The Admission Blog addresses topics that frequently come up in conversation with inquiring families. It is frequently updated. Please browse to learn more about Oak Hill Academy’s mission and approach to a boarding school environment encouraging growth.Mike Rodgers '87
With Oak Hill Academy’s 95% college acceptance rate over the last 12 years, we are squarely positioned in the college prep boarding school market. However, it is our unique approach, and emphasis on personal growth, that makes Oak Hill Academy stand out from the crowd. Our ideal student fit is one in which growth is the goal. Families often find us when their student’s challenges center on needing to address issues of confidence (often showing up as a lack of motivation) and finding renewed excitement about an academic future, including college preparation. Today, let’s talk a little about how Oak Hill Academy is intentional in an approach that fosters a return to motivation, positivity and a growth mindset.
- Our classroom size is often the game changer for students. With an average size of 10 students per classroom, the environment is much less intimidating, and promotes relationships between teachers and their students. In these small-group classrooms, students are also more comfortable asking questions and finding their voices through participation in class discussion.
- Overwhelmingly, students are choosing to attend Oak Hill Academy to grow. They are coming here to redefine themselves and change their paths. Most of our students are not happy with how school has been going for them, so they come to us seeking a new approach that either addresses a learning style or learning difference, or an issue with school anxiety that has made success in their current school elusive. This means that our students are not judgmental of each other. Neither do they feel that they have to hide or avoid challenges. There is an overriding attitude here that we are all stepping outside our comfort zones in order to grow–and that’s okay! This attitude shows up in the way our students like to study together, and they share a non-competitive spirit of encouragement in our school building.
- Our teachers understand that our students are in need of being built up. Our approach is not to water down our academics. Instead, our relationships allow us to push students past their self-imposed limits in a very personal way. Tutorials and extra help are the norm here. We believe that once a student tastes success and connects positive habits with academic achievement, they want more of it. And in turn, they come to expect more from themselves. Many of our upperclassmen are taking college credit or AP classes, after beginning their enrollment with us missing that kind of aspiration. I’ve come to view this phenomenon as evidence of how our students grow while at Oak Hill Academy.
Please see Hannah’s story below to see what this kind of growth looks like:
If you are looking for a boarding school option to address your student’s issues of self confidence or motivation, I invite you to look closer at Oak Hill Academy. We view this kind of student as 100% “mission appropriate,” and I would welcome the opportunity to discuss your goals for a great boarding school fit. Please reach out to the Admission Department through an inquiry form https://www.oak-hill.net/admission/ or an email email@example.com, or simply pick up the phone and call (276) 579-2619. We are happy to show you our personal approach.
For the current generation of adolescents, anxiety issues are becoming THE biggest obstacle to being able to function at a high level, according to many mental health reports. According to a recent Small Boarding School Association presentation given by James Madison University’s A. Renee Staton, Ph.D., LPC, the trends are notable:
- 25% of children ages 13-18 have mild to moderate anxiety.
- Anxiety in children and teens often overlaps with depression.
- Anxiety is among the earliest of developing pathologies.
Before we talk about where this anxiety seems to be coming from, let’s look at its effects in the context of the families who reach out to Oak Hill Academy seeking a new approach for their students. Anxiety often has a significant detrimental effect on academic performance, which echoes into a student’s self-image. As studies have long indicated, students need to feel secure in themselves before they can most effectively tackle cognitive tasks or worry about personal growth. Where there is insecurity or anxiety, there often is an academic downturn. If not addressed, poor performance rather quickly looks like a lack of motivation. It’s important to remember that this “motivation issue” very often has real roots in an environment full of anxiety-producing circumstances: large classrooms where struggles go unnoticed; gaming as a path to self worth; social media feeds that present unsustainable lifestyles and evoke unhealthy comparisons; being the target of mean-spirited social media comments that cut to the quick and make kids feel exposed, to name a few. Looking for a new environment (and often a new peer group) is what spurs families to begin investigating boarding school options.
Why does Oak Hill Academy stand out in a boarding school search like this?
Size: Our size makes us unique in the boarding school world. With an average enrollment of 150 students, and a class size average of 10, our size is conducive to a low-pressure social environment. Everyone knows everyone.There are so many overlapping circles of friends that cliques disappear. And, except for our basketball program (which is highly competitive), competition for a place in clubs, sports, and activities like drama and music is at a minimum. Students become less reluctant to try new things, and pursuing a special interest engenders confidence that crosses over into other areas. In our small classes, teachers are able to address different learning styles and facilitate class discussions beyond just lecturing. Relationships flourish because our teachers interact more personally with each student, and the students are able to be much more collaborative. The difference can be as basic as a student having more courage to raise their hand in a small class. Our size and relational approach also means that we know each other well and our faculty and staff can spot needs quickly and reach out with support on those inevitable tougher days. Nobody gets “lost” at Oak Hill Academy.
Growth: Everyone is choosing to attend Oak Hill Academy for the same basic reason: to grow. Most obviously, the growth is academic, but for many of our students this includes social and personal growth. With everyone focusing on self-improvement, there is a lot less pressure and competition in our classrooms and dorms. Our students would much rather study together and have each other do well than to compete for a class ranking. As students find their footing and confidence, they feel good about how they are doing and become encouraging to each other. After years of needing (and often not receiving) support in a classroom setting, many of our students are extremely proud to be in a position to give support. This phenomenon is transformative. Peer tutoring, both through our formal program and through the social network of dorm living, is a big part of the picture at Oak Hill Academy. Socially, as each student is working on their own growth, we become more forgiving of each other, and do not give up on each other. Our college prep community fosters new feelings of acceptance, belonging, and competence.
Routine: Oak Hill’s structured environment includes scheduled study time each evening, daily extra help sessions, and office hours for teachers, which means that our students can establish a healthy routine. Routine is often the catalyst for stress reduction for our students. Having the safety valve of knowing that our teachers are not only willing, but scheduled, to provide extra help is an immediate stress-reliever. This shoulder-to-shoulder time, called “8th period,” is a game changer. It’s where relationships are deepened, strategies are learned, and confidence is found. There is as much coaching going on here as teaching.
Cell phone and social media limits: Our structure includes healthy boundaries on cell phone and internet use that, over time, provides substantial stress relief. Our cell phone policy (weekends only) and filtered internet access (no social media) most definitely makes us stand out in stark contrast to other college prep boarding schools. Initially, most of our students worry that reduced access to social media and the world of texting will cause MORE stress–you know, the Fear of Missing Out (FOMO). For some students, our limits remain the biggest single obstacle to seeing the bigger picture of opportunity that Oak Hill Academy offers. Here’s what actually happens is almost every case: Life becomes simpler, face-to-face conversations become more meaningful, and relationships become deeper and more supportive. There is less judgment to deal with, and students can be themselves without having to present an image or compete with other people’s images. It is a breath of fresh air for our anxious students. And they can now focus on the important tasks of taking care of business, caring about their grades, and discovering new interests.
If your family is looking for a boarding school option where addressing your student’s stress or anxiety is part of the goal, we welcome your call. Please continue to look closely at our school’s website and reach out to discuss your student with our Admission Office. If we are encouraged that Oak Hill is a potential fit, we can then look toward a campus visit very soon. Our upcoming summer school session (June 18-July 20) offers a great opportunity to see students on campus during the break between school years.
A Small Boarding School in Virginia Offering Academic Support For Struggling Students: Why Do People Choose Oak Hill Academy?
Today’s blog post comes directly from a conversation I recently had in the course of admission work. After describing their student’s struggles and accommodations that were supposed to be happening as per an IEP, a prospective parent simply asked, “What makes Oak Hill Academy different from other college prep boarding schools I’m finding online?” Because this is a very common theme in our admission work at Oak Hill Academy, I want to share my response here – it is very likely that you will find it relevant to your boarding school search too.
Although we are not a learning differences specific school, the small class sizes at Oak Hill Academy enable us to provide many of the common accommodations we see in the IEPs of incoming students. For example, the average class size is 9, therefore all seating is preferential and the level of engagement is extremely high. Students with attention issues (and the often accompanying executive functioning challenges) benefit from our teacher’s ability to coach skills as much as cover course content. Things such as organization, note-taking, critical reading, redirection, etc. are part of the normal classroom experience here. Our teachers are intentional and receive a lot of professional development on differentiated learning practices, so we also pride ourselves on being individualized. The small classes also enable us to be incredibly relational with our students– this is often the difference maker and why we have a tremendous amount of experience working with students with learning differences who need academic support.
Given our mission as a “Turning Point” school, many of our students come to us with self-confidence or self-esteem issues having struggled academically, and often socially, in their previous setting. This often presents as a lack of motivation that is often a defense mechanism hiding a strong desire for change. In short, our students are in need of a “win.” Intentionally, we offer as much, if not more, academic support and encouragement as rigor. The relationships possible in small classes and a campus life that is shared by teachers and their families allow us to approach students individually and with a degree of investment that is often the Turning Point. That is what makes us different in the college prep boarding school world. Of course, as students get their feet under them and come to a greater capability for academic challenge, we offer increasingly rigorous courses up to the 6 college level courses available to our juniors and seniors (currently 3 AP and 3 Dual College Credit on-campus offerings). There are also office hours for teachers every day to work with students one on one either in a scheduled tutorial, or as needed (or requested by the student!). Our college freshman often share that they continue being very comfortable using academic support available to them in college.
Oak Hill Academy also has a tremendous reputation for our basketball history, having produced nearly 40 NBA players over a 40 year tradition. We attract many students for whom basketball is a part of the picture. This ranges from preparing for a college recruitment to just really enjoying the game. Our three teams in the program offer an appropriate level for most male students wanting to participate. It is also a big part of the social scene. We view pursuing a passion (we also have very strong music, art, equestrian, soccer, and tennis programs) as complimentary to the work we do in the classroom and the dorm life in regards, especially, to character development – accountability, commitment, self-discipline, resilience to name a few key pieces. Additionally, many of our students go on to college careers and they learn how to balance the student-athlete equation here.
We believe we offer the most unique balance of college preparation, structure, and relationships built in a tight-knit community of students transforming their futures to which your research is likely to lead you. To discuss your student in detail, please reach out to the Oak Hill Academy admission department through an inquiry for more information or simply call us at 276 579-2619.
At Easton’s previous school, he struggled to find motivation and a peer group that would keep him thinking positively about school. Like many of our students, he resisted the idea of boarding school–until the need for academic and social redirection outweighed his fear of change. His priorities began to shift, and over the course of his first several months at Oak Hill Academy, he gave up his resentment about needing to attend boarding school. He began to take advantage of our structure and focus, making changes that quickly brought his grades up. This led to a renewed excitement about college options and his future.
Easton is a prime example of the Oak Hill student who needed to change his peer group and his environment in order to make the kinds of changes that he knew, deep down, he needed. Listen as he describes his experience at Oak Hill Academy:
Oak Hill Academy Boarding School Stories – Bailey’s Story of Improved Grades and Academic Confidence
Bailey, a current junior, represents many of the students who choose to come to Oak Hill Academy. For this kind of student, there is an immediate, obvious need to get back on track academically and restore motivation and confidence. Along the way, Bailey, like many of our students, went through a mindset transformation. She is a great example of our students who take the opportunity for a fresh academic start to redefine themselves. Bailey’s turning point came when she realized that she was developing good habits and had her teachers’ support to get grades that made her proud again.
This renewed academic confidence has, like it does for so many of our students, translated into confidence in other areas of life, including campus leadership. Listen here as Bailey describes this experience at Oak Hill Academy:
Improving grades. That was Kneiko’s expressed goal when he came to Oak Hill Academy. His parents added the goals of having school become important to him; improving a college-ready work ethic; and having Kneiko open up opportunities for himself to study outside of his home in Bermuda. For him, the rigid, test-centered British System was just not working well with how he learns best. Kneiko came to Oak Hill Academy less than motivated, having floated to only “decent” grades in his previous school setting. He was ready for something more for himself. That made him the perfect Oak Hill Academy applicant, as I recall!
Kneiko traded a comfortable life near a beautiful beach in Bermuda for two and a half years of structure (and cold winters) in the Virginia mountains. He now has the payoff of a great college opportunity to show for it. One of the things we do exceptionally well at Oak Hill Academy is helping students find the importance in routine and good habits. As grades show improvement, they want more of it. When their motivation increases, more and more opportunities are within reach. Kneiko is a shining example of both the international student who finds success at Oak Hill Academy and the young person who grows into a more goal-oriented student. Listen as he explains the opportunities he’s created for himself and what he has enjoyed about his Oak Hill Academy experience.
Mr. Bunn has taught in the Social Studies Department at Oak Hill Academy for 26 years and has raised his family while living on the campus, located in Southwest Virginia. He can often be found sitting backwards on a school desk, face to face with the front row of his students, engaged in an exciting story. He’s always passionate about class. He points to the fact that his classes are small and personal as a reason he still gets excited to cover material year after year. For him, it is the relationship with the students and the ability to impact their study habits and personal growth that defines what he enjoys about teaching.
Mr. Bunn is known as a very demanding teacher who emphasizes that the little things matter–learning to take good notes, properly citing sources, and mastering the study techniques that work best for each student. He enjoys “coaching” his students as much as sharing the material. His classes range from College Credit U.S. History to sophomore-level World History. His involvement at Oak Hill Academy is not limited to the classroom, as he is also the Honor Court Sponsor and leader of the local Boy Scouts troop that often includes Oak Hill students alongside kids from the local community. Please watch the supporting video to see what Mr. Bunn enjoys about Oak Hill Academy.
Many times, students from countries outside the United States choose boarding school as an opportunity to completely change their educational goals. The U.S. approach to education comes with a greater degree of individualism than many countries’ systems provide. International students like Carritah are choosing to study in the U.S. because they want to discover a passion, and develop a balanced learning approach–and to open up U.S. college and university options.
The families of international students studying in the United States have several standard concerns–issues related to safety, rigor and social acceptance, for instance. Many find Oak Hill Academy uniquely positioned to address these concerns. Oak Hill Academy is a small, personal, structured boarding school located in a rural area of Virginia. It is a friendly campus with a tight-knit community where students do not get lost in the shuffle. Because our students choose Oak Hill Academy with the intention to grow, our environment is truly supportive and socially welcoming—perfect for international students who may need help mastering English. That atmosphere helps explain why almost 25% of our enrollment each year is international. This demographic on campus is quite diverse in itself, with more than 16 countries represented in our enrollment this year, which is very typical.
Listen and watch Carritah, as she explains her successful 4-year journey at Oak Hill Academy and the opportunities that await her upon graduation!
Many Oak Hill Academy students come to us already motivated to get good grades. But that is just the beginning of their goals. They are also choosing boarding school for the opportunity of self discovery, and as a giant step toward maturity and college readiness. Chase’s story represents the Oak Hill Academy student who recognizes the opportunities of a small, relational campus where students are challenged to want more for themselves than the minimum. The chance to try and succeed at new things is, for many, the Turning Point reached at Oak Hill Academy. Along the way, she has learned who she is and has found her voice–two of her expressed goals in the admission process, as I recall.
Listen to Chase as she describes this growth and the great options she’s opened up for herself by becoming involved on our campus. In the process, she’s learned a lot about herself and the direction she wants to take in college–and in life.
Oak Hill Academy’s mission is to offer a Turning Point opportunity for students seeking personal growth and positive change. Many of our students come to us to break a pattern of poor school performance that has led them to disengage and become unmotivated. They’ve reached a crossroads where they recognize that in order to change their direction, a change in environment is needed. This pivotal realization often comes with a measure of trepidation. For many, Oak Hill Academy is that place to start anew–with new expectations and a new approach. For Andre, the objective was not just improved grades, but also an improved self-image.
It is often said that if you want different results, you must change your behaviors. This is very hard to do without also changing one’s environment, which means new physical surroundings and a new peer group–a fresh start. Andre exemplifies the Oak Hill Academy student who chooses to attend boarding school, even with a lot of hesitation and some reservations, and seizes the opportunity to adopt a new mindset. Hear how he explains how Oak Hill Academy has enabled him to redefine his habits and academic outcomes, and to experience success.