In the South, people always ask about your upbringing. It’s really just polite conversation. Who’s your grandma? Where were you raised? Do you cheer for Auburn or Alabama? Where did you go to high school?
That last question always gets me funny looks when I answer. I went to high school at a boarding school in North Carolina. It wasn’t because I was a troubled kid or because my mom didn’t want me, it was because I actually wanted to go.
There are many choices in the United States of how and where to educate your children: homeschool, public schools, private schools, co-op education programs, and even online schooling. One option is boarding school, and while it’s not incredibly common, it might be a good fit for your family. Today, let me make the case for boarding school.
A Different Kind of Education
Every high school student needs the core classes like history, literature, biology, and foreign language. At boarding school, students will take all these classes and requirements for college entry. However, instead of reading Henry David Thoreau inside a classroom, we had the opportunity to go camping–without electronics–and read Walden in the peace of the woods by a lake.
I spent many mornings reading short stories and poetry on the porch of the academic hall and studying botany outside sitting in the grass. Being in a smaller Spanish class allowed the teacher to speak the language WITH us rather than speaking TO us.
Smaller Class Sizes
If being in a classroom setting is important to you and your child, we can all agree that smaller class sizes are ideal. Most boarding schools allow the opportunity for those small class sizes, sometimes even having just eight to twelve students per class.
Smaller class sizes and more individualized attention to each student promotes a better learning environment. Teachers who teach at boarding schools often live on campus or even in the dorms with the students. They often have families of their own and welcome students into their apartments for meetings, home-cooked meals, or homework help. The teachers at my boarding school were like a second (or third) set of parents for me. In addition to teachers, there are multiple guidance counselors, admissions personnel, and other adults that the students come into contact with on a daily basis who become like a family away from home.
Field trips often are more than just a trip to the zoo or the local art museum. Opportunities such as trips to Spain (to practice your Spanish, of course), camping adventures with the biology instructor, or evenings at a local café to see a new artist’s work are all within the realm of learning at a boarding school.
Being at a boarding school obviously means that your student will be living away from home. Some teens are just not up to being responsible and independent as a freshman in high school, but most often students in boarding school quickly adapt and become very self-sufficient.
I vividly remember my own mom teaching my brother and me how to do laundry before we went to boarding school. Additionally, I remember her tips and tricks for my brother so he never had to iron his collared shirts. I was responsible for making sure my homework was finished and making sure to call home to check in every few days. I had to keep up with my dorm codes and keys.
Fostering independence at a young age has many advantages. Boarding school encourages–really insists upon–students being responsible for themselves, their education, and their life experiences. They can either stay in their rooms all weekend, or they can go outside with a mountaineering group and go kayaking. You really get out of boarding school what you put into it.
Living away from home in high school makes the college transition so much easier on teenagers and young adults who are facing new challenges at a university. When they already have the basics down, it can make college life a little less overwhelming.
Exciting, Uncommon Experiences
Boarding school opens up an entirely new set of experiences that one might not have at home. For example, our after school activities included common things: basketball, football, soccer, music, drama, and art. But we also had the opportunity to participate in other sports like field hockey and other activities such as mountaineering or equestrian.
Mountaineering included everything from rock climbing, kayaking, ice climbing, and hiking. I never would have had the opportunity to ride horses every day at home. At boarding school, however, I participated in equestrian for at least two-thirds of the school year.
Exposure to New Ideas and New People
At a boarding school, there are students that attend from literally all over the world. My roommate during my senior year was an American who had lived most of her life in Saudi Arabia. One of the girls in my advisory group was from Zimbabwe. There were several students from South Korea and a handful of kids from Alabama. Being exposed to others with different backgrounds was so interesting as we shared about our lives, families, and traditions.
Seated in one of the most liberal towns in the South, the boarding school I attended made an effort to expose us to different ideas and beliefs. I even remember one time having a speaker who practiced Wiccan come and speak to our school. While I certainly have my core beliefs and values, being aware of others who are not like me is part of life.
Just because I believe something does not necessarily mean others believe the same, or that they are bad because they are different. My experiences at boarding school forced me to have an open mind and see others for the people that they are. Don’t judge a book by its cover, right? Of course, not all boarding schools are quite so liberal. But that’s one of the treasures in attending a diverse private boarding school: exposure to different ideas and new people.
I’m often asked, “Would you send your girls to boarding school?” That’s a hard question to answer since they are still so young. They are in elementary school, and right now at least, they are major homebodies. It’s not completely off the table. Obviously there are several factors in choosing to send your child to boarding school. But as a product of a boarding school experience, I do feel it is worth the consideration.
How about you? Did you attend boarding school, or are you considering sending your children? I’d love to hear about your experiences!