What makes a boarding school special? I know some of you reading this will say "the cost". No, what I have in mind are the characteristics of a boarding school which set it apart from private day schools and public schools. Back to cost, however. Let's get that out of the way. Most boarding schools have incredibly generous financial aid programs. No deserving applicant will be turned away because his family cannot afford the tuition and fees. On the other hand if $60,000 or more is a tariff which you can handle using your own resources, then the cost is not an impediment.
It's an adventure.
I happen to think that The Association for Boarding Schools got it right when it describes boarding school as an adventure. You and I as parents know that it will be an adventure in learning. At least that was always our intent when our daughters went off to boarding school. It's the new friends your child will make which are part of the adventure. These are friends who will be with her 24/7 for weeks at a time during school. These are classmates she will bring home for a weekend. I still remember as though it were yesterday when my eldest daughter arrived home for an afternoon with one of her new friends. We lived about 10 miles from the school. Her classmate was from out of state. While their laundry was in the washer and dryer, the two girls were sharing a soft drink and cookies (freshly baked, of course) and kibitzing with mother. All I heard were great peals of laughter as I hovered in the background.
Honestly, the friends factor in boarding school is huge. Figure out how to make your reticent-to-leave-home daughter aware of that. From our point of view these new friends are the right friends. Well, that is a slight exaggeration but generally speaking her classmates will be children who are at the school because they want to learn. And their families are supportive of them. All the time. Not just when it suits them.
Boarding schools are friends for life. The bonds which boarding school students develop by living, learning and playing together last a life time.
It's the complete package.
The academics were important to us when we sent our girls off to school. We both had been blessed with good K-12 educations and had earned our degrees back in the days when you wrote answers. I never filled in a bubble answer sheet once while I was at McGill. So a really good education mattered to us. We knew that the workload and variety of academic subjects offered would stretch our daughters in ways we couldn't imagine our very good local public school system doing.
Academics, however, are just one part of the package you get when you send your child to boarding school. The sports programs are simply amazing. Our daughters' schools had so many fields that I never really knew how many there were. It seemed as though there were fields for every kind of sport. Soccer, lacrosse, football, field hockey were all played. Then you had a hockey rink - indoor naturally - an equestrian facility where you could board your horse, a natatorium, badminton and squash courts. I am sure I am leaving some sport out. If it existed, it was probably offered. The other thing which I really liked and know my daughters liked too was the fact that their coaches were usually their teachers. You see, in a boarding school, the teachers don't flee the campus at 3:30 or whenever classes finish. Boarding school teachers live on campus. They coach sports and supervise extracurricular activities in addition to and as complement to their academic duties.
It's a richly rewarding experience.
Miss Porter's web site says it best: "Being a student at Porter's is richly rewarding in many different ways." I personally believe that one of the reasons boarding schools are special is because everyone matters. Groton School agrees with me:
"In a school of 370 students, everyone matters. Those who attend Groton are united by a deep commitment of one to another and of each to the whole. Integrity and civility, qualities sometimes overlooked today, remain important at Groton. The School’s intimacy and ideals foster inclusion and inspire students to understand their strengths and capabilities."
Everyone matters because you cannot hide in a boarding school community. If you are hurting, it will be noticed. Right away. If you are ecstatic about winning a prize, it will be noticed. Right away. That is something we valued very much when our girls were at boarding school. We had very demanding, fully-booked professional lives. Under those circumstance we both knew that it would have been very difficult to provide the high level of supervision any teenager needs. Much less fitting in all those trips to games and events. That made sending our girls to boarding school a no-brainer.
It offers structure and discipline.
It's that 24/7 thing again which makes the structure and discipline of a boarding school work. There is a rhythm and a routine built into every day. In many ways that is no different from a private day school or a public high school. Every institution has its structure and routine. What makes boarding schools special is that this structure and routine are integral to the whole experience. Everything is tightly interlocked. That develops self-confidence, leadership and teamwork. Boarding schools focus on teaching the whole child. They don't just teach what they feel like teaching in the classroom. Those lessons flow across the curriculum and out onto the playing fields and auditorium stages. Because the community operates 24/7 this kind of integration is so smooth and well-practised that children are hardly aware of all the forces which are propelling them towards success.
It offers 24/7 supervision.
24/7 supervision does not mean a lockdown or prison-like atmosphere. Far from it. Watching TV or listening to music after your homework is done is the same as at home. Just like your children know that you are in the background somewhere doing your thing students at a boarding school know that Miss B or Mr. K are just around the corner or perhaps outside walking the dog. Boarding schools take their role as surrogate parents very seriously. The safety and well-being of your child is always of paramount importance. But, again, because the school has been doing it for so many years, the supervision is smoothly executed so that it supports and encourages our children as opposed to suffocating them. That makes boarding school a special place indeed.
So, put boarding schools on your list of private school options. Explore their web sites. Visit a couple of schools. You will see why boarding schools are special too.