Deciding whether to send your child to boarding school instead of day school is a decision most of us parents make early on in the private school search process. Here is our story. I had taught in day schools and was a Deputy-Director of one of them. Nancy and I choose to send both daughters to boarding schools for the following reasons. I hope that our experience will help to inform you as you make this critical decision about which kind of private school will be best for your child.
At the time we were considering sending our children to private school we were fortunate to be living in an area which had good schools. My late wife Nancy indeed had graduated from the local high school. In fact, she was chair of the local school board when we decided to explore other options for our daughters' schooling. So it wasn't the schools per se which were the issue. Four factors shaped our decision.
The high school curriculum was solid. The teachers were experienced and competent. The school was small as high schools go, with a student population of 400 students in grades 7 through 12. There were football and basketball teams, a highly-acclaimed marching band and a couple of clubs. That, however, was what made us want more for our daughters. We wanted them to read five Shakespeare plays a year. Not just the one play a year which she learned in her current high school. The same thing was true of other academics. They met the minimum requirements. But we wanted more.
The sports and arts programs were wonderful, but options were extremely limited. The same was true of the extracurricular activities. But the real reason was something every parent of a teenager comes to terms with: who was she hanging around with after school? Who would be driving her back and forth if we couldn't? We were both busy professionals who couldn't always drop everything and drive 30 miles through the Litchfield County hills to pick up and drop off. So, it was for those reasons that we began to consider boarding school very seriously.
We always felt that we should stretch our children intellectually. That approach literally started from the earliest months. Nancy read voraciously. She devoured serious fare with a few mysteries thrown in. She was fluent in French and Spanish too. Classical music was my thing. Sp, our children didn't stand a chance against those influences. It also didn't take us long to realize that we had two gifted children on our hands. That is why serious, rigorous academics were simply what we expected.
As mentioned previously, the public school offered basic courses. There simply was not enough depth and breadth for our needs. We had no firm ideas about what the girls should pursue in college. We felt our job was to provide them the best foundation we could. As we explored the curricula at several boarding schools, we realized that our children could build on their existing knowledge base, while having the opportunity to explore more subjects.
Lots of sports
The idea of having athletics twice a week was a huge hit. Boarding schools typically finish classes at lunch on Wednesdays. The afternoon is given over to sports. Same thing on Saturdays. The variety of sports offered as well as the availability of many sports at the varsity level as well as intramurals made this feature of boarding school very attractive. The other feature of boarding school sports programs which appealed to us was the fact that the teachers coached sports. The athletic department staff organized and oversaw everything; however, the children's teachers were actively involved in coaching.
Plenty of extracurricular activities
As with the athletic programs, the schools we looked at offered dozens of clubs and other extracurricular activities. Because all the students were required to take part in one or more activities, there was plenty of talent to make the activity fun and practiced at a high level. We also like the fact that all extracurricular activities were directed and supervised by members of the faculty. That involvement allowed students to experience their teachers in another setting than the classroom. Mr. Smith teaching quadratic equations is one thing.
This is not a characteristic of boarding schools which your teenager will consider terribly important. But it was a huge plus for us parents. We had spent many years raising our children according to our personal values and precepts. When it came time for our young adults to begin to leave the nest and fly solo, we still wanted the reassurance of a safety net. 24/7 supervision is something which boarding schools simply do very well. They have looked after teenagers for decades. They are tuned into what goes on in those young minds. They have the safety net at the ready. The net is invisible most of the time. But it is there when needed.
Boarding schools know how to handle the hormone factor before things run amok. They understand bored teenagers. And they do all of this unobtrusively most of the time but conspicuously when that approach is called for. We didn't want to worry about who was driving our daughter home. We didn't want our child going to somebody's home where the parent was either not at home or was disengaged from parenting. Boarding schools' 24/7 supervision was a feature almost as important to us as the impressive academics were.
Finally, I should mention that we were not helicopter parents. We taught our children as best we could and allowed them to get on with living their own lives. We felt that a gentle transition from childhood to adulthood just made a lot of sense. You cannot hover and be over-protective, and then expect your child to develop self-confidence and independence. That's why we were comfortable with letting our children go off to boarding school.
Looking back more than two decades it was probably one of the best decisions we ever made. Both girls excelled in college - Harvard and UMass Amherst - and went on to earn advanced degrees. They have great careers. They are wonderful mothers. What more can a parent ask?
Questions? Contact me on Twitter. @privateschl