Is Oak Hill Academy the right place for your student?
From the perspective of admissions, families and their students who are in need of personal or academic growth can find a great fit here. Oak Hill’s most successful students understand that a fresh start in a new environment provides them an opportunity to redefine themselves. Smaller class sizes mean individual attention at a more personal level of both instruction and understanding, leading to a higher level of accountability. Our structured, supportive approach allows students to work harder and more consistently because results become tangible almost immediately. Students are guided to see themselves in a new light and develop a belief in future possibilities. The Oak Hill Academy faculty also understands that smaller class sizes provide the ideal environment not only for academic instruction and building competence, but to cultivate individual growth in a non-therapeutic but accepting environment. It is a very specific sense of pride our faculty feels as students begin to recognize that their goals are obtainable. Bringing about this realization is not an easy feat—it takes a lot of hard work—but this shared endeavor is what brings Oak Hill Academy students and faculty together as a family, and makes us unique in the world of boarding schools.
If you have determined that the school year has not gotten off to the positive start you and your student hoped for, it is a good time to consider Oak Hill Academy for a new, and proven, approach. You may even have inquired in the past and want to revisit the possibilities.
We welcome a call or email in the Admission Department at this time of the year. Some of our greatest success stories began with mid-year enrollments.
Oak Hill Academy offers a Turning Point for students, most noticeably in the area of under-performance in the classroom. Through the admission process, we seek to understand the obstacles that have been standing in the way of a student’s academic success. We don’t simply chalk it up to a student’s being “unmotivated.” We look deeper.
With our applicants, we find that there is often a learning challenge affecting attention and academic stamina. We are a school that is very intentional with structure and relationships in the classroom, and we have found success in working with students with attention deficiencies such as ADHD and ADD. While we are not specifically a “learning differences school,” we have some very concrete approaches and interventions in place to address executive functioning issues that accompany attention issues. Some quick examples:
- Classroom sizes are kept small to create a relational atmosphere among students and teachers. Class participation is ensured through an approach that does not rely solely on lecture and note-taking. Instead, various learning styles are engaged through a dynamic approach that is heavy on class discussion, team projects, and alternate assessments including presentations, oral quizzes, and visual representations of content. Our teachers intentionally use a variety of methods to tap into multiple learning styles in each class period.
- Additional time on tests and quizzes is the normal course of business at Oak Hill Academy. This is accomplished seamlessly through our “8th period,” which is essentially office hours for our teachers each day. This period can also be used to address homework deficiencies through coaching and remediation. Not completing homework is simply not an option.
- We offer a study skills class to support daily work. Instead of providing only a “study hall,” this class for credit is part of many students’ school day and provides specific tools to improve study habits and techniques based on individual needs. For students for whom homework completion is a chronic issue, an after-school additional study time in the library coaches students to get better organized, and to get a jump start on their evening study hall by making preparations for using those hours more effectively.
- The consistency between dorm life and the academic program is immensely important. Each evening in the dorms includes mandatory study times and several targeted interventions like study room assignments and time management support. Student accountability with homework is taken seriously, and Resident Managers are aware of all assignments and areas of academic weakness.
If your student, despite good intentions, is struggling to earn grades that more accurately reflect his or her abilities, consider Oak Hill Academy as the college prep boarding school for students needing to develop specific habits toward success. Our curriculum is college preparatory, and offers a rigor that pushes students toward the college workload, but we are not a “sink or swim” environment. We are very good at meeting students where they are, and guiding them as they grow. We have the ability to provide rigor and challenge as their expectations for themselves rise–for example, we offer several college credit and A.P. classes for our juniors and seniors. We are not a remedial school. We rely instead on consistent structure, a relational approach, and as much “coaching” as “teaching” to help students find their footing and advance.
One of the most frequently asked questions in my initial admission consultations with prospective families is, “What do your students do outside of the classroom?” Boarding School is a nebulous concept for many families just starting the research phase. They know their students’ struggles, and have a decent sense of the structured boarding school setting their students need in order to make positive changes and find success–but what does that environment look like?
Today, I want to highlight a daily electronic communication we share with our students and their parents. “Today on the Hill” is designed to help our students manage their time and keep abreast of their options, and it also gives our parents a sense of their students’ day-to-day lives on campus. (A heads-up about what’s for lunch is always welcome, too!)
Given the shortened days and the cold weather, filling non-academic time can be a challenge for a Virginia Boarding School this time of year. Even so, I’m impressed with the variety of options available to our students on any given day–options that help them stay engaged with each other and give balance to their academic lives. All of these activities are offered outside of the traditional 7-period school day hours (8:30 am to 3:30 pm), and on most days, there is something for everyone. Additionally, some activities are so individualized that they do not appear on the “Today on The Hill” notice. For example, I open the music room almost daily after school for our musicians to get self-guided practice and to jam with each other. (This is super convenient as my office shares a wall with the music room!)
Please take a look at today’s edition of “Today on the Hill” pictured here to get a better sense of what is available to our students on a typical day on The Hill. Contact us at email@example.com for more information and to discuss your student. If we are encouraged, we can look at the steps for a mid-year, or next school year, consideration.
MOUTH OF WILSON, VIRGINIA – Oak Hill Academy is a small, college preparatory, coed boarding school. It is also an exceptionally tight-knit community. I know this component of our school is key for many of the prospective families who find us, especially those seeking a change in social habits and skills for their student. Our size and structure do promote a low-pressure, engaged community on campus, and this special bond often lasts well beyond high school as the shared experience connects our students in real ways. Today, I want to briefly highlight one of the reasons for this interconnected and uniquely positive social environment found at Oak Hill Academy.
One of the most striking features of our structure is our cell phone policy and limits on internet access. Our students have real boundaries on online gaming and social media. And, essentially, they do not have their phones during the school week. This idea often makes parents smile and prospective students frown, but we’re committed to these guidelines because they work. The outgrowth of our policies, according to our students, includes engagement with each other; ease of academic focus with fewer distractions; and real-time, face-to-face conversations that yield a greater sense of empathy for each other. Of course they miss their phones, and it is a tough adjustment, but our students typically come to understand the benefits.
The lack of a culture of judgment is amazing on our campus. Without the ubiquitous cell phone, our students largely talk to each other rather than about each other. Because our student body is comprised of students seeking growth, and coming mainly from previous environments in which they were struggling, they have an attitude of support and empathy. Oak Hill students are not hyper-competitive in the classroom, for example, preferring to study together whenever possible. They help each other formally through our peer-tutoring program, and organically as a part of dorm life.
I’ve often pointed to our location in the beautiful–but very rural–Blue Ridge Mountains of Southwest Virginia as a catalyst for community. With no “mall across the street,” our students adopt an attitude that reflects the idea that “we are all we’ve got, so we’d better take care of each other.” With a slew of on-campus traditions and activities, and frequent off-campus trip opportunities, our students interact in overlapping social circles that blur cliques. With an average enrollment of 150 students, everybody has a place, and is recognized and valued. Previously withdrawn or introverted students become, over time, more actively engaged with the people around them. This is a place of social acceptance in an adolescent world where that is becoming increasingly hard to find.
If your boarding school considerations include a desire for social growth, I encourage you to reach out to our Admission Department for a conversation about your student and Oak Hill Academy’s approach. We might be a great fit. Please know that many of our students begin with a mid-year enrollment, seeking to salvage the current school year, so rolling admission is a big part of our campus culture. Our students are excited to see new students (who won’t remain new very long!) when they return from the Christmas Break on January 7. See our approach to rolling admissions.
Oak Hill Academy, in Mouth of Wilson, Virginia, offers a unique college preparatory boarding school opportunity. While maintaining rigor through a college prep curriculum, we specialize in helping students who need to grow into better academic habits. Our structured environment promotes a routine that makes taking care of business an ingrained habit. We also offer a lot of opportunity for extra help and what I call “academic coaching” through our 8th-period tutorials – essentially office hours for our teachers at the conclusion of regular school hours each day.
Our student body is comprised of intelligent students who had been “floating,” or for whom, in their previous settings, school had not yet become important. Oftentimes, students who are naturally bright have been able to get by on innate ability until the rigor of high school (especially a college prep curriculum) catches up to them and exposes a “skill gap.” I’m referring specifically to skills beyond natural talent or intelligence, including time management, organization, perseverance, and other fundamental study skills. Many bright students have not been pushed to develop these skills in their current settings.
Many bright students, encountering this skill gap for the first time in their educational lives, struggle with having their identities challenged. After all, they are supposed to be “smart,” and doing well in school is supposed to come easily to them, right? Here’s where Oak Hill Academy is a good fit for this kind of challenge. By focusing on a “Growth Mindset”* approach with our students, we help them make the connections between effort, intentionality, and new skill development, leading to successful outcomes. In contrast, many struggling students have established a “Fixed Mindset,” in which they see challenges as a reflection of their abilities, and fall into the trap of believing they are not “smart enough” or don’t have what it takes to be a good student. This mindset often makes students appear, from the outside, like they are unmotivated. For students whose identities were wrapped up in academic achievement without the correlating effort, overcoming a “Fixed Mindset” is especially difficult.
Exacerbating the problem, many students who bump up against a skill gap begin to develop strategies to hide from academic challenges. Disengagement; seeking a different, less ambitious, peer group; or an avoidance of school altogether are coping strategies we see in some of our prospective students. It is uncomfortable to have your self-image challenged.
Oak Hill Academy has intentionally small class sizes that allow for a very relational approach. We recognize the patterns previously described, and our faculty and staff use an individualized approach, relying on consistent academic support and coaching to help our students climb out of the “Fixed Mindset” traps in which they find themselves. We are thereby able to successfully combine the terms “College Preparatory” and “the unmotivated student.” That makes us decidedly unique in the boarding school world.
If you are seeing your student being described in this scenario, I invite you to contact Oak Hill Academy’s Admission Office to discuss your student and to learn more about our approach as the potential Turning Point for your student. Rolling Admission is available and consideration can be given to appropriate applicants for a mid-year enrollment if a family is looking to salvage the current school year. We are also beginning our cycle for admission for the 2019-20 school year.
* “Growth Mindset” has been extensively researched and introduced to the education community through the pioneering work of Dr. Carol S. Dweck of Stanford University. See Growth Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, 2006
Dennis Wymer, art teacher and wrestling coach at Oak Hill Academy, is seeing a vision come to life in the second year of the fledgling Oak Hill Wrestling Program. Billed as a great opportunity for our students to push themselves and become extremely fit, Coach Wymer invites any interested student to try the sport out through a six-week preseason program. Since early in the school year, he has loaded up a van (that has become increasingly more full) and headed to a facility nearby for workouts held in conjunction with the Grayson County High School Wrestling team and coaching staff. This setup represents a special advantage to Oak Hill students as Grayson County is considered a Virginia public school “powerhouse” and regularly produces state-level finalists and champions. The Grayson staff includes a former NCAA and N.C. State University top wrestler. Coach Wymer also has extensive experience as a competitor and coach, and is assisted by OHA Dean of Boys Gary Crede and Resident Manager Byron Bussey.
There are regularly 6 or more students, boys and girls, attending these workouts and the results are energizing to the program. The experience among our student participants ranges from previous varsity level to complete beginner. Connor Sewitsky ’19 has participated in meets and camps throughout the Mid-Atlantic states and has college wrestling interest. Kevin Kennedy ’19, a pioneer of the wrestling team at Oak Hill Academy, was one of two students who made up the OHA team last year. He gained valuable experience at the Virginia Independent School State Meet and hopes to build on that success.
If the dedication shown during the preseason voluntary workouts is any indication, the Oak Hill Academy Wrestling Team is going to catch plenty of attention. In addition to being passionate about the sport, Coach Wymer sees participation as a opportunity for our boarding school to broaden its athletics options. And it’s working–as the numbers increase, as the excitement on campus grows, and pride is building for our newest sport: wrestling. OHA Wrestling’s season is set to begin December 1. Stayed tuned for more coverage of the action!
Shout-out to team member Dillon Phipps ’20 for the photos–thank you!
Having a working artist as a teacher is a powerful thing. The Oak Hill Academy visual arts program, under the direction of Dennis Wymer, regularly produces students who go on to an art major or attend some of the best art schools in the nation. Oak Hill Academy graduates can be found at VCUarts, Parsons New School of Design, and a host of college and university art departments. Currently, the art program at Oak Hill Academy offers painting and printmaking, a graphic design class, drawing, a 3-dimension course including sculpting, an AP art studio class, and several independent study opportunities. In addition to teaching art, Mr. Wymer also started and coaches the wrestling team at Oak Hill Academy–he seems to have boundless energy!
Mr. Wymer recently explained, “My passions for art and wrestling actually make sense if you understand that my approach to both is in building. I believe making art is about building–constantly adding new layers of understanding of technique and observation. It’s the same with wrestling: it’s about building on technique and understanding of the craft. Art, to me, is not about the pursuit of perfection, it’s about building your abilities and understanding with the goal of creating better and better representations of your vision.” Recently, Wymer was selected from a large applicant pool to participate in a commercial art project with Sheetz, Inc. and has done much of his work on this project in front of his students as they work on their own projects. He comments, “I think it has been helpful for our students to see and understand the commercial applications of art. I do art because I love it. Opportunities like this allow me the financial ability to continue to pursue my passion in art. The thought of sharing my art and particular vision on a large scale is both humbling and thrilling.”
Our students are also encouraged to share their creations as our students regularly display to the public through our close work with the Chestnut Creek School of the Arts in Galax, Virginia. This association allows our students to rub shoulders with the vibrant art scene of this area and to receive feedback.
Our students and their teacher share in the creative energy and examples of technique on display as Wymer works on his own pieces. He was recently profiled for his work with Sheetz, a popular and iconic brand of gas station/coffee shop/convenience stores throughout the Mid-Atlantic and Northeastern United States. We are very proud that he is representing Oak Hill Academy through his success in the commercial art world and would like to share a video detailing his work with Sheetz and his approach to teaching, and making, art.
I’m excited to share the first project from our brand new Broadcast Media class under the direction of Mr. Doan. This class serves many needs for our students in exploring 21st Century skills, providing hands-on training, and firing their creative energies. The students introduced in the video below will produce content, and broadcast campus events and games that will help our current parents, many of whom live thousands of miles away (and in other countries), feel more connected to experiences on The Hill. We are excited by this new course addition, which, along with our new 21st Century Journalism Class, reflect our commitment to providing a relevant, engaging, college-preparatory curriculum for our students.
In admissions, I’m always looking for ways to introduce our students to prospective students and their families. “Who” we are is just as impressive as “What” we are as a school. This first Broadcast Media project, under the direction of Will ’20, gives an overview of the class’s goals and a behind-the-scenes look at their process. It also highlights the personalities our students bring to our campus. We are all looking forward to the content coming out of this new course offering. Tune into http://www.ohaevents.com/Home to follow live and archived broadcasts of campus events throughout the school year. Lights. Cameras. Action!
Oak Hill Academy Students Explore Christian Ethics Applied to Real World Issues in a Boarding School Setting
Recently, Rev. Dr. Doug Turnmire shared a report his students recently completed as part of a Christian Ethics class project. New among the Religion classes offered within our Social Studies Department, “Christian Ethics” offers an opportunity to intersect the issues facing our world today with the ethical considerations found in Christianity. Christian Ethics students (mostly seniors in this inaugural class) are further pushed to consider ways to use their insights in applications to the boarding school community in which they live. This pursuit often results in tangible efforts on campus, such as contributing to our Oak Hill Academy Sustainability Initiative. Or, it can be the genesis of new clubs and campus activities serving as an outlet for student involvement. The recent Ethics class report that follows is a great example of this endeavor. The report concludes with a list of several recommendations for our campus Leadership group to consider:
Plastics: part of a looming crisis easily ignored
Christian Ethics, a new course this year at Oak Hill Academy, briefly explored the use of plastics in our society, and discovered that this ubiquitous invention of human ingenuity is becoming a threat to the survival of life on Earth. Pieces of plastic are now evident everywhere on the planet, from the Arctic to Antarctica, from the depths of the ocean to the top of Mt. Everest. Plastic trash is found in the guts of more than 90% of sea birds and half of the world’s sea turtles. Even whales have suffocated from plastic in their respiratory systems. The oceans have vast areas of floating plastic islands estimated at 270,000 tons swirling around, threatening the life of marine species. Plastic is cited as playing a role in the rising rate of species extinctions.
The problem with plastic is that it is not biodegradable, and the chemicals from plastics leach into the ecosystems in which we and all the creatures of the Earth live. Even mosquitoes appear to have micro bits of plastic in their systems, injecting these bits of plastic in all the animals and humans they bite. The question is, will plastic outlast humanity’s existence? One source predicts that there will be more plastic than fish in the ocean within the next thirty years.
We have a hard time thinking of plastic as a problem because of how intertwined the substance is with our existence, our economy, our everyday expectations. We carry disposable bottles everywhere because they are so cheap to make (2.2 cents each), easy to carry, do not spill with their nice little caps, and can be thrown away without thinking about it. Judging from just our thoughts in class, most of us probably do not think of the effect of plastic on the environment because we are not aware of the impact, or we think there is plenty of wildlife, land, and ocean, so how can what I do make an impact? Especially if I do not know where all the plastic goes after I toss it in a trash can.
With such dependency on plastic, the norm of using plastic and not thinking about the impact is enormous. Sixty-five percent of Americans do not even recycle. From our simple, first-glance research, most Americans shrug off the concern and see recycling as too much work; it is easier to put everything in a trash bin rather than consciously choose a recycling bin. Additionally, the U.S. does not have a universal recycling code or process, with variations of what is and isn’t recycled occurring among states, or even within counties of the same state. The norm seems to be: when “trash” is out of sight, it is out of mind. Seeing something disposable as being trash rather than a recyclable resource appears to be a hardened mindset.
Some change is being made concerning plastic use. California became the first state to enact legislation imposing a state-wide ban on single-use plastic bags. Internationally, Bangladesh was the first country in the world to ban certain types of thin plastic bags in 2001. To promote more change, the Marine Plastic Pollution Research and Control Act in the U.S. requires the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the National Oceanic and Atmosphere Administration (NOAA) to study the effects of improper disposal of plastics on the environment and seek methods to reduce or eliminate such adverse effects.
The conclusion we drew from our brief investigation of such a large issue is that plastic is unavoidable and we cannot simply recycle our way out of the contamination it poses in our environment. We must seek thoughtful ways to lessen our plastic use. Additionally, extensive and ongoing education and awareness of the plastic issue is necessary if we want to unclog our future from plastic pollution catastrophe. To simply ignore the issue is to ignore the impact plastic is having now–and will continue to have for future generations.
Our class compiled a list of recommendations for our local environment, Oak Hill Academy:
1. Our motto is “The Turning Point.” We recommend our school consciously educate and advocate for a turn toward ecological awareness.
2. Continue to advocate recycling, with the knowledge that recycling is not the only answer.
3. Take out the one-use plastic bags from the Campus Store. New students will not know the difference and returning students will adjust.
4. Sell reusable shopping bags and reusable water bottles in the Campus Store.
5. Eliminate the sale of single-use, disposable plastic bottles.
6. Implement a 5-year plan to install water refill stations (like the one on the upper floor of the school building) in all the dorms, at the Campus Store, and at the other water fountain areas in the school building. Just as the school installed generators over a period of time to make student life better during power outages, let us install water refill stations to encourage ecological awareness while giving students access to better-tasting water.
7. Continue raising awareness of ecological issues in various classroom subject areas.
Oak Hill Academy is the college prep boarding school for students needing a reset, a fresh start, and an opportunity to change their direction. I’m often asked why Oak Hill Academy admits students throughout the year. The answer is straightforward: Making a big change, such as attending boarding school, requires a difficult decision–one that is made with a lot of emotion, and, in many cases, reluctance. And this decision is often made outside of neat, traditional deadlines.
Perhaps your student has not gotten off to the start that they (and you) had hoped for this school year. There may be some angst at the reappearance of old patterns: distractions, peer group influences, family dynamics, or classroom environments that stand in the way of success. You may be ready now to consider a new approach.
Oak Hill Academy is full of successful students who began with us beyond the traditional start dates. These students have come to the realization that the right boarding school fit is an opportunity, not a punishment. Our mission as a school is to offer a Turning Point opportunity through structure, small classes, relationships, and responsibility. This means that we are good at meeting students where they are, and helping them grow into stronger, more prepared, versions of themselves. That’s the Turning Point we talk about.
If you are considering or revisiting the idea of boarding school, this is a good time to look closely at Oak Hill Academy as a potentially great fit. Contact our Admission Department at firstname.lastname@example.org or call us at (276) 579-2619.