East Coast Boarding School
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
A new class has been added to the English Department at Oak Hill Academy in response to the identifiable needs of our students as they enter college: Critical Reading for College. This course is designed to assist students in improving their skills in critical reading specifically as it applies to types of reading they will be doing as college freshman and as applicants for college. A special emphasis will be placed on the redesigned “Evidence Based Reading and Writing” section of the SAT.
The relationship between writing skills and improved reading skills is the basis of this class. Students will review a variety of writing conventions – persuasive, research, comparative, and editorial to name a few. Due to the heavy volume of reading and writing, especially in introductory level college classes, we’ve identified this as point of emphasis in preparing our students for college. This new class represents a response to information we’ve received through a continued contact with our alumni base and feedback they’ve provided as to the most practical preparation we can offer to our students as they become college freshman. The goal with this class is continue to grow our student’s preparedness with an increased understanding of sentence structure, flow, and transitioning elements in the kind of writing (and by extension, reading) they will encounter most in college.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.