If boarding schools make you think of a stiff blazer with a stuffy crest on the lapel, you may have another thing coming. For many students, boarding school offers a more supportive, academic, and social community in which to grow.
When Will Mason was in the eighth grade, his parents sat him down and informed him that he would be attending boarding school. They were disappointed in the education he was receiving in public school and felt that he would benefit from more rigorous instruction and mentoring. Mason was not initially thrilled with this plan, however, and his transition was rough.
“My first semester, my grades were so bad that my parents considered taking me out of school, but decided to give it one more semester,” says Mason.
As the second semester progressed, something just clicked. He started enjoying his classes, surrounded himself with a good group of friends, and developed close relationships with his teachers. Not surprisingly, his grades improved.
With small class sizes, robust co-curriculars, and strong academic support, boarding schools can be a great fit for students who need a more comprehensive and nurturing environment in which to grow.
“It provides a sense of community, both academic and social,” says Mason.
The close relationships Mason developed with his peers and mentors were key. “They strengthened my curiosity as a student, and furthered my growth and maturity as a person,” he says. “My teachers were people who I could talk to about anything, not just school work.”
In fact, his teachers were so influential that after college, Mason decided to follow in their footsteps and become a boarding school instructor so that he could provide the same kind of mentoring that had benefited him so greatly. He now teaches science and math at Grand River Academy, a boarding school for young men in northeast Ohio.
Without a doubt, the decision to pursue a boarding school education is a big one and requires much consideration. Families need to decide carefully if boarding school might be the right fit.
5 Tips for Navigating Boarding School:
1. Make it a family decision.
Find out from the start how your teenager actually feels about the idea of going away to a boarding school. “Everyone should sit down at the same time around the same table to have this conversation,” recommends Rosalyn Lowenhaupt, a consultant with Independent School Placement Service of St. Louis. Involve the entire family at the start of the process to decrease anxiety and increase buy-in from all parties.
2. Do your research.
There are many details that differentiate boarding schools: size, philosophy of education, demographics of students, rigor of the curriculum, and academic support services, to name a few. Talk with the admissions representative and visit the school’s website to get a detailed picture of life at the school. You may even want to consider working with a boarding school consultant. “At no point in the process should there be unanswered questions,” advises Lowenhaupt.
All the research in the world can’t replace the importance of actually setting foot on campus. “You have to see what a school actually feels like, not just what is on the website or in the brochures,” says Amy Roth, dean of students at Grand River Academy. Visit when classes are in session to get the most realistic picture.
4. Look beyond academics.
Don’t forget that students will spend a good chunk of their lives outside the classroom. That time needs to be just as fulfilling. “Parents sometimes over-prioritize the academic piece and forget their child is a teenager,” says Roth. “Beyond-classroom opportunities let students step outside their comfort zone and try new things.” Ask questions about recreation, athletics, mealtimes, clubs, and community service.
5. Keep a close eye on that first year.
Given his own experience, Mason advises parents to check in often during the first year. But don’t intervene too quickly. “Parents must understand that boarding school is a big change,” he says. “You need a sufficient amount of time to assess the decision.”