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Talent, Time & Treasure

Ridley welcomes new Director of Development, Shelley Huxley

Though we’d hoped to welcome her in person, the pandemic had other plans. So, we sat down for a virtual Q&A to learn more about the Niagara native—and get a sneak peek into what she has in store for our community. With her passion for education, strong local ties, and decades-long experience working at universities across Ontario, Shelley’s ready to hit the ground running.

Can you tell us a little bit about yourself? I was born and raised in Niagara (specifically, Fonthill), though I left for a period of time to attend university and launch my career. After my son was born, I realized there was no better place to raise a family, so we came home. It was really important to me that my kids understand the traditions of my family and grow up with their grandparents nearby — I grew up with mine and they taught me a lot. I wanted my own children to have that same experience. Now, I live in Fonthill with my partner, Iain, my two children: Evan, who’s 16, and Nathan, who’s soon to be 12. We also welcomed a new addition to the family, a now 10-month-old Labradoodle, named Coco! We’re a busy family; the kids are involved in a number of activities, so a lot of my free time is spent supporting them.   

You’re coming to us from Brock University, where you were their Director of Alumni Engagement. Can you speak a bit about your professional background? It’s usually a circuitous route that gets you to Development. [laughs] Originally, I went to Wilfrid Laurier University to study Business—I wanted to be a floor trader. But a year into school, I realized I could spend all my time studying, or I could invest in the fulsome student experience that Laurier had to offer. I switched my major to English and Sociology and spent a lot of time doing various activities on campus and working in student government.

That’s what really set me up for my career path, because it introduced me to senior administrators, and those relationships ultimately led me to return to support my alma mater professionally—initially through communications, speech writing and working for the President—and that then led to working in alumni relations.

From there, I went on to work at Queen’s University. Queen’s was embarking on a $250 million capital campaign at the time, and I was responsible for setting up their Toronto office, working with campaign cabinet members and developing campaign strategy. I next had the opportunity to work at McMaster University—which is a big research-intensive school—where I was able to blend both alumni relations and development in my role. Five years later, I had my first child and it was then that I decided to move home. By happenstance, a job came up at Brock University and I was the successful candidate. Over the past 15 years, I’ve worked in all areas of development at Brock: I started as their event planner, then as their advancement strategist, which later morphed into responsibility for donor relations and stewardship and most recently alumni relations. I’ve spent the past six years as their Director of Alumni Engagement.

What led you to Ridley—and what are you most looking forward to as you embark on this new journey? I’ve been lucky enough to work for some great institutions, so when you decide to make a move it has to be the right one, and there were a number of factors at play. The top of my list was that I would be going to a place where I felt I could make a difference, and at the same time felt that Ridley really believes in what they’re doing and how they’re doing it.

What I love about Ridley is its level of tradition, its strong reputation and collegiality, its dedication to education and commitment to innovation. Take the recent pivot to online learning: for any school to have done this so quickly would have been a challenge, but Ridley made the transition beautifully. These are all really appealing to me and working in development will allow me to use my skills to connect with alumni and engage donors in philanthropic opportunities. I’m really just hoping to help Ridley grow and prosper.

“Together, alumni and donors provide support, foster strong reputations, contribute to our admissions, and are an essential part of the student experience. They’re a core part of the school’s mission and values—and that network is important for the health and well-being of any institution.”

You obviously have some close ties to the local community. What are your thoughts about the changes taking place in the Niagara Region—and what is your approach to fostering relationships between school and community? The Niagara Region has been steadily growing both in sophistication and opportunity—particularly over the last ten years. We had a fair amount of big business exit our region, but Niagara’s response to that has been good: both Brock and Niagara College have developed programming and outreach strategies in terms of innovation, entrepreneurship and growth. For example, their makerspaces and the programmes they’re putting in place to help businesses develop within the community have been incredibly beneficial for us as a region.

The result is that there’s a lot of opportunity for students to participate in this innovation. I find myself thinking about cultivating the student experience, about potential experiential opportunities, and finding partners for mutual benefit. How can we engage our community partners to allow students these opportunities? How can we leverage our alumni connections both within our local community and beyond?

We’re here to build the student experience, and if we’re talking about preparing them for university—particularly our upper school students—there is a lot happening in this region from which they can learn, whether in business, tourism, or through partnerships with Brock’s Performing Arts Centre, or applied opportunities at Niagara College. There are plenty of ways we can offer experiential learning.

Your experience with events, alumni and development in the education sector is certainly impressive. What is it about this work that you find so rewarding? I find it a lot of fun. Every day is different and brings with it its own challenges. I’m proud of the work we support in alumni relations and development, and in working to educate minds. And that’s what brings me back day after day: I feel I’m making a difference and contributing to the fabric of society. That’s a pretty special thing to be a part of.

Shelley is virtually introduced to Ridley team members.
Shelley is virtually introduced to Ridley team members.

Can you speak to the importance of Development and Advancement when it comes to educational institutions? Any good school works hard to build and sustain a strong reputation—and alumni and donor engagement supports that. We think about how alumni contribute: with a sense of pride, loyalty and tradition, and a deep understanding of their alma mater. They share this not only with each other but with those around them who may want to attend or support the school philanthropically.

We think about alumni, who return to the school to engage with student life; they can be really beneficial in judging where an institution might be or needs to be.  They can contribute in terms of time, talent and treasure. We think about donors, who invest in our future. Donors support an institution that knows where it is headed and the work that’s taking place now—this support is what allows faculty, students and staff to aim higher and dream bigger. Together, alumni and donors provide necessary support for our success, they help us foster a strong reputation, and are an essential part of the student experience. They’re a core part of the school’s mission and values—and that network is important for the health and well-being of any institution. For me, it’s all tied together: what’s happening on campus and what investments are taking place as well.

You’ve worked at a number of Ontario’s universities. In what ways do the approaches taken in higher education—in relation to development, events, community outreach, and alumni engagement—transfer nicely to an independent school setting?  The strongest similarities, I think, will be in the student experience. Some students live on campus and others off, but together they contribute to the fabric of the school. Dedicated faculty are working hard to educate, staff are supporting students and the school at large—and when an institution is collegial and respectful of its faculty and staff, students pick up on it. A strong student experience is made up of more than what is learned in the classroom; everybody plays a role, and this creates a tight-knit community. This feeling of belonging, of family, ultimately contributes to student success, because when there’s belonging, the pride and respect come along with it. And those are wonderful nurturers for life.

We have a very diverse alumni population, comprised of different generations, who may come from or be living in different geographic locations, and who represent a range of political opinions and interests. How can we reach and keep our community strong as a whole, while also ensuring that we’re meeting the different needs of the groups within it? A diverse population contributes to a healthy environment; we learn from each other and learn to respect each other’s values and principles—and these various perspectives that students learn about at Ridley will help them to navigate life. We need to encourage open dialogue and use our vast network to reach out to each other both locally and globally. We all have stories to tell, we all have perspectives to share.

But everyone’s experience is different, and we have to approach those experiences differently. I will reach out to someone who graduated three years ago quite differently than I would someone who graduated 50 years ago; we use different platforms, we respond differently because they’re looking for different things. Each alumni is important to engage and value, to listen to, and provide with opportunity to be involved. And when we do this effectively, our alumni come forward to support us, to provide meaningful input that affects change. It’s mutually beneficial.

Welcome to Ridley, Shelley! We look forward to getting to know you over the coming months and are so pleased to have you join us—we’re sure there will be a number of exciting changes and opportunities ahead! As we introduce you to Ridley faculty, staff, parents, and alumni, is there anything in particular you’d like them to know? I am really thrilled and honoured to be joining this community and can’t tell you how much I look forward to hearing from each of you about what makes Ridley so special. For now, I will say that the Development team is here to support our student experience, to provide resources for faculty to thrive in the classrooms, and to connect alumni to one another and alumni to Ridley. We’re here to support Ridley—and you—today and in the future.

A Tribute To Susan Hazell

We’re wishing a fond farewell to one of our most valued colleagues, Director of Development, Susan Hazell, who will be retiring from Ridley this summer. Susan first came to our school in 1979 to teach French and Spanish; returned in 1984 as a teacher and swimming coach, becoming the official Housemaster of Arthur Bishop East the following year; and, in later years, made an enormous impact as Ridley’s Director of Development. For decades, Susan has been an integral part of our community, and we couldn’t be more grateful for her experience, leadership, vivacity, and warmth.

We asked Susan’s close friend and former colleague, Vera Wilcox—another long-time member of our community—to reflect on Susan’s career in Canada’s independent school system—and to give us a peek into what’s next. But if you’ve met Susan, you’ll know that wherever this next stretch of the journey takes her, it’s almost certain she’ll be smiling.


Sue and I first crossed paths in January 1980 when, at the suggestion of her tennis-playing fiancé Mike Hazell ’73, she came to take lessons at White Oaks Tennis and Racquet Club, where I was the tennis pro. I had met Mike a few years earlier, when my husband and I played tennis with him in Stratford.

“My first impressions include how Sue’s smile lit up her entire face, making me feel great just being around her; her eagerness to try something new—and how hard she worked to learn the skills; and her strong determination to excel.”

My first impressions from those lessons include how Sue’s smile lit up her entire face, making me feel great just being around her; her eagerness to try something new—and how hard she worked to learn the skills; and her strong determination to excel. I soon realized these were not just impressions, but Sue’s inherent essence, the enthusiasm which she brought to everyone and everything in her life. In 1984, Mike was hired to run Sports Ridley, and the couple returned as teachers and housemasters of Arthur Bishop East. The move rekindled what came to be a lifelong friendship and, for me, started a period of mentorship, as we worked together in independent schools for more than 35 years.

“Teacher, coach, housemaster, parent, administrator, mentor, friend – through her warmth, enthusiasm and her strong sense of doing what is right, Susan Hazell’s contribution, not only to Ridley but to independent schools across Canada, is immeasurable.”

— Trish Loat

As Sue moved through her career—at Ridley, The Bishop Strachan School, and later at Lakefield College School—she held a variety of leadership roles, ranging from Head of Residence, to Dean of Students, to Assistant Head of School Life—always dealing with staff, students and their families. In each role, she brought with her a curiosity and love of learning (Sue is a voracious reader and researcher), sincere listening skills, and a passion for helping others to improve and get the most out of their experience in their environment.

Sue provided opportunities for people to voice their ideas, concerns and dreams, and she would always listen intently. She made them feel validated when she integrated this information into a vision, presented the group with a plan to evaluate, and then looked to each member for ownership—not only during the plan’s implementation, but its success. A consummate team player and leader, Sue always stood in front of, beside, and behind her team, whether it was made up of students, families or staff. Her passion for teaching continued with her involvement in the Independent School Management (ISM) Summer Institute, where she worked as a workshop leader alongside Ellie Griffin, presenting sessions such as “Balance Your Contrasting Roles as Dean of Students” and “Power and Influence: Women and Leadership”. 

“Thinking about my relationship over many, many years with Susan, reaching back to when I was a student at Ridley, babysitting the boys, housesitting the pets, working for her at Bishop Strachan School, working in the Hazell family business, connecting with Susan in a variety of professional roles, and recently in her capacity as head of Development, simply brings a smile to my face.

Every experience has felt like its own little adventure full of friendship, optimism, energy, laughter and purpose. Susan lifts up everyone and everything she touches with humility and heart. I am one of many women who have benefitted from her mentorship and friendship over the years.”

— Georgina H. Black ’85

Sue’s role changed in the early 2000s, when she became the Executive Director of CAIS, working with heads of schools from across Canada. Three years later, her career took another turn when she was invited to become the first Executive Director of Advancement at Collingwood School in Vancouver. Both moves were built on a solid foundation of knowledge and deep understanding of the independent school system—along with her valuable hands-on experience working with staff, students, families, and alumni. And, along the way, Sue took courses in fundraising and strategic planning, earning her IAP-S and CFRE certifications. Because she was such an effective and inspirational teacher, Sue continued to teach at ISM—now as a member of the Advancement Academy, where she worked with mentees developing action plans for capital campaigns and strategic planning.

“For over forty years, Susan has devoted her professional life to advancing independent schools, especially Ridley. I’m personally grateful for her guidance and the ways she has bolstered our school’s fundraising over the past six years. Susan’s ties to our community run deep and her daily presence on campus will be missed. I have no doubt she will remain connected to the RCA as she enters into a much-deserved retirement.” ­

— Ed Kidd, Headmaster

This period led Sue full circle back to Ridley College in 2014, when she became the school’s Director of Development. During her time at Ridley, Sue has not only worked in Development, but has shared decades of experience in helping to develop a number of the school’s areas, such as residential life, student leadership and more. 

Not one to sit still, in addition to tennis, walking, hiking, biking, spinning, and golf, Sue has now added curling and rowing to her ever-growing list of activities. With her retirement, not only will Sue now have plenty of time for these active pursuits, but she’s looking forward to spending time with family and her boys; connecting with friends near and far; planting, working and harvesting her garden; travelling; and any other new adventures that come her way. Sadly, Ridley’s loss is everyone else’s gain!

I’m sure I speak for many when I say, thank you, Sue, for sharing your passion, your wisdom, your joy in mentoring others, and your life’s journey with all of us. 

— Vera Wilcox

Flourishing in these Challenging Times, Vol. 6

Four More Weeks!

By Director of Wellbeing and Learning, Sue Easton

We all heard the announcement this week from Premier Doug Ford, that Ontario schools would not reopen for the rest of the 2019-20 school year. Though it wasn’t a total surprise, it definitely evoked many emotions in the adults and children of our Ridley community.

Some felt elated at the opportunity to spend more time with family, to continue exploring interests and passions, sleep more and have more choice and flexibility in planning each day.

Some felt neutral. They have developed a daily routine—including school or work, time with family, communicating with friends, exercising, and doing things that interest them—and are comfortable with the continuation of this schedule for the next four weeks.

Some felt distressed at the thought of four more weeks within the same four walls, with few opportunities to see friends or participate in the activities that they love.

Many of us will fluctuate between these different feelings in a day, a week, or throughout the next few weeks. Each of these feelings is normal, and part of being human. In past blog posts, I have shared many research-based strategies  and practices to use on a regular basis to support us when our feelings or emotions seem stuck in the negative: focusing on relationships, using our strengths, understanding our feelings to help us navigate them, sleeping well, moving more, and eating healthy.

But what about the moments when our anger, sadness or fear seem to overwhelm us?

Research into somatopsychic (relating to the effects of the body on the mind) actions suggests that movements like the following can be helpful during these moments:

  1. Square breathing: Picture a square in your mind. As you “draw” across the top, take a breath in to the count of four. As you “draw” down the side, hold the breath to the count of four. As you “draw” up, breathe out to the count of four. As you close the square, hold the breath to the count of four. Repeat at least three times, or as long as needed. Discover other breathing exercises for kids.
  2. Yoga Poses: Practice these poses with your child regularly for improved wellbeing, and so that when they are feeling overwhelmed, they know just the right movement to make them feel better.
  3. Exercise: Physical activity has been proven to reduce stress and fatigue, and to improve alertness and well-being. Thirty minutes a day, done together or in smaller time intervals, have been found to be effective. Determine what physical exercise you or your kids enjoy and take action daily. This will support daily well-being, and provide an outlet for overwhelming negative emotions.

Please remember, all emotions are normal. During this challenging time, it is important that we allow children to sit with their feelings, to notice, name and determine how to navigate them. If we see them getting stuck in negativity, however, hopefully at least one of the strategies shared here will help them move forward.

REMINDER: Hanna Kidd and I hope to see you Tuesday, May 26th at 8a.m. or 2p.m. EST—wherever you are in the world—for our Tuesday Tips chat on ZOOM! Next week’s topic will be Savouring Daily Joys.

Link to join: https://zoom.us/j/169769784

Password: 098733

Flourishing in These Challenging Times, Vol. 5

Keep Moving!

By Director of Wellbeing and Learning, Sue Easton

“If you eat, sleep and move well today, you will have more energy tomorrow. You will treat your friends and family better. You will achieve more at work [or school] and give more to your community.”  — Tom Rath, from Eat Move Sleep

This powerful advice is even more important today than when it was written—and more challenging when much of our day is spent inside, sitting and often in front of a screen.

So, what can you do?

  1. Ensure you and your child(ren) spend time each day outside, preferably in nature. There is a strong connection between time spent in nature and a reduction in negative emotions. Need some ideas? Here are 31 classic outdoor games for you and your family to play.
  2. Be sure each member of your household gets up and moves at least once per hour. It’s a great opportunity to get a glass of water (another important aspect of well-being!), check in with others (remember, relationships are important!), and reduce the risk of many long term health concerns. Here are some simple stretches to try during your day.
  3. Speak with your child(ren) about screen time. Its forms are definitely not all created equal. We’re now using screens in so many different ways: to communicate, create, work, and explore. It’s still important to have a balance of screen and unplugged time. Keep in mind, however, given how important relationships are for well-being, screen time spent communicating with others needs to be considered. Talk to your child(ren) to better understand how they’re using their screens, and determine together a reasonable amount of daily screen time.

And please remember, parents, eating, sleeping and moving is not just for children. Look after yourselves, too!

REMINDER: Hanna Kidd and I hope to see you Tuesday, May 12th at 8a.m. or 2p.m. EST—wherever you are in the world—for our Tuesday Tips chat on ZOOM! Next week’s topic will be Cultivating Optimism.

Link to join: https://zoom.us/j/169769784

Password: 098733


Additional Resources

“The Pandemic Gave Me My Teenage Daughter Back” — by Katrina Onstad, for Chatelaine magazine

Tuesday Tips: Time Management (April 14th)

Tuesday Tips: Coping Skills (April 21st)

Family Guild Meeting: Tips for Parents (April 16th)

Reimagining Urban Space: Brian Wannamaker ’82

Having redeveloped Portland neighbourhoods for two decades while creating living and work spaces for artists, alumnus Brian Wannamaker ’82 can be most fittingly described as a passionate ‘artpreneur.’


An Oakville, Ontario native, Brian relocated to Oregon in 1986 following his studies at Ridley and York University. He recalls not being entirely certain where his path would lead, but began saving his earnings in order to acquire property. With a strong creative compass and solutions-oriented mindset, he soon found himself working in real estate redevelopment. Brian recalls that in the early 1990s, his then business partner exposed him to art collecting, which served to reignite an appreciation he had always had for artistic expression.

”There seemed to be a wrong in the world where artists could work on their craft so hard and barely make ends meet. I just wanted to do a little bit to help these people.”

In the years that followed, Brian was drawn to reimagining properties of cultural and architectural significance around the west coast city, and eventually discovered Falcon Apartments, a diamond-in-the-rough for which he saw immense potential.

When Brian bought the property in Portland’s north end in 1997, it was a languishing, partially inhabited apartment building with low- and fixed-income tenants. However, he was able to envision how it could evolve into a hub for working artists without displacing the existing tenants. Brian felt compelled to breathe new life into the neglected building and to support the struggling tenants living within.

Soon, his plan to transform Falcon Apartments shifted from a business opportunity into a vision to build and empower an arts community. Brian came up with a value strategy to blend the higher renovated apartments rent with the existing tenants rent and the midpoint being profitable without rental increases to fixed income residents. The “cost average “ approach allowed judicious rent to existing resident and artists, while directing a portion of the market rent to support a 14,000-square-foot multi studio space in the lower level. This way, creators (painters, sculptors, musicians, writers and more) could work in dedicated studios and feel connected to a broader creative community. The building and guild of artists are now aptly named Falcon Arts Community.

“My insight for Falcon Art Community came from spending so much time living at Ridley. It’s that basic concept that you want to be around people who you enjoy being around and who you find inspiring.”

Brian recognizes that his care for the community comes in large part from his seven years at Ridley. “It’s a compassion piece that happened at Ridley; it’s about having a big enough perspective to want others to succeed,” he explains. ”There seemed to be a wrong in the world where artists could work on their craft so hard and barely make ends meet. I just wanted to do a little bit to help these people,” Brian adds, demonstrating his embodiment of our school motto.

Throughout his career, Brian has found countless innovative ways to integrate urban renewal with his passion for artistic creativity—whether he’s beautifying a stretch of Portland’s North Mississippi Avenue, leasing converted cold storage unit spaces to a general arts college, conceptualizing an inspiring venue for musicians, or as owner of the stunning Wannamaker Estate Vineyard in Washington.

When asked what advice he has for current Ridleians and youth exploring careers in the arts, Brian imparts, “I think it’s critical to learn how to be inventive…If you learn how to be a creative problem solver, that will help take you further in whichever endeavour you follow through with.”

Alumni Serving The World

How Ridleians Are Embodying Our Motto During COVID-19

During these uncertain and challenging times, it can be hard to find the points of light, those moments when the sun spills in through the cracks. However, since the onset of this global pandemic, we’ve heard countless light-filled stories of our own alumni working on the frontlines fighting COVID-19. Their contributions are sure to fill you with pride and hope.

Check back in for updates as we bring you the stories from alumni who are working to make our world a better place, at a time when things may seem a bit dark.

If you or an alumni you know is embodying our school motto, contact development@ridleycollege.com. Be sure to include photos, if possible.

On the Frontlines

As the pandemic threatens the health of people all over the world, our frontline workers are responding with care and working on a solution.

Sir John Bell ’71, one of the U.K.’s leading immunologists and life science champions, has been named to Britain’s COVID-19 vaccine task force. The Canadian-born Oxford professor and physician has been making headlines for his leadership in improving testing practices and for his cutting-edge immunization research. Knighted in 2008, Bell also continues to be a key parliamentary advisor.

New York State has been hit particularly hard during this pandemic and its healthcare workers are working around the clock to care for their patients. One of those workers is Joshua Miller ’04, an E.R. nurse at Kenmore Mercy Hospital in Buffalo, NY — the embodiment of our school motto, Terar Dum Prosim.

Local alumna, Ellen Stevens (Went) ’07 is stepping up to support our community. The Public Health Nurse is serving the Niagara Region as part of its COVID-19 response team. Prior to government recommendations that healthcare providers should only work at one facility during the pandemic, Ellen spent her days off working at the local hospital NICU.

Sisters NurNisa (Nuri) ’21 and MehrNisa (Mehri) ’25 couldn’t be prouder of their father, Dr. Mamoon Bokhari who’s working bravely on the frontlines in both Canada and the US.

A warm thank you on behalf of our community goes out to anesthesiologist, Jordan Meyers ’12. Jordan is busy caring for patients in the Intensive Care Unit and Emergency Room at Vancouver’s St. Paul Hospital.

Helping Hands

Food banks, health care workers and underserved communities are needing help more than ever, and our savvy alumni are stepping up in generous—and ingenious—ways.

When Christopher Edwards ’87, along with co-owners of their newly expanded Dallas clothing company, was forced to lay off workers, he knew they had the means to help. The trio soon re-tooled the manufacturing side of their 13,000 square-foot store and got to work producing face masks. What started as one or two soon turned to 100 face masks a day. “We still can’t keep up with the demand,” he reports.

Clean Works co-founder Paul Moyer ’84 is using a machine built to safely and effectively sanitize fruits and vegetables to sanitize the personal protective equipment (PPE) worn by health-care workers on the frontlines of the pandemic. The company’s Clean Flow machine can sanitize as many as 1,200 masks—including N95—an hour, destroying up to 99.99 per cent of pathogens on surfaces. Learn more.

The Giffin family, which includes Alison ’98 and Doug ’07, are working hard to support the COVID-19 effort. Their solutions-based business has teamed up with the Ford Motor Company to help convert Ford’s Michigan-based components plant, so that its employees can safely work to produce 7,200 ventilators per week. Doug has proudly joined his father, CEO and Founder, Don Giffin in the family business. Learn more.

Rally and Rise

It’s easy to feel helpless during times such as these, but these motivated alumni are raising funds and finding ways to ensure communities have the resources they need.

Megalomaniac winery owners, John Howard and daughter, Erin Mitchell ’90 are helping us raise a glass to our brave frontline workers. Proceeds from their new wine, Much Obliged will be going to Food Banks Canada—but they aren’t stopping there. The Beamsville-based duo will soon be out delivering 720 bottles of their best to workers at hospitals and care facilities across Ontario. Learn more.

Kelsey Peters ’10 has written and illustrated a children’s book, Where Has the World Gone? to help explain the pandemic to little ones. All proceeds raised through Amazon sales will be donated to charitable organizations requiring an extra boost during COVID-19.

A conversation on dwindling PPE compelled community member Ryan Dorland, (son of Scott ’73), to get involved. Ryan set up a Go Fund Me page to help purchase 3D printers which can, in turn, produce the bands used to hold the plastic shields for protective masks in place. He’s raised more than $5,000 so far, has donated hundreds to Toronto East General and Milton Hospital, and currently has eight machines running. Future funding will go to pay for the plastic rolls the machines require. Learn more.

Flourishing in These Challenging Times, Vol. 4

Focus on Your Strengths

By Director of Wellbeing and Learning, Sue Easton

“Life is amazing. And then it’s awful. And then it’s amazing again. And in between the amazing and the awful, it’s ordinary and mundane and routine. Breathe in the amazing, hold on through the awful, and relax and exhale during the ordinary. That’s just living heartbreaking, soul-healing, amazing, awful, ordinary life. And it’s breathtakingly beautiful.” — L.R. Knost

This quote is a reminder to us all that we will get through the “awful” and that life will be “amazing” again. One way we’re encouraging students to get through life’s challenges—in addition to its more “ordinary…mundane…and routine” parts—is to use their strengths. Beginning in Grade 3, each and every Ridley student learns about the VIA Character Strengths. Classes talk about identifying both character and performance strengths, and how to use them, not only to succeed, but to flourish.

Ridley College became a Visible Wellbeing School after spending two years working closely with Dr. Lea Waters. Her research-based book, The Strength Switch, focuses on the need for parents and educators to focus on children’s strengths in order to build resilience, optimism, and achievement. There is no more important time than now to focus on our strengths.

So, what can you do?

  1. Discuss your child’s strengths with them. Reference the VIA Character strengths survey (for more information, check out these videos), and also discuss the strengths you see in them every day. Remind them how important it is that they know and use them.
  2. Reference their strengths every day. One great activity that can be done around the dinner table is “Three Good Things,” which helps children reflect on what went well that day, why it went well and which strengths they or others used.
  3. Choose a daily activity to do together. (Here are 101 from which to choose.) Talk about the strengths you used to complete these activities, and discuss how knowing and using their own strengths will help them during this challenging time.

And please remember, parents, you are using your own strengths to navigate these challenging times! Recognize all that you are doing—and please be kind to yourself.


REMINDER: Hanna Kidd and I hope to see you next Tuesday, April 28th at 8a.m. or 2p.m. EST—wherever you are in the world—for our Tuesday Tips chat on ZOOM! Next week’s topic will be Nurturing Social Relationships.

Link to join: https://zoom.us/j/169769784

Password: 098733


Additional Resources

Tuesday Tips: Time Management (April 14th)

Tuesday Tips: Coping Skills (April 21st)

Family Guild Meeting: Tips for Parents (April 16th)

Flourishing in these Challenging Times, Vol. 3

The Importance of Relationships

By Director of Wellbeing and Learning, Sue Easton

This is a short week at Ridley, but another week of adjustments — and enhancements — for us all. To support our important work of ensuring students feel connected to the Ridley community, we’ve incorporated division-wide Assembly in Upper School, weekly Advisory times, class meetings in Lower School, and school-wide opportunities for student check-ins with teachers and Heads of House. Ridley, at its core, is built on relationships. We want to continue to maintain and grow these, knowing that they are a vital part of flourishing lives.

With relationships in mind, I share my current top five resources to support parents and introduce opportunities for them to build relationships and learn remotely with Ridley.

Top Five Resources for Parents:

  1. 7 Guiding Principles for Parents Teaching at Home (article)
  2. How to Turn your Home into a school without Losing your Sanity (comic)
  3. Who do I choose to be during COVID-19? (infographic)
  4. Get Through This: Self-Care for Parents (1 hr recorded ZOOM webinar)
  5. Coronavirus: A Book for Children (book)

In addition, we look forward to launching our Flourishing for Parents virtual connections next week. Please join us for learning and community!

Opportunities for Parents for the week of April 13th

Tuesday Tips with Hanna Kidd & Sue Easton:  8:00a.m. & 2:00p.m. This week’s topic is Time Management. How can you support your child in achieving during this challenging time? Let us share some tips to support our Ridley family!

Thursday Sip and Chat: 8:00a.m. & 2:00p.m. Join us with a coffee or tea for a chat and a break from the day. We need to stay in touch!

Coming Next Week: We’ll be sharing daily activities and practices to support your whole family in flourishing during these challenging times.

Be well and Happy Easter!

Off The Grid: Sandy Rasmussen ’07

Abstractionist, Sandy Rasmussen is proving to the art world that his has staying power.

“The grid started out as a pattern resembling my mom’s tablecloth,” Sandy laughs. “We would have dinner outside, and she’d put a tablecloth on the counter and tell us not to make a mess. I’d wonder, why have it? But that tension, that feeling of do not spill anything—I love that.”

Abstractionist and Old Ridleian, Alexander ‘Sandy’ Rasmussen ’07 always knew he would work in the arts. His grandfather, an artist and set designer at the Canadian Broadcast Corporation (CBC), encouraged Sandy from a young age, and his time at Ridley was largely spent hanging around the art department, fascinated by stories of the abstract expressionists who broke visual traditions and found new ways to communicate.

Rasmussen's exhibition at the Christopher Cutts gallery

From his mother’s tablecloth, to the famous grids of Agnes Martin, to the linoleum tile floors of the gas station in which he used to paint, the Niagara-based artist is looking to explore that tension, earning kudos from critics at his recent show at the Christopher Cutts gallery for his “riveting works” and “delectable passages of paint that almost shimmer.”

“The act of putting on paint impasto like I do is kind of a bold statement. What mark do I make now? Do I touch the canvas with that colour? What if I do this? It’s totally subversive,” he concludes. “I’m going to do what I want.”

After graduating from Ridley, the St. Catharines native left to study at the Emily Carr University of Art and Design, but soon realized he was looking for a different kind of experience. “As much as art can seem welcoming and nurturing, it can also be a towering history of knowledge that you may not possess,” he admits. “It’s a steep hill.” The following year, Sandy headed east to take Sociology at St. Francis Xavier University—but he didn’t leave art far behind. “I started seeing parallels between the things we were discussing in class and in art,” he says, looking back. And, a year into his degree, painting pulled him home.

Fat Chance

“The act of putting on paint impasto like I do is kind of a bold statement. What mark do I make now? Do I touch the canvas with that colour? It’s totally subversive. I’m going to do what I want.”

Sandy came back, borrowed $500 from his dad for supplies, and got to work. He sold pieces and secured commissions. He travelled home to paint on weekends and school breaks. He immersed himself in art history. After graduation, Sandy started painting full-time in his parents’ garage, then rented out space at an old rural gas station before spending two tough years working in a cold, dim-lit barn out in Jordan Station—an experience which he says hardened him as an artist.

He now paints in a light-filled barn not far from campus, the rustic surroundings informing his work in pleasant, unexpected ways. And a barn is likely the best place for him to spread out. For Sandy, painting is a sport—and he likes to play large, whether he’s physically stretching across a wide expanse of canvas or stretching out an idea twenty feet. He points to influential artists like Jackson Pollock, Mark Bradford and Joe Bradley, artists whose physicality enters their work.

“The thing I loved most about basketball was doing layups during warmup, feeling hyped and excited,” he explains, looking back to his days on the Ridley team. “And with big paintings I get that same shiver down the back of my neck; I’m anxious to get going.”

You can see that energetic sprawl across Samosas, the 8-by 24-foot abstract which now hangs at Brock University. Sandy donated the painting to brothers Taylor ’07 and Clark ’09 Robertson in memory of their parents and sister, Joe, Anita and Laura ’11, who were tragically killed in a plane crash the summer of 2018. Their loss was felt across the Niagara Region; the warm-hearted Robertsons were known widely as philanthropists and community leaders, and they were generous supporters of both Ridley and Brock.

Sandy speaks at the unveiling of Samosas at Brock University. Image courtesy of Brock News.

“When I heard the news, I knew pretty quickly what I wanted to do. It was always theirs.”

The family was very familiar with Samosas, having admired its progression at the gas station where Sandy painted, and then rolled out on his barn floor mere days before the accident. “They’d seen it so many times,” Sandy recalls. “When I heard the news, I knew pretty quickly what I wanted to do. It was always theirs.” Taylor and Clark chose to display the painting in Market Hall, now a permanent memorial at the university where Anita volunteered and whose Board of Trustees Joe had served on for nearly a decade.

“I had nearly exhausted the look by the time I got to the right side of that canvas,” Sandy smiles. “It was like finishing a marathon.” If you see it, you’ll see why. Standing in front of that painting is like going on a contemplative journey; its pathways and rivulets thread across the wide expanse, and you can’t help but follow—all the way off the canvas edge. Samosas was unveiled at Brock this past April. 

Sandy’s paintings often slip to matters of time and nostalgia, his large-scale abstractions christened with playful names like Fresh Fresh (a nod to the woman who makes his favourite samosas), Horse Play (a sweet response to his late grandmother’s living room warnings), or Fat Chance (the gamble that is all art, really—and the piece that kicked off his Toronto show).

Alexander Rasmussen

“My paintings have their own timeline, their own journey,” he explains. “And I just have to trust that, because chances are what you’re working on right now will have a small and fleeting impact.”

His work incorporates memory, but he’s also conscious of it as a deliberate reflection of the present, with the occasional happy accident of an unplanned gesture, the quick scoot of a brush in an unexpected way. “My paintings have their own timeline, their own journey,” he explains thoughtfully. “And I just have to trust that, I suppose, because chances are what you’re working on right now will have a small and fleeting impact. To get an ego about a particular piece—that’s not going to last.”

But as time goes on, Sandy’s proving to the art world that his has staying power. “Rasmussen is already some way on his journey into figuring out those techniques that give his paintings the desired emotional content,” noted Toronto critics this past spring. “He is definitely onto something.”

As for the up-and-coming artist? “There’s no turning back,” he says resolutely. And there may be some delicious irony in that statement, as Sandy’s paintings often capture a textured and abstract past, even as his brush keeps going.


This article was printed in the latest issue of Tiger magazine. Learn about our alumni, get community updates and find out where Ridley is heading next! Read more from our winter issue.

Flourishing in these Challenging Times, Vol. 2

Support for Parents

By Director of Wellbeing and Learning, Sue Easton

This past Thursday, our community embarked on a new adventure through Ridley Remote Learning, or R2L. The initial response from students, teachers and parents was resoundingly positive. Every member of the community was excited to reconnect, share their experiences and emotions, and begin to bring some normalcy back into their lives through the addition of regular learning and new opportunities to connect. We know that Ridley is built on relationships; these will help us get through these challenging times.

But how best to thrive when we are surrounded by change? Please consider these five inspirational statements about change—along with some resources to help support you and the Ridley community.

  1. Change is an opportunity to do something amazing.

How can you create the space in your home for your child(ren) to create or do something to support or inspire others?

Recommended Resources:

Corona: Artist Illustrates the Matterhorn

Charitable apps and websites

Kid-staffed Newspaper

2. Change is inevitable. Growth is optional.

How can you model or support learning during and beyond R2L?

Recommended Resources:

Building Growth mindset in children

Virtual Marine Biology Camp – free for kids

The Top 100 Documentaries we can use to change the world

3. Embrace change. Emerge positive.

How can you ensure that your child(ren) uses their identified VIA character strengths to stay positive? (If you haven’t read Dr. Lea Waters’ Strength Switch, now is a great time!)

Recommended Resources:

101 Strength-based Actions to Connect, from a Safe Distance

Ideapod: Complaining properly

How School closures can strengthen your family

4. You can’t stop the waves, but you can learn to surf.

How can you ensure there is still fun and challenge in your child(ren)’s day?

Recommended Resources:

Games to play collaboratively online

ESF Breakfast of champion challenge

Poem: Gone Viral

5. Change is a process, not an event.

How can you ensure your family builds practices to endure this change process?

Recommended Resources:

Sleep Better, Do Better (infographic)

Science-backed strategies to build resilience

A Simple Exercise to stay calm in the face of Coronavirus uncertainty

Our lives have changed. But is our response to those changes—both as individuals and as a community—that will ensure we continue to flourish.