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June/July 2010

The Boarding School Advantage
Is it Right for Your Child?
by Whitney Brennan and Avery Thibadeau


As time-honored institutions, boarding schools are revered for their distinct traditions and exceptional educational opportunities. Despite the antiquated and misguided myth that boarding schools are havens for privileged children or solutions for troubled students, boarding schools are most sought today for their academic excellence.

As a new Metro Atlanta resident, you should certainly consider a boarding school education as an option—the learning environment, with a strong emphasis on academic and social development, may prove to be the right one for your child.

In a study conducted by the Art & Science Group, a market research firm, 91 percent of boarding school students claimed their schools are academically challenging. According to Paul Stockhammer, headmaster of Brandon Hall School, a boarding school in Dunwoody, “A boarding school environment often removes many of the distractions that prevent some students from focusing on their academic work, which should be a student’s primary focus, particularly in their secondary years. If at home, a child may watch TV or go to the mall after school, while at a boarding school, they do get to socialize, but the social aspect is put into the proper perspective. Academics come first.”

At boarding schools, students typically receive supervised study time, about two hours or so to focus only on homework. At Blue Ridge School in St. George, Virginia, there is a faculty-supervised study hall for all students every night during the week. “Within this structure, students are able to complete daily homework and are not allowed to fall off track or get ‘lost in the cracks’,” says Trip Darrin, assistant headmaster for enrollment and marketing at Blue Ridge. Additionally, academic achievement is strengthened by a boarding school’s smaller classes, which allow students to receive more individual attention from teachers. The average class size at Blue Ridge is eight.

In addition to spending more time on homework, students in the study reported spending more time per week exercising or playing sports. Boarding schools have the resources and facilities to offer their students excellent extracurricular opportunities, whether they are sports- or arts-related, or even something a bit more unusual—such as lessons in cooking or even aviation. The Outdoor Academy of the Southern Appalachians in Pisgah Forest, North Carolina, integrates outdoor activities into its curriculum, teaching hiking, backpacking, caving, canoeing and rock climbing skills in addition to its college preparatory subjects. At Walnut Hill School in Natick, Massachusetts, in addition to studying traditional subjects, students experience intensive arts training in ballet, music, creative writing, visual art and theater. At The Hockaday School in Dallas, Texas, students can participate in such programs as dance, orchestra, video, printmaking, computer graphic visualization and photography. Students at the largest independent girls’ school in the country may also take part in more than 30 special interest organizations and honor societies.

The residential component of boarding schools exposes students to demanding, character-shaping and friendship-forming experiences that leave lasting impressions on the students far outside the realm of the classroom. Strong friendships, independence and self-knowledge often result, as students are taught to handle a diversity of lifestyles. Since boarding schools tend to have an international diversity that cannot be found at day schools, Darrin says students “graduate with an established international web of contacts and interpersonal skills honed through years of shared mutual experience with students from around the world.”

A residential setting also allows faculty to take advantage of every teachable moment, whether serving as teachers, coaches, dorm parents, friends or mentors. “The different aspects of boarding school life are a catalyst for enriching relationships with students—getting to know them as people, not just as students,” says Lauren Hanson, a Latin and drama teacher at Virginia Episcopal School in Lynchburg, Virginia. “We more deeply understand and support the students academically as a result of knowing them more personally as mentors.”

To meet the changing expectations and needs of today’s students, boarding schools offer choices beyond the traditional boarding option (i.e., all students live on campus). There are also boarding/day schools and five-day boarding schools, where students go home Friday afternoon and return Sunday evening, and students can choose co-educational or single-gender schools. Many schools are geared toward a certain niche, such as military schools, pre-professional arts schools, religious schools and special needs schools, just to name a few. In addition, there are therapeutic boarding schools that serve students with behavioral or emotional issues. Girard College in Philadelphia is a boarding school for students who come from financially limited households headed by one parent or guardian. All of its students receive full scholarships. These options, in addition to a broader, life-oriented education, offer students a distinct advantage, depending upon their interests and future plans.

And while parents may typically choose boarding schools that are long-distance, having a child attend a local boarding school is another option as well. At Brandon Hall School, some boarding students’ parents live within one or two miles of the school. “They may be very good parents, but their schedules may prevent them from being as involved in education as they’d like,” notes Stockhammer. “Parents can rest assured that their children are getting the structure, organization and accountability they need while at boarding school.”

The Association of Boarding Schools (www. is an independent organization of 300 boarding schools designed to aid students and parents in understanding the boarding school experience, as well as help boarding schools find the right students for their particular environment. A smaller organization, the Southeastern Association of Boarding Schools (www. comprises schools in the Carolinas, Tennessee, Georgia, Florida and Alabama.

There are hundreds of boarding schools in the United States, all of which would offer your child a different experience. With so much time spent at school, it is vital that the school’s interests match those of your child. Also, because of the residential setting of boarding schools, be sure to visit the school, speak with admissions representatives and, if possible, current students to make sure the experience will be the right one for your child.

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