Where the hell are all these women living? Cranbrook Heights High School

Written by Katie Ryan, CNN

Located at the back of an out-of-the-way side street in Toronto’s west end, the small village of Cranbrook Heights High School (CHHS) is bursting with community spirit.

“There is no football team. There is no football game,” explains art teacher Livia Henderson. “It’s about seven girls, seven girls just living the wonderful lives they live, living their passions.”

“Every day, I feel like I’m going to open my door, and there is going to be a choir practicing around it, and I’m going to open my door one day, and there’s going to be a drama class practicing around it and I’m going to open my door and there’s going to be a choir singing and there’s going to be drum line practicing.”

The inspirational similarities between CHHS and its neighbors add to the sense of homecoming the community enjoys. Its motto reads: “Celebrating the noble qualities of Cranbrook Heights by embracing them within us.”

The school sits less than two miles from the United Nation’s headquarters in downtown Toronto and is visited by an international audience every year, including children from troubled middle schools.

CHHS, which offers undergraduate and graduate programs, has been named a Blue Ribbon School by the United States Department of Education. “For this ranking, we are only judged on our student achievements in the area of science, technology, engineering and math,” says Henderson.

“While in Cranbrook Heights we see our students achieving this, but that’s not only a door that’s closed — that’s a door that’s closed to so many kids in other parts of the city, in other parts of the province. You might come into school one day, and you might not want to stay there because it’s raining,” she adds.

When Henderson joined the staff in 2001 she only knew six students in the school, now she has more than 200, more than any other teacher in the school. “It’s not uncommon to see 80 kids in one day, with 80 students in the next,” she says.

“I am absolutely certain that CHHS has changed in the way it educates and in the way it forms the lives of these incredible young women who are walking through the door today.”

The women making this change are many of them female achievers, achievers in many fields and achievers from diverse backgrounds — every single one of them young professionals whose lives are unfolding at the same time.

Their accomplishments — for example a doctor studying to be a pediatrician, a student changing careers by pursuing a career in film making or the first woman head of a high school — are tremendous. But they are also a social point of interest.

CHHS graduates are always given a list of accomplishments, and their achievements reflect their civic pride. One notable case was a girl who graduated from the school in 2011 who was the director of original programming at CBC, Canada’s public broadcasting service, and spoke at the 2016 Assembly of First Nations at Parliament Hill.

At Cranbrook Heights High School, our students are surrounded by extraordinary women in fields ranging from the arts, academia, government and science. We have opportunities to see first-hand how they not only succeed, but they are also publicly visible.

“The idea that our students are well-educated, well-established people, successful people, who are sharing their story with the world is just a huge belief that we have that’s bringing some of our students forward as someone who is a role model or a source of inspiration for young people,” says Henderson.

This starts with one lesson in leadership. “One of the responsibilities that is given to the principal of Cranbrook Heights is to be a role model to our students. We’re working with (previous principal and current U of T professor) Marion Riddell, who was a community builder who was a storyteller as well, so that she was a person the students could relate to in terms of their life,” says Henderson.

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