Being a SMUS student will undoubtedly look and feel different this year. And those differences will be doubly felt by our boarding school students coming to campus from around the world.

Since March, staff have been planning and preparing for the eventual return of students to campus. Key to this was bringing our full community together, including our boarding students so long as the federal government allows international students into Canada.

“We have a long tradition of boarding here. The school would be very different without boarding students, both in our classrooms and in the ethos of who we are,” said Keith Driscoll, Director of Boarding and Student Life. “There’s an eagerness to get the soul back into the boarding houses; the soul of community and of communal living.”

There are more than 110 international SMUS students in 14-day quarantine off campus, following strict guidelines from the Public Health Agency of Canada. Starting Sunday, they will slowly begin moving into their boarding houses as they complete their two-week quarantine.

There are an additional 37 boarders who aren’t able to start the school year with us due to border restrictions and a federal pause on issuing study permits. Keith says the school remains hopeful that these students will be able to join us in the future.

With health and safety the top priorities, the boarding program was revamped to align with changes in the academic program.

Life in Boarding

The biggest change made to the boarding experience is that all students from the same grade will live in the same boarding building as a cohort, which will align with the students’ cohorts for their classes.

“This helps to minimize the number of cohorts that are living together,” Keith says. “It’s all about making sure that we are as safe as possible. Because we’re in cohorts, we know where students are, what they’re doing and who they’re with, from a public health standpoint.”

Since our boarding houses were already equipped with private washrooms shared by two roommates, few physical changes to the houses needed to be made to allow for safe living spaces. Shared spaces in the houses, like in hallways and common rooms, will require wearing a mask when physical distancing isn’t possible. Meals in the Sun Centre dining hall will be held at staggered times for each house and students will sit in designated seating.

Lots of work was done with our medical staff in the Health Centre and with Island Health to reconfigure how health services are provided to boarding students. The school is launching a virtual health system, and isolation spaces have been set up in the event of a suspected or confirmed case of COVID-19.

Building Community

An important piece of the boarding experience is supporting the relationship-building between students. The challenges posed by COVID-19, however, will create unique opportunities this year to be even more intentional around community-building and leadership.

New boarder orientation, usually held in person before students move in, began online two weeks ago. Supported by Lynne Cordy, boarding services coordinator, and Elise Wren, admissions assistant, virtual orientation has allowed new boarding students to meet classmates, teachers and houseparents, and get to know each other through games, activities and virtual tours.

From a leadership perspective, each of the 130 returning boarding students will play a role.

“The six Grade 12 students who were voted heads of the six boarding houses last year will now all be living in the same house; they won’t be living with their constituents on a day-to-day basis,” Keith says. “My message to them has been that while their title may change, their importance will be even greater in a year like this; their leadership will be instrumental in maintaining our sense of community.

“Because of the cohorts, our returning Grade 10 and 11 students, too, have an opportunity to be the pseudo elders in their houses. We want to tap into their eagerness to help establish what it means to be part of our boarding community.”

With students having not been in boarding for nearly six months, Keith says there’s a palpable excitement and energy in boarding as the school prepares to reopen.

“We can’t wait to welcome them back to campus, we can’t wait to see them,” he says. “We weren’t happy with the way we had to say goodbye, so we’re really glad to get to say hello again.”