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 we 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.