Because it involves separation and a change of the parent-child relationship,
boarding school can be a difficult choice for many families. But with so
many key benefits and advantages, it should not be overlooked.
“I fell in love with boarding schools and what they can do for kids,” says
Pete Upham, Executive Director of The Association of Boarding Schools.
For many students, boarding schools offer the right mix: Small classes, the
rigorous curriculum of a fine day school and a special breed of adult faculty. For
boarding school faculty, teaching is a vocation—not a job.
“Students have intense connections with their teachers, who have made
this work their lives: Faculty members teach, share meals with their students,
often they even live on campus,” he says. “These are high-caliber, well-educated
adults of good judgment, interacting with the students day after
day. It’s hard to duplicate that in any other setting.”
Research shows that as a whole, boarding school kids report more satisfaction and better preparation for college than their peers, according to Upham. They go on more frequently
to earn more advanced degrees and advance to high levels in their careers.
“I remember when I went to boarding school, I was suddenly surrounded by
very bright kids and very challenging courses. We were reading Karl Marx in
the 10th grade and I felt way over my head,” says Upham. “My philosophy
teacher, who lived on campus with his family, worked with me until 10 p.m.,
reading the text sentence by sentence, until I completely understood it.”
The gift of independence
Independence might be the greatest gift that parents can give to their children.
Today, when so many parents are hypervigilant and want to be involved in
every aspect of their child’s life, boarding school can be the perfect antidote.
Children are required to navigate through the elements, do their own
laundry, and get up in the morning. Parents aren’t there to shield them
from natural causes and effects. Boarding schools are good places to
fail and succeed—which makes them great places to learn, says Upham. It’s
a controlled freedom.
“Kids don’t just get into college, they arrive prepared to succeed, with the ability to manage their own lives,” he says. “These are kids that are strong, are capable of leadership and
have self-initiative. Our culture has made it difficult for parents to cultivate
Take the “extra” out of extracurricular
At boarding school, extracurricular activities aren’t extra at all—they are
built into the fabric of daily life.
“Kids aren’t going back to their dorms at 3 p.m. every day and staring
at the wall,” he says. “If they are not playing sports, they may be on stage,
or learning an instrument.”
And activities are not just for the elites—there’s an ethos of encouraging
students to broaden their horizons at boarding school.
A social metamorphosis
Students don’t just have to manage their own affairs, they learn how
to live and deal with other people. They are challenged to develop their
interpersonal skills because there is no hiding at boarding school.
“A child who is dropped off in the morning and picked up at three o’clock
by Mom isn’t challenged to develop the same peer skills as a kid who shares
a finite number of sinks day in and day out,” says Upham.
“For me, boarding school was a transformative experience in learning
to communicate with others. A lot of people don’t get that until college, if
Boarding schools are comprised of many students who are first-generation —
the first in their families to receive this type of education. In
addition, 10 to 15 per cent of a typical boarding school’s population is made
up of international students.
“You would be hard-pressed to find many boarding schools that don’t
attract under-represented populations. We get people from different
geographical and socio-economic backgrounds,” says Upham.
About 25 per cent of students receive need-based financial aid.
“Sometimes this figure goes as high as 50 per cent,” he says.
Due to the diversity, students are exposed to different cultures and
opinions, which enriches their social and educational experience.
“A history class discussion about World War II is much different at a
boarding school with students from Japan than at a high school where the
students all live within the same zip code,” says Upham.