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 at (276) 579-2619. Please continue to look closely at our school’s website and reach out to discuss your student with our Admission Department. If we are encouraged that Oak Hill is a potential fit, we can then look toward a campus visit very soon. We operate with rolling admission, considering appropriate applicants for mid-year entry, summer school, or Fall 2019-20.