Social responsibility starts young at Vancouver’s York House School, with even the junior school girls taking part in community partnerships, such as Grade One students visiting a senior citizens’ residence. It’s part of this Canadian independent all-girls school’s Global Programme, which was designed to inspire and empower students to know themselves, to see the world through others’ eyes and to recognise the power of ideas for change.
The school is engaged in ongoing community-based experiences both in Canada and abroad, including a local sustainable farm and organisations working with women and children in Guatemala and Honduras. These focus on challenging students to connect classroom learning with real-world problems. “We are always guided by our school motto, ‘Not for Ourselves Alone’,” says Head of School, Chantal Gionet. “The aim is to equip our girls to be bold and ethical citizens of the world.”
A valued education
Started in 1932 by seven visionary women with just $14 in their pockets, York House has always been committed to providing a values-based education with the whole child in mind. It now has more than 650 pupils between three and 17 years of age, each with her own unique talents, passions and interests.
“Our founders believed that with the right education, girls could do anything,” says Gionet. “That’s why we focus not just on academic subjects but on the fine arts, community engagement, leadership and athletics. We want our girls to develop the ability to think, reason and create, to be team-players, and also to feel confident, be resilient and to embrace diversity.”
Consistently encouraged and inspired to make a difference, it’s not surprising that many of the school’s graduates go on to elite universities and excel in almost every walk of life. For instance, while still in her final year in 2016, Nicole Ticea was awarded the Intel Foundation Young Scientist Award for developing a disposable, electricity-free HIV diagnostic device. Award-winning filmmaker Dianne Whelan (class of 1983) was the first woman to make a documentary film on Everest, and Robin Mansell (class of 1969) became interim Deputy Director and Provost at the London School of Economics.
Love and pride for the school run deep, with some current pupils who are the third generation of their family to attend. There are now 20 alumni chapters around the world, with 4,000 members, many of whom return to York House to give talks. “Once a Yorkie, always a Yorkie,” says Gionet. “When you’re at the school, there’s a real sense of laughter, happiness and sisterhood.”
From its new, state-of-the-art Senior School building – complete with flexible classroom spaces and soaring glass panels and skylights – the school is now focusing on its strategic plans for the future, which include an internship and mentorship programme. Always innovative, York House is also the first school in Canada to offer a blended learning course with two other independent schools, including a boys’ school, and the first in Western Canada to introduce the Reggio Emilia approach to its kindergarten teaching. It was also at York House School that former teacher Wendy Maxwell launched the AIM (Accelerated Integrative Method), a world-recognised method for teaching languages.
“Being able to pass exams is no longer enough,” says Gionet. “Girls now need 21st-century skills and global competencies, resilience and an entrepreneurial spirit. We cannot predict what the future will bring, but we do know that we need to prepare our graduates to do well in a demanding and constantly changing world.”