Some dreams are worth the wait. Webber Academy is a perfect example of such a dream. In 1959, Dr. Neil Webber was teaching physics at Queen Elizabeth High School, where his senior class of 35 students exhibited a vast range of abilities on the subject. He had to teach to the middle range to maximize the number of students who could comprehend the concepts and provide help to those struggling with the material. He regretted not being able to do more for those top students who had a handle on the material and were looking for greater challenges and enrichment.
“I thought, wouldn’t it be nice someday to have a school where you have generally the top 25 per cent of the population for aptitude and the desire to learn, and teach to the middle of that group and work with parents to develop future leaders in society,” says Dr. Webber, founder, president and head of school of Webber Academy.
That someday arrived in 1996 when, after leaving politics, Webber reignited his dream and incorporated his independent school. With the help of 15 investors, he established Webber Academy and opened the doors to students the following year. At first the academy leased out St. Paul’s School to accommodate the 84 kindergarten to Grade 5 students. The population grew and the school added one grade per year for four years. Demand for admission was high and the school filled quickly. When portables and a second nearby campus couldn’t keep up with the demand, in 1999 Webber bought 47 acres of land in Aspen in southwest Calgary to build his school. The new Webber Academy campus opened in 2001.
As the diverse student body has continued to grow over the years, so has the campus. There is now a separate kindercentre for the around 130 junior kindergarten and kindergarten students at Webber. In 2003 they added a second gymnasium and a kindercentre and in 2005 a high school wing to the core building. Then in 2012 they developed a high school science centre, a music and drama centre and a 500-seat theatre.
Since its inception, Webber Academy has become a premier private school in the province. Its first high school graduation class was in 2005, and since then 570 students have walked across the stage to receive their diplomas. Ninety-nine per cent of those graduates have gone on to attend university. Today, there are almost 1,000 Webber Academy students enrolled from junior kindergarten to Grade 12 with more on the wait list for admission.
“One of the reasons we are appealing to a lot of people is we want to continue with more of a traditional approach to teaching, where memorization is important particularly when learning the basic operations of mathematics. Over the years, philosophy in education has tended to lean more towards what is called discovery learning as opposed to more traditional learning,” Dr. Webber says.
Webber Academy is a highly academic school that challenges students and ultimately prepares them not only for admission into university but for success once they are there. This all starts at the junior kindergarten level. Webber will be introducing Singapore Mathematics into the curriculum this year, which delves deeper into math concepts to ensure students truly master the material. This gives them a sound foundation on which to build future concepts.
And build they do. Students with an average of at least 85 per cent can take an Advanced Placement (AP) math course in Grade 9. This allows them to take Grade 9 and 10 math in Grade 9, Grade 11 math in Grade 10, Grade 12 math and the diploma exam in Grade 11, and then math 31 (calculus) or statistics in Grade 12. This gives students a high level of preparedness for both the demands of and material in university classes. About half of Webber students choose to register in AP classes in at least one subject, and last year 99 per cent of these students received a score of three, four or five out of five on their AP exams.
Webber’s standard classes are fulfilling and challenging enough on their own and boast amazing resources from which students can draw. These resources range from energetic and dedicated teachers available to students for help and enrichment to top-of-the-line technology and computers including banks of laptops and Chromebooks. While the school employs a traditional approach, it certainly embraces all that the 21st century has to offer.
“We’ve adapted and incorporated technology into all our course offerings,” he says.
Webber also offers courses in computer coding, and robotics is available both as a course and a club for junior and senior high students. Students are encouraged to use Webber’s technology and devices or bring their own from home to further enhance their learning in all core classes.
One core subject that has skyrocketed in the past few years is science. The 2012 expansion created top-of-the-line physics, chemistry and biology laboratory facilities and spiked interest in science. For four years, Webber has partnered with the University of Calgary to offer a mentorship program to assist students with their science projects. In the first year of this program, one student proposed a science fair project to determine the impact of nanotechnology and heat on cancer cells and tested his theories on live cancer cells in a university lab. This earned him first place in the Canada-Wide Science Fair as well as a direction in university, where he is continuing with this line of study in medicine. Last year, 15 students took advantage of their mentor’s expertise and advice, helping to make Webber Academy one of the top-performing schools at the Calgary Youth Science Fair.
The school is no stranger to the top. It is habitually among the top schools in the province for diploma exam results, the Fraser Institute school rankings, and provincial achievement tests.
“Our objective is to prepare students for university and beyond, and that’s been our motto from the start,” he says.
To accomplish this objective, Webber Academy focuses not only on the core academic courses but also on options and fine arts in order to help develop well-rounded individuals. It has award-winning choir and band programs and an impressive languages department starting from junior kindergarten. Spanish classes are compulsory from junior kindergarten until Grade 6 and Mandarin is required for Grades 4 to 6 students. A French option is introduced in Grade 7 and students carry at least one language through to graduation. And if students need additional incentives to master languages, Webber offers immersion trips starting in Grade 9.
“Every second year there’s a trip, and they go to a school for several weeks where they board, learning more about the culture and language,” says Dr. Webber. “By the time they hit Grade 12, students – especially in French and Spanish – are very fluent.”
Past students have honed their language skills and experienced the culture of such countries as China, France, Spain, Costa Rica and Argentina through these immersion trips.
It’s not all work and no play at Webber Academy, and students have their choice of great clubs, options and activities. Whether it’s Reach for the Top trivia challenge, competing in Model UN or the Legacy Club supporting charitable organizations, Webber students are engaged and involved in their school and the world. The debate club is one of the most popular clubs and teachers encourage public speaking from early grades, whether that’s in the form of debate, reciting poems or just talking about an interest or experience in front of the class.
“We think one of the greatest skills a youngster can have when they finish high school is the ability to stand before a group of people and be able to express themselves confidently and be able to think at the same time as they are talking,” says Dr. Webber.
Athletics is also important at Webber. Students can join intramural sports or represent Webber on a variety of school teams including basketball, volleyball, golf, cross-country running, soccer, track and badminton. The academy’s teams are competitive in their division as evidenced by the number of championship banners hanging in the gym.
Dr. Webber and the staff celebrate these accomplishments but they are prouder of the character that is built within the academy walls. Students tackle challenging courses, volunteer in the community and excel in the classroom and the court, readying them to become leaders and citizens of the world. After all, that’s the ultimate goal of Webber Academy.
“At Webber Academy, we actively encourage the growth and development of traditional values in our students. Participation in and enjoyment of school life will prepare our students for responsible involvement in their communities and our society as a whole,” says Dr. Webber.
With bright, generous, high-achieving students like those at Webber Academy, society will be in good hands.