boarding school of the arts

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.

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.

 

Learning Differences are in Oak Hill Academy’s “Wheelhouse”

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As I often say, Oak Hill Academy occupies a very unique place on the boarding school spectrum.  We are college prep without being “sink or swim.”  We are skilled and experienced at working with students who have the intentions but, for a variety of reasons, have not learned to execute effectively.  Our kids are smart, they often just learn differently.  What we find, over and over, is that once a student tastes success, they want more of it.

While I do not portray Oak Hill Academy as a specific “learning disability school,” the fact is that we have a lot of experience in this area.  Oak Hill Academy’s small size and relational approach historically attracts a lot of inquiries from families with a student who may be struggling academically and are seeking a change in environment that addresses learning challenges.  It is not uncommon for applicants to come to us with a specialized learning plan, or an IEP as it is commonly known, and we often find that the majority of suggested accommodations are part of our normal course of business here.

In a classroom of 8-12 students, we can do that.  Individual strengths and comparative weaknesses are known, and more importantly addressed, by our teachers.  Relationships based on trust and a sense of investment abound in this environment, especially since most of our faculty live on campus with their own families.  The kids know us too!

This unique dynamic – students and teachers living together in a small community – also shows up in the amount of time we can dedicate to “shoulder to shoulder” coaching in addition to the classroom instruction time.  Our schedule includes a dedicated “8th period” for subject-specific tutorials, organizational check-ins, and homework remediation.  Our principal is also hands on through her management of the Resource Center, an administrative study hall to address executive and learning challenges across the curriculum.

Perhaps the most dynamic situation comes in the form of structure and a positive peer surrounding.  While we are definitely a college preparatory school (95% college acceptance for our students over the last 10 years), we are not the hyper competitive situation many associate with boarding school.  Our students like to study together and support each other’s success.  It is “cool” to do well and handle academic responsibility here.  Our students high-five each other as tests and quizzes are returned in class, often because they studied together!

The structure of afterschool support is complemented by the mandatory “quiet time” in the dorms where students are required to be in their rooms, independently working or in arranged peer tutoring.  The library is also available for use during the mandatory evening study time.

In small classes, learning styles are also recognized.  Material is presented in a variety of ways – visual, auditory, hands-on for example – before teachers move on.  The predominate teaching style at Oak Hill Academy is to facilitate dynamic class discussions.  The diversity of our student body makes this method particularly engaging and our students develop their “voice.” An emphasis on coaching the processes of writing across our curriculum means that they better express themselves and develop necessary skills to write well in college.

In this setting, maintaining this mission since 1878, Oak Hill Academy has developed an intentionality of working with students whose learning differences and personal habits flourish in our structured, supportive environment.  If you are seeking such a “turning point” for your student, please contact the Admission Office at mrodgers@oak-hill.net or call (276) 579-2619.

 

 

Oak Hill Academy Summer Session: Let the journey begin!

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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.

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The welcoming committee!

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 Boarding School

 

 

 

 

Oak Hill Academy between the sessions

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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:

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Oak Hill Academy Stories (#5): Ben Powell ’05 – TV Reporter

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Some students have so much personality that you know their story is going to be interesting.  Ben Powell was that kind of student at Oak Hill Academy, making his mark as the student body president and official “hype” man of the Warriors basketball program before graduating in 2005.  As he has been an on-air news reporter the past 5 years in North Carolina, he has been fairly easy to follow.  I was very excited to learn recently that his talents have brought him to WFMY News 2, in nearby Greensboro, NC.  Imagine how proud we are to see our guy, Ben, on an almost nightly basis now!

Ben Powell reporting

Ben received his Bachelor’s Degree in Communication Studies from UNC-Wilmington and hit the ground running.  Starting off as a production assistant at WECT-TV 6 in Wilmington, NC, Ben quickly worked his way up to Weekend Anchor.  He earned several awards for broadcast excellence from the Radio Television Digital News Association during his time there.  He is now the Multi-Media Journalist for News 2.

I recently caught up with Ben to discuss his time at Oak Hill Academy and the impact he feels that has had on his life.

What have been the lasting benefits of Oak Hill Academy?

Looking back, I know I developed several character traits there.  Character, integrity, discipline and respect – just to name a few.  I was pretty direction-less when I arrived in 8th grade.  Being part of a close-knit community allowed me to grow.

Now that you have some perspective, what makes OHA special?

It’s special because the teachers there really care about you.  Everyone from Administrators to dorm parents really want you to succeed.  All a student needs is the effort because you have the resources and support – and you leave with a huge reward…your dignity (and a meaningful diploma!)

635576065809585426-ben-powell-wfmyBen Powell behind the scenes

Would you recommend Oak Hill Academy to prospective families with a student like you were?

I would definitely recommend this experience.  Although it is a huge lifestyle change and it does take some getting used to things like Saturday school and cell phone restrictions, in the end it is so worth it.  You’ll never forget the things you learn about yourself and the relationships you form there.

From your bio, I see that you’ve done some pretty cool things in reporting, from interviews with convicted killers to A-list celebrities.  What’s the coolest thing you’ve done in the job?

My job once took me to the red carpet premiere of “Safe Haven” a major film based on the romance novel by Nicholas Sparks.  It was filmed in our backyard in Wilmington.  It was really cool to be in Tinsel Town interviewing all the stars.  But the most rewarding thing about my job is telling the stories that create change in the community.  I love getting feedback from someone who thanks me for telling their story and raising awareness about the issues that face our society.  I feel like I’m helping the community one story at a time.

Now the tough question:  Do you miss performing at the halftime of Gold Team games?  You had some serious dance moves.

(Laughs) Well, despite attending school with Carmelo Anthony, Josh Smith, Rajon, Ty Lawson, Kevin Durant and all the other big name players, I think there is no doubt who the real star of the show was.  It’s been 10 years, but I think I still have some gas in the tank.  I think I’ll visit “The Hill” soon and shake off the cobwebs!

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Ben, we believe you.  We’ve got the footage to prove it.

Oh, and some things never change:

ben

Valuable out-of-classroom experiences: Health Science Shadowing Program at Oak Hill Academy

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Health Science Shadowing Program

Oak Hill Academy strives to give students opportunities to embrace something more than just a typical classroom setting. Our College Guidance department has created many opportunities for students to research Colleges and Universities during their Junior and Senior years. Increasingly Colleges and Universities want students to show “demonstrated interest” in their selected field of study.

This year, Oak Hill Academy, in Partnership with Dr. Anne Branwell-Grayson,  and Twin County Regional Hospital in Galax, Virginia, have created a shadowing program for Oak Hill Academy  students interested in the diverse field of Health Science. This outstanding program offers students the opportunity to shadow in a variety of different hospital departments. This year students shadowed in the Pharmacy, pathology labs, laparoscopic and open surgery theaters, nursing and hospital administration.

Our inaugural team consisted of seniors all committed to Colleges and Universities with a focus in the Health Sciences. Destiny (Virginia Commonwealth University) with a focus in Orthopedic Surgery, Oluchi (Virginia Commonwealth University) with a focus in Pharmacy, Michelle (Berea College) Undecided Health Science, Adrian (United States Navy) with a focus in Field Medicine and Cardiology,  and Sean (Radford University) with a focus in Business and Medicine.

These students are the first wave of what will continue to be a very important and essential program for rising juniors and seniors. As the program grows we hope to increase the opportunities for students who are interested in every aspect of the Health Sciences.  To learn more about this, and other unique opportunities at Oak Hill Academy, please contact Mike Rodgers, Director of Admission at mrodgers@oak-hill.net or (276) 579-2619.