As a small boarding school, Oak Hill Academy has the rare opportunity to foster face-to-face, personal relationships among students, families, and our faculty and staff. Shared goals, shared experiences, and a 24/7 shared environment allow for interaction that grows these connections organically.
We all want to feel that we are needed, valued, and have a place. At Oak Hill Academy, our desire is to help our students find meaningful and productive ways to connect with each other and adults, in the context of a supportive community.
When I feel connected to my colleagues, when I feel that I have a community of friends and families who support me, when I feel connected to my work, that I am valued and needed, affirmed in my talents and abilities – this is when I am able to thrive.
The same is true for our students. Our goal is to pull out those talents, and find ways to connect our students to our community in authentic, meaningful ways. Athletics, leadership, astronomy, debate, broadcasting, tutoring, theater, horsemanship, community service, choir, peer mentoring, chess, cheer – students who are connected in productive ways to the Oak Hill community are students who are thriving.
Oak Hill Academy provides the environment: pockets of appropriate cell phone and internet access, required participation in an activity or club, structured quiet time and daily routines, high expectations to meet our values and standards. We work to provide the support and encouragement: full time residential life staff, small class sizes, advisory activities, academic support. We nudge our students to connect to each other and to the community, and we show that they are valued and have a place.
When faced with a challenge, like leaving home to attend boarding school, students might think it’s easier for them to keep their heads down, to push through and “endure” the days. Our hope–our goal–is to help our students turn this mindset upside down, and embrace the opportunities at Oak Hill to grow and to connect with something bigger than themselves.
Director of Student Affairs
Oak Hill Academy
At Oak Hill Academy our campus is our classroom. Beyond academic achievement, honing the basic principles of self-care and good decision making is among the most valuable behavioral gains for students at small boarding schools. While these traits aren’t visible on a transcript (though some would hold them to be as important), failure to acquire them can lead to long-term trouble for young adults.
One of the most pervasive and newsworthy temptations facing teens these days involves a new type of “smoking” called vaping, which requires use of an electronic cigarette (e-cigarette) filled with flavored liquid that, when electrically charged, releases vapors that are inhaled by the user. Recently, e-cigarettes became more popular among teens than regular cigarettes, and vaping has become a national talking point among those who work with youth.
Oak Hill Academy has always been proactive in caring for our students. Under the leadership of Academy Nurse Betsy Anderson, we recently offered a series of educational sessions designed to supplement our efforts to eradicate vaping on our campus. In crafting a wholesale strategy which includes medical intervention, support groups that meet regularly for students who desire to quit, punitive measures, and now an educational component, we believe we are providing sound, comprehensive services to our students. In fact, Oak Hill Academy was recently recognized by colleagues at other boarding schools as being a state-wide leader in this national effort to address what has become an important issue affecting the lives of young people.
Our boarding school campus is indeed Oak Hill Academy’s 24/7 classroom, where we walk with our students through their fledgling efforts to learn how to care for themselves in body, mind, and spirit. When mistakes occur, and they do for all of us, our job as educators is to lend a helping hand and shine the light on the correct path. Our vaping education and intervention program is helping us do just that.
Oak Hill Academy
Executive Functioning Skills
Most students in grades 8-12, like most adults, struggle to navigate the flood of information swirling around them and often feel overwhelmed by it all. Input from multiple directions pummels today’s students at a rate previously unknown. Amid myriad distractions in our fast-paced world, educators wonder: how can we help students develop their executive functioning skills?
While the term “executive functioning skills” may sound unfamiliar, the need to help students focus, set goals and overcome distractions is a familiar challenge. Executive function, also known as “the CEO of the brain,” manages working memory, cognitive flexibility, and self-control. At its core, this refers to the ability to regulate one’s thinking in order to accomplish tasks productively. Although issues with executive functioning do not presuppose a disability, these are common difficulties facing students, particularly those with ADHD or learning differences.
Skills Managed by Executive Function Include:
- Planning, Organization &Time Management
- Task Initiation & Completion
- Working Memory & Attention
- Metacognition: “Thinking about Thinking”
- Self-Control & Perseverance
- Flexible Thinking & Understanding Other Points of View
In life, as in school, these skills are measured by and demonstrated through the completion of tasks. Observant teachers and parents notice that there is often an underlying reason for a student’s lack of academic performance or low motivation. Failing grades or indifference toward school are often merely symptoms of common developmental challenges in the area of executive function rather than laziness or lack of ability.
As a small boarding school, Oak Hill Academy views students holistically, incorporating structure and routine into daily life beyond the classroom setting while educating each student individually. This provides an environment conducive to best educational practice, where essential thinking skills can be strengthened for every student. Moreover, the Oak Hill Academy Learning Success Program offers intentional structure and creates a framework for students needing additional support. Oak Hill Academy, with its orderly and thoughtful design, provides a place where all students can grow, develop, and thrive.
Belonging & Being Known
What does it mean to belong and how can we provide our children with a sense of belonging?
Even from a young age, children scan their environment looking for a place of safety and security—a place where they are valued and accepted. Over time, expectations of others become increasingly important, and school can take on a life of its own. By high school or even middle school, many students find themselves wondering how they fit in and if they even want to fit in with the peer group surrounding them.
Just this week, I had a conversation with a parent who summed it up by saying, “School is often a place to be known for sports or to be known for academics.” I thought to myself . . . shouldn’t school first be a place simply to be known? Before engaging in learning or teaching, shouldn’t teachers and school administrators get to know the individual needs and personality of each child?
As a former teacher, I know first-hand how challenging that can be when dealing with multiple large classes each day. Trying to remember the names of 140+ students a day, let alone their unique learning styles and motivations, is a daunting task for anyone. Even the most conscientious teachers often find themselves unable to engage meaningfully with their students and wonder, isn’t there another way?
Oak Hill Academy says yes, there is another way and ensures every student has an opportunity to be known in a structured, nurturing environment that encourages growth. Instead of teaching 140 students per day, I now have the privilege of working at a small boarding school with a student body of that size. Every student is known by name and, more importantly, they can each experience a sense of belonging in this place.
Mrs. Katherine Giszack
Director of Admission
In this issue, read and see how our small boarding school started its 141st year! This issue also profiles our new faculty and staff, and honors those who have retired. There is a blurb about our upcoming Homecoming, and a report on last summer’s Alumni Weekend. The outlook for this season’s Gold Basketball Team is featured, along with the “State of the Academy” giving report. As always, there are scores of fun photos of OHA community scenes and activities. Enjoy!
Oak Hill Academy is hosting an AMA, which stands for “Ask Me Anything” on the subreddit /r/IAmA. In our post we will be responding to your questions. We’d love to have you participate in our AMA. Our panelists for this AMA are Dr. Michael Groves, our President; Steve Smith, our Athletic Director; Todd Giszack, our Principal; Katherine Giszack, our Admissions Director; and Aaron Butt, our Director of Student Affairs.
Reddit is an American social news aggregation, web content rating and discussion website. Essentially, any person is able to create what is called a SubReddit, which is sort of like a discussion board. Some of the most active subreddits include: /r/gaming, /r/movies, /r/music, /r/funny, and so on. In fact, there are over 1.2
million subreddits. Reddit has been self-titlted, “The front page of the Internet,” and probably has earned it.
We’d love to see any questions you may have, and we will work to answer them!
Please go to https://www.reddit.com/ where you can sign up for an account by clicking the “Sign Up” button in the top-right corner. After creating an account, visit our post at https://www.reddit.com/r/IAmA/comments/df0kj4/we_are_oak_hill_academy_ask_us_anything/ and place a comment under our initial post. We’ll answer ASAP!
There’s no better time than fall to visit the mountains! We invite prospective students and their families to experience Oak Hill Academy for themselves as we showcase our community on Monday, October 14th (Columbus Day), from 10:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Kindly RSVP to firstname.lastname@example.org to help us accommodate everyone for our seminars, campus tours, and complimentary lunch.
To our OHA community: If you know of a student/family who could benefit from enrollment in our small, structured boarding school, please send this information their way. Many thanks!
A structured, personal environment where academic and character growth is nurtured helps develop students’ self-confidence to express themselves and move toward their goals. Small, college-prep classes address learning styles and engage students at a level they may be missing in their current school’s environment. Oak Hill Academy’s supportive approach fosters competency and academic achievement. By giving students enough responsibility to achieve a sense of independence in a safe, supervised, and motivating setting, our boarding high school often becomes the place where fear, being hesitant or easily influenced by peers in a negative way are replaced with determination and mature decision-making processes. We are proud of the pivotal, life-changing transformations experienced here at Oak Hill. These changes happen in part because students are encouraged to experiment and develop their own leadership styles. There are numerous campus leadership positions available such as Honor Court member, ambassador, dorm assistant, and club/activity officers. Additionally, many of our students develop interpersonal skills and service leadership through peer interactions, being peer tutors, and acting as mentors for younger students. A new environment can be a “turning point,” and is an opportunity to break old patterns. Oak Hill Academy allows students to redefine themselves in a fresh and supportive setting.
We invite you to schedule a campus tour to experience, for yourself, the special community here in the beautiful mountains of Southwestern Virginia. If you would like to discuss how Oak Hill Academy may become the Turning Point for your student, please contact the Admission Office today.
Are you looking for a high school boarding option for your struggling student? Do these struggles stem from learning differences or self-esteem issues? These types of internal battles can wreak havoc on motivation and success for any high school student, and they have very little to do with ability.
Oak Hill Academy understands that, and specializes in assisting the under-performing student. We recognize that a student’s ability to believe success is possible is key, even when entering our school with a transcript that might suggest otherwise. We believe that competency and confidence are nurtured best with a truly relational approach, developed in a structured environment that is strong on accountability. We strive to be the boarding high school that is known for its commitment to individual academic support and personal growth.
Here at Oak Hill Academy, we pride ourselves on being the “turning point” for students in more than one area of their lives. When admission criteria are discussed, several common points arise:
First, as a college prep boarding high school, we work with students in the classroom toward graduation and what comes next. Many of our students need academic support, and we recognize different learning styles and needs, including instruction in time management and organization.
Additionally, Oak Hill offers a tremendously supportive, structured, and relational environment in which to coach (non-therapeutically) personal, social and emotional growth in our students. Opportunities for engagement outside the classroom abound, giving students a chance to discover or rekindle special interests, passions or talents. That’s why we like to know about what your student has enjoyed beyond academics.
Finally, the most important factor in admission decisions is your student’s mindset when it comes to redefining themselves. The admission process should involve some recognition of this opportunity on the part of the student. We seek to enroll those for whom we are a “good fit”, and by that we mean that our boarding school is growth-oriented, and is best suited for high school students who embrace their own need to mature, and are ready for a restart.
We talk to prospective students and parents a lot about the structured and supportive boarding school environment we offer at Oak Hill Academy. To facilitate academic and personal growth in our students, we create a framework made up of components like the one Mr. Butt highlights below.
“Quiet Time.” What is it? I believe Quiet Time at Oak Hill Academy is one of the most important aspects of our program. A common refrain I hear from the parents of incoming students is that their son/daughter struggles with executive functioning skills: things like paying attention, organizing, planning and prioritizing, starting tasks and staying focused on them to completion, self-monitoring (keeping track of what you’re doing). These, as adults know, are critical skills that need to be learned as our students mature and matriculate into the real world. Our Quiet Time is intended to provide the structure, the scaffolding, for students to grow in these areas.
Everyone is back in the dorms at 8:30 p.m. Game systems and cell phones are turned in to the Resident Manager, and students can receive only incoming calls from immediate family. For the first hour, students are in their rooms unless they need to shower, have dorm jobs (taking out the trash, sweeping the hall, etc.), scheduled laundry or cooking, or have signed up for the study room for Wi-Fi access. We try to be consistent with this schedule, and this message: Learn to organize your time, and prioritize.
At 9:30, all students are in their rooms, and the second hour of Quite Time is designated for studying. The Resident Managers have a GoogleDoc with every student’s homework assignment, and they are also made aware if a student has been struggling to complete their work. The Resident Manager is on the hall, checking in, and providing assistance as necessary. Students who need it are assigned a special study room with a bit more monitoring and support. At 10:30 lights are out, the dorm is quiet, and it’s time for bed.
And that’s the routine: every day, every week, every month, all year. It’s predictable; it’s structured; it takes some getting used to. But if used faithfully, this routine helps our students learn to self-monitor and build effective patterns into their lives that we believe will help them succeed at the next level.
Will they have a mandatory Quiet Time in college? Probably not, but we have graduates and former students who come back to “the Hill” and espouse the benefits of the habits they developed at Oak Hill–that they were able to take what they had learned here into their adult lives.
So these are the basics of Quiet Time – part of who we are, and what we value as a school.
OHA Director of Student Affairs