EDUCATING THE WHOLE GIRL

Today’s girls are growing up in a bright world filled with boundless opportunities. Thanks to dedicated parents, educators and shining female role models around the globe, young women can look forward to writing their own story and a limitless future. 

However, this does not guarantee that the path to adulthood will always be smooth. Unfortunately, our current generation of girls is increasingly vulnerable to societal pressures that tend to intrude at a time where they should be preparing to soar. Poor self-esteem, relationship stressors, body image challenges, the influence of social media and mental health struggles are all potential barriers for a girl travelling the road to success. 

Although Elmwood strives to ensure that students reach the highest level of academic achievement possible, we also know that it takes more than lessons, classes, books, and exams to grow a balanced successful woman. 

As part of a specialized priority in Elmwood’s Strategic Plan, The Whole Girl, we have vowed to, “Ensure that wellness, physical activity, and mental health are valued and practiced at Elmwood,” and, “deliver an engaging co-curricular program that complements and enhances the academic program and reflects the needs and interests of today’s girls.” In the words of Cheryl Boughton, Headmistress of Elmwood School, “Inspiring each girl to reach her full potential isn’t just about academics. In order to develop confident, engaged and healthy girls, there has to be balance. Educating the ‘Whole Girl’ opens up the whole world.” 

At Elmwood we feel honoured to be entrusted with the care of tomorrow’s leaders. One of our goals is to assist them in loving, valuing and caring for themselves as a whole. By bolstering each girl’s academic journey with the following four components we can help pave a route lined with the tools, practices and knowledge needed for a healthy and balanced life. 

Physical Health 

“Evidence shows that students and girls who are involved in physical activity achieve better grades and can go on to achieve greater success in life. 80% of women in key leadership positions in Fortune 500 companies all took part in sport during their childhood.” Ivan Sambles, Senior School Athletic Director. 

Exercise provides young women with an impressive variety of physical and mental benefits. Potential advantages include; protection from disease, increased energy, bolstered self-esteem, improved sleep quality, a positive body image, lowered anxiety, maintenance of healthy body weight and improved focus in the classroom. 

Recent studies also show that women who have participated in sports may have an advantage in the workplace. Playing sports helps participants learn about teamwork, goal-setting, the pursuit of excellence in performance and other achievement-oriented behaviors—critical skills necessary for success in the workplace. 

Elmwood knows the importance of being physically active and has created an athletics department with room for everyone to participate in a way that they feel comfortable. We want to foster a love of fitness that stays with each girl throughout her life. 

Teams of competitive and house league sports make it easy for girls to learn, improve and gain confidence at their own pace. A variety of complimentary clubs provide another opportunity for students to stay active, improve coordination and have fun. Our educators also recognize the value of fresh air and free play, striving to get students outside as often as possible. 

Thanks to generous support from our Elmwood community, funds have been raised to build a track that encircles the grounds of the school. A new outdoor training circuit will help girls of every age to improve their strength and endurance. 

Nutritional Health 

“ Preparing and cooking healthy, delicious food for people is such a gratifying way of taking care of them.” Candice Butler, Elmwood Bistro Chef 

It is impossible to grow a Whole Girl without healthy, nutritious food. In order for our students to reach their potential academically and physically, we know that they require a wide variety of nutrients derived from as many food groups as possible. By taking steps to remove vending machines and replace celebratory treats with non-food items, we hope to model a healthy lifestyle while instilling a love of wholesome, delicious food. 

The Elmwood Bistro, our dining hall, is a nut-free environment where students and staff gather to enjoy meals. Each day Chef Candice Butler prepares delicious offerings designed to maximize the nutritional potential of every bite. The kitchen prepares almost everything from scratch, with a wide variety of hot, cold and vegetarian options. Each day a fridge is stocked with grab-and-go items for those needing extra sustenance. All efforts are made to purchase food from local farmers and a bounty of fresh vegetables are harvested and frozen from Elmwood’s own garden. When asked how she decides what to prepare for the week, Candice replies: “I just think about what I would want my family to eat. We are like a family here. I love seeing a student try something new and take it as a huge compliment when the fridge is empty.” 

Dining together as a group also provides an opportunity for Elmwood’s girls to practice mindful eating and learn the value of taking time in the day to gather, refresh and nurture oneself. 

Wellbeing 

“ I try to look at the whole girl. Where she is coming from? What is going on in her life? I see each girl as a valuable individual and treat them how I would want my child to be treated.” Francie Marchand, Dean of Student Life 

Elmwood values the individuality of every student and wants to give each girl the opportunity to be heard and supported in all aspects of campus life and personal growth. Francie Marchand, Dean of Student Life, has been at Elmwood for almost twenty years. As a nurse, she is trained to care for the physical needs of students but makes their mental health and wellbeing a top priority. With a cozy couch and open door, Francie focuses on forming mutually respectful relationships with girls and listening to what they can teach all of us. Years spent as a social-psycho counselor have made Francie an expert on the challenges faced by young women and each day she strives to assist girls, communicate with parents and empower students to be their best self. This also involves teaching resilience. “It is so important for girls to become comfortable with making mistakes and to learn how to deal with big emotions in a safe, nurturing environment.” 

A Well-rounded Experience 

“Academic excellence, physical well being, a supportive, nurturing environment—all of these are vital aspects in a girl’s successful educational journey—but it is a rich, personalized co-curricular experience that provides the final piece of the puzzle. This is the ‘alchemy’ that allows each girl to fulfil her potential.” Kate Angell, Director of Co-curricular Learning 

At Elmwood, we believe that a rich, stimulating and challenging co-curricular program is an essential component of an outstanding, balanced education. As an example, Kate Angell cites a moment several years ago at Camp Elmwood, the annual camp for students in Grade 6 through 12 with which the school begins the academic year. “I was standing in line behind a Grade 6 student, waiting to attempt the formidable rock climbing wall, when I realized that the student was whispering ‘I’m so scared, I’m so scared’ over and over again. When it came to her turn, the girl struggled desperately to climb that wall. As she struggled, her fellow students called out words of encouragement, louder and louder. When she finally reached the top, the cheers could be heard throughout the forest and her smile of triumph was unforgettable. This is what a powerful co-curricular program can do when students are given the chance to challenge themselves. At its best, it is transformative.” 

On any given day, Elmwood is alive with co-curricular activities. In one Junior School classroom, a group of six- and seven-year-olds are mastering chess strategies, while on the second floor a group of fourth-grade girls are making props for the upcoming musical. Nearby, the Fibonacci Math Club is mastering strategies in preparation for a national mathematics competition. The third floor is filled with competing sounds—ukulele chords from the library, where the Calypso Club is practicing, and joyful shouts from the multipurpose room, where students are enthusiastically learning the basics of jiu-jitsu. Throughout the year, over 50 clubs and co-curricular activities are on offer in the Junior School alone. Some of these clubs are offered by outside experts, but most are run by Elmwood teachers who are passionate about engaging the students in a diverse range of opportunities. It is a similar story in Elmwood’s Middle and Senior Schools, where students can choose from a dazzling array of choices: Jazz Orchestra, Debate Club, Trinity Drama, Snowboarding, Astronomy, International Cultures Club, Duke of Edinburgh Award Program, Boys and Girls Club—again, most clubs and activities are run by Elmwood’s dedicated faculty, and the list of options is extraordinary. 

Co-curricular activities can be loosely grouped under four “pillars:” Athletics and well being, arts and creativity, community and service, and individual passions and growth. These four pillars provide the foundation for our “Whole Girl, Whole World” school vision. In our Junior and Middle Schools, our goal is to encourage girls to step outside their comfort zones and try activities that they may not have experienced before. By Senior School, our emphasis is on depth rather than breadth; by this stage, many girls are discovering their passion for one particular area, and Elmwood students are encouraged to immerse themselves deeply in a smaller number of activities. Part of the girls’ growth process involves learning how to make choices and to find a balance with academic commitments and activities outside of school. 

By the time Elmwood students graduate, they have accumulated a diverse, individualized portfolio of experiences and accomplishments that they take forward to university and the world beyond. Even more important, each girl has developed a personal understanding of what “whole girl, whole world” means to her—and of what she, in turn, can bring to the world.