theater boarding school
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.
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:
A short, student-produced film highlighting the Theatre Program at Oak Hill Academy Boarding School with footage from the Spring Play. Part 4 of the “My Oak Hill Academy” series. Contact Oak Hill Academy at http://www.oak-hill.net or Call (276) 579 2619.