25 Years of Southridge
Southridge was founded on the desire to make a difference
Since it first opened in 1995, Southridge has stayed true to the original goal of its founders: to create a school community that would develop people who would help to make the world a better place.
It was a simple idea, rooted in strong values and vision – but bringing it to life would require more determination, perseverance, and work than any of the founders could have initially envisioned. Without their commitment, Southridge would not exist today.
The genesis of an idea
During the 1993 public school teachers’ strike, a group of parents decided to explore other options for educating their children. They invited Alan Brown, who had been a long-time Headmaster at St. George’s School, to speak to their group. During his talk, Mr. Brown described what a new independent school in South Surrey might achieve – developing character in children, in addition to academic excellence – and his vision inspired the parents to start organizing.
Mr. Brown joins the team
After choosing “Southridge” as the new school’s name, the parents began to search for a building site.
They found a location in the spring of 1994 and invited Mr. Brown to tour it with them. It was turned down for re-zoning by the City of Surrey, but Mr. Brown was so taken with the beauty of the site, and the school he could envision on it, that he agreed then and there to become Southridge’s first Headmaster.
For the next year-and-a half Mr. Brown worked tirelessly alongside the parent group, to attract more families to the project, and to acquire funding, land, and zoning for the new school. He proposed the school motto, “Let Every Spirit Soar”, and it became the group’s guiding vision for the kind of school they wanted to create.
For the last twenty-five years Southridge has been shaped by a simple idea, rooted in strong values, vision, and the desire to make a difference - but bringing it to life required more determination, perseverance, and work than any of the founders could have initially envisioned. Without their commitment, Southridge would not exist today. In the spring of 1993 a public-school teachers’ strike in Surrey energized a group of parents to search for an educational alternative – a school community that would develop people who help to make the world a better place. After an inspirational talk by Alan Brown, former headmaster of St. George’s School in Vancouver, they decided to pursue the goal of creating an independent school. Alan Brown was so inspired by what Southridge might achieve that he agreed to become the school’s first Headmaster. As an inspired speaker and experienced educator, he gave the project the credibility it needs to attract more families. The school’s new motto became “Let Every Spirit Soar" which is translated on the school crest to “Omnis Anima Volet”.
Mr. Brown’s reputation as an educator, the strength of his vision, and his ability to inspire others, attracted nearly all of the school’s first families and teachers. As the founding Head, Alan Brown established many of the values and traditions that make Southridge the school it is today.
Mr. Brown was emphatic that the school should be “a community where every spirit soars”, where students were free from the kinds of peer and societal pressure that forced them to hide their gifts and passions, and cloak their true selves. “At this school,” he said, “there are no losers, there are no geeks, and there are no nerds. Everybody’s weird, and everybody needs room to grow and room to fly.”
He described the school itself as “a light-hearted place of serious purpose” – a place where a challenging academic environment was balanced with opportunities to have fun, build school spirit, and create lasting memories.
He wanted students to be able to discover and express their passion and purpose, and support others in doing the same. Students, teachers, and staff were expected to create a safe, caring environment by modeling the values of truth, tolerance, compassion, and respect, and by leaving the school a little better each day than they found it.
Perhaps the strongest symbol of Mr. Brown’s legacy is Southridge’s unlocked lockers. Since the school opened in 1995, locks have remained off the lockers as a sign of the trust and respect the community has for each other, and the values Mr. Brown expected his students to live.
One of Alan Brown’s promises to Southridge’s first Grade 9 class was that they would have a proper Senior School building from which to graduate. In November 1998, the solid yellow cedar doors of the new Senior School, carved by artist Grant Faulkner from 1,000 year-old wood, swung open.
In the spring of 1999, when the first Grade 12 class of 14 students graduated, Alan Brown retired. The Great Hall in the new Senior School was renamed the Alan Brown Great Hall in his honour.
Just one year later, under the watchful eye of the new Head of School, Bill Jones, Southridge’s new Junior School opened, along with expansions to the cafeteria and Senior School. The school House system, which had started with just two houses, the Orcas and the Eagles, expanded to four Houses per school. The Junior School was divided into the Ravens, Otters, Hawks, and Chinooks; the Senior School, into Hurricane, Blizzard, Lightning, and Thunder. In our 25th year, our Houses have once again evolved into a full school Kindergarten to Grade 12 system connecting all students, faculty, staff and parents into four united Houses.
In just five short years, Southridge had grown from a 17,000 square-foot modular building housing 181 students and 13 teachers, to a 100,000 square-foot campus with 590 students and 47 teachers.
The final piece of the puzzle
In 2002, the school purchased seven acres of neighbouring land. Over the next couple of years, the school created two new playing fields, a garden, additional parking, and set aside three acres for future building.
When the school opened its doors for its eighth year in September 2003, it had reached maximum capacity of 684 students. Southridge had come of age.
Shifting the focus
By 2003, with all of the necessary facilities in place for a first-class learning environment, Bill Jones, Southridge’s second Head of School, was able to help guide the community as it shifted its focus from building facilities, to achieving its mission statement.
A Southridge education had always been built on four pillars: Academics, Athletics, Arts, and Service. At Southridge, the concept of a well-rounded education was always based on more than academic success. At Southridge, leadership skills, character, and passions were developed both in and outside the classroom. Whether playing on a team or in a band, fundraising for a worthy cause, camping, kayaking or snowshoeing, students were supported in developing the interests and gifts that would help them find their unique place in the world.
Mr. Jones encouraged the students to think of themselves as global citizens, and he helped to develop and expand initiatives such as the Student Exchange Program and Service Trips. The Athletic and Arts programs continued to grow and thrive with the school. School sports teams competed at Provincial Championships, the school’s band and jazz ensembles competed at festivals, and the arts program sent graduates into some of the most prestigious arts and design universities in the world.
During this period, Southridge began to focus on developing innovative programs and teaching methods that would not only help students continue to thrive academically, but that would develop well-rounded graduates with the skills, character, and confidence to realize their full potential, and make a difference in the world.
Bill Jones recognized that technology would be at the heart of any innovative learning environment, and in 2005 the school’s laptop program was implemented, eventually expanding to include all students in Grades 5 to 12. By then, plans were also underway to introduce the International Baccalaureate (IB) Program in the Junior School – a natural fit for Southridge’s student-centred approach to learning.
- Service: a defining part of the Southridge experience
- Harkness Philosophy: from what to think, to how to think
- Campus Master Plan & the next phase of development
The Service component of a Southridge education was always recognized as an essential – even defining – part of the Southridge experience. Students practiced service to each other, to the school, and to the larger community.
In 2006, Senior students took their first Service Trip to a developing world community. Every year thereafter, they had the opportunity to travel to places like Costa Rica, Ecuador, India, and Mexico, where they helped with community projects, built relationships, and learned as much about themselves as they did about the world.
Service initiatives also included a large number of community projects closer to home. Senior School students started serving at the Surrey Urban Mission, for example, in 2007, and since then have significantly expanded their support of local community organizations.
By 2008, one year after Bill Jones retired, Southridge was accredited as an IB World School, offering both Primary and Middle Years IB Programs, and joining a larger, worldwide community of learners.
The next step to fully realizing a student-centred approach to learning and teaching was taken under the direction of the new Head of School, Drew Stephens. A 10,000 square-foot addition to the Senior School was completed in 2010, and the first Harkness table was introduced at Southridge. Since then, Southridge has become the only school in Canada to fully implement the Harkness philosophy into all Senior School courses.
The Harkness philosophy shifted the focus from teaching students “what to think”, to teaching them “how to think”. Students sat in a group around a large oval table with the teacher, who acted as a facilitator, rather than a lecturer. The students came prepared to question, discuss, debate, and share their learning, with the goal of arriving at a more personal, collaborative, and lasting understanding of the course content.
In 2014, the school realized that they needed to develop a long-term plan for facilities that would support their ambitious educational goals, and the “Campus Master Plan” was the result. It outlined how the campus would develop in the future – ensuring the school remained focused on building a creative and supportive environment for learning and work; one that fosters collaboration, connection, growth, and wellness. Under the leadership of current Head of School, Drew Stephens, Southridge is now poised to move into the first phase of its first major capital fundraising campaign in the school’s history. Our Way Forward – the campaign for Southridge, will support the realization of a major expansion to the Junior School, additions to the Senior School Gym, and renovations to the Senior School Visual Arts area. Our Way Forward will ensure that Southridge continues to provide exceptional learning experiences and unforgettable memories for future generations of Southridge students.
25 Years of Developing Strong Minds and Good Hearts
In 2020, Southridge is celebrating a 25-year-long tradition of developing students with strong minds and good hearts who make a difference in the world. Just as we did in 1995, we’re still charting a course in education that no other school has ever drawn.
From the original group of 181 students, we now have more than 1,000 alumni: compassionate leaders, dedicated volunteers, and caring individuals who make a difference in their families, workplaces, communities, and on the world stage. “Great schools are measured not by the accomplishments of their students,” noted Mr. Stephens, “but by the lives led by their alumni.”
From the original group of committed parents, we now have a legacy of strong community support, as Southridge families continue to come together to forge friendships, support the school, and accomplish great things as a community.
From the original dream of Alan Brown and the founding families – which had no buildings, no teachers, no students or staff – we now have 17 acres of land, thriving Junior and Senior Schools, 680 students, 114 faculty and staff, and a school with a solid foundation of academic excellence, fiscal stability, strong governance, and committed community.
As Alan Brown said upon his retirement in 1999, “May Southridge continue to prosper. Of course it will.”
Local artist Don Li-Leger designed the crest, using the negative space of a leaping whale to create a bird, and to express the idea of “soaring”. The bird’s identity was deliberately left open to interpretation – it can be seen as an eagle, a symbol of power and strength, or as a dove, a symbol of tolerance, care and service.
Traditional Black Stewart tartan was modified to include burgundy when the founders designed the school tartan in 1994. The classic colours, along with a bright, modern royal blue, were chosen not just for their practicality, but also because they invoked the West Coast landscape: blue oceans, green forests and snow-capped mountains.
It also recognizes that we are individuals with unique skills and passions who bring our own solutions to the world. One idea, one voice, and one spirit can also change the world.