At my old (large, public) school, I had my “school self” that I was 8 hours a day. At home, I had my “family self” and with my friends, I was my “friend self.” Since I’ve attended Oak Hill Academy, I’m able to be Myself. – T.V., class of ’17
Oak Hill Academy is a small boarding school with an extremely tight-knit student body. Our location, where our students recognize the real opportunity to create a community, an active campus life and a managed approach to internet and social media all contribute to this dynamic. One of the most common aspects of Oak Hill life that our ambassadors (student tour guides) are excited to share with prospective students is the lower social pressure and significant relationships that are made here.
We are intentionally small. A student body which averages 150-160 per school year means that everyone here matters to each other. Here I would like to share a few observations on what that looks like:
- Our students develop a leadership style all their own. There are plenty of “out in front” leadership positions available such as Honor Court member, ambassador, club and activity officers. However, many of our students develop interpersonal skills and service leadership through being there for each other, being peer tutors, or by being mentors to younger students. This opportunity wouldn’t be as accessible in a larger school. A new environment is an opportunity to break old patterns and allows students to redefine themselves in a fresh setting.
- We are a co-ed school with boundaries in place. Boys and girls don’t meet unsupervised. There is a girls’ side of campus for residence life and a boys’ side. Yet, our students feel they are in a very natural environment. They are together in class, after-school clubs and activities; our Alumni Campus Store serves the function of a 50’s diner/college campus student union; and our dining hall is a social environment–to give a few examples. The onus is on Oak Hill’s administration and staff to create a lot of on-campus and off-campus social opportunities for our students. The boundaries remove a lot of social pressure, yet our students are able to develop social skills.
- A structured, cooperative dormitory life gives our students real-life experience of community. There are dorm chores and responsibilities that invest our students in where they live. Resident managers, adults that live with the students, provide mentorship and guidance (along with supervision). There are equal parts study time and taking care of business with plenty of social time for watching movies, listening to music, working out, and the old fashioned art of conversation.
- I point to our approach to technology as a big factor in our students’ social development. Without access to cell phones during the week and restrictions on social media, our students talk TO each other and not ABOUT each other. They become engaged in the relationships in front of them. Life becomes more simple. (At this point in an interview, the parents usually smile and the applicant gets a look on their face as if wondering if they can survive without their iPhone during the week.) **Parent communication is uninterrupted, with dorm phones and email readily available to our students.**
Oak Hill Academy occupies a very unique niche in the college prep boarding school world. Perhaps one of the most defining features here is the structure and community feel that allows students to learn about themselves. School and campus life is organized and not hectic–so what is important emerges: relationships, taking care of school work and responsibilities, and growing into the kind of person you want to become. Please consider visiting campus to see what that feels like.
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