Why Boarding School?

by Loomis Chaffee Head of School, Sheila Culbert, PhD., and originally appearing on the Loomis Chaffee Head’s Blog:
Why Boarding School?
February 7, 2019
A few weeks ago, along with several other heads of school, I participated in a webcast focused on “Why Boarding School?” sponsored by The Association of Boarding Schools (TABS). The wonderful headmaster of The Hill School, Zach Lehman, hosted the webcast and served as the moderator, and over 100 people joined in to ask questions and to listen to the panel discuss what we saw as the main attractions of boarding school. The webinar was part of TABS’ “Ready for More” initiative, which aims to increase the number of students looking at boarding schools. While many of our applicants already know a lot about our schools, many more potential applicants know little to nothing about boarding school, and we would like to see more of those people looking at our schools.

According to Brookings Institution, currently about a quarter of all schools are private and enroll approximately 12 percent of the school age population. Within the private school sector, 36 percent of schools are Catholic, although the number of students attending Catholic schools is less than half what it was a century ago; 39 percent are other religious schools with evangelical schools growing the fastest; and 24 percent are non-sectarian schools. Boarding schools fit into this last sector and constitute a small slice of the pie with about 300 such schools across the country—and elite New England-style prep schools make up the tiniest slice of all.

We had a lively hour answering questions and talking about the many wonderful benefits of sending a child to one of our schools. Questions ranged from “How will I know if my child is ready for boarding school?” and “Should my child repeat 9thgrade?” to questions about homesickness, mental well-being, and fitting in to broader questions about how each of our schools distinguishes itself. We talked about financial aid initiatives, ways in which we meet the health and emotional needs of our students, how we reduce anxiety, and innovative new academic programs like our own Pearse Hub for Innovation.

Schools like Loomis attract extremely talented students who want to be surrounded by other motivated and talented students and who are already doing well but want to push themselves still further. One of the myths about boarding school is that it is only for troubled students. This is simply not the case—indeed, our students are mature and responsible young people. For me, one of the biggest advantages of schools like ours is that we are so diverse with students and faculty hailing from across the world. Few other schools have such a concentration of international and national talent, and it is this environment that allows our students to grow and thrive.

Another myth is that our schools are only for the wealthy. As a group of schools, we spend millions of dollars every year to ensure that our schools remain accessible to a broad range of students. At Loomis, one third of our students receive need-based financial aid, and our total budget for aid exceeds $11 million each year. It is the largest expense that we have outside of salaries and benefits. In our last capital campaign, we raised over $30 million for our financial aid endowment, which continues to be a school priority.

The TABS and the “Ready for More” websites have a ton of good information and statistics to help prospective parents and students answer a range of questions and to learn more about the benefits of boarding school. For example, boarding school students are more likely to say that their peers are motivated students than are students at other private day schools or public schools. They also do more homework, report that they learn self-discipline, have helpful counselors, and have higher levels of satisfaction with their faculty; 78 percent of students in boarding schools say that they were well prepared for college compared to only 36 percent of private day and 30 percent of public school students. Finally, over 50 percent of boarding school students go on to earn an advanced degree. You should explore the site yourself as it is chock full of fascinating data on the advantages of boarding school.

The one thing I thought that the panel was missing were parents. As our parents, you are well aware of the many advantages of a boarding school—even for our day students—and you are among the best messengers we have about the value of boarding school. Please feel free to share your experience with any prospective families you know.

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