“Transformation”

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     A popular P.E. teacher on campus is fond of telling his students: “If it doesn’t challenge you, it doesn’t change you.” This adage most definitely applies to the experience many of our students have during their time at Oak Hill Academy. Judging from the feedback we receive from alumni, the feeling of being challenged to change may be the memory that sticks with them the longest. In a recent workshop, current students participating in a leadership training group identified “transformation” as one of the key features of an Oak Hill experience.

I often remind prospective students, just as they are learning and getting excited about the opportunities offered at Oak Hill Academy, that coming to Oak Hill will be, in many ways, one of the hardest things they do. Success at OHA requires two main things: an outlook that includes the recognition that being here is an opportunity; and the ability to persevere. Students work hard at Oak Hill Academy (they have their fun, also!) and our structured, intentional routine means that each day matters. By being demanding and supporting, our campus culture fosters the development of this ability to persevere, which is perhaps the most lasting benefit of a student’s time here. Growth is not always comfortable, nor fast, but the strength of an Oak Hill experience is not that it is a “quick fix,” but that it provides a steady journey to personal goals. This journey, though not always characterized by linear growth, is marked by achievements and confidence-building moments of success.

If this is the transformative journey you are seeking for your student–and that they are seeking for themselves–Oak Hill Academy may be a great fit. Please contact me to discuss this and help me learn about your student.

Learning Differences at Oak Hill Academy

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Prominent on our website’s homepage is our core belief that “There is no such thing as an underachieving child…only an unmotivated one.” Many of the inquiries I field come from parents of students with identified learning challenges who are not experiencing the kind of success of which they are capable. For some prospective families, our work with students with academic challenges can sometimes obscure the fact that Oak Hill Academy is a college prep boarding school. In this category we often stand out because we accomplish this not by being a “sink or swim” environment, but by having a very personal approach. Small class sizes and an invested faculty, most of whom live on campus, are key characteristics of Oak Hill Academy. We are intentional in providing a framework within which we can accommodate a variety of learning styles and challenges.

     We do not portray ourselves as a “school for learning differences,” but because of our experience and personal approach, working with students with learning differences is in our “wheelhouse.” Please feel free to contact me to discuss any particular challenges your student may have, and to consider whether Oak Hill Academy can be the appropriate environment to help unlock your student’s potential and recapture the feeling of academic motivation.

Technology at Oak Hill Academy

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     Today, I would like to highlight one area of our curriculum about which I field a lot of questions. While our technology policy is conservative when it comes to cell phone usage and social media, we definitely support the responsible use of technology and its place as an academic tool. Our technology course offerings include digital photography, keyboarding and computer applications, desktop publishing and, perhaps the most practical class (and my personal favorite), “21st Century Communications.” This course includes an introduction to the many forms of communication our students will encounter in their college classes: PowerPoint, public speaking, webpage design, movie making, persuasive writing, etc.

We are also proud to be a Microsoft IT Academy. As part of our computer applications classes, students are able to work toward professional certification in the Microsoft programs used in the business world. In fact, I just received word that 12 of our students recently took the MOS (Microsoft Office Specialist) Word 2010 Certification testing and all 12 passed! These students not only are achieving in the classroom; they are building a professional résumé along the way.

 

The Admission Interview

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I often encounter some hesitancy from prospective parents when I ask about their student’s current grades. This is where the unique mission of Oak Hill Academy comes to the forefront. Rather than making acceptance decisions based on performance on entrance exams or past performance shown on transcripts, acceptance really hinges on getting to know the student. Our student body is comprised of many bright, capable, college-bound students. However, the fact is that our philosophies and intentional structure pave the way for us to work well with many types of students, including those who have not had the kind of success of which they are capable. We work well with what is commonly referred to as the “unmotivated” student.

In assessing a potential fit, we look at the student’s needs, strengths and weaknesses, and whether what we do well meets that student’s needs. I ask questions to help uncover a student’s learning style, and help him or her highlight what is standing in the way of the kind of success desired. Our small class sizes enable us to be very personal in our instruction; and our classrooms embrace that there are learning differences. Additionally,  I work to have a conversation that allows the student to express the ways Oak Hill Academy will represent an opportunity to grow, not only in the classroom, but in the areas of responsibility, perseverance and maturity. In these ways, the interview portion of the admission process is more than just an “audition” for the student. Instead, it is the important first step in getting to know our students–a vital ingredient in why our students find success at Oak Hill Academy.

 

 

A Unique Partnership

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Several years ago, we began hosting a student each year from Ricks Institute in Liberia, Africa. The experience has been beneficial for our school community and for the students from Ricks who have spent a year on “The Hill.” Our relationship with our sister school has also grown through bi-annual visits from Ricks’ Head of School, Dr. Olu Menjay, who shares his inspirational and positive messages with the students of Oak Hill Academy. We are happy to work with Ricks Institute as its staff and students persevere, rebuild and grow while their country recovers from several years of civil war. I sat down with Dr. Menjay on his recent visit to talk about our partnership and common goals:

Particular Policies

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While communicating with prospective students, I am frequently asked about our policies. Many students seem to focus on three areas: our cell phone policy; participation in sports; and getting extra academic help. I thought it would be helpful to share my responses with you in this forum.

     Cell phone policy: Our students are required, while they are on campus, to turn their cell phones in to the Resident Life Directors. Cell phones may be checked out and used on many of our frequently offered off-campus trips. We do have scheduled “cell phone Sundays” when students have access to their phones (provided they are in good standing academically, etc.) on selected Sundays from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. For the most part, you can understand this to mean that while you are on campus on a day-to-day basis, you will not have access to your cell phone. Students communicate with friends and family mainly through the dorm phone and email (you have a laptop as a student here with email capability but no social media access). We also make Skype available by appointment. This may appear to be a somewhat strict set of rules, but we have found that it really helps our students stay focused and develop really close relationships with their peers on campus; and it really cuts down on drama!

     Participation in sports is not mandatory here. We have a ton of non-sports activities (ski trips, paintball, equestrian, music, theatre, chorus, leadership group, youth group, community service opportunities, etc.) that keep our students active even if they do not play on a sports team. There is a fitness culture on campus, with many students (boys and girls) taking advantage of available fitness equipment and our track area. Our running club has become popular and this club “morphs” into a track team in the spring, competing in a few local tracks meets each season. These are a few of the ways our students combine socializing and fitness.

Personal academic attention might just be what we do best! Our teachers are available every day after school in what we call “8th period” for extra help, help with homework, or simply for a check-in to see how you are doing or what we can help to improve. If we identify a particular challenge with study skills, like note taking, reading, etc., and it is affecting your overall grades, we also have a program called “Resource Room,” an afterschool study hall to help students stay organized and on top of things. Specific subject help is available during the 8th period, and through tutorials offered every day. Most of our faculty live on campus with their families, so we are not “running to the parking lot” after school. You get a lot of extra help here.

 

Academic and Character Development in a Non-Therapeutic Environment

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The personal, small class approach at Oak Hill Academy is communicated clearly on our website. For this reason, many come to see our school as a potential alternative to a therapeutic environment. Of course, there are times when a higher degree of specific therapeutic involvement than is offered at Oak Hill Academy is more appropriate for a student.

To clarify, Oak Hill Academy offers a very structured, nurturing and personal school setting, that, for many, has led to great transformations in maturity, self-discipline, and, perhaps most importantly, self-esteem. This growth occurs both academicallyand socially. The structure supports success in our college-prep curriculum with increased academic expectations, along with an increase in study time and help in developing good study habits. The structure also provides a balance between academic and social activities. Because of the independence they often feel from being away at school, coupled with the safety net of a structured environment, our students really come to “own their success.”

While Oak Hill Academy does not offer clinical or formal therapy, there are many levels of support for our students, both formal and informal. From our school counselor, to the student affairs director, to our resident life directors and staff, your student will have a lot of mentorship, at the most personal levels. Positive adult role models are available for guidance throughout all aspects of student life on “The Hill.” It is impossible to predict where the strongest connections will develop–they might end up being with an English teacher or a ski-trip advisor.

 

For more information, or further discussion on these topics, please contact

 Mike Rodgers in the Admission Office at mrodgers@oak-hill.net.