Boarding Academy VA

Oak Hill Academy: East Coast Boarding School in the Blue Ridge Mountains

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There is a broad spectrum of factors to consider when looking at boarding school options for your student.  Just as people have unique personalities, so too do boarding schools and finding the right match requires some research that often goes beyond the website.  Oak Hill Academy has a busy campus tour season that coincides with students being present on campus for our summer session running from June 20-July 22 and when families visit us, here are the top 3 things I want them to see that go beyond what is found on our website:

  1. The people.  While our website does a decent job of relaying the tidiness and beauty of campus, only a visit can truly showcase of most outstanding feature – the people here.  Our location in Grayson County, Virginia makes us one of the most rural boarding high schools on the east coast, but it has the side-benefit of helping to create an outstandingly tight-knit faculty and student body.  I’ve raised my 4 children alongside my colleague’s children as they’ve grown up in faculty housing on campus.  Our students rely on each other to create, in the classic sense, community – as there is no surrounding town, so each year, we create our own community.  This is something that is easily felt during a tour as our students stop to speak with families throughout.  Spend 5 minutes in the Alumni Campus Store and the easy relationships are evident.
  2. Diversity.  Many boarding schools tout an international population and that is one of the classic benefits of a boarding school experience.  I urge you to look a little deeper at those numbers.  At Oak Hill Academy, we are not relying on a single source of international students.  The result is an international population representing 16 countries.  Economic diversity is another thing that is hard to convey through numbers, but Oak Hill Academy’s position on the affordable end of the boarding school spectrum is an important contributing factor to diversity on campus.  Our student body does not feel entitled, instead we are a “roll your sleeves up and work together” environment.
  3. Mission.  Our mission statement is very clearly communicated on our website.  However, what this “feels” like is much more effectively communicated through a visit.  Faculty sharing a snack with a student on the Alumni School Store deck after school, a college guidance counselor helping a student connect with a college admission representative on the phone, and a teacher loading a van of students to visit a local elementary school are three vignettes a recent tour noticed.  As the overwhelming majority of our faculty and staff live on campus, their investment in our students knows no time clock.

The Admission Department will be conducting campus visits and interviews throughout the summer.  Please contact us to discuss a good time to visit and you are urged to “go beyond the website.”  It is the best way to truly know what is special about Oak Hill Academy.

Oak Hill Academy -Boarding School with late enrollment

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At this time of year, many of my admission calls begin with the question, “Is Oak Hill Academy still accepting applications?”  We are, and I would like to take some time to explain the philosophy of late admission and rolling admission.

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A review of our school’s website will uncover that Oak Hill Academy is a small, coed, college-prep boarding school that serves the very unique niche of focusing on the student who has not been having the kind of success of which they are capable.  As grades come out at the end of the school year, parents and students are having the conversation that a change is needed.  For some, poor grades expose a need for a change of academic environment, a change in peer group, or even a change in home dynamics.

When a student (and family) recognizes that attending Oak Hill Academy is an opportunity to make these kinds of changes and to redefine themselves in a new environment, we want to be available.  We also intentionally keep space available for families who are having these conversations early in the school year.

Please visit our website http://www.oak-hill.net  to understand these opportunities in greater detail. Our enrollment cycle accounts for families who are making these decisions at this time of year – well into the summer months.  As the Director of Admission, I am happy to consider applicants who are a fit for this mission and I am currently conducting campus visits and interviews.  Contact me now to discuss.

 

Creating a Close-Knit Student Body in the Age of Social Media

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One of the defining features of our students’ experience at Oak Hill Academy is the sense of community and engagement with each other that we enjoy.  All boarding schools tout this as one of the big advantages of boarding school over other educational environments.  But at OHA, we feel that what is created each year is special – even in this context.

From campus tours that I conduct as part of the admission process, a recognition that our students are close with each other – and with the faculty and staff – is one of the top takeaways.  Our students use the term “family” in a way that I could not for fear of sounding like a “salesman.”  (That’s one of the reasons I love involving our current students on prospective family tours – they can say things I can’t!)

Over the 14 years I’ve worked at OHA (plus the important senior year I spent as a student here), I’ve thought about why we are so tight-knit.  I have several theories:

  • Our location in the picturesque, but rural, Blue Ridge Mountains leads to a mentality that we better take care of each other, since we’re all we’ve got.
  • We are small – 150 students – so EVERYBODY matters and has a place in the community.  A good deed or friendly gesture has an immediate impact on those around you.  This leads to being habitually aware of how we treat each other.
  • Our structured, conservative approach to cell phones, social media and other ubiquitous technology that is a part of teenage life leads to an engagement with the people around you that just isn’t possible for most teenagers today.

Let’s look at that last one a little closer.  This is the point in admissions where the parents typically smile and nod in agreement while the student frowns and wonders if they can survive with that condition.  Again, having our current students involved in tours is key.  Simply put, our students who have experienced life untethered from a cable or cell signal, overwhelmingly recognize the benefits:  more time for more productive activities, a sincere investment in the lives of their friends, less drama and judgement, and improved interpersonal (soft) skills.  The art of conversation is alive and well on our campus.

Our students do not have access to their cell phones during the week and social media is blocked from internet access on campus.  The recent policy adoption allowing cell phone access during the weekend (after the last academic class) is the result of a lot of careful consideration.  Taking into account feedback from recent graduates and recent studies, we concluded that college preparation should include more practice with responsible use of technology.  We did not want to jeopardize the environment of closeness we’ve enjoyed so we feel the importance of maintaining a focused, cell phone (and attendant social media)-free school week is important.

We anticipate there will be teachable moments aplenty as this policy is enacted.  However, as Dr. Groves, our Head of School, explains,  “Oak Hill Academy’s desire to continue to meet the needs of the contemporary student of a college prep boarding school … and to do so in tandem with the structure inherent to our historic mission—a mission that has proven so very successful.” 

Our school was founded in 1878 and we are engaged in preparing students for success in the 21st century so some policies require occasional, careful rebalancing.

 

Boarding School – “At Oak Hill Academy, nothing is invisible”

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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!

 

 

Sunrise at Oak Hill Academy

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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.

 

New Course Offerings at Oak Hill Academy: Music Department

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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.

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Oak Hill Academy Boarding School Music Program

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!

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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.

 

 

Late Boarding School Admission – Oak Hill Academy

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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.

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Small classes simply provide a more engaging experience and a more personal approach by our teachers.

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.

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Tutorials offer an opportunity to “coach” a student to a better approach to studies

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.

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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 (mrodgers@oak-hill.net) or simply call me in the Admission Department at (276) 579-2619.

Regards, Mike Rodgers

Director of Admission