Community is one of the 4 Core Values of Oak Hill Academy. We do “community” very well, and we believe it is something that is tremendously needed—now more than ever.
One of the biggest benefits of attending a small boarding school like Oak Hill Academy is the extraordinary opportunity for belonging and shared experience. Developmentally, the teenage years have always been about learning to think beyond oneself, and to connect with something bigger than oneself. The challenges facing teens today threaten this healthy development–issues like an overreliance on video stimulation, and social media pressure for “likes,” to name a few. Studies show that today’s teens are lonelier and cite social anxiety in greater numbers than ever before.
Boarding school, especially a small one, represents an opportunity to hit the “reset” button–not only academically, but socially. Looking at Oak Hill Academy’s Mission Statement you’ll see the unchanging “evergreen” value of community emphasized. We are just as committed to adolescent development as we are academics, and we seek to provide a very nurturing and positive change in peer and community group. Today, I’d like to highlight a few examples of how we are very intentional in keeping the value we place on community “evergreen.”
- Our school community as a whole gathers together each morning in our Chapel for homeroom assembly—a decades-long school tradition. We begin in prayer, a short devotion is offered, announcements are covered, and importantly, recognition is given. The accountability to be on time, the shared experience of an intentional start to the day, and quiet emphasis on togetherness all reinforce the value of community on a daily basis. Personal thoughts and encouragement are shared by administrators, teachers, and students through the tradition of devotion and our students feel, and are reminded, that they are part of something greater than themselves.
- Small class sizes are an extension of the value we place on relationships within our school community. At Oak Hill Academy the teacher/student relationship is often the turning point academically, leading to the kind of confidence that promotes engagement. I’m asked all the time how Oak Hill Academy is successful in motivating the previously unmotivated student, and I first point to relationships—between teachers and students AND among the students themselves. Small classes allow this to happen. It is an important factor in the kind of community we promote here through relationships.
- As discussed previously (Evergreen Values Post #1) we place a comparatively strict set of boundaries on social media and cell phone access, including limiting cell phone use to the weekends. Our students often remark that life gets simple on our campus and priorities are rearranged to include engagement with the people around them. The remarkable diversity found on our campus means that our students often discover an ability to relate to a broader group of people than in their previous settings. These face-to-face interactions mean that the old-fashioned art of conversation is alive and well on our campus. We find that this is a whole new skill set for many of our students.
To consider more on the topic of teens finding purpose and connectivity, I urge you to look at a recent article by Educational Psychologist Amy L. Eva, PhD., published on Greater Good Magazine’s website. (Dr. Eva and Greater Good Magazine have no affiliation with Oak Hill Academy.)