Program of Distinction

Student-driven learning is encouraged and honoured by new program

Many schools talk about educating the whole child, but St. Margaret’s takes up that challenge with a big advantage—its small size. With only 350 students in the whole school and only about 200 in the senior school, St. Margaret’s students work with staff to build new programs that speak to their needs.

The new Program of Distinction, or PoD, is one such student-led program. It provides a pathway that integrates students’ lives both inside and outside the classroom. When the proposed program was discussed by the Steering Committee, it was an immediate hit and several girls on the committee signed up right away.

As is often the case, one person’s experience stands in for many, and the catalyst for PoD came from a student, now graduated. This was a girl who rode horses at quite a high level and whose experience in that demanding sport was very separate from her school life at St. Margaret’s. 

Nancy Pekter, Instructional Leader of Specialty Programs, remembered that girl, and she started thinking about a program where a student could bring her competition, volunteer work, or other outside passion into her St. Margaret’s life. In Nancy’s mind such a program would create a reflective space for growth and encourage a deeper dive into her specialty area than the regular curriculum would normally allow. 

There would be work attached of course, and the girl would be marked on her project in a format not unlike the defence of a university thesis. She could earn credits, and the school would help her package it neatly and tidily for university admissions officers when the time came. The key to success in the PoD would be to demonstrate personal growth, expertise, and passion.

“We are a small school, so we really know our girls,” says Nancy. “This is a way we can celebrate all their activities both in and outside the school and then roll them into their St. Margaret’s experience. It gives them a space to reflect and think about what their choices have meant in their lives.”  

This inaugural year, eight students chose to participate in PoD, with two highlighting their athletic activities, four on general leadership, one on service to the community, and one on fine arts. Each girl has a staff mentor, and each girl’s project answers the five component questions needed for entry to the program:

  1. Is it aligned with the values of St Margaret’s? Does this project have components that show integrity, excellence, service, leadership, courage, or global-mindedness? Are girls at the centre of this project?
  2. Does it fit with the British Columbia educational curriculum? (Girls are not required to do this for credit, but students who follow that route can earn up to four high school credits for their work.)
  3. Does it demonstrate work throughout a range of pathways in a girl’s life?
  4. Is there an experiential part to this project that demonstrates the achievement being sought?
  5. Is there a planned showcase for this project? (Each girl will be asked to speak on her project to a distinguished panel. She will also be asked to provide a portfolio that can be shown and archived so that, in addition to university admissions officers, future St. Margaret’s students and teachers can benefit from her learning.)

Head of School Cathy Thornicroft is a mentor to one of the PoD girls and says of the program, “We stay true to the voices of our students. That’s why our strategic plan is written from the student’s point of view. Our girls are an equal part of our Steering Committee along with parents and staff. The Program of Distinction is a way for us to be true to that aspiration, to listen to the voices and experiences of our girls, and to celebrate that learning journey both inside and outside the classroom.”

Written by Heather Ferguson | Podcast with Sam Tallo

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