transformative boarding school
At this time of year, many of my admission calls begin with the question, “Is Oak Hill Academy still accepting applications?” We are, and I would like to take some time to explain the philosophy of late admission and rolling admission.
A review of our school’s website will uncover that Oak Hill Academy is a small, coed, college-prep boarding school that serves the very unique niche of focusing on the student who has not been having the kind of success of which they are capable. As grades come out at the end of the school year, parents and students are having the conversation that a change is needed. For some, poor grades expose a need for a change of academic environment, a change in peer group, or even a change in home dynamics.
When a student (and family) recognizes that attending Oak Hill Academy is an opportunity to make these kinds of changes and to redefine themselves in a new environment, we want to be available. We also intentionally keep space available for families who are having these conversations early in the school year.
Please visit our website http://www.oak-hill.net to understand these opportunities in greater detail. Our enrollment cycle accounts for families who are making these decisions at this time of year – well into the summer months. As the Director of Admission, I am happy to consider applicants who are a fit for this mission and I am currently conducting campus visits and interviews. Contact me now to discuss.
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.
I heard the above said by a student at Oak Hill Academy yesterday and it struck me as significant. It stuck with me most of the day and the more I thought about it, like peeling the layers of an onion, its truth became more and more apparent. I don’t think he was trying to be profound, and the context in which he said it was pretty mundane, but he said it with sincerity and a sense of surety – he was stating a fact.
From an academic standpoint, at Oak Hill Academy nothing IS invisible. Our small class sizes (8-10 on average) mean students can’t hide from a teacher or “take a day off.” Good luck getting away with incomplete homework (I think that was the context of the original statement). Learning styles are not ignored – as our teachers learn each student’s strengths and weaknesses, we can become very personal with our approach. With our webgrader program, daily performance is communicated back to the student AND THEIR PARENTS, cementing the idea that every day matters. Back to the small class size, if a lesson doesn’t land on a student, our teachers know it – that is what the 8th period tutorials that happen every day are for (think of it as “office hours” for our teachers). Students can be brought in, notebooks are checked, and a student receives personal attention. They know they are not invisible – and our students like that!
From a social standpoint, students are not invisible to their peers. Nobody sits alone in our cafeteria – grade level doesn’t matter socially here. Our students are engaged in each other’s lives and actually enjoy helping each other through the inevitable bumps of a school year. They often study together. Our location contributes to this. We are located in a beautiful area of the Blue Ridge Mountains of Southwestern Virginia and there is no “mall across the street.” Our kids look around and know that we are all they’ve got, so we had better take care of each other. And they do.
From a community standpoint, there is a lot of structure and a lot of “eyes on campus.” The majority of our faculty and staff live on campus with their own families and faculty housing dots campus. We are everywhere! We enjoy knowing our students outside of class as much as in class and they get to know our own children and even our family pets! This gives incredible opportunity to be there for our students with unlimited, informal, teachable moments. There are resident managers who live with the students in the dorm. Yes, we are everywhere.
We are a small boarding school and this is significant. Everyone is plugged into one or more of the many clubs and activities taking place each afternoon. Weekends are filled with on-campus social activities and off-campus trip offerings. Students discover their talents and interests and each student has a real place in our community. As one student put it to me recently, in my old school I was my “school self” and then I had my “home self” but here, I can BE MYSELF.
“At Oak Hill Academy, nothing is invisible.” What a true statement!
For most of our applicants at Oak Hill Academy, the idea of enrolling at boarding school comes with both excitement and apprehension. Going away to boarding school is a big lifestyle change and it is natural to have both of those emotions. However, our parents (and at sometime during a successful application process, our students) come to realize that in order to make significant changes, one must get out of a “comfort zone” and into a significantly different environment.
Growing: when you are transforming to a new season of life,
the people and situations that no longer fit you will fall away.
Don’t fight the process.
I ran across this quote recently that succinctly addresses the number one worry that I encounter from students as they consider the opportunity for positive changes that enrollment at Oak Hill Academy offers. Simply put, they worry about leaving their friends at home behind. I want to address this issue here briefly:
- Growth occurs outside of your comfort zone. By definition, in order to get different outcomes, you must do things differently. This is uncomfortable.
- Throughout our lives, as we grow, the associations we make change. A person simply cannot grow without making new relationships that expand our definition of ourselves. Our Oak Hill Academy student body becomes very close-knit, rather quickly. Everyone matters and has a place in our community. You’ll make close friends. Our students come to understand why as they redefine themselves in positive ways.
- Breaks, open weekends and our school schedule mean that students have fairly frequent opportunities to reconnect with friends and family at home. The friends that matter and support the growth you experience at Oak Hill will not disappear. You’ll reconnect often. The friends that do not support your growth will probably fade, and they probably should. In the meantime, while at school, you’ll be focusing on the right things for you.
There are frequent off-campus trips and on-campus activities available on the typical weekend at Oak Hill Academy. Still, the students really look forward to the three “Warrior Weekends” spread throughout the school year. On these weekends, the students are presented with an extraordinary menu of small, out-of-the ordinary, off campus trip options. This past Warrior Weekend, for example, the highlights included a dinner-theatre trip, Virginia Tech lacrosse game, laser tag, and a zip lining trip to a nearby adventure center in the Boone, NC mountains.
Although the weather threatened to turn against us, the group had a blast (check out those clouds coming in!). The windy conditions provided a challenge to complete the runs without getting stuck, but our adventurous spirit carried us that day! The day was completed with a great meal at The Cookout restaurant. A few of the group had last seen the Hawk’s Nest covered in snow as it is also the site of our frequent snowboarding trips in the winter – all less than an hour’s drive away!
Tiora Hackley spent 4 years at Oak Hill Academy, graduating in 2008. Her contagious personality and the personal growth she showed during that time have made her one of the most fondly remembered students to come through in many years. Tiora has been very busy and productive since graduating from Oak Hill Academy. After attending Norfolk State University and, later, Virginia State University on a basketball scholarship, the Virginia Beach native has gone on to some very prestigious internships and putting her BFA degree to good use while working in the graphic design industry and starting the Teekie Apparel brand (www.teekieapparel.biz). I recently spent some time catching up with “Teekie” and discussed the impact of the Oak Hill experience on her life.
Tiora is shown here presenting her Post-Baccalaureate Project at MICA
What are you doing now in the business world?
Right now, I am finishing my graduate work at the Maryland Institue of Art (MICA) and plan to graduate the post-baccalaureate program in graphic design in May. I’ve got some business opportunities with my apparel brand and am applying to some great companies. I can’t wait for my next move!
What has been your path since graduating Oak Hill Academy in 2008?
I was a student athlete (women’s basketball) at Norfolk State and transferred to Virginia State University for my last two years. I graduated VSU with a BFA in Graphic Design, did a lot of work for the VSU athletic department as a media specialist and started my own clothing line, Teekie Apparel, all in 2013. I was also able to secure a graphic design freelance assignment with the Under Armour Retail Design Team in 2014. I also extended the Teekie brand by working as a stylist consultant for a WNBA player, Monica Wright of the Minnesota Lynx. This year, I made the tough decision to go back to school to invest in my career and currently attend MICA.
This is one of the many marketing pieces Tiora created for VSU. She tells the story of how cool it was to run into one of her former Oak Hill classmates, Kevin Durant, during one of her work assignments.
What did you discover about yourself at Oak Hill?
At Oak Hill Academy, especially by my senior year, I realized that I could accomplish anything I put my mind to. At Oak Hill, I developed confidence and was able to focus on my future. I had a lot of support from teachers like Rev. Turnmire and Mrs. Bonham who taught me that good things come from hard work. I feel that I was pushed to the highest potential and was guided in all areas of life – not just academics. The spiritual opportunities at Oak Hill also has a lasting impact and I always do my best to attend church and be thankful to God to this day. Because of this support, it became very important to me to leave a good impression on my peers and teachers. It wasn’t always like that – I grew up a lot at Oak Hill Academy.
Did Oak Hill Academy help foster your passion for graphic design and art?
Most definitely. I was involved with a lot of 21st century skills through Ms. Sargeant’s classes. I also enjoyed the art classes which rounded out my experience. I remember the many projects I was given the responsibility for such as the senior night video presentation, which I think was a big hit!
We are very proud of the ambitious, energetic young woman Tiora has become. During her time here, Teekie became “our kid” and we have lots of great memories of her. I must also point out that Tiora became the first 1000 point scorer in Oak Hill Lady Warriors history and is considered a pioneer of the program. Please contact Mr. Rodgers, Director of Admission for application information or to discuss our school. We want to part of your success story too!
www.tiorahackley.com to visit Tiora’s graphic design site.