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A Shoe Story: Trust Me on This….

Every Wednesday morning at Oak Hill Academy, our Director of Student Affairs, Mr. Aaron Butt, shares a devotion with students and staff gathered for homeroom assembly. Below is a story Mr. Butt told recently that reminds students to embrace the opportunities for growth that our structured boarding school environment provides, challenging as they might be, and to trust the adults here to help them distinguish between what they want in the moment and what they need to go forward.

When I was 16, my grandparents took the four of us grandkids to a shoe store in Winchester, Virginia, to buy each of us a new pair of shoes.  My grandmother had grown up during the depression on a dairy farm in Massachusetts, and my grandfather flew B-24s in WWII.  They spent little, saved what they had, and didn’t take the prosperity I knew for granted.  So taking us to a store to buy new shoes was a big deal for them.

Well, I had a plan that day: to buy a new pair of tennis shoes for school.  Nothing definite, but I knew what I wanted–maybe a pair of Nike high-tops or Reebok pumps.   My grandparents had a different idea.  When we arrived at the store, I was informed that I didn’t have a choice–I had to buy a pair of dress shoes. What?! What was I going to do with a pair of dress shoes?  I certainly wasn’t going to show up at school the next day in them.  Why were they forcing me to get a pair of shoes I didn’t want?  …But they weren’t budging.  Well, I thought, I guess dress shoes are better than no shoes.  So I walked out of that shoe store, quite disappointed, with a pair of brown Rockports.  …Rockports?  Who had ever heard of Rockports?

Here’s the thing. My grandparents knew something I didn’t.  They were able to envision a future I couldn’t–a future where I would need, appreciate, and potentially even like a pair of dress shoes.  I wonder if they envisioned this:  that more than 20 years down the road, I would be an administrator at a boarding school in rural Virginia called Oak Hill Academy. And that I would still be wearing those brown Rockports this morning.  I have worn these shoes more than any pair of shoes I have ever owned–and every time I do, I appreciate my grandparents’ refusal to budge.

Now, that was just shoes.  But there were plenty of other times they pushed me in directions I didn’t particularly want to go.  When we’re growing up, there are times that we have a plan, and we know for sure what we want.  But we don’t always know what is best for us, what we need, and what is going to help us grow.  At 16 or 17 I had a hard time seeing 20 years down the road and anticipating what skills, qualities, and even shoes, I was going to need.  So I needed people around me (like my grandparents) to challenge me, nudge me, and prepare me for what was coming.  I didn’t always agree with them, or like what they were suggesting, but I trusted them because I knew they cared about me and wanted what was best for me.

At Oak Hill we sometimes ask you to do things you don’t necessarily think make sense, things you don’t necessarily agree with, or want to do.  I would encourage you to trust us.  Trust Oak Hill; trust your parents for bringing you here; and trust the adults in your life who have invested in working with you.  The OHA faculty and staff have been doing this a long time. We can see out a bit further than you can. We have been through a bit more of life than you have.  I hope we earn your trust. And maybe, just maybe, 20 years down the road you will still be using the skills and lessons you learn this year at Oak Hill.

Right now is the time to embrace this challenge to trust, and to embrace change and personal growth—things that aren’t necessarily easy.

So–I want you to remember these brown Rockports. I didn’t want them. But I’m glad my grandparents had the wisdom and strength to disagree with me.  Remember this story when you’re pushed or challenged, and trust that there are good people, just like my grandparents, who are here at Oak Hill because we care about you, and we might know a thing or two about what lies ahead for you.

Mr. Aaron Butt
OHA Director of Student Affairs

Little Things Matter – Especially if Everybody Does Them!

Every morning at Oak Hill Academy, the community hears a devotion in homeroom assembly–a positive start to the day. Our Director of Student Affairs, Mr. Aaron Butt, regularly addresses the students and staff on Wednesdays during this time. Below is one recent offering, about how doing little things strengthens our small boarding school community.

There is a situation that I consistently run into–both as a parent, and as a school administrator. I’m sure you can relate: while walking around our dining hall, I see a napkin left on a table, or a cup, or a fork, and I ask someone leaving the table – “Can you please pick that up and throw it away, or put it in the dish window?” And what do they say? You can guess what they say: “That’s not my fork, my napkin, my cup. I didn’t do that.”

That drives me nuts. Why? Because someone’s got to do it. If I could track down the owner of the napkin, if I could interrupt the breakfast meal, hold up homeroom, do an investigation, call in witnesses, take fingerprints and collect DNA to determine the original user of the napkin or cup, wouldn’t that be great? …But really? Ultimately, I don’t care who did it; it doesn’t matter. What matters is that there’s a fork on the table that needs to get picked up. I’ve picked up 7 already, and it really doesn’t matter who left them, the forks needs to get cleaned! Is it my job? Is it someone else’s job? Who cares? Pick up the fork!

Those of us who are parents spend half our lives cleaning up other people’s messes. Last night (like many nights before) I went around the house turning off lights, picking up toys, putting away dishes, arranging shoes–none of which were mine. I didn’t make the messes. Should my kids learn to clean up after themselves? Sure. Are they messy? Yes. Do they need to be more responsible? Yes. (And that goes for the rest of us, too.) But in the moment, what matters is that there are lights on unnecessarily and they need to get turned off. I remember when my oldest son was about 3 months old. I changed his diaper for probably the 6th time that day. Afterward, I called up my mom and thanked her. I had no idea about all the things my parents did for me–how much time, work, and energy they put into me. We have no idea how much others are coming behind us, cleaning up our messes.

There’s a book that I love that I read to my kids. It’s called If Everybody Did, by Jo Ann Stover. It goes through humorous situations about what would happen if everybody…walked in the house with muddy shoes, left toys on the stairs, or squeezed the cat. Of course the results are catastrophic—and funny. In the world outside a children’s book, what would happen if everybody left dirty utensils on the table, spit on the sidewalk, or threw their trash in the ocean?  I dream sometimes about the opposite–what if everybody didn’t?

So what happens at Oak Hill if we all ignore the candy wrapper on the sidewalk? What if everybody thinks, “Well, someone else will pick it up.” What if we all assume someone else will pick up the water bottle we left on the bleachers, or the fries we dropped on the floor? What if we all just said, “Well, I didn’t do that…not my problem, someone else’s job”?

On the flipside, I sometimes imagine, and even catch glimpses of, an OHA community where “Everybody Did”–for good. What if we were a school campus where everybody looked out for each other, held the door, picked up after each other, noticed what needed to be done–and did it, even if it wasn’t their problem?
I see glimpses of that: a student checking the van to make sure it’s clean before getting off; another boxing up a board game she probably didn’t leave out; a dorm resident helping clear out her floor when her Resident Manager was sick; a wrestler staying behind to clean a mat; another student helping carry cardboard boxes to recycling.

That’s the community I want to be a part of, where “everybody does” the good things. And let me tell you, I’m grateful for people who do help me out, who are willing to pick up my messes, and who don’t hold my shortcomings against me–because I’ve inadvertently left behind my fair share of napkins, or coffee mugs, or dirty cups.

So please, next time I ask you to do something like pick up a napkin, don’t say, “It’s not mine.” Remember that you are part of this community. And remember how much others have done for you. Then stoop down and pick up that breakfast bar wrapper on the way to church.

We’re in this life together.

Aaron Butt
Director of Student Affairs


Oak Hill Academy Kicks Off “Spirit Days” 2019!

by Lauren Oberman ’21, 21st Century Journalism Class

At Oak Hill Academy, February is the month of “Spirit Days,” a series of special dress-up days and friendly competitions among the classes that brings the whole campus community together for some fun and games. To kick off this year’s event, we dressed with today’s theme–“Pajama Day.” In the afternoon, we participated in “Minute-To-Win-It” events: Oreo Stack Relay, Ping Pong Catch, Egg Roll, Corn Hole Challenge, Water Bottle Flip, Stack-it-Up Penny Challenge, Stocking Head Water Bottle Challenge and the Basketball Shooting Competition. The class team with the most points at the end of the month gets to miss a Saturday school and sleep in!

The Oreo Stack Relay takes a team of two students. One runs the width of the gym, drops to the floor, and grabs an Oreo with his/her mouth (no hands!). The person then runs (Oreo in mouth) back to the other side and delivers the Oreo to his/her teammate, and repeats. The second member of the team, who must stack the Oreos on a table. The object of the game is to see who can create three stacks of five Oreos first.  If a tower falls, the team has to start all over again.This year the seniors came in first, the juniors took second, 8th/9th graders placed third with the sophomores finishing fourth.

The Ping Pong Catch is another two-person team game. The students stand facing each other several feet apart. The point of this game is to bounce a ping pong ball to your partner, who tries to catch it in a cup. Each team must bounce and catch ten ping pong balls, then trade places and bounce and catch ten more ping pong balls. Today’s winner of this challenge was the sophomores, followed by the juniors, then 8th/9th graders and seniors.

The Sophomores try their hands at Corn Hole.

The Egg Roll is another relay-style race pairing one girl and one boy. The teammates stand on opposite ends of the gym and attempt to roll an egg the length of the gym using only a pencil. That’s hard enough, but try it on all fours, holding the pencil in your mouth! The sophomores won this event, with the seniors taking second place, 8th/9th graders coming in third, and the juniors placing fourth.

The Corn Hole Challenge, otherwise known as the “bean bag toss,” is a very simple competition, with points awarded for landing bean bags on the platform or inside the hole. Each grade went head to head in 90-second rounds. This year the sophomores came out on top, and the juniors followed them in second place. The seniors finished third, and the 8th/9th graders finished fourth.

The Water Bottle Flip has become a huge trend in recent years (see YouTube for some crazy variations!). The basic idea of this game is to flip five partially filled plastic water bottles until they land on the table standing upright. The winner of this challenge was the 8th/9th graders, followed by the sophomores. The seniors placed third, and the juniors placed fourth.

Contestants in the “Stocking Head” challenge

The Stack-It-Up Penny Challenge was a new addition to this year’s Spirit Days events. One member from each grade kneeled with one hand behind his/her back, and had to stack pennies into a tower without knocking them down. The sophomores dominated this competition and stacked all 25 pennies first. The junior class was second; 8th/9th graders third; and seniors fourth.

The Basketball Shooting part of the competition was a race to see who could make one layup, one free throw, one 3-point shot, and one half-court shot first. One member from each grade went head to head. This year the 8th/9th graders just edged out the juniors for first. The sophomores finished third and the seniors came in fourth.

The final game of the 2019 Minute-To–Win-It Event was the Stocking Head Water Bottle Challenge. Contestants wear a pair of hose on their heads, with a tennis ball in the foot of one leg. The idea is to swing the tennis ball (no hands) to knock down a series of water bottles. The winner of this year’s Stocking Head Challenge was the seniors, and the juniors followed closely in second. Rounding out the event were the 8th/9th graders in third, and the sophomores in fourth.

We look forward to next week’s installment of OHA “Spirit Days!”

Who is Oak Hill Academy’s latest “Student of the Week”?

The Principal’s Office announced today that Dylan C. has been named “Student of the Week.”

In his first year at Oak Hill Academy, Dylan is a junior from Georgia. He is a member of OHA’s  Gold Basketball Team. Dylan was nominated for Student of the Week honors with these observations: “He always brings a positive attitude to class. He helps out whenever asked and tries to be a good role model for the other students. Dylan is a good example of someone who tries to bring the community together, and he has done a solid job of embodying our other core values.”

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

Congratulations to Dylan!

Elements of OHA Structure: Highlighting Room Cleanliness

As part of a series of posts highlighting various elements of our structure, Mr. Butt explains why we focus on little things…like making a bed. Since Oak Hill Academy is a boarding school, we have opportunities 24/7 to help instill habits that we think will benefit our students for the long term.

In 2014, William McCraven, a retired Admiral in the United States Navy, gave a commencement speech at the University of Texas.  The speech went viral, and McCraven subsequently wrote a book based on his message, called Make Your Bed:  Little Things That Can Change Your Life . . . and Maybe the World.  In the book he goes through 10 valuable lessons he learned in the Navy – routines and ways of thinking that lead to success.  First, make your bed.  As he writes, it’s not really the actual making of the bed that matters most; it’s the discipline, the pattern, and starting the day with a small, simple, successfully completed task.

At Oak Hill Academy we ask our students to start their day with a clean room.  Before they leave the dorm for class, before 8:30 a.m., their rooms must be up to specific standards:  electronics turned off, beds made neatly, no open food or drink containers, dirty clothes in the hamper, trash cans emptied, clean clothes put away, desks neat, floors free of clutter, and doors locked.  All pretty simple, routine things.  And, as McCraven says, it’s not really about the clean room; it’s about the habit, the routine, the consistency.  It’s about accomplishing a task, starting the day off right.  No matter what the rest of their day is like, students come back to a clean, organized room. 

Well, our students are teenagers.  I remember the state of my room in high school, as I’m sure you remember yours.  Our students don’t always like having to make their beds, and neither did I.  Building this pattern and practice takes time, repetition, and accountability.  If a student’s room doesn’t meet the above standards, they come back to the dorm after school and clean the room until it does.  Sometimes incorporating this habit into the daily plan takes a while.  But we believe in the small things.  We believe in the routines, and we believe that success in the little things leads to success in the big things.

So we make our beds.  We sweep the floor, empty the trash, lock our doors, and head out to class to start the day with a clean room behind us, and waiting for us at the end of the day.

Aaron Butt
OHA Director of Student Affairs

Oak Hill Academy Red Team marks a win over Union

by Tobi Salami ’20, 21st Century Journalism class

Brandon Dornevil goes up strong in a game earlier this season.

The Oak Hill Academy Red Team took on the Union High Bears from Big Stone Gap, Virginia, in a home game on January 22nd, 2019. The contest started off slowly for the Red Team, but they made a run during the second quarter to narrow the score and end the half down by only two, 29-27 in favor of the Bears. After halftime, the team began to make defensive stops and went on an offensive run with Noah Allen ‘19 and Brandon Dornevil ‘19 leading the charge. The Red Team pushed through and emerged with the lead in the third quarter, 49-38. The fourth quarter included a 1-2-2 press that caused many forced turnovers and allowed the Red Team to make numerous baskets. The highlight of the night, and a play that sealed the game, was Dornevil’s steal and drive for an ‘And-1’ basket. The top scorers of the game were Dornevil with 21 points, Allen with 18 points and Delaney Heard ’20 with 11 points. Following the game, Coach Michael Burns commented, “Our guys struggled early in the game and trailed at the half. But the guys came out as a team in the second half, stuck to our plan, and got the win.”

Contact Information

Oak Hill Academy
2635 Oak Hill Rd.
Mouth of Wilson, Virginia 24363

Phone Number  276-579-2619

Administrative Office Fax Number  276-579-4722

Academic Office Fax Number  276-579-2618

Ms. Cyndie Richardson

Director of Student Affairs
Mr. Aaron Butt

Dean of Girls
Mrs. Shaquera Clawson

Dean of Boys
Mr. Gary Crede

Director of Financial Affairs
Mrs. Rhonda Bowen

Student Expense Accounts
Mrs. Paula Phelps

Student Tuition Accounts
Mrs. Laura Phipps

Transportation Coordinator
Mrs. Regina Cooper

Director of Counseling
Mrs. Joy Groves, MA, LPC, NCC

Academy Nurse
Ms. Betsy Anderson
Mrs. Anita Perkins

For additional contact info., visit the Faculty & Staff Directory.