Month: July 2015

New Course Offerings at Oak Hill Academy: Music Department

Posted on Updated on

You’ve read in past blogs that the Arts Department at Oak Hill Academy provides great opportunities for discovery and mastery of the various arts for our students.  With the addition of the new outdoor theatre on campus, there is an excitement building among the faculty involved in music performance and drama.  We are pleased to announce two new courses in our music department that represent an acknowledgement of both our place in the local community of southwestern Virginia and the growing trend of students wanting to continue their love of music beyond  Oak Hill Academy.

Music Boarding School VA
Oak Hill Academy Boarding School Music Program

The new Appalachian String Band class is an extension of the highly successful Advanced Guitar Class that has been offered to our students.  This course will now include instruction and incorporation of upright bass, banjo, dulcimer and autoharp to compliment our guitarists.  I had the pleasure of tagging along with this class last year as they sat in with the weekly local musician’s jam at the Grayson County Courthouse.  What a unique opportunity for our students!  Our music teacher, Ms. Jean Callison, is very well-plugged into the rich, local music scene.  There is no better place in America to study Old Time Music than where  Oak Hill Academy is located here in the Grayson Highlands of the Blue Ridge Mountains!


I’m equally excited by the addition of the Music Lab course.  This will expose our music students to mixing, arranging, and other production techniques.  We often have students who pursue music study in college and have the need to produce demos for other reasons as well.  This class is designed to meet that need by allowing students to work on performance and recording of modern music.  Instruments will include electric guitar, electric bass, keyboards and drums among others.



New Course Offerings At Oak Hill Academy: Math and Science

Posted on Updated on

Oak Hill Academy, established in 1878, is excited to announce some new course offerings for the upcoming 2015-16 school year!  For a school with a well-established structure and curriculum, these additions represent a response to the growing needs and interests of our students in the 21st century.  I’m very excited to outline these new courses for you today!

There are two new courses being added to our historically strong Math Department:  Introduction to Technology and Engineering, which is a STEM elective offering and an AP Calculus AB course.

school grounds 079

The Introduction to Technology and Engineering is designed to prepare students to understand and apply concepts and processes that are the cornerstone of the 21st Century world.  Students will explore the history of technology and the disciplines of civil, computer, and industrial engineering.  Group and individual projects will help students design, fabricate, and engineer practical solutions to real world problems.  Laboratory and classroom activities will allow students to apply their understanding of science, mathematics and incorporate other disciplines into authentic problem solving situations.

The Advanced Placement Calculus AB course represents an enhancement to the dual college credit enrollment program currently offered at Oak Hill Academy.  The class is available to advanced math students who have completed pre-calculus with a grade of at least a B.  This course culminates in the end of year AP exam.



Late Boarding School Admission – Oak Hill Academy

Posted on Updated on

The decision to consider boarding school as an option frequently follows a period of frustration with a student’s current situation with school, peer group, or even family, dynamics.  Today, I would like to address some of what I consider to be very legitimate or valid reasons to consider boarding school, and Oak Hill Academy in particular, for your student.  Also, I want to emphasize that it is not uncommon that this decision is reached in August after a summer of family conversations.  In fact, August is a particularly busy time of year for me in Admission given our mission of offering a turning point for students who need a change.

I often tell prospective families that Oak Hill Academy‘s “wheelhouse” is in working with students who have not had the kind of success of which they are capable.  Often times, this has absolutely nothing to do with ability or academic intelligence.  Sometimes, the most successful Oak Hill students come to us because they are seeking a smaller, more personally engaging educational experience because they are either not being challenged in their current setting or they learn best in a way that is not conducive to a larger classroom setting.  While we do not try to be all things to all people, the fact is we work well with both types of students.

school grounds 038 (1024x683)
Small classes simply provide a more engaging experience and a more personal approach by our teachers.

The combination of structure and a relationship-based approach allows us to do this.  For the unmotivated student, an environment of structured study hall, built-in tutorial opportunities, and accountability (one cannot hide in a small class) allows them the chance to experience success that comes from staying on top of academic responsibilities.  Once they experience this success, they want more of it.  Case in point to which parents of unmotivated students can surely relate:  getting zeroes on homework, piling up as the semester goes on and putting a “good” grade out of the picture is often the most obvious demotivating factor.  This does not happen at Oak Hill as we have a built in “8th period tutorial” in the schedule where homework deficiencies are addressed with as much “coaching” as “teaching.”  Our mandatory evening study hall times reinforces that no matter how “busy” our students get, they have a consistent time built in to take care of “business.”

For the student who seeks to be challenged to new academic heights, the small class environment enables us to push students on a very individual and personal basis (See the blog posted on 3/17/15 “Benefits of Small Classes”).  Our core courses come with an honors option that provides enriched assignments and additional depth.  Also, our several dual college credit classes that span the core offerings provides a real college-world rigor.  That same structure, outlined above, provides an opportunity for students to become more achievement-oriented.  They learn the feeling of pride that comes with staying on top assignments and begin to appreciate the act of learning.

school grounds 035 (1024x683)
Tutorials offer an opportunity to “coach” a student to a better approach to studies

An underlying theme is also the growth that comes for a student at Oak Hill Academy where a desire for more independence has led them to consider boarding school.  The Oak Hill boarding school experience is empowering for our students.  They “own” their success.  A new peer group, away from home allows them to pursue a new self-image.  I often see students here who are becoming who they want to be.  Many times, that can only happen in a brand new environment.

school grounds 040 (1024x683)    school grounds 075

Back to the point of this post at this time.  Often families come to the conclusion after much soul-searching at this perceived “late” time of the year.  The fact is, our admission process allows for a very personal, case by case evaluation of applications and this process can be fast, while not rushed.  In short, you are not too late if you are considering placement at Oak Hill Academy.  For example, I do not conduct the “open-house” model of tours, instead I meet with families individually.  I encourage you to contact me to arrange a tour this August.  I am also available to discuss your student’s particular situation at length by telephone.  I invite you to take the first step in addressing the question that may have been on your mind for some time – is boarding school a better option for my student?  Please contact me via email ( or simply call me in the Admission Department at (276) 579-2619.

Regards, Mike Rodgers

Director of Admission


Oak Hill Academy stories #6 – Keith Hornsby, class of 2011

Posted on Updated on

0011  keithF101

Some of the many sides of Keith Hornsby at Oak Hill Academy shown above

When Keith graduated in 2011, I knew he was going to have an interesting path ahead of him.  As the president of the senior class, a student in my class and key component of some of the best teams in recent Oak Hill basketball history, I knew his presence would be missed.  I had come to know Keith as a sixth grader attending Coach Smith’s summer basketball camps and had seen how, when he puts his mind to something, he finds a way to achieve it.  My pleasure was getting to know Keith well off the court as a student and part of the Oak Hill Academy campus community.  I knew the combination of personality (he has a ready smile that often hides how driven he really is) and work ethic was going to bring big things his way.

Keith has been relatively easy to keep up with post-graduation as much of his journey has been played out with media coverage.  After a very successful two years at the University of North Carolina at Asheville, Keith took the rather controversial step of fulfilling his potential of playing at the highest levels by transferring to LSU and a much higher athletic profile.  As per NCAA rules, he sat out a season but, true to form, did not “take a year off,” instead transforming his body and skills in preparation for making an impact on his new team.  His 35 minutes of playing time per game, ranking among the top in the SEC, indicates his value to the team. Along the way, Keith has been taking care of business in the classroom as well.  As a mass communications major, Keith is gaining a tremendous amount of on the job training in front of the camera.  Becoming a fan-favorite on a successful team in one of the biggest conferences in college basketball (and hitting some game winning shots!) means a lot of media attention.  I’ve really enjoyed seeing Keith’s poise and humility in front of the cameras as I frequently see him on ESPN and I take pleasure in knowing that his success on the court and in the classroom has not been handed to him.


I recently caught up with Keith to discuss his experiences at Oak Hill Academy and the perspective of that time that 4 years have given him.

In what ways did your Oak Hill experience help you grow?

The thing that stands out to me, looking back, is that it forced me to build social skills.  Because the student body is so diverse, I really enjoyed learning to relate to so many different kinds of people.  Of course, learning to live without your parents looking over you is a necessary development too.  I really look at it now as a true “pre-college” experience.  For me, college was not as big a jump as it would’ve been otherwise.

Is there anything specific that Oak Hill did to help prepare you for college success?

I had teachers like Mrs. Bonham who were demanding.  She was tough but it made sure you got the job done.  However, I really learned that having a relationship with a teacher is key.  That really prepared me to take the initiative with my college professors even though, college is, obviously, a much bigger setting.

What are some of your favorite memories of your Oak Hill days?

It’s funny, I was just looking at a yearbook and remembering the fun we had.  The weekend activities were great – I appreciate now how hard the staff works to provide those off-campus trip opportunities to haunted houses, movies, local attractions, etc.  On campus, I really remember Karaoke Night as a great time.  Remembering Spirit week brought a smile to my face.  Also the devotions in homeroom.  I remember some really thought-provoking messages.  I also remember the experiences I gained in public speaking at Oak Hill, which obviously helps me in my major (Mass Communication).  It was a great training ground for being a leader in that it was small enough to know I could really make a difference.  In fact, I’ve continued in that having been selected by my peers last year to serve on the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee at LSU.   I also remember the plays at Oak Hill which, little known fact, I was in the Theatre Department at UNC-Asheville before I transferred.  All of that stuff started at Oak Hill for me.

What do you feel makes Oak Hill Academy unique as a boarding school?

At first the restrictions on cell phones and technology seemed like a punishment, I’m not going to lie.  However, having limits on that really produced a beautiful thing:  we became such a tight-knit student body – like family – and I don’t think many people get to go to a school with that kind of bond between classmates.  I still keep in touch with many of my classmates – not just my former teammates – but people I share the Oak Hill bond with.  There’s a pride that comes with being an Oak Hill graduate because it is a pretty exclusive club.  You really don’t understand how beautiful it is to be part of something like unless you come to Oak Hill.  I truly miss how simple and pure life was at Oak Hill without a lot of the distractions that typically face kids.

We wish Keith much continued success on the court and in the classroom.  His many fans in Mouth of Wilson, Va will be rooting for him and the Tigers this upcoming season, his senior year!



The Vaughn Administration Building, Oak Hill Academy

Posted on Updated on

school grounds 030

The Vaughn Administration Building is centrally located on the campus of Oak Hill Academy.  This recently taken photo makes me a little nostalgic and I’ll tell you why.  This is the first building one sees when arriving to campus and I remember my enrollment day as a 12th grader, almost 30 years ago.  I had not visited campus prior to my decision to attend (the chance to play basketball for Oak Hill Academy weighed heavily in my decision) and I underestimated the fact that I’d actually be living here for a school year.  As we drove to campus from New Jersey, I naturally became curious about what the campus would look like to the point where I was quite anxious when we arrived.  My first glimpse of my new school was the Vaughn Administration Building.

Recently, we’ve added the archway you see in the picture above.  Careful attention was paid to make the brick match and if you didn’t know, you would think it was part of the original structure.  I spent a lot of time in the stairwell you see in the foreground of the picture, waiting for dinner to open while having some of the coolest conversations with my classmates.  I remember the lights in the front of the building being about the only thing on when I walked to the gym for early morning practices.  We’ve since added street lamps all over campus.

Perhaps the most nostalgia is centered on the Japanese Maple you see in front of the building.  Around here, the faculty and staff refer to that as the “faculty kids’ tree.”  The many children raised on campus as their parents lived, worked, and taught here grew up playing in the limbs of that tree while their parents socialized in the dining hall.  We gauged our kids’ growth against the size of that tree.  We put band-aids on all the scraped knees caused by playing in that tree.  It is nice to see the new generation of faculty kids, mostly toddlers in this generation, playing under that tree.  They’ll soon discover how much fun it is to climb and swing from its branches.

I’m struck by the timelessness of our school’s mission in unusual ways.  For our current students’, this same building will be many of their first impressions of the school that  they will come to remember as their home for a school year (or several).  It’s nice to know that some things never change.

School photos 076

What do Oak Hill Academy and Thoreau have in common?

Posted on Updated on

It’s time for a philosophical post.  In On Walden Pond, Thoreau explains his motivations for wanting and needing to live the simple life:  “I went into the woods to live deliberately…”  The quiet of Walden Pond enabled Thoreau’s self-reflection and development of a self-discipline he saw as essential for a fulfilled life.  It occurred to me recently that this is very similar to what I experienced as a student at Oak Hill Academy and one of the themes I explain to prospective students as central to what will be their “Oak Hill experience.”

                                            running pic meadow

Oak Hill Academy’s setting in the gorgeous Blue Ridge Mountains of Soutwestern Virginia is one of the things that contribute to our student’s success.  No matter how busy they get, or if they are feeling academic pressure, they can breathe here. That setting, coupled with the structure and size of our school means that life is pretty simple here and the important things in life emerge for our students.  Let me explain:

At Oak Hill Academy, relationships matter:

I often point out that, with no “mall across the street,” our students realize pretty quickly that we are a community and we better take care of each other.  They do an excellent job of this – I see it in how they study together, become invested in each other’s success and happiness and, in general, become very close-knit.  No doubt our cell phone policy (and social media policy),which place healthy boundaries, contributes to this investment.  Our students get really good at talking to each other and not about each other.  The notion of conversation, that is fast becoming a lost art among many teenagers, is alive and well at Oak Hill Academy.

                                 michelle bike

At Oak Hill Academy, students discover new interests

Being surrounded by such beauty means that our students can participate in a variety of outdoor activities from hiking, mountain biking, trail running, zip lining, and canoeing to on campus activities like horseback riding and paintball.  Our students try new things and are quite busy when not in class.  Our weekly small group outings with the ski-club (it really ought to be called the “snowboarding club”) offers students a way to enjoy the area in the colder months.  For many students, Oak Hill is where they discover new interests that don’t involve a screen.

                                   Oak Hill Academy Boarding School

At Oak Hill Academy, structure leads to self-discipline and maturity

Being in a small class (average size of 10 students) means that students can’t hide.  No matter how busy our students get outside of class, our mandatory evening study hall from 8:30-10:30 means that they get good at turning off the “busyness” of the day and taking care of business.  8th period tutorials offer an opportunity for both extra help or time for academic “coaching.”  There is a rhythm to the day that allows students pockets of time to make choices, but with an intentionality of schedule that promotes good habits.  At Oak Hill, there is a great balance between the “want to’s” and the “have to’s.”  This is the deliberate life of which Thoreau speaks.

Brand New Outdoor Theatre at Oak Hill Academy!

Posted on Updated on

The as-yet unnamed amphitheatre at Oak Hill Academy was broken in yesterday by one of our summer session English classes.  Ms. Tobin’s students, Tomas and Alpha, gave a run through of Antigone which they’ve been studying this week.

Tomas and Alpha rehearsing in private

The faculty and students are very excited about the possibilities this new space gives to both the academic and social life at Oak Hill Academy.  With its firepit and movie projection system, many Saturday night movie nights are planned.  The sound system will also make this an excellent venue for out music department performances and the many guest musicians who visit.  Our drama department is also understandably excited for this venue for the one-acts and improvs held throughout the year.

The formal opening of the space will take place after students return to campus for the Fall semester on August 28.