When a student attends sleep away camp, they experience a brief independence from the expectations and securities of home. Boarding school offers the opportunity to explore the independence that college will require. Surrounded by students from many different family and cultural backgrounds, boarding schools introduce young people to new communities, and a wide assortment of community values that have to work and live alongside one another.
Many students who leave New York City for boarding school describe carefully selecting the size and location of the school as that influences the community they will encounter. A quick train ride into a city can be important to students who have ties to the arts as they may want access to concerts, performances, and exhibitions…and so will others who picked that boarding school. Some students thrive in smaller schools with more attention while others feel smothered. Either way, dormitories with friends and counselors provide the careful attention to make sure that students are managing the transitions they face across adolescence.
The incremental independence that boarding schools introduce allows teenagers to slowly practice the choices they will face once at college. One city girl describes how “at boarding school, no one was hovering over your shoulder making sure you always made the right decision, but there were rules in place to follow…it is a good model for teaching independence, providing freedom within a structure with adults around to help.” Those rules are reinforced by other students as some dormitories have community standards, with consequences for bad behavior shared across everyone.
One woman who attended a boarding school in New England describes the shift it offered from her upbringing in Appalachia: “While not all boarding schools—and certainly not all the students—are the same in their philosophies, my school was my first real exposure to communities of people with different social values than where I’d been raised. It was like coming up for air, while not realizing I’d been under water.” At boarding school, people of different religions, political persuasions, family backgrounds and cultural interests live together and require acceptance and understanding. An attitude of inclusion allows for widespread discoveries.
That former student explains how the jarring cultural shift of a boarding school in proximity to a major Northeast urban center after living in rural mountains introduced her to arts opportunities that she hadn’t known before. Friends at boarding school listened to music that she would never have discovered without them. A committed performer, she learned new dance steps and explored different forms of theater, eventually participating in the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. All these elements of boarding school contributed to her passion for travel, which she now hopes to instill in her own son.
Discovering new interests isn’t easy. It requires perseverance as well as learning how to ask for guidance and support from peers. Discovering a new subject or activity often means making friends with people who know more about it. At boarding school, since everyone shares a dining hall and dormitories, dissembling is not an option. People can’t pretend to know more than they do, and on the flip side is that more advanced students can’t be disrespectful of those who are learning. Peers offer tips and instruction, as well as support along the way. At boarding school, community is important and that means learning to be a good member of that community.
For students, living on campus, immersed in the intensity of their academic program, compounded by sports and extra-curricular expectations, community provides the support to strive. Friends and peers show up to each other’s games, performances, study sessions, providing crucial moral support. Another boarding school enthusiast describes how “That experience fostered in me a drive to create or contribute to communities as an adult. I believe I am a more productive community member and citizen because of this experience.”
Some people worry that boarding school means that students lose a sense of home or the values of home life but many former students from various boarding schools disagree. This sentiment speaks for a different understanding of home:
“Boarding school shattered the idea of “home” for me. “Home” stopped being constrained by the idea of a physical place housing people to whom I’m biologically related. Rather, “home” now is better defined by the people with whom I feel most authentic, most vulnerable and accepted. My boarding school friends are scattered across many time zones. Being with them (or even just talking with them) always feels like home, no matter where we are.”
Since students go back to their families for school breaks, they learn how to maintain long distance friendships immediately. At boarding school, companionship is deeply intimate from sharing living quarters, while also requiring an understanding of and respect for boundaries. This is very helpful for navigating the increasingly on/off-line work environment of today’s international business world. Glimpses into people’s personal spaces from televisual interactions frequently need to be ignored, but other insights become a point of connection.
Boarding school offers students with specific academic or extracurricular passions a chance to focus but it’s also great for widening appreciation of community guidelines and developing an appreciation for the standards of authority. At boarding school, students get a chance to practice independence within the safety of a community.
If your family is interested in exploring boarding school options, please contact Brad Hoffman and Faya Hoffman, Board Certified Educational Planners.