Track and Field 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.
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.