From time to time publications ask us why parents would consider sending their child to boarding school as opposed to leaving them in public school. What follows are my answers to some questions which were recently posed to me. I hope that you find my answers helpful as you weigh the pros and cons of sending your child to boarding school.
1. Why should you consider sending your child to a boarding school, instead of to one of the many private day schools and charter schools in the area?
In a perfect world, most of us parents would decide to send our children to schools which meet all or most of our requirements and needs. When you are fortunate enough to live in an area which has good public schools, then it makes sense to comparison shop carefully. Tune out any prejudices you may have about any kind of school, and try as much as possible to compare apples to apples.
For example, if your child has special needs, you need to look carefully at the quality of instruction which she will receive in order to continue enjoying learning. Boarding schools which offer programs for students with special needs tend to do a good job simply because they offer plenty of individual instruction. The other advantage they have is that most, if not all of their students have some special need of one kind or another. Boarding schools which specialize in learning disabilities such as dyslexia often called reading disorder; dyscalculia which is difficulty learning math concepts; memory and retention issues; or dysgraphia which is difficulty writing, have been doing this for many years. They employ highly experienced credentialled teachers and staff who can turn even the most gloomy prognoses around.
Compare special needs programs in a public school which is facing budget cuts and has to reduce its faculty. Add in the social factor of your child being identified as different. Boarding schools balance their budgets by charging more for their services. When they need another teacher for a critical program, they hire one. Their clientele expects and demands this level of service.
Most boarding schools offer extensive athletic programs. For example, if your child rides, there are dozens of schools which you can consider. The same thing is true of extracurricular activities. Boarding schools consider it their job to educate the whole child, not just teach children how to solve a quadratic equation.
Finally, and this is one of the reasons why we sent both of our daughters off to boarding school for high school, boarding schools offer 24/7 supervision. We were busy parents with demanding careers. We belonged to a couple of local boards. Our hours were long and would have left the girls at loose ends or, worse, driving to a band rehearsal or some other activity in some teenager's car on winding, hilly roads in Litchfield County, Connecticut. Our custodial worries vanished the minute the girls went off to boarding school.
2. What does the boarding school experience offer the child outside of academics?
As mentioned in the previous answer, boarding schools strive to educate the whole child. Schools integrate academics, sports, and extracurricular activities into a comprehensive package. The ancient Roman poet Juvenal's saying mens sana in corpore sano (A healthy mind in a healthy body") applies into a 21st century boarding school education.
The other fact to bear in mind is that boarding schools will not cut or eliminate sports programs and extracurricular activities. Furthermore, your child's teachers coach most of the sports and extracurricular activities in her boarding school. That's just part of their contracted duties. The effect on the students is very positive as they see their teachers as passionate participants in group activities which teacher and students alike enjoy. Did I mention that sports are compulsory? That's right! Everybody participates. Most schools set aside a weekday afternoon and part of Saturday for sports.
Most boarding school faculty also function as dorm parents as they live in apartments in the dormitories with the students. There is always a reassuring adult presence on hand, to help and guide as needed, or to simply be there.
3. What are the benefits of boarding in Europe as opposed to attending an American boarding school?
If you are an expat living in the United States but planning to return to your home country in Europe, it might make sense to send your high school age children to boarding school back home or leave them there if they have already started school before your moving stateside. One of my cousins attended a Swiss boarding school back in the 1950s. When I asked him about his experience, he commented that those were much simpler times. I would tend to agree. Personally, I would be a nervous wreck if one of my children were attending boarding school overseas in the current climate of violent terroristic acts. I want to be within a 2 hour plane ride at most from my children's school. Each of us has a different comfort zone. Stick to what works for you.
4. What are the financial costs of boarding schools, and do they offer any financial aid?
American boarding schools range in cost from $20,000 to $65,000 exclusive of sundries. These figures only include tuition, room and board. What are sundries? Those are all the extras such as laundry, lessons, uniforms, athletic equipment, and other miscellaneous charges. Most schools bill you for sundries monthly. You will also have to pay tuition insurance. You can find all the details about tuition and fees on school websites.
Just about every boarding school I can think of offers financial aid. Aid is based on need, not academics. If your child is accepted to a school, but you cannot afford to send her, you should complete and submit the Parents Financial Statement, which is a third party service of the National Association of Independent Schools. The PFS will determine what they feel you can afford to pay. The individual schools will make their own determination of how much to award based typically on the number of requests for financial aid and the size of the financial aid pool. Several schools offer a free education to children from families with earnings under $75,000. That threshold varies from school to school.
5. Do you have any tips and suggestions for knowing if your child is ready for the freedom and responsibility of staying away from home for extended period?
While your child will be away from home, she will not be unsupervised. Boarding schools pride themselves on creating communities with close bonds. Every member of that community counts. Somebody will know and will report an unhappy child. Boarding schools don't have the kind of social stratification which seems to occur in public schools. There are no jocks, geeks, nerds, and so on. Students attend boarding school to learn. So there is no stigma to being smart. Bullying in all its forms is very rare. It would be grounds for severe disciplinary measures if it did take place.
Essentially what I am saying is that your child will have left the familiar surroundings of her home and her circle of friends. She will now be in a safe, secure place in the company of dozens of new, like-minded friends. Frankly, and I say this as a father who knows, having your child leave home is more upsetting to us parents. Gone are the familiar sounds of music, the anguished cries of "Mommy! where are my jeans?" and all the other signs of teenage presence which we take very much for granted until they are not there. Fret not! You will soon be picking her up from the airport. She will have her newest best friend in tow. And they will have much shopping to do.
Questions? Please feel free to contact me via Twitter. @privateschl