by Lori Zanteson
If boarding schools bring to mind stodgy headmasters in abrupt black robes or the lackluster image of an orphan-like Jane Eyre or other literary likeness, it’s time for a 21st-century high resolution download.
Picture instead: Students in very small classes engaged in discussion, bustling activity throughout acres of campus that includes grassy sports fields, equestrian trails, performing arts center, modern technology labs, and bright, personalized dorm rooms. Academic boarding schools have changed along with the times and along with the educational needs of our children. Today’s boarding schools offer a customized experience that is far more cutting-edge than outdated.
“Boarding schools provide unequaled academics, supported by small classes and heightened interaction between teachers and students,” says Annie Lundahl, director of marketing for the Association of Boarding Schools (TABS).
Students interact with faculty as teachers in the classroom, coaches on the sports field, and as advisors, accessible throughout the day and into the night for learning and mentoring opportunities. The residential environment, says Lundahl, immerses students “in a special setting that promotes the camaraderie of common experience, friendship among peers, and a trust and honesty with mentors and adults that endures for a lifetime,” the ideal setting to reinforce those teachable moments of both school and life.
Rich social and academic environments
According to Javier Colayco , boarding school alumnus and co-founder and president of BoardingSchoolReview.com, an online service that offers alumni reviews, school profiles and interactive tools to help families research college-preparatory boarding schools, boarding school takes on a broad meaning of education emphasizing both classroom education and helping students become “better well-rounded individuals.”
Boarding school provides an environment rich in new experiences and things to try that teach new skills and foster self-confidence along with personal growth. The community of students, Colayco says, comes from diverse geographic, racial, and socio-economic backgrounds, that is not as likely in most local schools, and the friendships students form “will be ones you will remember for life.”
The Thacher School in Ojai, California, builds relationships that truly bind its community of students and faculty through myriad opportunities together, including two all-school camping trips each year.
“The whole culture of our school,” says Jane McCarthy, director of external affairs and assistant to the head of school, “is not only to develop and bring out the best in each child, but our high commitment to character development through the honor code.” Honor, fairness, kindness and truth are the pillars of Thacher which students are taught to consider in every decision, even when no one is looking. With these values at their core, trust is learned and earned to the extent that juniors and seniors take their tests unproctored.
Its unique setting of 425 acres adjacent to the Los Padres National Forest is a valued asset, providing opportunities to reinforce the honor code and other lessons of both school and life to its small, coeducational community of 250 students, grades 9-12. Every student, for example, learns the value of responsibility and hard work by caring for and learning to ride a horse freshman year. McCarthy calls this program a “great leveling piece,” because it’s hard work no matter what your gender, ethnicity or socio-economic background.
Resources for finding a great school
For the child who is serious about education, interested in lots of activities, and able to handle responsibility and controlled independence, Lundahl suggests looking into boarding school. She recommends reading about them at boardingschools.com, the website for TABS, which supports the needs of its 300 boarding schools in the United States, Canada, and abroad, providing information to families about the benefits of a boarding school environment. There are videos, first-hand student accounts and even a school browser to tailor a search to the child’s interests.
Educational consultants, found at the Independent Educational Consultants Association, are helpful in finding the right school as well.
Certainly distance and tuition concerns are valid, but they’re of less concern than in the past. Colayco has “seen, both first-hand as an alumnus and being involved in this market, that as technology has progressed and integrated into boarding school life, many of such communication issues have been mitigated. With cell phones, instant messaging, Facebook, Twitter, etc., families are much better connected and kept in-the-loop with students than ever before.”
As for tuition, he says there is the additional cost of a boarding versus a day student, but “schools are sensitive to that, and many schools offer financial aid and assistance.”
Gone are the days when school choice was as simple as the neighborhood public or private school, but that choice has expanded along with the perspectives of families who no longer accept that one school fits all. As more families reach beyond the usual options, academic boarding schools have successfully filled that niche for centuries.
Lori Zanteson is a Southern California-based writer and mother of three who specializes in health, food, and fitness for families.
© Photo by Ccharleson | Dreamstime.com