Performing Arts Boarding School
I would like to share a devotion delivered this morning in our Monday morning faculty meeting today. February is known in the boarding school world as “the toughest month” historically – the long Christmas Break (which, at Oak Hill Academy, is nearly 3 weeks long) is far in the rearview mirror and Spring Break (2 1/2 weeks long here) is still off on the horizon. The days are shorter, the weather keeps a lot of outdoor activities at bay, we are in the “meat” of the curriculum, and in short, it is a tough month. It is also the time that our students get great practice in learning how to develop what is one of our biggest goals for our students – perseverance and grit. As the majority of our faculty and staff live on campus alongside our students, we are keenly aware of the challenges of February.
February 22 – Whew!
I was talking with an adult friend of mine the other evening who is taking the Real Estate Licensing test. He was explaining how difficult it was to find the time, energy and work/family balance to study. He remarked, “I wish I would’ve learned this stuff in school.” I agreed with him, but the more I thought about it – we do, or we should learn this “stuff” in school. A high school class on Real Estate Law is debatable, but one of the main things that we get out of a good education is the ability to meet the “stuff” of these kinds of challenges – balancing and persevering – in adulthood. The more I thought about this conversation, I kind of seized upon this idea that at Oak Hill Academy, at our core, this is what we are really teaching our kids. February is the month where this most obviously comes to light.
In February, we find ourselves at the corner of “Shut Down Street” and “Push Through Avenue.”
Recently, I read an article in The NewYorker by Maria Konnikova about a study that attempted to identify the source of resiliency. How People Learn to Become Resilient One of the points she makes is that it is difficult to study resiliency as it is a kind of “chicken or the egg” proposition. Is resiliency already programmed inside of us waiting to be tested, or does it develop through being tested?
In the movie, Fight Club, the main character asks, “How much can you know about yourself if you’ve never been in a fight?”
Jennifer E. Jones wrote a great commentary/devotional on the subject here: Battle Wounds from the Good Fight There are similarities between what happens in February with keeping our Christian Faith. Fights involve a back and forth, ups and downs. February at Oak Hill Academy is like that – we have our fun, but it also the time where we continue to push our students academically when many are trying to default to “shut down mode” and to top it off, we have several Saturday class days scheduled this month!
In the bigger picture of life, it often seems that as we attempt to grow in our spiritual walk, this world will fight us for it in this back and forth way too.
In any fight, responses seem to fall into one of three categories:
- Defaulting into negative self-talk and “beating ourselves up”
- Going on the defensive and simply covering up and just enduring the flurry
- We can get on the offensive and push through – to “fight” remembering God’s promise that no weapon formed against you will succeed at taking you down (Isaish 54:17)
Back to our students: One thing I try to keep in mind is that I (we), have way more experience with the type of “February Fight” our students are facing right now. Overwhelmingly, our students come to Oak Hill Academy with their background and main experience in life to this point being a default to “options 1 or 2.” I try to keep this in mind, especially in February.
Mark my words – the school year gets easier, the “bounce” in our step returns. I used to think it was as simple as the improved weather of Spring (I’m still sure that is a big factor). But today, I’d like to focus on the possibility that it is in large part due to the realization by our kids that they have fought through. They’ve come to know themselves a little better because they’ve been in a “fight.” They’ve pushed through. That’s powerful.
We, with some age and experience on our sides, have fought through many “Februaries of our Christian Walk” and my hope is that we can use it to grow and know ourselves better as we choose option 3, to fight through with God’s help and mercy. The opportunities to be examples and encouragers to our students who are learning more about this option are plentiful in February and throughout the school year.
I Timothy 6:12: Fight the good fight of faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called when you made your good confession in the presence of many witnesses.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 (firstname.lastname@example.org) or simply call me in the Admission Department at (276) 579-2619.
Regards, Mike Rodgers
Director of Admission
Today marks the first day of summer session. This is a great opportunity for students to tackle a difficult subject and give it their undivided focus, for students to pursue grade improvement by re-taking a class, and, for some, a chance to begin their Oak Hill careers in an even smaller, personal environment. The summer session has proven to be a great starting point for many Oak Hill students. They are excited about a fresh academic start, making new friends, and, for many, being away from home for an extended time for the first time.
From my perspective in Admissions, the reason I am most excited for them has to do with their self-image. This is a very difficult thing for many students to articulate, but they are excited by the opportunity before them to redefine themselves. A fresh academic start, a new peer group, new relationships with teachers, and a chance to become who they want to be outside of the family dynamic is exciting! Of course, these things still happen with a Fall enrollment, but the change is compacted and highly visible during the 5-week summer session and this is why I am so excited today. I see how nervous many of them are today and I know how, in just a few short days, they will be hitting their stride. They come to see themselves very differently through this experience and being a part of this journey as the Director of Admission is the most rewarding part of the job.
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: