Part 03

Four ways private schools foster a thriving campus culture

Cultivating a sense of community through a multi-pronged approach

By their nature, private schools—with their small class sizes and smaller overall population—cultivate close-knit campus communities. But a thriving “campus culture” is more than just making friends. It’s a vital component of ensuring students feel welcome, supported and connected with their school, teachers and each other.

Here are four ways private schools cultivate their campus culture.


Whether abroad or at home, a private school’s physical location sometimes helps produce meaningful bonds. “As a small boarding school in Italy, our school community is naturally very close,” says Marisa DiCarlo D’Alessandro, the founder of Canadian College Italy, based in Lanciano, Italy. “There’s a strong sense of family and belonging, even though our students come from all over the world.”

Glen Herbert, director of marketing and communications at Rosseau Lake College, concurs. “The fact that we’re physically set apart—we’re in a village in Muskoka—furthers that sense of community and focus,” he says, citing his school’s team-building location-driven activities, such as the annual five-day portage for all students.


Private schools offer various clubs, teams, events and extracurriculars to build school spirit. “Students have the opportunity to work together on collective projects that help them form relationships based on interest, despite their age,” says Kathryn Anderson, director of student life at Holy Name of Mary College School in Mississauga. “The mentorship and open environment this creates allows them to thrive.”

For the Grade 8 students at Unionville Montessori School in Markham, one project is leaving something behind for future generations. “[They] design and display a ‘legacy’ piece of artwork, which collectively represents a theme or something significant that influenced their school year,” says vice principal Melissa Meevis.


Private schools encourage open lines of communication—between students, teachers, parents, alumni and the community at large—to bolster a sense of connection, be it through newsletters, social media feeds, in-person meetings or events. “We have a strong Parent Association, which offers families the opportunity to be active in their child’s education and school life,” Meevis says. “[They] share their honest feedback with us through our annual parent survey.” As well, private-school students often participate in various outreach activities to learn the value of connecting with—and giving back to—their neighbourhood communities.


Awards presentations, celebrations of achievement and the honouring of long-held traditions are critical cogs in the campus-culture wheel at private schools. “We believe traditions bring about a sense of belonging, a source of identity,” says Lee Vendetti, the principal at Markham’s J. Addison School. “The successes of teachers and students are recognized and celebrated. Birthday parties for staff and students, student graduations, Christmas and cultural celebrations of [our students’] many nationalities.”

And no matter how a private school opts to help its campus culture flourish, the connection with their classmates, teachers and alma mater lasts a lifetime for graduates. “We never say goodbye,” says DiCarlo D’Alessandro, “We say ci vediamo dopo, which means ‘we’ll see each other later.’”