One of the biggest benefits of attending boarding school, especially a small boarding school, is the opportunity for self-discovery and deep personal development that comes with being an engaged member of a community. At Oak Hill Academy, developing leadership in our students is one of our goals. Focusing on leadership is well-received by our students as they learn they are capable of making a difference on our campus. I’ve had students describe the moment they realized that everyone, including themselves, has the opportunity to have a positive impact on the people and the environment around them. It can be as small as watching the effect a smile can have on a classmate’s day, or as big as being there for someone in need. Relationships run deep in our small, 150-student school community where the majority of our faculty and staff live on campus with their families, too.
We recognize the unique opportunity our small size affords us to fan the flame of our students’ desire to grow in leadership capabilities and confidence. To this point, our array of more than 30 clubs and organizations gives our students a shot at actual leadership positions on campus–in a decidedly less competitive environment. There is room for all of our students to step into these roles with our support, coaching, and training. The process happens organically through the relationships we forge with our students, allowing for encouragement and an abundance of “teachable moments” in and out of class. We also have a very intentional leadership development program that I’d like to highlight today.
There are three main components to our leadership development program: Experienced Oak Hill Academy students are invited to attend weekly workshops that explore a wide variety of topics related to building their leadership “toolbox.” From TED Talks to developing campus events to guest lectures, our Leadership Group builds students’ understanding of different leadership styles as they learn to identify and refine their own personal styles. As these students grow, they step into key roles on campus including the Ambassador Program, which assists with on-campus tours and representing Oak Hill Academy at off-campus events; Dorm Leadership positions like dorm assistants to the Resident Managers; and a variety of coveted internships in select campus departments such as Admission. The internship program is sponsored by our Director of Student Affairs, Mr. Aaron Butt.
New students are encouraged to attend “Emerging Leaders” Workshops, a series of 4 weekly programs that meet Sunday nights in the Ussery Archives Room. This group begins by developing a working definition of leadership and exploring the natural and developed traits they possess. These students begin to see themselves as capable of being leaders. It also demystifies the concept of leadership, taking it from the realm of being a “hero” or a “boss” to a world where there are everyday opportunities to lead. Emerging leaders focus on Service Leadership, where becoming “others-oriented” comes to the forefront. We also explore topics that relate to career leadership concepts so that our students begin to see real-life applications of what they are learning through their experiences at Oak Hill Academy. Our Director of Admission, Mike Rodgers, sponsors this group.
A more project-based offshoot of the Leadership Group is the A-Team, overseen by our Director of Counseling, Mrs. Joy Groves. This group of energetic and experienced students is tasked with developing a social education program for our students. Past efforts from the A-Team involved a series of dorm panel discussions relating to respect, and how campus and personal cleanliness is a reflection of respect. These conversations produced some real best-practices and developed a consensus among our students about the importance of this facet of respect. Other A-team projects have included a video series on making good choices; skits focusing on character issues; and a student-led campaign against bullying of all-kinds entitled “Don’t be a Bystander, Be an Upstander.”
Perhaps because of our small size, students report that they feel safer to step outside of their comfort zones to take on leadership roles. Oak Hill’s teachers, administrators, residential life staff, coaches, club and activity sponsors have a golden opportunity to help our students grow their skill sets and confidence, and encourage them to take advantage of the many leadership opportunities available here. For many of our students, this transforming growth is a lasting “Turning Point.” Hear Chase describe her own turning point: