A group of Grade 8 boarding students pose together in their red Barnacle House shirts during House Games.

Something extraordinary happens when a group of Grade 8 students from all over the world come together for an intentionally designed bonding experience as boarding students at SMUS.

Thanks to the Grade 8 boarding program, the students develop crucial academic and life skills that many others their age don’t get to develop so young, and this puts them on an accelerated path of independence.

“A lot of growth happens during that year in boarding,” says Nour Bahgat, one of two houseparents (along with Amber Proudfoot) who works exclusively with the Grade 8 boarding students. “It’s wonderful to see how much they learn, grow and mature in all areas of their lives before they start high school.”

This program is specially tailored to 12- and 13-year-old students who are prepared for the challenge of living and studying away from home, and are ready to mature in a unique environment surrounded by high school-aged boarders and supportive adults.

Of the 250-plus boarding students at SMUS, only about 10 Grade 8 students who are prepared for this opportunity join us every year.

“It’s intentionally kept small and they are cohorted to give them a chance to have that experience together,” says Keith Driscoll, Director of Boarding and Student Life. “It takes a very special kind of student who is mature and responsible to be ready to be stretched by the opportunities in front of them, as opposed to being fully supported and pushed from behind.”

Grade 8 Boarding at SMUS

The Grade 8 program is an enhanced boarding experience for students in that grade.

The foundations of the Grade 8 experience are the same that boarders in all grades experience, however there is a greater level of academic and social-emotional support provided due to the age and stage they’re at. It strikes the right balance of keeping the Grade 8s together and supported, while also giving them the chance to be a part of the larger boarding community alongside housemates who are in Grades 9 through 12.

The Grade 8 students in the boarding program have designated houseparents, Nour and Amber, who put strong relationships at the heart of everything they do, which helps ensure the students can thrive in the community.

“From the first few days in September we help set the tone that can really pave the whole path for the school year. We want them to get to a point where they are comfortable enough to talk to you as their parents and as their friend,” Nour says.

Grade 8 boarding students pose with their dyed fabrics during a group activity
Grade 8 boarders during a group plant dyeing activity.

The group has scheduled time together six out of seven days every week, either in an academic setting to help them with homework or studying, or in a social setting that takes them off campus to bond and grow through a variety of fun activities.

Nour also highlights the additional support provided to students by way of helping them set and achieve academic, behavioural and personal goals throughout the year.

“Coming into boarding at that age there’s really a lot to discover and explore, and they still need a level of support for that,” she says.

Keith says the role of the Grade 8 boarding program is to help ensure students are adequately prepared with skills to succeed in boarding in Grade 9 and beyond. He says looking back at the students who have spent five years boarding at SMUS, there is an added level of independence, involvement and engagement that they exhibit at school by the time they graduate.

“The students who join us in Grade 8 are positioned well and often want to take on school leadership roles in their final year as school prefects and Heads of Houses,” he says. “We find they are quite involved and have had the experience that makes them want to contribute positively to their community.”

Is my preteen ready?

Determining whether your student is prepared to enter boarding in Grade 8 and to study at SMUS is an important step. There are a few questions parents and guardians can consider when assessing whether their child is ready for this experience:

Can my child interact and engage with older teenagers and adults?

Boarding at SMUS is a Grade 8-12 experience, and students live alongside older schoolmates and adult houseparents. Grade 8 students should have the confidence and comfort level to build relationships with people outside of their age group so they can benefit from the full boarding experience.

Is my child a self-starter?

Boarding students should be able to take initiative and be willing to step out of their comfort zone to participate in the opportunities that present themselves. There is always a lot happening at SMUS and students have a lot of say in ensuring their unstructured time is productive and meaningful to them.

Has my child spent nights away from home before?

A great way to tell if a student can adapt to living in boarding is if they have successfully spent time away from home and from parents/guardians before. Boarding or overnight camps are great ways to give your child a small taste of that independence to ensure they are comfortable in such an environment.

Can my child take care of themselves?

As students develop independence from their parents in their adolescent years, a crucial piece of growing up is knowing how to care for themselves. Beyond having a grasp on personal hygiene and their basic physical and mental health needs, students interested in Grade 8 boarding should also know how to do laundry, properly clean a bedroom and bathroom, and make smart food choices.

Adds Keith: “Grade 8 boarding is a great opportunity for students who are mature, who are ready to explore this new world in front of them, and who are ready to develop the skills to be independent and to be leaders in our school and boarding communities.”