A day school is not an easy enterprise to run because, for one thing, it is dependent on the local economy and demographics. The closing of a major employer or the departure of young families from the area can challenge the existence of even the best-run private day school. In addition to those local conditions a boarding or residential school is also subject to national and global economic trends. Many American boarding schools have 10-20% of their students drawn from outside the United States. An economic downturn or civil strife can choke off the number of applicants coming from abroad. A weak national economy here at home can make it more difficult for parents to afford a boarding school education for their children. With these considerations in mind let's look at five challenges facing American boarding schools and some common sense solutions to those challenges.
1. The natural resistance to sending children to a residential school.
It is hard enough for most American parents to send their children away to college, much less boarding school. The idea of sending a fifteen-year old away to a residential high school meets with serious resistance from most parents. There are many reasons for this reluctance, but the primary ones are the high cost of boarding school and the feeling that the local public high school or private schools can do just as good a job of preparing their children for college. There's also a nagging concern that perhaps their son or daughter is not
Editor's note: In 1957-58 my cousin Peter Denis attended a boarding school in Switzerland. He very kindly answered my questions about his time abroad at school. ~Rob
What prompted your parents to send you to boarding school overseas? Which school did they send you to? How did you get there?
My parents wanted me to improve my French. So they sent me for one year after high school and before university to Ecole Nouvelle de la Suisse Romande, Chailly sur Lausanne, Switzerland. I was the third in a series of five people who had followed such a plan. The idea was to live in the boarding school together with the students doing regular studies. I was enrolled to learn French which I had already been exposed to over eight years growing up in my hometown of Montreal, Quebec. This Swiss school had a French second language program with dedicated teachers to accommodate students from around the world. The 18 students in my class came from the US, Norway, Sweden, Iran, Germany, to name just a couple of the countries.
There was no penalty for speaking English, but if you were going to survive, you had to learn French. Once your French was at an acceptable level, you were placed in the regular classes.
I traveled to Le Havre, France via a Cunard steamship from Montreal. Then I spent five days in Paris with cousins. This was before travel by jet.
Which grades did you attend? What courses
Over the years I have been asked hundreds of questions about boarding schools. What I find fascinating is that most of the questions are variations on the same question, namely, "Which is the best school in...?" Readers understandably want to know which is the best school for their child. As they soon realize, there is no easy answer to their question. It is similar to finding an apartment or a house. You have to describe what it is that you are looking for. The second most common question I am asked is about scholarships. Paying for a boarding school education is a major concern for most parents. They need to know their options. So, against that backdrop, let's look at a couple of these inquiries together with my answers.
The question: "Hi there would u please suggest to me the best boarding school in Jakarta??"
My answer: "I am not familiar with private schools in Indonesia. I suggest that you ask the headteacher at a local school for guidance."
A quick Google search seemed to indicate that there are no western-style boarding schools in Indonesia. In any case, I am not familiar with private schools in that part of the world. The other point I would have made if the reader had asked about schools in the U.S. or Canada, is that the best school is always the school which fits your requirements best. That does not necessarily mean that the school you choose is better than any other.
Editor's note: I asked Whitney Retzer, the Senior Associate Director of Admissions at St. Timothy's School, Stevenson, Maryland, to answer some questions which I know most parents have about boarding school. Here are her answers. ~Rob Kennedy
RK: 1. Can't my child get just as good an education in my local public school? Why should I go to all the expense and trouble of sending her to a boarding school?
WR: There are benefits to private boarding school that cannot be matched. Students are given more support, encouragement and differentiated instruction that is only possible is small classes and with greater access to teachers. St. Timothy’s school has a teacher to student ratio of 8:1 which means students can be in classrooms as small as six students and as large as twelve per teacher.
Also, the majority of St. Timothy’s faculty hold advanced degrees, and many live on campus and are therefore accessible and available to students outside the classroom. In this environment, students truly get the time and attention to flourish as 21st-century learners that are critical-thinking, curious and caring global ambassadors.
RK: 2. What advantages can a boarding school offer parents looking to send their son or daughter to a private school?
WR: Boarding schools offer students once-in-a-lifetime opportunities to study and collaborate with friends from all over the nation and world. St. Timothy’s has students from 20 different countries and 15 different states who are all living and studying together. Students change roommates twice a year and assigned lunch seating
The New England Preparatory School Athletic Council was founded in 1942 as an informal association of prep school athletic directors in New England. What is very gratifying to see after over 70 years is the growth of the organization from the original eleven schools to a membership currently in the 160 range. That growth is proof of the importance which private schools attach to their athletic programs.
As I have stated many times, sports programs are not an optional extra in private schools. Sports programs are integrated fully into the education of young people in private schools which take the saying of the first century Roman poet Juvenal seriously. "Mens sana in corpore sano" which means a healthy mind in a healthy body. Private schools adopted this approach from the beginning. As a result, you won't find many private schools where sports are not compulsory. Sports are an integral component of most private school programs. Most schools set aside a weekday afternoon when the entire school engages in a variety of athletic activities. As you scan private school websites, explore the athletic offerings. One of them is sure to appeal to your youngster. Moreover, as she settles into her new school, you will soon discover that she is trying out several different sports, including some which you never thought she would try. The final point which I must make about private school sports is that they teach young people to integrate exercise into their daily lives. And that is a