Running Programs Boarding School
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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.
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.
I first met Amy as a shy incoming 8th grader from China who had a large language barrier to overcome. A short, memory-filled 5 years later, she is less than two weeks away from graduation at Oak Hill Academy. We are all very proud of the engaged, confident young lady she has grown into before our eyes. High Point University in North Carolina is next on the horizon for Amy. She chose HPU from among several great scholarship offers from several good schools. Amy is also a great example of the relationships built at Oak Hill Academy although it doesn’t take 5 years to do that.
Amy has acted in several play productions and has grown into leadership positions on campus such as student ambassador and Admission Department intern along with a long list of community service involvement. She embraced the opportunity to become part of a close-knit school community, and along with long-term support of the ESL program, is now completely bi-lingual. We now take the opportunity to check in with her before what is sure to be an emotional graduation time arrives.
As an international student, what were your first impressions of Oak Hill Academy when you arrived? To be honest, I thought it was too much in the country. I’m from the city and that took time to get used to. I remember feeling everyone was friendly and I was glad the school is not too big. I was worried that I might not fit in before I got here.
In what main ways have you grown at Oak Hill Academy? I’m not scared to try new things and my confidence has grown a lot. I’m a much better student than I thought I would become.
What are the most important relationships you’ve developed? I have a bond with Mr. Henry Crede (Dean of Student Affairs) and he has become like a father to me. I’ve felt support from a lot of faculty and staff and, especially, friends over the years if I’m having a tough time which happened more when I was younger.
What have become your favorite activities while at Oak Hill? In Shanghai, I never really had the opportunity to ride horses – the equestrian program has become a big part of my life while at OHA. I also love to dance. (Oak Hill does not have an official dance program, although cheerleading has been a good outlet for Amy) There have been many adults on campus who have gone above and beyond to help me continue to pursue dance. I really appreciate that effort to take me off campus to attend weekly dance classes and competitions. I did a devotion in home room the other day to express how much that has meant to me!
Any advice to international students that will attend Oak Hill Academy? Don’t be afraid to talk to other people. Be brave. Nobody here judges you while you are learning English. The students and teachers understand. You need to socialize with all other students to learn things outside of class. Don’t be afraid to try new things, you never know what joy it will bring to you.
What have been the biggest obstacles to overcome during your time here? Obviously learning English seemed like it was going to be hard, but it turned out to be really easy as I look back. Saying goodbye when I graduate will be the biggest obstacle for me so I’m appreciating every memory I’m making at Oak Hill Academy.