Basketball Boarding School
The boarding school lifestyle is built around milestones of the school year – The first open weekend, the first major holiday break or exam week, for example. The 2015-16 school year, now 2 1/2 months in, has been filled with such milestones, big and small. Almost unanimously, our students have been surprised at how quickly we have arrived at our first major break of the school year: a 10-day break for Thanksgiving. That is a really good sign of a productive year.
Our student body comes from many far-flung places and our breaks need to be significant to accommodate travel schedules. With over 15 countries and over 20 states represented, many of our students fly home or are invited by close friends they’ve made at Oak Hill Academy to enjoy the holidays with their families. We’ve become logistics experts in assisting with travel plans for our students over the years. It is an exciting time on “The Hill” today and I wanted to share some images from today’s departure for Thanksgiving Break 2015!
I heard the above said by a student at Oak Hill Academy yesterday and it struck me as significant. It stuck with me most of the day and the more I thought about it, like peeling the layers of an onion, its truth became more and more apparent. I don’t think he was trying to be profound, and the context in which he said it was pretty mundane, but he said it with sincerity and a sense of surety – he was stating a fact.
From an academic standpoint, at Oak Hill Academy nothing IS invisible. Our small class sizes (8-10 on average) mean students can’t hide from a teacher or “take a day off.” Good luck getting away with incomplete homework (I think that was the context of the original statement). Learning styles are not ignored – as our teachers learn each student’s strengths and weaknesses, we can become very personal with our approach. With our webgrader program, daily performance is communicated back to the student AND THEIR PARENTS, cementing the idea that every day matters. Back to the small class size, if a lesson doesn’t land on a student, our teachers know it – that is what the 8th period tutorials that happen every day are for (think of it as “office hours” for our teachers). Students can be brought in, notebooks are checked, and a student receives personal attention. They know they are not invisible – and our students like that!
From a social standpoint, students are not invisible to their peers. Nobody sits alone in our cafeteria – grade level doesn’t matter socially here. Our students are engaged in each other’s lives and actually enjoy helping each other through the inevitable bumps of a school year. They often study together. Our location contributes to this. We are located in a beautiful area of the Blue Ridge Mountains of Southwestern Virginia and there is no “mall across the street.” Our kids look around and know that we are all they’ve got, so we had better take care of each other. And they do.
From a community standpoint, there is a lot of structure and a lot of “eyes on campus.” The majority of our faculty and staff live on campus with their own families and faculty housing dots campus. We are everywhere! We enjoy knowing our students outside of class as much as in class and they get to know our own children and even our family pets! This gives incredible opportunity to be there for our students with unlimited, informal, teachable moments. There are resident managers who live with the students in the dorm. Yes, we are everywhere.
We are a small boarding school and this is significant. Everyone is plugged into one or more of the many clubs and activities taking place each afternoon. Weekends are filled with on-campus social activities and off-campus trip offerings. Students discover their talents and interests and each student has a real place in our community. As one student put it to me recently, in my old school I was my “school self” and then I had my “home self” but here, I can BE MYSELF.
“At Oak Hill Academy, nothing is invisible.” What a true statement!
Our Head of School, Dr. Groves shared this photo with me of the sunrise taken from the back of campus this morning. First of all, what a view we have up here on “The Hill!” Secondly, it was very apropos of the great start to the school year we’ve enjoyed this week. The sun is rising on the 137th school year at Oak Hill Academy and we couldn’t feel more blessed.
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 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.
Oak Hill Academy is in Mouth of Wilson, Virginia, in the Appalachian Highlands. I live in a beautiful place. This is a fact that I often took for granted until I started giving tours in the Admission Department and seeing the campus and surrounding beauty through the “new eyes” of prospective parents and applicants changed that.
As I write this, the rushed excitement of our final school days of 2014-15 and the “pomp and circumstance” of graduation is now 3 weeks past. Campus has gotten extremely quiet and this has put me in a reflective mood. Most of the faculty and staff live on campus, but the first several weeks of summer are a time for family vacations. Have I mentioned that campus is quiet?
I am accepting applications and conducting tours throughout the summer – I’m available and keeping regular office hours. If you are considering Oak Hill Academy for your student, I encourage you to contact me to set up a campus visit as I meet with families individually and do not do “open houses.” However, I encourage you to target June 22-July 24, during our summer school session, for your visit. Our summer session brings students back on campus, allows new students a great place to start, and offers an excellent opportunity for visitors to see school in session. I’m very excited to welcome students back on campus June 22 because, as I show campus between sessions, it makes me miss the impressiveness of “who” we are. Students, I miss you, and I look forward to seeing the campus look like this again soon:
Alex Rodgers attended Oak Hill Academy for three years and was a highly visible member of the Lady Warriors basketball team, served as an honor court member and was active in many other groups on campus. She was fortunate to have quite a few college options with her combination of great grades, active campus involvement and basketball ability. She eventually chose the opportunity of attending Princeton University, a decision she calls “the best decision I’ll probably make in my life.” As she fast approaches graduation in a couple of weeks, we take the opportunity to catch up with her.
What have been your biggest memories during your college experience as you look back?It would be obvious to talk about the tremendous success I’ve been able to be a part of with the women’s basketball team at Princeton (The Tigers finished the season 31-1 and made history with the highest national ranking and NCAA seeding ever for an Ivy League program and Alex’s senior class has amassed a record 98 wins), but I’m really going to remember most how I’ve grown. Coming out of Oak Hill Academy where I had friends and interacted with people from so many backgrounds, I was prepared and had the confidence to take advantage of those kinds of opportunities here. Oak Hill is where I first learned to step outside of my comfort zone and take leadership roles. I’m glad I did! Through the PU Religion Department, I’ve been able to participate in a human rights conference in Cuba, and through the PU Athletics department, I was able to spend significant time in Senegal and Paris. But lately what I feel like I’ll remember most is writing my senior thesis!
What was your favorite class at Oak Hill Academy? I’m graduating with a degree in Religious studies and I’m sure that was influenced by how much I enjoyed Reverend Turnmire’s Survey of World Religion course my Junior year at OHA. That class did a lot in inspiring me to develop a world view and get a lot of college level writing experience. I feel the same way about the World Cultures class I took with Mr. Hill.
Alex and her teammate participated with her coach and a professor in a short film analyzing the physics of the three point shot.
What was the most valuable thing you learned from your Oak Hill Academy experience? The power of relationships is easily the best lesson I learned at OHA and something that has continued through my college experience. There is a special bond that you share with your classmates and teachers at Oak Hill Academy – it’s a special community.
Do you feel that boarding school prepared you for a better transition to college ?I think it did, yes. A lot of boarding school relied on routine, responsibility, and accountability. Oak Hill gave me the tools to be able to establish all 3 principles on my own in college which is an even more intense and demanding environment.
What advice would you give a new student to prepare them for success at Oak Hill Academy? Know that you can redefine yourself once getting to Oak Hill. If you commit to the process you will hone in on study skills, personal skills, and life skills. Growth in all of these areas will add to any and all of your future endeavors, whether you want to be a professional athlete, politician, business person, or whatever.
These sentiments were echoed by Courtney Banghart, Head Coach of the Princeton Women’s Basketball team: Alex came to Princeton as a confident learner. She had valuable time management skills and was accustomed to the independence of living away from home. She was used to learning alongside a range of students from diverse backgrounds. Also, Alex knew how to ask for help. She understood the power of relationships, something she surely learned in her time at boarding school, and began building connections in her first days at Princeton.