Before and After: Why Families Choose SMUS

Paul Leslie

Everyone loves a good before-and-after story. Maybe it’s a baby photo beside a present-day picture; a home renovation; or perhaps it’s like the placard at the corner of Estevan and Cadboro Bay roads showing the street view from decades ago.

When I recently asked several new SMUS families how their first month was unfolding (for students and parents alike), I was surprised to hear moms and dads talk about what their kids were like before arriving and how they are now. In some cases, parents felt the before-and-after transformation was surprisingly quick!

This got me to wondering: are the reasons that families tell us why they are applying to SMUS in the first place borne out in the experiences they have once they arrive?

I know from more than a decade of reading applications and speaking to families during the admissions process that the reasons people choose SMUS are quite varied. Factors that go into the decision include: country of origin, current educational model, personal learning needs, past school experiences, familiarity with SMUS, and many more.

Take a family who had not previously been in contact with the Admissions office but had found SMUS online. In general, the further away (geographically speaking) this family is, the less they know about SMUS (even if they do their research, it is very unlikely that they can know the real story about the breadth and depth of the educational experience on offer.)

These families invariably answer the question, “Why would you like to join the SMUS community?” by stating some kind of higher-order need: “progressive Western education”, or “access to the best Canadian and American post-secondary institutions”, or even, “we loved Whistler.” Except for the last one, the reasons provided often highlight differences in educational practice that the family is looking for, such as personalization, approaches to learning differences, or a focus on the whole student. For this group of parents, they expect their son or daughter to experience an immediate before and after because they are immersed in a completely different system.

On the other hand, as a Victoria institution for more than 100 years, many families already know SMUS. Maybe they live in Victoria, or they live overseas and have family or friends in Victoria, or they are one of our valued alumni. Regardless, these parents will often cite reasons for wanting to join the SMUS community that reflect another layer of understanding of what we offer, including our broad range of academic opportunities, intentionality of co-curricular programming, K-12 leadership and character skills development, access to the AP Diploma program and exceptional faculty, to name a few.

Because they already have a deeper understanding of the value-added parts of SMUS, you would think this group would be less surprised by the transformation (their words, not mine) that occurs even after only a week or two in attendance. The idea that a local school could have such an immediate impact on their son or daughter is met with shock and surprise.

How could a SMUS education really be that different? They already know what progressive Canadian education looks like and they’ve already experienced the impact of great teachers. However, they report that they were not prepared for the collective impact of several SMUS realities including: a coordinated, warm and welcoming orientation, the impact of being surrounded by like-minded new friends, a focus on one’s personal journey, faculty and staff who seem sincerely interested in their child’s success, a dizzying array of clubs, arts and athletics opportunities, and so on.

Anything different is always more exciting, and routine has a way of taking the polish off shiny new experiences, but if my conversations are any indication it was a very good opening at SMUS this year for most of our new families. We hope that the promise of what we offer to students before a family arrives in fact exceeds the experience after they arrive. It would be naive to think that we could get this right 100% of the time, but we certainly have that goal in sight.

Recently, I encountered one of those customer service stands that have a choice of four smiley faces that you can press to indicate your level of satisfaction. Perhaps the before and after we want is for families to come to SMUS with just a grin, and to quickly turn that into a full-on toothy smile.


Do you know a family that would benefit from a SMUS education? Invite them to Fall Spark Open House on October 19. They will have the opportunity to meet students, talk to staff, take a tour with a student ambassador and – at the Middle and Senior Schools – spend time hands-on learning with our exceptional teachers.

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Paul Leslie is Director of Admissions and Engagement at St. Michaels University School.

1 COMMENT

  1. I would also add that perhaps SMUS has the most engaged PA of all schools. It is not surprising that when I talked to parents of recent SMUS graduates that they mention that what they miss the most is our “community”.

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