Oak Hill Academy Boarding School
As a 1987 graduate of Oak Hill Academy, one of the greatest pleasures I have working here is taking walks down memory lane. My current office is located in our former library area and I get a kick out of thinking how I used to struggle against the idea of mandatory study hall before basketball practice in the very room I interview students who will soon have that same experience. As the song goes, “Time Marches On.” I also enjoy the memories of the little things from my time as a student here that get triggered as I walk around campus.
Many of faculty and staff members who were instrumental in providing the opportunities for these memories I now call friends and colleagues. Life is funny. I definitely remember many of the structures still in place – study hall, homeroom devotions, 8th period tutorials, service in Young’s Chapel Baptist Church here on campus, Socials on Saturday night… But it is the many, seemingly random, small memories that bring the most smiles to me. The time Ms. Hall (still works here but is now known as Mrs. Bowen) unexpectedly offered to take a group of us out to a Japanese steakhouse in Boone (my first encounter with an Hibachi Grill!), the time a group of friends decided to lip-synch to a Kurtis Blow rap song (a classic!) for the talent show, a small group outing to a local music festival where I was first exposed to this thing called “Bluegrass,” the list goes on…
So, yesterday when I passed a group of young men, undeterred by the recent heavy rains we’ve been having, coming from an ad-hoc game of ultimate Frisbee, I knew that they’d just made one of those little memories of Oak Hill that they’ll smile back on one day. You see, even though I spend a lot of time talking about the formally planned, intentionally structured aspects of student life at Oak Hill Academy, I know it is the little, unplanned memories that come from being a part of a close-knit student body, with generous, caring faculty that will probably prove to be the most impactful. You don’t plan for those here – they just happen.
Today marks the second full day of classes on “The Hill.” The two days of move-in are now complete, orientation activities were a both fun and informative, and the students have begun settling into the routine of the academic day. I’m always impressed with how quickly our largely new student body (we graduate almost a third of our enrollment each year!) gels and begins to take on a community identity. Speaking of identity, one of the most exciting things new students express is a desire to redefine themselves and being a new student on our campus represents a great opportunity to do that! Here at Oak Hill Academy, the structure supports students as they work to develop the habits and mindset needed to take on the identity they desire for themselves: new study habits, a new sense of responsibility and independence, social involvement and, for many, becoming a motivated person. We spend a lot of time, especially in faculty advisee groups, discussing personal long-term and immediate goals and the start of a new school year produces a lot of momentum in these areas.
I need to let you know, if you are a prospective parent reading this blog, that Oak Hill Academy has a rolling admission policy and it is not uncommon to enroll quality applicants, for whom we are a great fit, throughout the first few months of school. It is not too late, although spaces are limited at this point. Please contact me to help me learn about your student and to discuss our application process or to set up a campus visit.
Today, I want to share with you a very fundamental concept that I encounter in admissions. It happens to relate directly to a topic our administration, faculty and staff are studying through a very important book by Carol S. Dweck, Ph.d called Mindset: The New Psychology of Success from 2006. I’ve been familiar with Dr. Dweck’s high profile for sometime as I taught the psychology course here at Oak Hill Academy for several years.
The central concept is that there are two general categories of viewing learning and dealing with challenges that we all seem to adopt. These are either a “fixed” mindset or a “growth” mindset. The “fixed” mindset leads people to really believe that abilities are set and cannot be developed. The “growth” mindset leads people to believe, and act, in seeing challenges as improvement opportunities and that our abilities are not set in stone and people can, through effort and experience, improve their capacities and abilities.
Here’s how this relates to my work in admissions: Very often, I encounter prospective students, through their families, who are stuck in a “fixed” mindset and this shows up as a lack of motivation, frustration and a disengagement in their education. I’m often asked by families during admission calls to describe the kinds of students we work with best. I feel that Oak Hill Academy occupies a very unique niche in the boarding school spectrum. As I study Dr. Dweck’s work, it has become abundantly clear Oak Hill Academy’s mission is, and always been, developing this “growth” mindset with our students. This realization adds another layer to the description of the Oak Hill experience, shared by many of our students over the years, as “transformative.”
By providing a structured and supportive academic environment, our students are learning perseverance and making the connection between consistent effort and achievement. With very small class sizes, this experience and support is very personal for our students. We are very intentional in this area and I invite you to contact me for more information and discussion.
Easily my favorite part of the job, giving campus tours is a great way for families and our admission committee to determine if Oak Hill Academy is a fit for your students goals and needs. The summer months make up the busiest tour season, but I enjoy welcoming prospective students and their families throughout the school year. Here, I’d like to describe our goals and what you can expect from a visit to Oak Hill Academy.
I place a priority on meeting people from all parts of campus life for each tour. We do not do the “open house” or “group tour” approach because I want to exemplify what many find to be the most outstanding feature of our school community: a personal approach and relationship building. Therefore, as we visit different areas of our school, please be prepared to be welcomed and engaged in conversation with a variety of people.
Typically, I meet families in the Vaughn Administration Building, in the center of campus. This is a great opportunity to meet many in our Administration, such as our School President, Dr. Michael Groves. From there, I like to give an overview tour of the entire campus with a ride on our Alumni Golf Cart (It seats 6, so bring your family!). We will begin the cruise of our campus from the girls’ side (dorm, equestrian center, Noonkester Park and Lake Samuella) giving a glimpse at a much bigger campus than most expect. Next is a stop at our Ussery Archives to get a sense of the history of our school, founded in 1878. A tour of our 3 main boys’ dormitories will follow (if appropriate) followed by a quick run out to our athletic fields on the far end of campus.
We will tour the English Academic Building including a significant conversation with our Principal and Guidance Counselor to talk about curriculum and learn your student’s academic goals and needs. The Turner Gymnasium, home to our basketball, volleyball and physical education classes, is adjacent to our school building. When school is in session, a Student Ambassador will join the tour to provide the “student perspective.” Depending on the time of day, the student will usually accompany the family for lunch in the Dining Hall for a great meal prepared by our Meriweather-Godsey team.
No tour is complete without visiting the “bookends” of the school day: The Fletcher Chapel where homeroom and various campus activities take place and the Alumni Campus Store to get a look at what many consider the social hub of student life after school hours. Along the way, expect to be greeted by a variety of people from our school community and be prepared: our students love visitors to campus!
From an Admission Office standpoint, a campus visit is also great opportunity to conduct an admission interview. By this time we’ve spent a lot time together and it should feel more like a conversation. Questions are encouraged, both from the applicants and families, throughout the tour. There is not a strictly set agenda for a tour, but I typically spend 2-3 hours with each family to help you plan. Please contact me today to schedule your campus visit!
Graduation day always amazes me here at Oak Hill Academy. Living together in a boarding school environment, particulary a small one like our school, means that we become so familiar that we can take for granted how strong the bonds are that we are forming. Graduation day brings that into focus, and to a smaller degree, the end of any school term highlights how close we’ve become both as a staff and student body.
On July 25, I had the pleasure of seeing two of our veteran students be acknowledged in a small graduation ceremony in front of their peers who attended our summer session. What stands out is that many of the heartfelt well wishes and hugs came from students new to our school, for whom the summer session was their first term at Oak Hill Academy. These kids hadn’t known each other five and a half weeks earlier. It still amazes me how quickly students find their place in our community and among their peers and form relationships. This is a special place and graduation day reminds me of that every time, even if it was a small ceremony at the end of our summer session.
My best wishes and congratulations to two of the best of Oak Hill Academy as they enter the next phase of their lives: Min Yeol as he returns to Korea for compulsory military service before going on to college and Kimy as he begins a soccer career at Iona College in New York. You’re both leaving your mark on Oak Hill Academy and I know you’re taking a part of Oak Hill with you!
I’m often contacted by parents who are looking for a transformative experience for their children. They are attracted by Oak Hill Academy’s structured and supportive environment and, on a social level, many are looking for new setting. During tours with prospective students, I often emphasize that many students find enrollment at Oak Hill Academy as an opportunity to redefine themselves. I’m then asked how we do it.
Here, I’d like to address that question with a couple of examples.
- Routine and good study habits: Our students are very busy with extra-curricular activities after school, there is a healthy amount of social time, and they have a lot of athletic and artistic opportunities. However busy our students are, they get good at turning off the “busyness” of the day and taking care of business in nightly study hall from 8:30pm- 10:30pm. This builds very good habits and academic stamina. They have a lot of expectations placed on them in the classroom, but they have the time built into their daily schedule to meet them. For many students, this is a simple, but powerful new habit.
- Spirituality: By starting our day in homeroom in prayer and short devotions, students are encouraged to consider this aspect of their daily lives. Our church attendance each Sunday is also a memorable part of their Oak Hill experience.
- Socially: Our student body is very close-knit and there is a sense of belonging that each student feels as part of a small community. It is a great place to try new things, develop new interests and build strong interpersonal skills and relationships.
Recently, our leadership group on campus did an exercise to identify “4 pillars” of an Oak Hill experience. Transformation was seen by our students as a hallmark of their time here. I would look forward to discussing your student and exploring, with you, the many more ways our students grow. Please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.