When Dr. Neil Webber started his teaching career at Queen Elizabeth High School in 1959, his classes were bursting with 35 students. Given the large number of students with a vast range of aptitude in the subjects, he taught broadly and provided extra attention to students struggling with the material. He always wished there was a way to better serve and challenge the highly-capable and motivated students in his classrooms. He taught until 1974, was elected to the Alberta legislature in 1975, and all the while the idea to enrich the educational experience of top-end achievers quietly took shape in his mind.
Once he left politics in 1989, Dr. Webber revisited his decades-old idea for a new way to teach students while also helping to create tomorrow’s leaders. With the help of investors who believed in Dr. Webber’s vision, he established Webber Academy in 1996 and the following year welcomed the first kindergarten to grade five students to the new school.
“We started the school focusing on more of a traditional approach to teaching subjects,” says Dr. Webber, founder, president and Head of School at Webber Academy. “We added a grade on each year and increased the number of classes in each grade.”
The school started out with 82 students and nine dedicated teachers operating out of a rented Catholic school on Centre Street. In the four years it was there, interest in the programming skyrocketed and Dr. Webber incorporated portables to accommodate the growing student body. He knew it was only temporary as he started building his school on 47 acres in southwest Calgary in 1999. The school moved into the new space in 2001 and the first Webber Academy graduation class was celebrated in 2005.
Over the years the campus has expanded to better accommodate demand as well as to enrich the student experience. A few years in, Dr. Webber added a kinder centre to host the junior kindergarten and kindergarten students and in 2003 he added a second gymnasium. Two years later a high school wing was added to keep up with the grades being offered and in 2012, Webber developed an unparalleled high school science program by introducing its Science Centre with impressive laboratories and advanced programming, from robotics to coding, to support the growing interest in STEM.
“We introduced an applied science course whereby every student in the class has a mentor at the University of Calgary who gives them assistance in the preparation of their science fair projects, and we have 15 to 20 students in that class per year,” says Dr. Webber. “Since we’ve been participating in the Calgary science fair, our school has finished number one among all the high schools, with a number of our kids going on to the national science fair. The Center has become quite an attractive place for students to study high school science.”
This program not only elevated Webber to one of the top-performing schools at the Calgary science fair year after year, but it has also ignited the interests and in some cases, future career paths of participants. In the program’s first year, one Webber student embarked on a project to study the impact of nanotechnology and heat on cancer cells and thanks to his mentor was able to test his theories on live cancer cells in a University lab. He won the national science fair and continued this area of study in medicine after graduation. This past year, after participating in the applied science program, a grade 11 Webber student won the Calgary Youth Science Fair and placed well in the national competition, which helped her gain acceptance to a prestigious NASA summer program at Houston Space Centre. This program is one of many that Webber Academy has created to keep students engaged, challenged and poised for future success.
“Our focus is academics, although we certainly want to help develop the social and teamwork skills of students along the way,” he says. “One of the greatest assets a student can have when they finish high school is to be able to stand before a group of people and express themselves confidently and think at the same time.”
One successful program that does just that at Webber is Debate, and the administration places a great deal of emphasis on public speaking and debate from early grades. Teachers seize any opportunity to get students up in front of the class, and this early exposure has created confident, persuasive debaters over the years. Webber students regularly win local, regional, national and even international debate tournaments and students across the city can learn debating at Webber’s summer camp.
In the 25 years since Webber Academy was established, it has earned its reputation as a renowned accredited university preparatory private school serving more than 1,000 students from junior kindergarten to grade 12. It consistently ranks among the top schools in Alberta for diploma exam results and finishes high in school rankings and achievement testing. The majority of students explore AP levels in at least one of their courses to prepare for the demands of post-secondary programs, and 99 per cent of graduates continue their education at post-secondary institutions, many earning academic scholarships.
As impressive as the academic standards and achievements are, Webber Academy strives to develop well-rounded students who are prepared for not just school but life as well.
“Our objective is to prepare students for university and beyond, and that’s been our motto from the start,” he says.
By the time they graduate, students have had the opportunity to learn Spanish, Mandarin and/or French and can participate in immersion trips abroad to learn the culture and hone their second language skills. Webber also has a robust fine arts program where students can learn an instrument or participate in the award-winning choir, drama and dance programs. To facilitate these interests, Webber built a Performing Arts Centre in 2012 that includes music rooms, dance and drama studios, and a 500-seat theatre for performances and presentations.
These options are incredibly popular with students and there aren’t enough hours in the day to satisfy the demand. Instead of disappointing students, Webber offers for-credit after-school classes to ensure everyone who wants to can be part of these programs.
“Students come to school at 8:15 and leave at 3:30 but because of the demand for technical theatre and acting, we now have classes until 6:00 in those areas in our theatre. It is busy all day long,” says Dr. Webber.
For those students looking for a more physically active option, Webber Academy has incredible athletic facilities and programs that have earned the school championship banners. The main campus has two gymnasiums, a sports field, an outdoor sports court, cross-training trails and a running track. Athletics has also become a growth area for the school; it is developing the Webber Academy Athletic Park in Springbank that will benefit student athletes as well as community organizations. In time, the 530-acre plot may include a Webber Academy High School, but in the meantime Dr. Webber decided to put it to good use by creating a Park that will include four turfed baseball fields, a soccer pitch and a field house for indoor training and recreation. One field is finished with another slated for completion in August and the rest will be completed by next year.
This development gave rise to the introduction of Webber’s Wildcats Baseball Association last year, which provides a College Prep training program to help top baseball athletes in Calgary and surrounding areas get placed on post-secondary teams. The inaugural year of the organization saw three competitive teams training at the facility under the guidance of some impressive coaches.
“One of our coaches, Chris Reitsma, was a professional major league pitcher drafted out of high school in Calgary when he was 17 and played for seven years. And Cole Armstrong spent the same number of years in minor league AAA ball. We have some well-qualified coaches to teach these kids,” says Dr. Webber.
Whether it’s academics, arts or athletics, Webber Academy has created innovative and rewarding programming to challenge some of Calgary’s most remarkable students. As it grows and evolves, Webber Academy will continue to be the place students go to learn, play and become leaders of the future.
General School Information
1515 – 93rd Street, S.W.
Calgary, Alberta T3H 4A8
Telephone: (403) 277-4700
Facsimile: (403) 277-2770