nothing was lacking."
More than 80 families took part in the inaugural Family Day, which included a BBQ, student, and staff musical performances via Club Bluenote, and meeting other families, students, and staff.
Some families have not been able to see the school for more than a year while their sons have been students. Andrew Shin started Grade 9 at SMCS more than eight months ago.
"He has been thriving, and able to get along," says Dr. Shin of his son. "And I think that’s an important thing to do with all sorts of people and grades because they become your colleagues and they become your peers. High school is still a very formative time, and you need to have support and friends and people that teach you things that are not necessarily on the academic curriculum."
In the absence of in-person experiential opportunities, affected students, parents, and families had to turn to other resources — word-of-mouth, videos, 3D virtual tours, etc. — to help with their decision-making.
As part of their journey, the Shin family relied almost exclusively on speaking to other parents.
"People are always the best resource," says Dr. Shin, whose son came from another independent school. "Talking to people, learning from their experiences. Academic excellence, I think can be achieved anywhere, but I felt that there was a history and a grand tradition at St. Michael’s College School. I think Andrew is going to have a great time and a superb experience."
It had been about four years or so since Peter’s family had been inside SMCS.
The Family Day helped his mom crystallize some of her son’s daily experiences as a new Grade 7 student.
"One thing that I really enjoyed was actually the size of the classrooms," says Peter’s mom. "I was struck by how bright and large the windows are, open classrooms with a lot of natural sunlight. It was actually really refreshing. It felt like a great learning environment to be in for the boys."
The family had previously attended the student musical production of Fiddler on the Roof, in the Centre for the Arts, as well as some sporting events and Homecoming. Even having some familiarity with the school inside and out, physically walking the halls was a vastly different and meaningful experience.
"One thing my husband called out was the technology in the classrooms," adds Peter’s mom. "The classrooms were very well equipped, every classroom — whiteboards, large screens, the audio-visual, the projectors — these are all great tools to be able to facilitate a guest speaker coming in through the television or even ongoing remote learning, if needed."
For Peter’s family, researching schools in the pandemic era involved using all available resources.
"I think the big differentiator for me was a balance between academic rigour and extracurricular athletic activities," she says. "Having two boys, it was really important for me to know they would be able to easily get involved in the school community and I think St. Mike’s does a really fantastic job with a wonderful blend of academics and sport. And for boys, they absolutely need that."
Peter previously attended an independent elementary school, where his younger brother remains a student. And even though his dad is a SMCS alumnus, seeing the campus with fresh eyes further validated their choice of school.
"Safety was the key thing," continues Peter’s mom. "Physically safe, but also psychologically safe. Everybody should bring their full selves to school and feel welcome. We are so pleased because our son has done very well academically and athletically at school. He has been involved in volleyball, track and field, as well as ski racing and because of that, he feels very connected to the school community which is so important to his overall growth,” she says.
"The nice thing about joining sports is he’s meeting classmates outside of his existing cohort. This is very important to be able to build a good social network at school — for Peter to be part of the community — do things outside of just the academics, to contribute just as a citizen to your school community and to the success of the school."
A community that now extends to parents and family members, facilitated in part through a school visit.
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