The Babineau Boys: Soaring with a Safety Net

The Babineau family: Christian '14, Phil, Simone and Alex '16
The Babineau family: Christian ’14, Phil, Simone and Alex ’16.

“The first time we were on campus was the day Christian ’14 started school in September 2012.” Simone Babineau says with a smile. “Classes hadn’t started yet, and we ran into Ian Armstrong—who we’d met before—walking down a corridor. He immediately came up to Christian, put his arm around his shoulder and said, ‘I’m so glad you’re here!’ I’ll never forget that. We knew Christian was where he was supposed to be.”

The Babineau family—Phil, Simone and their two sons, Christian ’14 and Alex ’16—had never considered boarding school when the boys were growing up in New Brunswick. But one winter after Christian returned home from playing hockey against some prep schools in Ontario (both Christian and Alex are skilled players), he said he rather liked the idea of boarding school. Simone and Phil were taken aback. They’d always told their children they could achieve anything their hearts desired, to listen to the little voice inside—but going away to school? That wasn’t quite what they had in mind.

When the idea didn’t fade as Simone had hoped, the Babineaus decided to look into it. Their first exposure to Lakefield College School was at the Hockey Showcase in Prince Edward Island where private schools scout for students who are talented players. Christian was playing at the Showcase and LCS had a booth. The family chatted with Ian Armstrong, who was Lakefield’s Director of Athletics at the time, and they established a good rapport. Christian and his parents decided to check out LCS, as well as a few other schools in Maine and Quebec.

For keen hockey players, Lakefield might not seem the obvious choice because it encourages participation in multiple sports and co-curricular activities. But after investigating and visiting three more hockey-focussed schools, Christian was adamant LCS was where he belonged.

“It was just an inner knowing he had,” Simone says. “Even though we didn’t physically visit the campus because it was so far away, all our interactions with the school—on the phone, on Skype, by email—were great. Every conversation we had flowed so easily and seemed so natural. It was like we’d always known them.”

Phil adds, “It seemed more warm and down-to-earth than the other schools, which is exactly how we are in the Maritimes. We felt LCS was a smaller place where everyone knew each other—much like here. It just seemed more comfortable. Long story short: it ended up being the perfect decision.”

Although playing hockey was the reason both Christian and Alex went to Lakefield, it was the quality of education, the abundance of experiences, and the kindness of the community that made the family feel so good about the school.

“The first time we said good-bye to Christian and drove off was tough,” Phil says wistfully. “He was only 16 and he’d never lived away from home before. But as the weeks rolled on and we spoke on the phone, he’d say ‘You know what, Mom and Dad? I actually enjoy school now.’ Well, that was something we’d never heard before! Christian is the type who asks a lot of questions in class, and in public school he was sometimes told he asked too many. But at LCS, they respected his curiosity and encouraged him to come after class or at lunchtime to discuss any questions he had. Christian was impressed with that. He’d done well in school in New Brunswick, but he’d never really enjoyed himself. For Christian to say he liked school? It made us certain he was in the right place and that we’d made the right decision.”

Christian attended Grade 11 and 12 at Lakefield, then Alex followed and did his junior and senior years there as well. “Alex spent a weekend at The Grove when Christian was in Grade 12,” Simone explains. “He came home saying—pretty emphatically—that it was his turn now!

“Alex is a hockey player like Christian, but he also has an artistic side. Here at home he was involved a bit in music, but I think he felt it wasn’t ‘cool’ for a hockey player to explore the arts. When he went to LCS all that changed. He was encouraged to go for it, and, boy, did he: jazz band, orchestra band, rock band—he was even in charge of the music room. And he was the drunk actor in the spring production Noises Off and had a ball playing that role. At Lakefield he got to explore so many other interests, and he really flourished.”

For the Babineaus, LCS was like a surrogate family. “Everyone showed them—and us—so much respect. When we were on campus we didn’t feel like we were one of 360 families. We were Christian and Alex’s parents and everyone knew who Christian and Alex were. In the four years they were there, whether we called or emailed, we always got the same response: You matter. Your boys matter. Your opinions matter. Whatever we were calling about—school work, extracurricular stuff, food, diet, sports, flights home—whatever it was, they’d say, ‘We’ll look into that. We’ll take care of that.’  It’s not often you see that kind of genuine caring in today’s world.”

Both Phil and Simone understand how hard it is to let children go away to school. Like most contemporary parents, they were highly involved in their boys’ lives and the thought of them living away from home was unsettling. But now, with hindsight, they can say with total confidence that it was the best thing they could have done for them.

“Lakefield fostered the boys’ independence, their individuality. They were able to take risks and try new things they might not have been willing to do at home because of peer pressure or fear of failing. LCS allowed them to flourish on so many levels,” Phil says. “Did we miss them? Of course! But we were in touch all the time. And neither of them was ever homesick.”

“The only ones who had a hard time were Phil and I,” Simone admits. “But I wouldn’t change a thing about our decision to send them to Lakefield. At LCS, our boys were given amazing opportunities to flourish, all with constant encouragement and healthy boundaries.”