One of the most frequently voiced “pain points” in my conversations with prospective families is the notion that choosing boarding school as a new approach is an emotional proposition. It often is a scary and anxiety-inducing topic of conversation for the student. It is a journey that is unsettling for the parents as well—there are feelings of guilt, financial pressure, and a sense of having to “let go” before being prepared to do so. These concerns are expressed over and over in the discussions I have with families.
I will not diminish these feelings. It is a tough decision. But today I want to share 3 points of hard-earned insight in this area. My own mother went through this as I headed off my senior year to enroll at Oak Hill Academy in the late summer of ’86, so I saw the raw jumble of emotions first-hand. In my tenure at Oak Hill, I’ve worked with hundreds of families and students. And Oak Hill Academy’s mission of offering a “Turning Point” opportunity means that families consider our school as a solution to a problem, often at a time of great frustration and some angst. I get it.
- A prospective student’s natural fear of the unknown is to be expected, no matter how appealing the benefits. I often help applicants understand that while change is scary, choosing to attend boarding school is the equivalent of walking through the first ‘Big Door’ of many to come. The confidence and personal growth that come from successfully walking through that first Big Door is life-changing, and an experience they will draw on for the rest of their lives.
- The move to boarding school can be a difficult choice for parents, too. Our children often know which buttons to push with us parents, and voicing resentment over being “sent away” is a really effective strategy I see fearful applicants use. Sidestepping a decision, and keeping the status quo with hopes of getting a different result, is tempting. Doing the harder thing—choosing boarding school in order to achieve the growth needed—is a trust that we don’t take lightly. A visit to campus will bear out that we only accept students who, on some level, see attending Oak Hill Academy as an opportunity, not a punishment. We, including current students who assist on admission tours, are good at helping applicants see the possibilities, and, overwhelmingly, they come away with a different mindset. They recognize that if their parents were seeking to punish, they would not be considering Oak Hill Academy.
- I often see tense family dynamics, which is understandable. By the time boarding school is a serious consideration, families have tried many approaches to motivate their students academically, or steer them away from unproductive behaviors, and have been fighting the battle for change for quite some time. These attempts often result in strained relationships. And that is exhausting. In my 14 years at Oak Hill Academy, time and again I’ve seen damaged family relationships repaired, and I used to think it was as simple as “absence makes the heart grow fonder.” The longer I’m here, the more I know that is not it. The repairing has everything to do with how students see themselves. As they feel more competent, confident, and proud of themselves and the success they’ve worked for away from home, their mindset and interaction with family takes a turn for the better. They’ve redefined themselves in a positive way, and it changes the family dynamics.
If you are relating to what I’m sharing today as you consider and research boarding schools, I urge you to take a closer look at Oak Hill Academy, where we understand these issues. Better yet, please contact me to discuss your student and our approach to providing a college prep boarding school experience for students needing growth.