Have you ever wondered if a boarding school might be a good idea for your child? If the answer is yes, you’re not alone. The current state of some public school systems in New Jersey is troublesome, at best. If any of these concerns strike a familiar chord, boarding school may be an excellent option.Boarding Schools

Endangered extracurriculars

With so many stories about public school budgets being cut, it’s not surprising that many parents are looking into the other options.

All too often, the first things to go when funding runs low are sports, arts, and extracurricular programs. While these programs are considered “extras” in public school systems, they're typically required at boarding schools.

Questionable friends

Maybe you're living one of a parent's worst nightmares—your child has fallen in with the wrong crowd. Because their staffing and funds are in short supply, public schools are frequently forced to pay more attention to the gifted kids and the students with challenges. That leaves parents of "middle of the road" students worried that their children are left fending for themselves.

Not so at a boarding schools, where staff ratios allow individual attention for all students, and strict codes of conduct hold students accountable for their behaviors—with well-defined consequences for students who step out of bounds.

“Small-world” syndrome

Public schools are certainly diverse, but the students tend to group themselves into homogenous packs: white kids, black kids, rich kids, poor kids, Latino kids, etc. Most public school administrators don’t have time to create opportunities for cross-cultural learning and relationships.

Boarding schools, on the other hand, offer a multicolored palette of students from many different backgrounds. And they strive to foster a sense of community that connects students—all students—to one another.

Low expectations

Because they’re trying to accommodate so many students with so few resources, public school systems aren’t able to set standards as high as boarding schools. As a result, students often coast along, doing the minimum that’s required of them.

Boarding school students are pushed harder, and most rise to the challenge. They seek educational offerings and thrive in a nurturing environment where learning is encouraged 24/7.

Ignoring the individual

Your child is unique, and you may want to find a unique school for him or her. In addition to elite boarding schools that focus on intensive college preparatory coursework, niche boarding schools cater to students with academic challenges and special interests. Among them are Christian-based schools, military schools, and art schools. There are also schools that serve troubled teens.

see "The three chief reasons to choose a boarding school" on the next page

Three chief reasons

There are three chief reasons why parents and students today opt for boarding schools.

  1. First is a group often called the legacy kids. Perhaps the parents went to boarding school and it’s a family tradition. They feel they got a great education, and they want the same for their kids.
  2. The second group includes students who are doing well in school but want more opportunity, and maybe this will upgrade their chances of getting into a competitive [college
  3. The third group includes the kids who are flailing away: they’re bored, or they may not be included socially. So they’re looking for a solution they can’t find at the school where they are.

A student who is failing in public school isn’t necessarily a student who is not bright. So some schools educate students who have learning differences, and encourage them to develop their own learning styles in a supportive, Girls from Purnell Schoolnon-threatening environment. One of those is the Purnell School, in Pottersville, an all-girls independent high school established in 1963. “We really work with the individual,” says Jenifer Fox, former head of the school and now full-time director of The Strenghts Movement. “Sometimes girls have not reached their potential at another school. They need to have personalized attention that’s going to bring out the best in them.”

Leelanau students kayakingUnrealized potential is a refrain voiced by many. “Most of the students come from larger public schools where they’re caught in the middle,” says Heather Sack, former director of admissions at the Leelanau School in Glen Arbor, Michigan, a boarding school that considers itself a non-traditional school for non-traditional learners. “They’re not raising the red flag behaviorally, so they’re getting lost in the crowd. Once they come here, students who have been struggling academically can have a chance to taste success, and once they do that, it changes their world.”

see "The reasons kids succeed at Boarding School" on the next page

The Reasons Kids Succeed at Boarding School

Some of that success comes from close personal attention from high-caliber faculty, small class sizes, and state-of-the-art facilities. For Gail Strecker, who was earning Bs and Cs in public high school in central New Jersey, it made allDarrow school students constructing a canoe the difference in the world. “There were so many people—and I didn’t get any individual attention. I didn’t like anything about school.” In her junior year of public high school, she and her parents began working with an educational consultant and Gail applied to Darrow School in New Lebanon, New York. She became a straight-A student there and after graduation went to Sarah Lawrence College. “All of a sudden I was an individual, not just a number or another student with 1,200 other students.”

Pennington students in classIn addition to the individual attention at boarding school, what parents and students often rave about is the access to faculty outside of traditional school hours. And living in a community teaches lessons about responsibility and making personal choices on a daily basis—in addition to the offerings in Calculus AP and Ethics. At the Pennington School, in Pennington, the stated mission is to encourage students to “live a life of integrity, intelligent reflection, and service to others.” The Hun School of Princeton integrates learning on and off campus with weekend trips to the surrounding areas. The school’s philosophy: “Boarding school is not just about homework; it’s about finding independence and trying new things.”

That desire for independence, and the ability of a teen to manage day-to-day living away from parents, Hun School Students relaxing outsideis a key component in the decision to attend boarding school. Time-management skills learned at this age serve students well in college and in careers, and the atmosphere of living with, and being motivated by, peers all contribute to a positive experience. That’s probably why about 70 percent of students in a survey commissioned by The Association of Boarding Schools said, “boarding school helped them develop self-discipline, maturity, independence, and the ability to think critically.”

see "How to pay for a boarding school" on the next page

How to pay for a boarding school

For all its advantages, a boarding school education does not come cheaply. In fact, it’s about as expensive as sending your child to college. Parents can expect to shell out $30,000-plus per year for tuition, room, and board at most boarding schools. Then figure another couple thousand dollars for miscellaneous charges such as books and health and technology fees. Yet most schools looking to fill their classrooms with the best and brightest will offer financial aid to those who demonstrate intellectual ability and need. So don’t let finances be the deciding factor in whether or not your child sends in an application. You might find: where there’s a will, there’s a way.
Boarding school isn’t for every student. But for those who can manage their independence and embrace an atmosphere of learning and growth, it could be a perfect match.

Have a child that's gone or going to boarding school? What's the experience been like for them?

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