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Private school offers inquiry-based learning environment for middle school students in Greater Moncton
Magdalena Berger appreciates options. When they didn’t exist for her children’s education, she created them. Magda and her husband, Rob, are one of the founding families that make up the Board of Directors of Eastgate Academy. It’s a vision nearly four years in the making, coming to life this September.
Eastgate Academy is a private school, working on the International Baccalaureate Middle Years Programme model. It will welcome its first students, in Grades 5 & 6, in the Fall of 2021.
“It was something that we were looking for in the community that didn’t exist,” says Magda. “We liked Moncton so much we decided that rather than to move to where the schools are, we would just stay and create it here.”
“I always expected we’d have options for our children’s education. I took it for granted,” she continues. “I grew up in Winnipeg, lived in Halifax and Montreal. It was striking to me when we moved to New Brunswick that [school choice] was based on postal code.”
She was also surprised to find only one International Baccalaureate (IB) school in the Greater Moncton Area; École Mathieu-Martin offers the IB Diploma Programme (high school grades) in French. (Three schools, École Sainte-Anne in Fredericton, Saint John High School, and Rothesay Netherwood School, offer the IB Diploma Programme in English.) There are no schools in the province offering the IB Middle Years Programme.
“When I make a plan, I want to know what my contingencies are,” states Magda. “Not having them made me very nervous as a mom. You just don’t know how your child is going to do in any environment. You don’t know where your child is going to thrive. And it would be nice to know that you can potentially move them to somewhere else if they’re struggling or just not doing as well as they could be doing.”
Come September, that ‘somewhere else’ can be Eastgate Academy. There are future plans for a purpose-built school, but the first students will attend space leased at 200 Karolie Road (the former Gunningsville School) in Riverview.
Eastgate Academy’s principal is Sarah Phillips. Her last job was Senior Curriculum Manager for the Middle Years Programme at the IB global centre in the Hauge.
While one might credit Magda and her board with creating Eastgate Academy, one might also say Sarah Phillips manifested the school.
“I was living in Europe, working for the International Baccalaureate organization, looking to come back to Canada,” Sarah explains. “I thought ‘What would be my dream job? It would be so great to start from the beginning with a school.’ Days later I get an email out of the blue. These families in Moncton are starting a school and they want it to be an IB school, starting with Grades 5 & 6. That’s my favourite age group!”
“When I met with two founding families to find out more about their vision for the school, it really just resonated with my own vision of education,” she continues. “What they wanted for their children, for the community, is so well aligned with what I love to offer to children and the kind of school that I want to work in. So, here I am!”
The serendipitous timing means Sarah is moving to Moncton along with so many others in this pandemic migration. And like Magda, many of these new New Brunswickers are expecting educational choices based on more than postal codes for their children. Fortuitous, indeed, that years of planning have Eastgate Academy poised to open its doors just as they arrive.
“All the major urban centres in Canada have ample opportunities and options for children,” says Magda. “Whether that’s private schools, religious schools, charter schools, and whatnot, the average across Canada is (roughly) seven and a half percent of students attend a private or independent school. That rate goes up as high as 13% in British Columbia and Quebec. And in New Brunswick, it’s less than 1%. It’s just a non-entity here.”
Magda surmises that the lack of concentrated population, combined with a public system that has “done a really good job of meeting most people’s needs” hasn’t created the critical mass or demand for a school like Eastgate Academy until now.
“As we get more people moving to New Brunswick who are aware of this as an option, or who just want something different for their children, that’s what’s really kind of driving that motivation” to grow the school, she says.
“We feel accreditation and a sense of standard is incredibly important.” ~ Dr. Magdalena Berger, President & Founder of Eastgate Academy
Students attending Eastgate Academy will pay tuition, wear uniforms, and be considered to have opted out of the provincial system.
“Private schools fall under the jurisdiction as basically homeschooling,” explains Magda. “We don’t have the same oversight.” That’s one reason why Eastgate Academy will follow the IB Middle Years Programme model.
“The International Baccalaureate curriculum is a global standard of education,” she continues. “It goes from pre-K all the way through Grade 12. It’s not intended to be only for select academically gifted children. It’s intended to be a robust curriculum that all children can do well in if taught appropriately. And the earlier you start, the more likely you are to succeed at the higher levels.”
“It’s going to take a couple of years before we’re granted accreditation because we have to prove ourselves to the IB, but that’s going to allow us to have some accreditation and a standard,” she says. “There are also independent school accrediting bodies that we are looking to get accredited through so that families feel confident that we’re following some guidance and best practices that are sort of globally standardized.”
Students attending Eastgate Academy will also take a leading role in their own education.
“What I think makes IB special is that it is focused on inquiry,” explains Sarah. “Rather than the teacher telling the students things that then they repeat back or demonstrate understanding of it, it’s the teacher prompting them, provoking them a little bit to ask questions, helping them as they search for the answers and make meaning, evaluate, and synthesize the information that they find.”
That approach creates lifelong learners and critical thinkers.
“Particularly for younger students, it really connects to the curiosity that they have. It really makes the most of that asset that they bring to the classroom,” says Sarah. “As they get older, it keeps them in charge of that and keeps them directing and pursuing the information, so that when they are no longer in school and they don’t have a teacher telling them what to do, they’re able to continue asking important questions and pursuing those answers.”
“It makes for a really engaged and exciting learning environment, but also equips students for lifelong learning, which for me is what schooling is all about.” ~ Sarah Phillips, Principal, Eastgate Academy
The Grade 6 students who enter the school in September are planned to the first to toss their hats at an Eastgate Academy graduation. But both Sarah & Magda encourage interested families with students of all ages to reach out. Sarah’s happy to hear from potential teachers, as well.
“I think the important thing for families to understand is that this is really designed to help students become active citizens, lifelong learners who can set goals for themselves and have the skills and the confidence to pursue those goals,” says Sarah.
Magda sums it simply.
“What we’re creating with Eastgate Academy is really a community.”
LOOKING FOR MORE DETAILS?
- Tuition for 2021/2022 is $12,500.
- Children must opt-out of the provincial school system to attend.
- Ideal ratio is 12 students per teacher.
- The planned September cohort is for Grades 5 & 6.
- Students can be on site from 7:30am until 4:30pm.
- Dress code/uniform details are being determined.
- No busing is available at this time.
- Classes will be at 200 Karolie Road (former Gunningsville School) in Riverview.
- Saturday, May 8 at 4:00pm
- Monday, May 17 at 8pm
- Saturday, May 29 at 4pm
- Friday, June 4 at 8pm
- Sunday, June 13 at 4pm
Sessions are online, via Google Meet. You can email firstname.lastname@example.org for information on joining.
Watch Dr. Magdalena Berger, President & Founder of Eastgate Academy, on The Jenna & Tosh Show on Rogers TV New Brunswick