Great article that speaks to the power of structure and what we do well at Oak Hill Academy. As a former player for Coach Smith at Oak Hill Academy, I can attest to the power of his positive influence. Playing for, and later working with, him makes you want to do things right!
(Jared Soares, USA Today)
Thirty-two years on the same job can offer some less-than-obvious perks.
For Oak Hill Academy basketball coach Steve Smith and his wife, Lisa, it means that they get the opportunity to attend a lot of summer weddings.“I’ve lost track,” Smith said, chuckling during a recent phone conversation from his office on the school’s campus in Mouth of Wilson in Virginia.
Of course, the answer to “how many weddings of 100s of former Oak Hill players have you attended?”, had he contemplated a minute or two longer, would have been something between a lot and a whole lot.
“We just got invitations from Nolan Smith (a first-round NBA draft pick out of Duke and now an assistant with the Blue Devils) and Tyler Lewis (a senior guard at Butler),” he said of a couple of former Warriors’ guards. “So we’ve got at least two to go to…
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The Memorial Oak Program. The Development Office at Oak Hill Academy is happy to feature a new way to support The Academy and to memorialize a loved one with ties to our school.
There is an emphasis on environmental sustainability throughout our campus programs and The Memorial Oak Program is a logical extension of that. If Alumni or Friends of The Academy would like to designate $1,000 of their contribution to this program, an oak tree will be planted in memory of a loved one.
These trees are planted throughout the gorgeous 240 acres that is Oak Hill’s campus. What better way to symbolize the ongoing impact our alumni and friends make to the betterment of Oak Hill’s mission than a living memorial that continually adds to the campus beauty? Gifts in honor will include being added to the Memorial Oak plaque on display in the Oak Hill Academy Archives Room lobby and will serve as a continual reminder of the impact that individual or family has had on our mission.
To participate in this program, please click on the link below and look for the Memorial Oak in the gift designation box.
Greetings from “The Hill!” The Oak Hill Academy enrollment cycle is in full swing as we enter the early part of July. We will be accepting applications and considering quality applicants, for whom we appear to be a good fit, through July and into August in preparation for our 139th year. Our smaller summer school, in session through July 22, presents the best opportunity to visit campus with students present this summer. Let’s take a quick look at what to expect from a campus tour.
No two tours are the same and there is not a strict agenda I follow when conducting campus visits. My priority is to have you meet as many students, faculty and administration as possible because I feel that, while visitors enjoy the stunning Blue Ridge mountain views, it is the people who make the biggest impact. I’ve heard our campus described as a miniature college campus and, to some, we feel like a small town.
A campus tour will include a golf-cart driving tour of both the boys’ and girls’ sides of campus with stops to see dorm rooms, social areas, the Fletcher Chapel and Young’s Chapel Baptist Church. Then, it is on to the English Academic Building where we will be joined by a student ambassador who will take you around various classes. Don’t be surprised by the friendliness of our faculty and students (they vividly remember the nerves they felt on their tour and make a huge effort to make students feel welcome).
Following a meeting with our academic leadership (Principal, Guidance Counselor), it is usually on to lunch where we will undoubtedly be joined by several students. After lunch, I typically invite a couple of students to show the prospective student some of the social areas including the Alumni Campus Store and workout facilities. Along the way, expect to be greeted and have short conversations with everyone from our Head of School to various faculty, resident managers, and of course, more students. It really is a comprehensive, low pressure, friendly schedule.
The wrap up of a tour usually involves a sit down with the family and applicant to discuss their impressions, goals for themselves, and where they see the opportunities at Oak Hill Academy. Done correctly, the interview is more of a conversation.
To schedule your tour of Oak Hill Academy, please contact the Admission Office at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (276) 579-2619. Our availability is very flexible.
There is a broad spectrum of factors to consider when looking at boarding school options for your student. Just as people have unique personalities, so too do boarding schools and finding the right match requires some research that often goes beyond the website. Oak Hill Academy has a busy campus tour season that coincides with students being present on campus for our summer session running from June 20-July 22 and when families visit us, here are the top 3 things I want them to see that go beyond what is found on our website:
- The people. While our website does a decent job of relaying the tidiness and beauty of campus, only a visit can truly showcase of most outstanding feature – the people here. Our location in Grayson County, Virginia makes us one of the most rural boarding high schools on the east coast, but it has the side-benefit of helping to create an outstandingly tight-knit faculty and student body. I’ve raised my 4 children alongside my colleague’s children as they’ve grown up in faculty housing on campus. Our students rely on each other to create, in the classic sense, community – as there is no surrounding town, so each year, we create our own community. This is something that is easily felt during a tour as our students stop to speak with families throughout. Spend 5 minutes in the Alumni Campus Store and the easy relationships are evident.
- Diversity. Many boarding schools tout an international population and that is one of the classic benefits of a boarding school experience. I urge you to look a little deeper at those numbers. At Oak Hill Academy, we are not relying on a single source of international students. The result is an international population representing 16 countries. Economic diversity is another thing that is hard to convey through numbers, but Oak Hill Academy’s position on the affordable end of the boarding school spectrum is an important contributing factor to diversity on campus. Our student body does not feel entitled, instead we are a “roll your sleeves up and work together” environment.
- Mission. Our mission statement is very clearly communicated on our website. However, what this “feels” like is much more effectively communicated through a visit. Faculty sharing a snack with a student on the Alumni School Store deck after school, a college guidance counselor helping a student connect with a college admission representative on the phone, and a teacher loading a van of students to visit a local elementary school are three vignettes a recent tour noticed. As the overwhelming majority of our faculty and staff live on campus, their investment in our students knows no time clock.
The Admission Department will be conducting campus visits and interviews throughout the summer. Please contact us to discuss a good time to visit and you are urged to “go beyond the website.” It is the best way to truly know what is special about Oak Hill Academy.
At this time of year, many of my admission calls begin with the question, “Is Oak Hill Academy still accepting applications?” We are, and I would like to take some time to explain the philosophy of late admission and rolling admission.
A review of our school’s website will uncover that Oak Hill Academy is a small, coed, college-prep boarding school that serves the very unique niche of focusing on the student who has not been having the kind of success of which they are capable. As grades come out at the end of the school year, parents and students are having the conversation that a change is needed. For some, poor grades expose a need for a change of academic environment, a change in peer group, or even a change in home dynamics.
When a student (and family) recognizes that attending Oak Hill Academy is an opportunity to make these kinds of changes and to redefine themselves in a new environment, we want to be available. We also intentionally keep space available for families who are having these conversations early in the school year.
Please visit our website http://www.oak-hill.net to understand these opportunities in greater detail. Our enrollment cycle accounts for families who are making these decisions at this time of year – well into the summer months. As the Director of Admission, I am happy to consider applicants who are a fit for this mission and I am currently conducting campus visits and interviews. Contact me now to discuss.
One of the defining features of our students’ experience at Oak Hill Academy is the sense of community and engagement with each other that we enjoy. All boarding schools tout this as one of the big advantages of boarding school over other educational environments. But at OHA, we feel that what is created each year is special – even in this context.
From campus tours that I conduct as part of the admission process, a recognition that our students are close with each other – and with the faculty and staff – is one of the top takeaways. Our students use the term “family” in a way that I could not for fear of sounding like a “salesman.” (That’s one of the reasons I love involving our current students on prospective family tours – they can say things I can’t!)
Over the 14 years I’ve worked at OHA (plus the important senior year I spent as a student here), I’ve thought about why we are so tight-knit. I have several theories:
- Our location in the picturesque, but rural, Blue Ridge Mountains leads to a mentality that we better take care of each other, since we’re all we’ve got.
- We are small – 150 students – so EVERYBODY matters and has a place in the community. A good deed or friendly gesture has an immediate impact on those around you. This leads to being habitually aware of how we treat each other.
- Our structured, conservative approach to cell phones, social media and other ubiquitous technology that is a part of teenage life leads to an engagement with the people around you that just isn’t possible for most teenagers today.
Let’s look at that last one a little closer. This is the point in admissions where the parents typically smile and nod in agreement while the student frowns and wonders if they can survive with that condition. Again, having our current students involved in tours is key. Simply put, our students who have experienced life untethered from a cable or cell signal, overwhelmingly recognize the benefits: more time for more productive activities, a sincere investment in the lives of their friends, less drama and judgement, and improved interpersonal (soft) skills. The art of conversation is alive and well on our campus.
Our students do not have access to their cell phones during the week and social media is blocked from internet access on campus. The recent policy adoption allowing cell phone access during the weekend (after the last academic class) is the result of a lot of careful consideration. Taking into account feedback from recent graduates and recent studies, we concluded that college preparation should include more practice with responsible use of technology. We did not want to jeopardize the environment of closeness we’ve enjoyed so we feel the importance of maintaining a focused, cell phone (and attendant social media)-free school week is important.
We anticipate there will be teachable moments aplenty as this policy is enacted. However, as Dr. Groves, our Head of School, explains, “Oak Hill Academy’s desire to continue to meet the needs of the contemporary student of a college prep boarding school … and to do so in tandem with the structure inherent to our historic mission—a mission that has proven so very successful.”
Our school was founded in 1878 and we are engaged in preparing students for success in the 21st century so some policies require occasional, careful rebalancing.
As I often say, Oak Hill Academy occupies a very unique place on the boarding school spectrum. We are college prep without being “sink or swim.” We are skilled and experienced at working with students who have the intentions but, for a variety of reasons, have not learned to execute effectively. Our kids are smart, they often just learn differently. What we find, over and over, is that once a student tastes success, they want more of it.
While I do not portray Oak Hill Academy as a specific “learning disability school,” the fact is that we have a lot of experience in this area. Oak Hill Academy’s small size and relational approach historically attracts a lot of inquiries from families with a student who may be struggling academically and are seeking a change in environment that addresses learning challenges. It is not uncommon for applicants to come to us with a specialized learning plan, or an IEP as it is commonly known, and we often find that the majority of suggested accommodations are part of our normal course of business here.
In a classroom of 8-12 students, we can do that. Individual strengths and comparative weaknesses are known, and more importantly addressed, by our teachers. Relationships based on trust and a sense of investment abound in this environment, especially since most of our faculty live on campus with their own families. The kids know us too!
This unique dynamic – students and teachers living together in a small community – also shows up in the amount of time we can dedicate to “shoulder to shoulder” coaching in addition to the classroom instruction time. Our schedule includes a dedicated “8th period” for subject-specific tutorials, organizational check-ins, and homework remediation. Our principal is also hands on through her management of the Resource Center, an administrative study hall to address executive and learning challenges across the curriculum.
Perhaps the most dynamic situation comes in the form of structure and a positive peer surrounding. While we are definitely a college preparatory school (95% college acceptance for our students over the last 10 years), we are not the hyper competitive situation many associate with boarding school. Our students like to study together and support each other’s success. It is “cool” to do well and handle academic responsibility here. Our students high-five each other as tests and quizzes are returned in class, often because they studied together!
The structure of afterschool support is complemented by the mandatory “quiet time” in the dorms where students are required to be in their rooms, independently working or in arranged peer tutoring. The library is also available for use during the mandatory evening study time.
In small classes, learning styles are also recognized. Material is presented in a variety of ways – visual, auditory, hands-on for example – before teachers move on. The predominate teaching style at Oak Hill Academy is to facilitate dynamic class discussions. The diversity of our student body makes this method particularly engaging and our students develop their “voice.” An emphasis on coaching the processes of writing across our curriculum means that they better express themselves and develop necessary skills to write well in college.
In this setting, maintaining this mission since 1878, Oak Hill Academy has developed an intentionality of working with students whose learning differences and personal habits flourish in our structured, supportive environment. If you are seeking such a “turning point” for your student, please contact the Admission Office at email@example.com or call (276) 579-2619.