motivating boarding schools
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 firstname.lastname@example.org or call (276) 579-2619.
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 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.
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.
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.
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 (email@example.com) or simply call me in the Admission Department at (276) 579-2619.
Regards, Mike Rodgers
Director of Admission
Some of the many sides of Keith Hornsby at Oak Hill Academy shown above
When Keith graduated in 2011, I knew he was going to have an interesting path ahead of him. As the president of the senior class, a student in my class and key component of some of the best teams in recent Oak Hill basketball history, I knew his presence would be missed. I had come to know Keith as a sixth grader attending Coach Smith’s summer basketball camps and had seen how, when he puts his mind to something, he finds a way to achieve it. My pleasure was getting to know Keith well off the court as a student and part of the Oak Hill Academy campus community. I knew the combination of personality (he has a ready smile that often hides how driven he really is) and work ethic was going to bring big things his way.
Keith has been relatively easy to keep up with post-graduation as much of his journey has been played out with media coverage. After a very successful two years at the University of North Carolina at Asheville, Keith took the rather controversial step of fulfilling his potential of playing at the highest levels by transferring to LSU and a much higher athletic profile. As per NCAA rules, he sat out a season but, true to form, did not “take a year off,” instead transforming his body and skills in preparation for making an impact on his new team. His 35 minutes of playing time per game, ranking among the top in the SEC, indicates his value to the team. Along the way, Keith has been taking care of business in the classroom as well. As a mass communications major, Keith is gaining a tremendous amount of on the job training in front of the camera. Becoming a fan-favorite on a successful team in one of the biggest conferences in college basketball (and hitting some game winning shots!) means a lot of media attention. I’ve really enjoyed seeing Keith’s poise and humility in front of the cameras as I frequently see him on ESPN and I take pleasure in knowing that his success on the court and in the classroom has not been handed to him.
I recently caught up with Keith to discuss his experiences at Oak Hill Academy and the perspective of that time that 4 years have given him.
In what ways did your Oak Hill experience help you grow?
The thing that stands out to me, looking back, is that it forced me to build social skills. Because the student body is so diverse, I really enjoyed learning to relate to so many different kinds of people. Of course, learning to live without your parents looking over you is a necessary development too. I really look at it now as a true “pre-college” experience. For me, college was not as big a jump as it would’ve been otherwise.
Is there anything specific that Oak Hill did to help prepare you for college success?
I had teachers like Mrs. Bonham who were demanding. She was tough but it made sure you got the job done. However, I really learned that having a relationship with a teacher is key. That really prepared me to take the initiative with my college professors even though, college is, obviously, a much bigger setting.
What are some of your favorite memories of your Oak Hill days?
It’s funny, I was just looking at a yearbook and remembering the fun we had. The weekend activities were great – I appreciate now how hard the staff works to provide those off-campus trip opportunities to haunted houses, movies, local attractions, etc. On campus, I really remember Karaoke Night as a great time. Remembering Spirit week brought a smile to my face. Also the devotions in homeroom. I remember some really thought-provoking messages. I also remember the experiences I gained in public speaking at Oak Hill, which obviously helps me in my major (Mass Communication). It was a great training ground for being a leader in that it was small enough to know I could really make a difference. In fact, I’ve continued in that having been selected by my peers last year to serve on the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee at LSU. I also remember the plays at Oak Hill which, little known fact, I was in the Theatre Department at UNC-Asheville before I transferred. All of that stuff started at Oak Hill for me.
What do you feel makes Oak Hill Academy unique as a boarding school?
At first the restrictions on cell phones and technology seemed like a punishment, I’m not going to lie. However, having limits on that really produced a beautiful thing: we became such a tight-knit student body – like family – and I don’t think many people get to go to a school with that kind of bond between classmates. I still keep in touch with many of my classmates – not just my former teammates – but people I share the Oak Hill bond with. There’s a pride that comes with being an Oak Hill graduate because it is a pretty exclusive club. You really don’t understand how beautiful it is to be part of something like unless you come to Oak Hill. I truly miss how simple and pure life was at Oak Hill without a lot of the distractions that typically face kids.
We wish Keith much continued success on the court and in the classroom. His many fans in Mouth of Wilson, Va will be rooting for him and the Tigers this upcoming season, his senior year!
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.
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:
Alex Rodgers attended Oak Hill Academy for three years and was a highly visible member of the Lady Warriors basketball team, served as an honor court member and was active in many other groups on campus. She was fortunate to have quite a few college options with her combination of great grades, active campus involvement and basketball ability. She eventually chose the opportunity of attending Princeton University, a decision she calls “the best decision I’ll probably make in my life.” As she fast approaches graduation in a couple of weeks, we take the opportunity to catch up with her.
What have been your biggest memories during your college experience as you look back?It would be obvious to talk about the tremendous success I’ve been able to be a part of with the women’s basketball team at Princeton (The Tigers finished the season 31-1 and made history with the highest national ranking and NCAA seeding ever for an Ivy League program and Alex’s senior class has amassed a record 98 wins), but I’m really going to remember most how I’ve grown. Coming out of Oak Hill Academy where I had friends and interacted with people from so many backgrounds, I was prepared and had the confidence to take advantage of those kinds of opportunities here. Oak Hill is where I first learned to step outside of my comfort zone and take leadership roles. I’m glad I did! Through the PU Religion Department, I’ve been able to participate in a human rights conference in Cuba, and through the PU Athletics department, I was able to spend significant time in Senegal and Paris. But lately what I feel like I’ll remember most is writing my senior thesis!
What was your favorite class at Oak Hill Academy? I’m graduating with a degree in Religious studies and I’m sure that was influenced by how much I enjoyed Reverend Turnmire’s Survey of World Religion course my Junior year at OHA. That class did a lot in inspiring me to develop a world view and get a lot of college level writing experience. I feel the same way about the World Cultures class I took with Mr. Hill.
Alex and her teammate participated with her coach and a professor in a short film analyzing the physics of the three point shot.
What was the most valuable thing you learned from your Oak Hill Academy experience? The power of relationships is easily the best lesson I learned at OHA and something that has continued through my college experience. There is a special bond that you share with your classmates and teachers at Oak Hill Academy – it’s a special community.
Do you feel that boarding school prepared you for a better transition to college ?I think it did, yes. A lot of boarding school relied on routine, responsibility, and accountability. Oak Hill gave me the tools to be able to establish all 3 principles on my own in college which is an even more intense and demanding environment.
What advice would you give a new student to prepare them for success at Oak Hill Academy? Know that you can redefine yourself once getting to Oak Hill. If you commit to the process you will hone in on study skills, personal skills, and life skills. Growth in all of these areas will add to any and all of your future endeavors, whether you want to be a professional athlete, politician, business person, or whatever.
These sentiments were echoed by Courtney Banghart, Head Coach of the Princeton Women’s Basketball team: Alex came to Princeton as a confident learner. She had valuable time management skills and was accustomed to the independence of living away from home. She was used to learning alongside a range of students from diverse backgrounds. Also, Alex knew how to ask for help. She understood the power of relationships, something she surely learned in her time at boarding school, and began building connections in her first days at Princeton.