Special places within a special place

SMS is an exciting and dynamic school, and this is reflected in the Creating Special Places initiative that Head of School, Cathy Thornicroft, started last year. Renovations and refurbishments to Alexis Hall, the school library and areas of the residences have been transformative. New projects are underway: a Culinary Arts Centre will open next September, half of the Residence rooms will undergo a complete makeover this year, and the other half will be renovated the following year.

Thornicoft and the school kickstarted the SMS Creating Special Places initiative in 2011. “We had success last year enhancing spaces where all the students benefit,” says Thornicroft. Locally produced furniture, modern colours and finishes, and thoughtful updates abound. Girls spend more time in these Special Places: “I have heard from all the girls that the library has become a more comfortable place for people to just pop in and start reading,” says SMS student, Habin Gu. In the dining hall, students linger for conversation after meals, appreciating their new surroundings.

The ambience and energy in Alexis Hall match the excellence of the kitchen staff and the food preparation area. SMS holds the top gold star rating by health inspectors. Countless meals are taken there, and not just by residence students. Families and community members have dinner before attending events like the early Childhood education speaker series, and welcoming brunches and Alumnae events are held in the Hall.

The forthcoming changes to residence rooms are already creating a buzz among students. Habin Gu has seen the prototype room: “It’s gorgeous; I love it. The whole room looks brighter.” Octopus Point Furniture Co, owned by Guy Shockey and the same company responsible for the tables and chairs in Alexis Hall, will be manufacturing the new beds, cabinets and other furniture for the residence rooms.

“These exciting initiatives demonstrate what is possible when a community shares a belief that what we have here is special, and a desire to continue to build the school’s capacity,” says Thornicroft. These Special Places were made possible through gifts from a growing number of passionate members of the SMS community.

A Culinary Arts Centre will be the next project. Thornicroft envisions it as a project-based teaching space where girls will learn math, chemistry and presentation skills as they relate to the culinary arts. There will be workstations and a demonstration area. “The possibilities are endless; we can host presentations on nutrition for high-performance athletes; families can learn about gluten-free cooking; and everyone can participate in community meals,” says Thornicroft.

There will also be a greenhouse and community garden where students can develop their interests in food production and sustainability. “Research has shown that when students prepare food and are aware, they make better nutritional choices,” says Thornicroft. The SMS Parent Auxiliary has provided funds for the greenhouse, and donations to the Annual Fund earmarked for environmental projects will also support these efforts.

Thornicroft’s enthusiasm for the Creating Special Places initiative is shared by a group of committed supporters. Richard Impett has a granddaughter in Grade 3 and hisdaughter also attended SMS. He has been driving his granddaughter to school since she was three years old. “I have seen the developing independence and individuality of the girls,” he says. Impett was intrigued by the idea of the Centre: “The Culinary Arts Centre as a teaching room caught my Attention – the girls will learn practical math, science, problem-solving and proper food handling. It’s fun stuff to do and it’s lifelong knowledge.”

Supporting the school is crucial, says Impett: “Wonderful women have come out of the school. Donations for a school like this go a long way; you can see where your money goes. everybody appreciates how much money everybody already puts in, but the value you get from supporting initiatives like this is tremendous.”

Thornicroft’s emphasis on continuity and connection is apparent in all of these projects. She understands that everyone has a role in bringing special places to life. From scrupulous attention to small yet important details to her encompassing understanding of the big picture, Thornicroft is a catalyst for great changes at SMS – a special place indeed.

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