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. For the most part, 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.