Track and Field Boarding School
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.
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 (email@example.com) or simply call me in the Admission Department at (276) 579-2619.
Regards, Mike Rodgers
Director of Admission
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:
I first met Amy as a shy incoming 8th grader from China who had a large language barrier to overcome. A short, memory-filled 5 years later, she is less than two weeks away from graduation at Oak Hill Academy. We are all very proud of the engaged, confident young lady she has grown into before our eyes. High Point University in North Carolina is next on the horizon for Amy. She chose HPU from among several great scholarship offers from several good schools. Amy is also a great example of the relationships built at Oak Hill Academy although it doesn’t take 5 years to do that.
Amy has acted in several play productions and has grown into leadership positions on campus such as student ambassador and Admission Department intern along with a long list of community service involvement. She embraced the opportunity to become part of a close-knit school community, and along with long-term support of the ESL program, is now completely bi-lingual. We now take the opportunity to check in with her before what is sure to be an emotional graduation time arrives.
As an international student, what were your first impressions of Oak Hill Academy when you arrived? To be honest, I thought it was too much in the country. I’m from the city and that took time to get used to. I remember feeling everyone was friendly and I was glad the school is not too big. I was worried that I might not fit in before I got here.
In what main ways have you grown at Oak Hill Academy? I’m not scared to try new things and my confidence has grown a lot. I’m a much better student than I thought I would become.
What are the most important relationships you’ve developed? I have a bond with Mr. Henry Crede (Dean of Student Affairs) and he has become like a father to me. I’ve felt support from a lot of faculty and staff and, especially, friends over the years if I’m having a tough time which happened more when I was younger.
What have become your favorite activities while at Oak Hill? In Shanghai, I never really had the opportunity to ride horses – the equestrian program has become a big part of my life while at OHA. I also love to dance. (Oak Hill does not have an official dance program, although cheerleading has been a good outlet for Amy) There have been many adults on campus who have gone above and beyond to help me continue to pursue dance. I really appreciate that effort to take me off campus to attend weekly dance classes and competitions. I did a devotion in home room the other day to express how much that has meant to me!
Any advice to international students that will attend Oak Hill Academy? Don’t be afraid to talk to other people. Be brave. Nobody here judges you while you are learning English. The students and teachers understand. You need to socialize with all other students to learn things outside of class. Don’t be afraid to try new things, you never know what joy it will bring to you.
What have been the biggest obstacles to overcome during your time here? Obviously learning English seemed like it was going to be hard, but it turned out to be really easy as I look back. Saying goodbye when I graduate will be the biggest obstacle for me so I’m appreciating every memory I’m making at Oak Hill Academy.