Helen H. Waldron, M.Ed., an academic tutor at Noodle Pros recently published an article, “Why Your Child Should Attend Boarding School” for Forbes.com and wrote this piece exclusively for TABS.
“Why would anyone send their kids to boarding school?” Since 1989, when I signed on as a boarding school teacher I have been answering this question. As a teen who yearned to live outside the confines of my home town, I vicariously lived through my friends who attended boarding school. They wrote letters telling me about classmates from places like Bern, Switzerland and Sapporo, Japan. They rowed in regattas, played squash, took Mandarin class and joined debate club. They cheered on friends at water polo matches, studied abroad, went dog sledding, joined animation club, directed and produced an original play, and the list goes on. Not surprisingly, I chose a boarding school career.
Over the years, as a dorm parent, teacher, coach and private tutor, I’ve seen hundreds of students flourish in boarding schools. And today’s schools are not the prep schools of the past. Today’s schools possess a modern vibe that welcomes students from around the world to study, learn and discover how they will make a difference. And boarding provides opportunities not available at public and day schools. Why? Because boarding schools are twenty-four hour, intentional communities created with the student’s growth and development at the center. With a college campus feel, this includes challenging academics, abundant arts and athletics offerings, and a supervised, structured student life experience.
Initially, families choose boarding school for more challenging academics. Faculty hold high expectations as they present college prep coursework, sharing their passion in a subject. Teachers live on campus and are available for extra help after the school day ends. Weekend study sessions are the norm. Faculty seize teachable moments in the classroom, on the playing field and during dorm time.
Being smart is cool in boarding school. Students are stimulated intellectually in ways they never were before in their school. They tend to be more motivated when surrounded by success-oriented peers. An indepth study conducted by the Arts & Science Group of Baltimore for The Association of Boarding Schools (TABS) found that 78% of boarders reported they are motivated by peers compared to 49% of public school students. Living with students from diverse backgrounds informs the dialogue in the dorm, at dinner and in the dining hall.
A class size of 12 is the average at most boarding schools. Small classes allow teachers to provide individualized attention and students have plenty of access to their teachers. The humanities classrooms are often set up in the Socratic Method, with the teacher as facilitator and mentor. In these classes students are provided with questions, not answers. Encouraged to think and share, students find their voices. They actively participate in their own learning.
Courses that cultivate curiosity and stewardship are abundant. For example, The Gunnery in Washington, CT, founded by prominent abolitionist Frederick Gunn, offers Honors Entrepreneurship, Engineering courses and a series of leadership requirements for all students. The freshman course, Pathways, focuses on self-awareness: emotional, physical and intellectual. Other boarding schools, like Eagle Hill School in Hardwick, MA, work exclusively with bright students with learning differences. In addition to offering an International Baccalaureate, they have classes in Technology Design and Vertebrate Zoology. The Wolfeboro Camp School in Wolfeboro, NH is a summer only boarding school whose approach emphasizes progress, structure, fun and civility. The focus is on building stronger students. In this picturesque, lakeside camp setting, classes take place in the morning and afternoons provide a robust program of athletics and arts.
Boarding school is all about connecting and community. While modern technology enhances our capacity to connect digitally, person to person connection is more important than ever. Research tells us time and again that we are hardwired to connect. In boarding school, students are part of several smaller communities each day, where they can connect and develop meaningful relationships. Those communities include: roommates, the dorm, classes, advisory group, the art studio, play rehearsal, athletic teams, and clubs. Each community provides purposeful, guided and supervised spaces for connection to occur. A friend who grew up as a faculty child at Lawrence Academy, graduated from Groton, and is now a Mom of children attending Rumsey Hall and Kent School, commented:
COMMUNITY is the one word I always come up with. And that has been a constant – where I grew up, graduated from, and where my children attend – very different schools, but they all have a community that feels like home and family, to all of their students, faculty, and parents alike.
In addition to superlative academics, there are countless options for athletics, the arts and community service. And, everyone participates. Boarding school facilities are extensive and typically include performing arts spaces, visual arts studios, multiple playing fields, indoor courts for basketball and squash, an ice rink, swimming pool and fitness room. Since co-curriculars are required, there are multitudinous opportunities to try new things. On weekends when there is some free time, the facilities are typically in full use by students and faculty.
A parent of a boarding school graduate summed up lifelong benefits, saying of her daughter:
The small class size, excellent teachers and strong friendships she developed, enabled her to succeed in college, go around the world on Semester At Sea, and work in Boston and NYC. She has remained best friends with one of her friends from boarding school who was her matron of honor at her wedding. They live on opposite sides of the U.S. but will always be BFFs.
Today’s boarding school students are highly successful in college and adult life. Boarding school grads have a smooth transition to college living; they know how to live with a roommate, negotiate laundry challenges and problem solve daily life issues. They know how to study and have practiced getting help from teachers. The TABS study found that boarding school students are more likely to earn an advanced degree and achieve faster career advancement. My students report that they look back at their boarding school experience as the best years, the time when they made their closest friends, and became a student of life.