Underperforming Student 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.
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!
A common theme among admission calls I receive at Oak Hill Academy is the general thought that “college is right around the corner and my son/daughter is not ready.” As a truly college prep boarding school (95% college acceptance), Oak Hill Academy really excels at working with students with college-bound intentions who may not have the transcript, habits or mindset in place to maximize that ambition.
Our college-prep curriculum and rigor is supported by several academic support components:
- Our small class sizes (8-10 on average) promotes strong relationships between teachers and students. This is often the key to unlocking a student’s potential – a teacher who takes the time to address their particular learning style and engages the student personally. Pretty quickly our students have the epiphany that “something is different” with their classroom experience.
- Relationships are further cemented through our 8th period tutorial program. Our teachers, most of whom live on campus themselves, are available outside of class time. Each day, office hours are built into the academic schedule allowing teachers to call students in for specific reasons that we pick up on class – a homework deficiency or a confused look for example – and to give some shoulder to shoulder coaching. Students also regularly use this time to get tutoring for an upcoming test or quiz. Questions from students do not go unanswered…or unasked.
- Regularly scheduled tutorial sessions are provided for students who are struggling or working under potential in a class.
- Our Resource Center supports learning needs across the curriculum. Issues such as time management, critical reading, note-taking, and organization are improved through this guided after school program. Students can use this to get a jump on homework or develop a study plan for the evening study time with guidance and coaching from a faculty member.
- All of this is supported by the independent study time that is mandatory in our dorms each evening. Students also use this opportunity to form study groups or use peer-mentors. Our students love to study together!
Oak Hill Academy offers a unique approach in the college-prep, boarding school world. If you are looking for a turning point in your student’s high school experience, I invite you call or email Director of Admission, Mike Rodgers for a personal discussion. With rolling admission, quality applicants are still being considered throughout the first semester.
For most of our applicants at Oak Hill Academy, the idea of enrolling at boarding school comes with both excitement and apprehension. Going away to boarding school is a big lifestyle change and it is natural to have both of those emotions. However, our parents (and at sometime during a successful application process, our students) come to realize that in order to make significant changes, one must get out of a “comfort zone” and into a significantly different environment.
Growing: when you are transforming to a new season of life,
the people and situations that no longer fit you will fall away.
Don’t fight the process.
I ran across this quote recently that succinctly addresses the number one worry that I encounter from students as they consider the opportunity for positive changes that enrollment at Oak Hill Academy offers. Simply put, they worry about leaving their friends at home behind. I want to address this issue here briefly:
- Growth occurs outside of your comfort zone. By definition, in order to get different outcomes, you must do things differently. This is uncomfortable.
- Throughout our lives, as we grow, the associations we make change. A person simply cannot grow without making new relationships that expand our definition of ourselves. Our Oak Hill Academy student body becomes very close-knit, rather quickly. Everyone matters and has a place in our community. You’ll make close friends. Our students come to understand why as they redefine themselves in positive ways.
- Breaks, open weekends and our school schedule mean that students have fairly frequent opportunities to reconnect with friends and family at home. The friends that matter and support the growth you experience at Oak Hill will not disappear. You’ll reconnect often. The friends that do not support your growth will probably fade, and they probably should. In the meantime, while at school, you’ll be focusing on the right things for you.
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.
It is time for a parent to parent blog entry. This is the time of year when parents around the country are having those late night, kitchen table discussions to evaluate how this new school year has begun. Initial grade reports may have already, or soon will, come out and all of the intentions going into the school year are being checked. Because I have kids of my own, I’m very familiar with this time-honored ritual. Also, because Oak Hill Academy has rolling admission AND our wheelhouse is in working with students who are not working to their potential, I am very attuned to this time of year. I understand the frustration, felt by some at this point in the year, as the goals and good intentions agreed to during the summer appear to be slipping away. Your student may even be entering that pattern of de-motivation at the prospect of another year of disappointing grades and habits that you’ve seen before. Deep down, they know they are capable of so much more and you’ve probably determined that a change in setting may in order.
Our approach at Oak Hill Academy rests on a very important principle: “There is no such thing as an underachieving child, only an unmotivated one.”
The intentional structure and support, found at Oak Hill Academy, enables us to work well with a variety of learning challenges and mindset challenges and to provide the opportunities for real academic, personal and spiritual growth. Our small school size means small classrooms where students and teachers establish meaningful relationships. The feeling of being away at school is often empowering to the Oak Hill Academy students. They own their successes, develop pride in taking care of business with the learning support and organized structure we provide and they begin to expect more from, and for, themselves. This is a very real opportunity for the student to redefine themselves.
If you are considering a change for your student at this critical juncture, let’s have a conversation about Oak Hill Academy. We are very experienced with integrating new students throughout the first semester and some of the greatest success stories begin this way. It is very easy to find out more and I welcome this personal discussion and opportunity to learn more about your student’s needs, challenges and goals. Oak Hill Academy is The Turning Point for many students and this may be precisely the point in time to consider a change in their trajectory.