Making an educated decision about your child’s future
By Phil Keeling
Mention the words “boarding school,” and many people may immediately think of images conjured from books and films. These images often go from one extreme to another: whether they’re drab, military inspired classrooms filled with unruly and troubled students that require discipline and uniformity, or elitist institutions reserved for the super wealthy. These impressions are particularly common in America, where parents may have far less experience with the boarding school environment, and often misunderstand their benefits.
The reality is that a boarding education offers a wide variety of exciting opportunities to students who attend them. Statistics suggest that students who board are often more likely to succeed later in life. But the choice really comes down to this question: Are boarding schools the right educational and social fit for your child?
WHAT ARE BOARDING SCHOOLS?
Most commonly, boarding schools are private educational institutions that place a greater emphasis on college preparation through a heavy focus on rigorous academic programs and extensive extracurricular activities. Smaller class sizes and lower teacher to student ratios are common, providing greater individual attention.
The usual practice of students living on campus also allows for a constant emphasis on education, both in and out of the classroom. Not only does this provide students with a discipline for individual study, it prepares them for the independence that they will be faced with when they attend college. In fact, in a study conducted by The Association of Boarding Schools (TABS), 78 percent of boarding school graduates reported being very well prepared for the nonacademic aspects of college life (managing time, handling independence and balancing social lives), compared to only 36 percent of private day school graduates and 23 percent of public school students. In addition to this, TABS also found that 50 percent of boarding school graduates go on to get advanced degrees, as opposed to 36 percent of students from private day schools, and 21 percent from public schools.
However, not all boarding schools require 24-hour on-campus residence. It has become increasingly common for some boarding schools to offer admission to day students who commute from local cities (day-boarding schools), while others operate on a five-day schedule. Brandon Hall School in Atlanta’s Sandy Springs area offers day school, as well as seven-day and five-day boarding. Other types of boarding schools include coeducational, single-gender, religiously affiliated, military, and even junior boarding schools that typically serve children in grades 1 through 8. Therapeutic schools such as The Vanguard School in Lake Wales, Florida specialize in educating children with learning disabilities, and many other boarding schools provide specific support to students with emotional or behavioral problems. There are also specialty schools for children who want to focus on a particular interest, such as the outdoors, sports, science and technology, or the arts.
CHOOSING THE RIGHT BOARDING EDUCATION
“Just like selecting a college, selecting a boarding school is so much about fit,” says Margaret Broad, Head of School Emerita at St. Margaret’s School in Tappahannock, Virginia. “It’s about the fit with the right program, the right community and the right atmosphere.”
“THE KIDS THAT COME TO BOARDING SCHOOLS ARE TOP-NOTCH. THEY’RE COMING HERE BECAUSE THEY WANT TO HAVE AN ADVANTAGE IN BOTH ACADEMIC AND SOCIAL PREPARATION FOR COLLEGE.”
Choosing the wrong school can result in an unhappy child and a wasted educational opportunity. “My strongest advice for those looking into boarding schools is to visit,” says Broad. “Do research. Consider your priorities for your child. Visit a variety of schools that meet the parameters that you have outlined. Give it the same amount of time you would give to selecting a college.”
Websites of organizations such as The Association of Boarding Schools are great places to start the search for schools. The TABS online database lists nearly 200 boarding schools throughout the US, and an advanced search allows parents to enter various criteria, including religious affiliation, grade level, athletic programs, courses offered and more. This allows interested parents to find a school that is every bit as unique as their child.
Taking advantage of these resources along with close attention paid to detail and the desires and needs of your child will be priceless when it comes to choosing the right boarding school.
BREAKING THROUGH THE MISCONCEPTION
As mentioned before, there are countless stereotypes and misconceptions when it comes to boarding schools. For example, many have been led to believe that boarding schools are primarily for troubled students who can’t succeed in a public or even private school environment.
Absolutely not, says Barbara Kennedy, Director of External Affairs at Chattanooga’s Baylor School. “Those of us who work at boarding schools still face a bit of a challenge in talking to families and telling them, ‘This is not where bad kids go,’” she says. “The kids that come to boarding schools are top-notch. They’re coming here because they want to have an advantage in both academic and social preparation for college.”
But what about the cost? In weighing the costs of a boarding education, Kennedy says to “definitely consider everything you get for that tuition—the small classes, all the extracurricular activities, the college counseling. Don’t dismiss boarding schools because you might have sticker shock. Definitely try to apply, because you never know what kind of aid might be available.”
In addition to need-based financial aid, many schools offer merit-based aid and flexible tuition payment plans. For financial options at potential schools, speak to an admission or financial aid officer.
WHEN SHOULD YOU DECIDE?
Like any major decision concerning your child’s future, deciding whether or not to board is a family choice. Making that choice involves a lot of important questions, such as: what are your child’s strengths and weaknesses as it pertains to boarding school? What are yours and your child’s goals? Are you comfortable with the extended periods of separation that boarding school involves?
For many parents, making the decision to board is “a matter of deciding if your child needs outside mentoring, outside coaching or outside tutoring,” says Major Joe Watson, Director of Facilities and Property at Florida’s Lyman Ward Military Academy. “Sometimes, outside sources are just better. Parents may be the best person to raise their children, but they’re not always the best to teach them.”
Making that decision is difficult, and sometimes a little humbling. But boarding schools certainly should not be dismissed because of misconceptions. Be sure to visit some schools to discover the truth about the boarding experience. A boarding school education can provide a child not only with exceptional opportunities, but a sense of independence and personal growth.
Boarding School Guide
Founded in 1893, Baylor School’s mission is to foster in students the desire and ability to make a positive difference in the world. Baylor’s community is comprised of boarding students in grades 9-12 from 23 states and 14 countries. As a college preparatory school, the school believes that education is more than learning how to do homework; it’s also learning how to thrive. Baylor boarders come away from their experience, independent, poised, and confident to tackle whatever college sends their way. From aquatic science in the advanced research labs and wetlands area, to analyzing data of contemporary urban issues in AP human geography, students will choose from a wide array of electives and college level courses, work with others who value academic achievement, and learn from faculty committed to helping them reach their full academic potential. Each element of the historic 690-acre campus overlooking the Tennessee River Gorge is beautiful, safe, and functional. To schedule a visit, call 423-267-5902, or email firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information about Baylor School, visit baylorschool.org.
THE FESSENDEN SCHOOL
West Newton, MA
The Fessenden School is a place like no other—a place where words like distinct, unique, and incomparable genuinely apply. A place where, despite being surrounded by 41 picturesque New England acres, boys are never far from the excitement of Boston, one of the most vibrant and culturally rich cities in America—a city just 10 miles away. Fessenden is a place where tried and true educational techniques are woven seamlessly into a curriculum that appropriately challenges students based on their academic strengths and fuels a love of learning. Dedicated faculty, who understand how boys learn best, provide the individual support and encouragement each student needs to thrive academically, socially, and emotionally. Since 1903, Fessenden has prepared generations of middle school boys for life in secondary school and beyond. Today, the school enrolls boarding students in grades 5-9 from across the country and around the globe, and matriculates young men of good character who are poised to succeed in the multi-cultural, technology-driven world they will inherit. Learn more at fessenden.org or call 617-630-2300 to schedule a campus visit.
THE STONY BROOK SCHOOL
Stony Brook, NY
In an ever-changing world, tomorrow’s leaders need great vision. Founded in 1922 with the motto “Character Before Career,” The Stony Brook School educates students in the matters of the mind, body, and heart, and challenges students to become leaders with integrity and virtue. Distinguished for its academics and set apart by its mission, The Stony Brook School is widely known for its passion for character education. It is a Christian, co-ed, college preparatory boarding and day school for students in grades 7-12. The Stony Brook School offers a rigorous college preparatory program that combines traditional academics with competitive athletics and training in the visual and performing arts. Located on the beautiful north shore of Long Island, the 55-acre campus is home to students from 26 countries and all over the United States—emerging as one of the most diverse private schools in the nation. For more information, call 631-751-1800 or visit stonybrookschool.org.
The Wyoming Seminary believes education is a lifelong process of striving to be one’s best self. The seminary is located in close proximity to dynamic East coast cities—only two hours from NYC and Philadelphia—and the beautiful Pocono mountain region with its many opportunities for outdoor adventure. Through effort, strong character, and an appreciation of diverse perspectives, each member of the school’s community honors the true, the beautiful, and the good in the community and in the world. More than 150 unique courses and electives are offered, along with 21 Advanced Placement courses. The Upper School is home to more than 100 international students from over 35 countries. The campus features several state-of-the-art athletic facilities and fields as well as a cutting-edge creative arts facility. College counselors guide students throughout their time at the school, providing personal attention to academic and special interests in an effort to find the perfect college fit for each individual. With first class academic, arts, and athletics offerings, Wyoming Seminary looks forward to welcoming students to its warm community in the Wyoming Valley of PA. For more information, call 570-270-2160 or visit wyomingseminary.org.