Oak Hill Academy, a small, co-ed, college prep boarding high school in Virginia, offers a unique opportunity for students struggling with attention issues such as ADHD. While we are not specifically a learning differences school, our small size and intentional approach have made us an attractive option for many families whose students are looking to grow, particularly in areas related to executive functioning. Over the years, our structured approach and experience, with or without a diagnosis of a specific learning difference, have made Oak Hill Academy a standout in the college prep boarding school realm as one of the best options available for promoting student growth. The schoolwork is not “watered down”; instead, we double down on the coaching aspects of academic and personal growth.
Listed below are some specific examples of this structured approach and how our strategies address specific challenges facing students.
- If you’ve heard the frustration of “Why do I keep losing things?” from your child, you can appreciate the need for organization. Boarding school offers an opportunity for an organized, systematic routine that is just plain difficult to establish at home. The structure at Oak Hill Academy includes some very intentional approaches, both big and small, to form healthy habits that lead to feelings of competency and organization. A core value here is that once students taste success, they want more of it. That happens in the area of executive functioning for students at Oak Hill. Room inspections, set laundry times, dorm chores, and a designated quiet time for study each evening are all accompanied by lots of coaching from our resident life staff who live in the dorms with our students. In the school building, teachers require planners and orderly notebooks that form the basis of academic organization, which is supported by constant mentoring about how to use those key tools. There is as much “coaching” going on as “teaching.” We don’t have school lockers; instead our students keep all of their needed materials in a Nike backpack that is regularly cleaned out and pared down to the essentials with the support of our teachers who are study skills professionals. Frequent decluttering is an important aspect of our approach to staying organized.
- Providing an environment where students can exercise some control over their responsibilities is essential at Oak Hill Academy. In the example of laundry, having to perform this mundane, but ultimately important, life skill helps give our students a sense of control, as well as the good feeling that comes with completing a solo task. We recognize that there is value in doing laundry beyond just having clean clothing – it represents a very real opportunity to foster a sense of competency in our students.
- Providing some autonomy within a structured, coached environment is important, too. Our regular evening routine starts with “Quiet Time” at 8:30. During the next hour, our students begin their homework and preparation for the next school day. Many of our students need practice in shifting gears from the afternoon busyness of sports practice, equestrian work, music practice, and socializing to taking care of personal and academic business in the evenings. From 8:30 to 9:30 pm, students can shower, prepare a snack, clean rooms, meet with a peer tutor, or get right to their homework. This hour is for intentional focus on strategies to better utilize the even more focused study hall hour from 9:30-10:30. We take our evening routine in the dorms seriously because it presents teachable moments that reinforce our overall approach.
All of the above are supplemented with study skills classes; an additional supervised study hall after school for those struggling to maintain homework completion; and alternative evening study spaces in the library or dorm common areas with even more hands-on assistance. These are a few of the supports and structures available for all students and which are essential for those with executive functioning challenges.
This is just a partial description of our approach to working with students to support their individual learning differences. If your boarding school search includes the need to address some of these issues, take a closer look at Oak Hill Academy. Better yet, please call to discuss your child and how Oak Hill Academy offers an opportunity to grow.