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Oak Hill Academy Summer Session Offers a View of Boarding School Structure and Academic Support

I would like to take this opportunity to introduce myself as the Director of Student Affairs at Oak Hill Academy, and welcome you to our community. The past few days have been a blur here on campus as we help the students settle in to a new environment for the summer school session.

As the Director of Student Affairs, I wanted to speak directly to the residential side of life here at Oak Hill. For many students, learning how to adjust to a new setting takes time, and comes with plenty of challenges – getting used to not having cell phones, limited internet access, bedtime curfews, quiet time and academic time, dealing with a roommate, figuring out where to sit at lunch, who to hang out with in the afternoons, how to do laundry, and on and on and on. We believe that while these are often hard things, they are good things. They set Oak Hill apart as a refuge in the midst of a chaotic adolescent world. We strongly believe that the routines, the systems, the structures that Oak Hill provides – these things work.

Even in a five-week summer school session, there will be speedbumps, and you may already be hearing about those from your son or daughter. It is normal to be homesick, to struggle with focus, to wish that they were back at home in these summer months, even though they know Oak Hill is the best place for them right now. We want you to know that we acknowledge the sacrifice you all have made to send your child here, and we take that responsibility very seriously. If you have concerns or questions, please let us know. We also ask that you trust us, and trust that we have been working with students for a long time.
Of course, life at Oak Hill is not all hard and full of structure. I have enjoyed spending my afternoons with students swimming down at the lake, playing volleyball and basketball in the gym, and board games in the cafeteria. This afternoon we plan on taking a hike in nearby Grayson Highlands State Park.

Oak Hill is a special place, a challenging place, and our mission is for it to be a place of new beginnings, new opportunities, and a turning point. Welcome to Summer School 2018, and please feel free to reach out to me if you have questions, concerns, or just want to hear how your son or daughter is doing. One week is almost over, and time is already flying by!
Sincerely,
Aaron Butt
Director of Student Affairs

Oak Hill Academy Boarding School Promoting Confidence and Motivation

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 info@oak-hill.net, or simply pick up the phone and call (276) 579-2619. We are happy to show you our personal approach.

Anxiety Issues Addressed in a Small Boarding School Setting: Oak Hill Academy

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.

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Oak Hill Academy – a Small, Engaging Boarding School Set in the Virginia Mountains

If you are looking for an opportunity for your student to redefine themselves in a small, engaging boarding school community, visit Oak Hill Academy.  You’ll be struck by the beauty of our campus and the surrounding Blue Ridge Mountains, but you’re sure to come away most impressed with who we are.  Let Chase ’18 and Josh ’17 show you around our campus in the tour video below.  – Mike Rodgers ’87, Director of Admission


This time of year, there is tremendous media coverage surrounding our nationally-ranked (at or near the top, usually!) boys’ basketball team.  Oak Hill’s Gold Team Warriors travel the nation (and occasionally abroad), playing frequently on national TV in large arenas.  It is intriguing for people to imagine that such a team comes from a small, college preparatory boarding high school set in the rural Virginia Blue Ridge mountain region.  They wonder what that looks like, and in fact, almost everyone who visits Oak Hill Academy finds a uniquely beautiful campus, and a student body that is much more than expected.

The vast majority of our students don’t play basketball.  Visiting our campus, you’ll find students engaged in learning and finding passions that range from horsemanship to the arts, most notably music, theater and visual arts.  We continue to expand the ways students are engaged–the first-ever Oak Hill Academy wrestling team competed this past weekend with Edson ’21 taking the historic first win!

Oak Hill’s program fosters organization; its surroundings provide a sense of peace; and its people offer engagement and a sense of belonging.  Our 240-acre campus becomes “home away from home” for our students.  It is an ideal setting for struggling teens to hit the “reset” button; for unengaged students to become engaged in community; and for underperforming students to focus on school in a supportive learning environment that helps them make school a priority while balancing academics with a lot of fun and discovery.  If you are considering boarding school for your student, put Oak Hill Academy in Virginia on your short list.

Contact the Admission Director to discuss your family’s needs, and schedule your own campus tour.

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Oak Hill Academy Virginia Boarding School Addresses Learning Challenges in a College Prep Program

The most successful Oak Hill Academy students are enrolled with a belief that our approach will allow them to change their direction.  This includes changes to their peer group, family dynamics, and other social challenges, but most often the common thread is that they are looking for new academic outcomes.

For many students, accomplishing this change is a matter of returning themselves to a time when they were motivated, and felt competent in the classroom.  Some of our students, however, have always seen school as a struggle to learn in a way that worked for them.  Large public school classrooms make it difficult to recognize that all of us don’t learn the same way; that there are learning differences. A one-size-fits-all approach in the classroom can leave some students frustrated and taking the short trip to becoming unmotivated or oppositional.  In some cases this learning style disconnect can lead to behavioral issues in the classroom and at home.  Not doing well in school is the cause of a lot of family tension and personal angst.

Struggling in school can lead a student to an identity crisis, and most definitely can impact how they see themselves socially.  At Oak Hill Academy, we are very intentional in our efforts to instill a “growth mindset.” This openness to personal growth leads to finding strategies that work for them, and students begin to see that they do have the power to create positive outcomes.  The opposite of this attitude is a “fixed mindset” wherein students miss out on feelings of competence, perpetuating a negative self-image.  It is in this situation that many families, seeking a new approach, find Oak Hill Academy. We may be a great fit in changing this dynamic.  If you are a parent who is relating to the struggling student scenarios outlined above, please read on.

Learning differences come in many forms, and while Oak Hill Academy is not specifically a “learning differences school” (with special classes based on IEP recommendations or labels), we do provide a uniquely supportive and relational approach to academics. Our hallmark is meeting students where they are, addressing their areas of weakness, and moving them forward.  We rely on our small class sizes and our experience working with students with a variety of learning challenges such as ADD, ADHD, processing issues, dysgraphia and dyslexia, to name a few.

Almost all of the accommodations I see in the IEPs of our incoming students are things that we already do as a part of our approach here.

Here are some are some of the academic and “growth mindset” approaches found in our program:

  • Daily 8th-Period Tutorials.  As a follow-up to very small classes (8-10 students, on average), there is also time built into each day for teachers to work shoulder to shoulder with students.  If a good grade is in jeopardy, a student is scheduled for standing appointments, twice weekly.  However, we don’t wait for that to happen. We are able to call students in (they often take the initiative themselves) to address needs as they occur.  This proactive approach is an important part of teaching responsibility and consistent organization, as homework issues are frequently addressed in tutorials.  We do not let our students dig a hole with missing assignments.

 

  • Consistency, Structure and Routine.  Executive functioning issues often accompany attention issues like ADD or ADHD.  We are very intentionally consistent with our schedule and use the traditional 7-period school day (no block schedules here!) to promote a regular routine in which assignments are divided into manageable chunks and assessments are scheduled. Daily homework interventions are in place to help students experience how to stay on top of their work.

 

  • A Schedule that Promotes Good Habits.  Academic support is supplemented with our nightly study time in the dormitories, giving students a chance to exercise personal responsibility in managing their academics.  From 8:30 to 10:30 each evening, homework is a priority as students work in their rooms, doors open and computers stowed away (unless an assignment requires internet research).  By prior arrangement, students may take advantage of peer tutoring, group study, or class project work using dorm common areas designated for study.  This “Quiet Time” is monitored by our Resident Managers who live in the dorms with the students and supervise resident life, including checking homework assignments.

 

  • Targeted, Intentional Help With Areas of Weakness.  Within our college prep curriculum, there are class offerings that include specific study skills development, including a variety of organizational and learning techniques that students can apply directly to subject work.  These classes go beyond the concept of “study hall” in that while students often do work on homework, they also get an opportunity to put into practice the techniques they are learning.  In addition, our Critical Reading class specifically addresses areas of weakness in reading and writing.  In all of our classes, our instructors are doing as much “coaching” of study skills and techniques as they are teaching the class content.   Throughout our approach to education there is an intentional recognition of distinct learning styles. Our staff uses a dynamic approach that covers material in multiple ways so as to engage the strengths of the visual, kinesthetic, or auditory learner.

These are just a few examples of how we intentionally work with students needing academic growth and support.  Ours is a college prep curriculum, but with the added layer of recognition that we need to uncover how our students learn best.

If your student’s learning differences have become an obstacle in their current school setting, and you are looking at boarding school options that address those differences, please look closer at Oak Hill Academy.  To paraphrase a core value here, We truly believe that there is no such thing as an “underachiever,” just a student who has yet to find the motivation and connection that will make all the difference.  This belief is the foundation of our approach with our students, and I’m excited to share more with you as I learn about your child’s challenges and the need for a great boarding school experience.  

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Meet Oak Hill Academy’s new Student of the Week!

Our congratulations to Mikun A.!


Mikun is a senior from Maryland in his second year at Oak Hill Academy. He was nominated for “Student of the Week” distinction with the following statements: “Mikun is an exceptional student.  He works hard both in and out of the classroom to be a leader, and to set the standard for the rest of his class.  His behavior is excellent and the quality of his work is top notch.” Another recommendation described Mikun as “a student who models our core values, not just in words, but in actions.”

Students are regularly nominated and voted on by the faculty and staff for making notable contributions to Oak Hill Academy campus life.

 

Let’s Hear it for the OHA Student of the Week!

The Principal’s Office is pleased to congratulate Sven P., who was chosen by the faculty and staff as Oak Hill Academy’s first “Student of the Week” for 2017-18.

Sven is a senior student from Norfolk, Virginia, in his second year at Oak Hill. Sven was nominated for Student of the Week honors with the following recommendation: “Sven returned to OHA for his senior year with a great outlook, determined to perform well academically in order to improve his acceptance opportunities at quality universities. He has taken a leadership role with Honor Court, and has spoken publicly to the school community on behalf of the advisory program.”

Oak Hill Academy Art Teacher Completes Work Commissioned by Winchester Art Market

What happens when a blank wall in Winchester, Virginia, 48 hours, and a vision are combined?  In the hands of Oak Hill Academy’s art teacher, Dennis Wymer, the answer turns out to be, “quite a lot.”  Mr. Wymer is a product of Virginia Commonwealth University’s art program, and is in his second year of teaching art at Oak Hill Academy. He also taught at other boarding schools in Virginia for several years prior to coming to OHA, all the while keeping his hand in the broader art scene across the state.  Not confined to the classroom, Mr. Wymer is also a working artist and frequent contributor to art installations around Virginia.  His current personal focus on “street art” seemed to fit the bill perfectly when the Winchester Art Market approached him about producing a mural on the most visible blank wall of the Bright Center, a downtown performance and event venue.

       

Because Winchester has such a rich history of traditional music, Mr. Wymer incorporated a fiddle player. He felt it was important to meld the area’s heritage with the modern aesthetic of his pop art style and color-blocking elements. The result is a vibrant, yet historically respectful, work that will engage the public and add to the art vibe in Winchester.

One of the most challenging and satisfying aspects of the commission was the time frame:  one weekend.  To Mr. Wymer, this was completely in sync with the ethos of street art: get in, make a statement, and get out.  Describing the process as a “bit like a ‘guerrilla’ style of art,” Mr. Wymer was exhausted after the 48-hour work period, but was in homeroom and ready to teach class Tuesday morning after OHA’s long weekend.  He describes the experience as one of the most rewarding of his career and is proud and honored to contribute to a thriving art scene in Winchester in such a public way.  We at Oak Hill Academy are proud of him, too.  A teacher who is steeped in theory and teaching technique, and actually continues to produce his own work, is an inspiration to his students.  It is a significant goal for Mr. Wymer that his students see the possibilities beyond the classroom.

“At Oak Hill, I began to see the bigger picture of my future and I gained the confidence to go after that image of my future.   Boarding school was tough because I was out of my comfort zone, but once I let my wall down and let people in they helped me a lot with my success. In the end, boarding school tested my patience, but it also made me see the importance in my everyday actions.”

Cierra T.

Radford University ’19, Oak Hill Academy Class of 2015

We always welcome a phone call: 

1 (276) 451-7082