The Thacher School - Review #1

The Thacher School

About the Author:

College Enrolled Stanford University
Home Town, State (Country) Santa Barbara, CA
Years Attended Boarding School 4
Activities During Boarding School -member of Thacher Dance Ensemble - modern/ballet/jazz performance group (4 years) -member of Mad Bomber Ski Society aka Ski Club (4 years) -Prefect in the junior girls dormitory Senior year -JV Girls Basketball Team (2 years) -chose to take independent project for two sports terms - junior year studied ballet on pointe with performance and senior year studied modern dance choreography with performance.

Reflections and Advice:

1.) What do you think makes your school unique relative to other boarding schools?
While most outsiders are quick to mention the horse program as paramount in the Thacher experience I believe that many other aspects of the school deserve high recognition and praise - elements that cannot be quantified or enumerated on a list. Primarily, student - teacher collaboration is held to be of utmost importance at the school. Each student hand picks their advisor for their upcoming academic year. Each student must approach a faculty member to help advise them through their Senior Exhibition project in the senior year, outside of their normal advising. Practically every faculty member lives on the school campus - and students are often welcomed into faculty homes at all hours to watch TV with the kids, bake brownies, and get helpful advice on anything from math homework to social pressures. Every year best friends are made on campus - these relationships are often between students, but it isn't surprising to find a student and a faculty member, coach or horse department staff member gushing over recent trials and tribulations. From these relationships, every student comes away from Thacher with a strong feeling of what it means to be an intrinsically good person - from morals to sportsmanship to academic excellency. All these are embodied by the fabulous faculty.
2.) What was the best thing that happened to you in boarding school?
I have only been gone for a few months but I have strived to make my Stanford experience the best it can be. Transitioning to college was pretty easy - almost too easy. Dorm life is similar, food is similar - heck I brought the same computer chair, fan, printer, laptop and shelving system with me to college so my room looks virtually the same! Being blessed with such an easy transition made it even better to get involved in the university life quickly. I am now a member of our competitive Stanford Ski Team (I had never raced before - but gave it a good old Thacher try and am loving it) and have elevated myself to the position of Cabin Manager for next year. I joined forces with three other frosh from across the campus to campaign for the class presidential positions. We unfortunately lost but I made great friends and learned a lot from the experience. I also recently tried out to be (and made it!) a Yell Leader for the school (not cheerleaders - a uniquely Stanford crazy bunch of people who exude school spirit and lead fans in yelling madness at sports events). That is a huge thing a learned at Thacher - beyond being a person of high "honor, fairness, kindness and truth," as Sherman Day Thacher would say, I learned to have a love for my school. That spirit stays with you and makes you want to perpetuate the feeling wherever you go. So I joined the Yell Leaders to keep with that tradition. I don't really know what the best thiing that has happened to me yet. Recently we had a reunion of all the female graduates of the school (it turned coeducational in the late '70s). As the evening progressed and toasts were made, I realized how each woman in the room carried with her a piece of life that I had experienced. You could honestly feel the power of each personality in that room - we're a feisty bunch. If anything, Thacher gives you a strong sense of yourself. Some people like to refer to our bunch of Thacher kids at Stanford as the "clan." Sometimes you'll meet someone who knows another Thacher alum and you tell them you went to Thacher. The usual response: "Oh that makes so much sense! You guys are all such great people." One of my friends here at Stanford told me a couple days ago that he wants to send his kids to Thacher! I seriously owe it all to the school - I said it before and I'll keep saying it until I die: I am who I am because of Thacher.
3.) What might you have done differently during your boarding school experience?
Oh gosh, I don't know if I could have done anything differently. Sometimes I bemoaned not having talked to the boys in my class more during my freshman year, or even getting comfortable with the upperclassmen. But there is nothing that you can really do about that - it all has to do with your development level. Not all 13 year olds are the same - and the school is great at handling and nurturing all of our different varieties. But if I could say one thing to any Thacher student I would say "Go for broke." You can't spend your days worrying about what will happen the next - look at the big picture positivity of your life and work to get involved and make every day the best day ever. That is what truly creates the Thacher community.
4.) What would you never want to change about your school?
All of it. No questions. Well, maybe the health center could be a bit better, or the performing arts building- but those are all material things. The school is created by the community members, not the physical buildings or the numbers decided by Educational Testing Services. In that definition of the school, nothing should be changed.
5.) What things could be improved about your school?
The physical parts of the school - some dorms could be updated, other buildings refurbished. Other than that, the school has its quirks and traditions, all which lead to its ultimate success. This is not to say that I didn't feel very strongly as a student that certain aspects of school operations should be altered, but as a senior class there is a lot of leverage students can have to make changes for the betterment of the entire school population. Therefore, each class has the capability to improve the school. This is all part of how the school functions as a community and has nothing to do with outside suggestions for change.
6.) Do you have any final words of wisdom for visiting or incoming students to your school?
Talk to faculty the moment you arrive. Speak up at your formal dinner table - there are always upperclassmen who want to know who you are and what your interests are, even if they may appear intimidating in their conversations with Mr. Harris about string theory. Get to know the Horse Department Faculty. They are incredible people. You may not love cleaning your horse's stall, but love your horse. Get involved! Join a club, take a class, try out for a play. Don't feel like lack of experience should hold you back.


1.) What did you like best about your school’s academics?
Emphasis on what the material seriously means. Everyone can walk through school accepting the dates detailed in US History or quoting Shakespeare in "three body paragraph" essays, but no one can make you feel like reading Faulkner has given insight into your own life like Ms. J can. And no one can make freshman year as meaningful in terms of task/test accomplishment as Ms. Mulligan can. And certainly no one can make Vargas Llosa come alive in its original Spanish text like Sra. Ortiz. My freshman year, I was in the top track of math - Math 3 (a combination of Algebra II and Geometry). Our teacher was Mr. Meyer, a fabulous person in all senses of the word. Developing a pure love for mathematics is often difficult, even if one excells in the subject matter. Not only did we all develop an affection for the course material, but my friends and I incorporated our freshman year experiences in the classroom throughout our Thacher experience. When it came to senior year, all of the original Math 3-ers convened to take Mr. Meyer's AP Statistics class out of that same pure desire to learn. There is no reason to learn unless your instructor has the passion to teach - and I have yet to find a Thacher teacher who has lost that passion.
2.) What did you like least about the academics in your school?
Thacher is small. If it were any bigger it would have a completely different feel from what it is supposed to be like. However, with that smallness comes a limit to class options. With current college admissions practices, administrators must juggle with providing top quality AP courses and a globally-minded, forward-thinking curriculum. For instance, in an effort to diversify the History Department from its traditional Euro-centric focus, students are now required to take World History (with a European focus) in their sophomore year and AP European History is not offered. AP Human Geography as well as elective courses in Native American History, World Religions and Chinese History take its place, yet I feel as if having another AP under your belt makes you more competitive in the college realm. Yet what it comes down to is how the personality of the school and you mesh together to form the person you will be when you leave. If you want to enumerate AP classes, that is fine, but that is not what is going to topple the scales when admissions boards look at your high school career. These universities will look at the personal risks and developments you achieved at a school to see if you are truly qulified. In that vein, I think that there are many limits to what you can take, but the person you will become is not ultimately hindered by these limitations.


1.) What did you like best about your school’s athletics?
It is so important to feel a swell of school support for each athletic team as it competes in the name of the school. It says something when you get a cheering section on the sidelines of Third Team Soccer. Thacher always has one. I feel this is largely due to the required participation of all students in the athletic department. Every student must involve themselves in an athletic program during each sports trimester - be it a regular team, camping program, horse program, dance or independent study. Because each and every person has to be involved (each person must be on a team at least one trimester in their Thacher experience) you don't see the typical "jocks vs. geeks" separation. We're all the jocks, and we're all the geeks so we support each other in all of our endeavors.
2.) What did you like least about the athletics in your school?
We're small so sometimes we don't perform as well as we could if we had a large pool of athletes to draw from. It's the luck of the admissions draw, really. For instance, this year's graduating senior class has had fantastic success with multiple CIF Southern Section championships, all-CIF team nominations and athletic recruitments to major universities. Yet other years we have classes that have had strengths in other areas, like Western/English horse competition or performing arts. We're not the typical reliant sports powerhouse, but we try to hold our own.

Art, Music, and Theatre:

1.) What did you like best about your school’s art program?
We have a large diversity of options even though our school is small. This is largely due to the fact that every student must complete two full years of arts classes, without grouping all classes within either the performing or visual arts. We have great options from photography to wood design, oil painting to radio. In my time with the school, two a cappella groups have been formed, one even receiving outside acknowledgement and recognition for their debut CD. I was personally involved in the dance department for my four years and can attest to the amazing capabilities of Ms. Vickery, our resident dance instructor/choreographer/math teacher. I have learned so much from her in addition to my previous training.
2.) What did you like least about your school’s art program?
We badly need a new performing arts building. Luckily, the school is in the middle of a large campaign to fund this very project. The plans have already been completed for a project that will hurtle Thacher's great Arts Department into a new realm of possibilities. I have personally seen the plans and they are fabulous - I only wish that I could have been a student to have experienced it first hand. I believe that next year they plan to break ground, but as all construction projects go, it is probably going to be a while until the entire project is finished.

Extracurricular Opportunities:

1.) What did you like most about the extracurricular activities offered at your school?
The groups that exist are passionate about what they do. The Mad Bomber Ski Society, my personal favorite, often takes trips to Mammoth (sometimes even snow camping!) to enjoy fabulous skiing. In addition, horse related programs (like the Polo and Equestrian/English Teams) have had great success in representing Thacher and I hear that this year has brought about a very successful Ultimate Frisbee Club (who call themselves "Los Burros del Cielo"). Whatever a Thacher student does, he or she does with enthusiasm, making sure what matters most to him/her is a vibrant part of society.
2.) What did you like least about the extracurricular activities offered at your school?
If you look on our Thacher email program, called FirstClass, you will be able to connect to Thacher students in many forums. Specifically, all student clubs are represented with respective discussion folders to which each student may post updates or notices. Unfortunately about half of these groups are dormant or purely social gatherings because of lack of capabilities within the Thacher realm. For instance, the SCUBA club looked promising, but the school's insurance policy did not allow SCUBA equipment to be used under Thacher's supervision. Other limitations, such as school size, prevent many groups from actually gaining critical support for their maintenance. Yet I believe that core functioning groups can build community stronger than fringe groups that could develop in larger schools. It all depends on your personal preference in your school decision.

Dorm Life:

1.) What was the best thing about dorm life in your school?
Everyone in your class and sex lives in the same dorm area until your senior year. Select seniors constitute the upper class supervision in the under class dorms as prefects. This way, your class has a cohesiveness that cannot be paralleled. The freshmen dorms are located in the lower part of campus while sophomores live on the aptly named "Hill." By the time that the seniors are spread across the campus, the class has bonded so much as a group that we bridge the distance in our efforts to maintain friendships. As a graduate I consider all of my 57 classmembers to be very close friends. Additionally, the prefect system, specifically at the level of the freshman dorms, works well in an effort to tie the senior class in as leaders of the school. Instead of isolating the seniors in their world of college applications and senior traditions, these vibrant community members strive to create unique living experiences for the younger students. In the times when their Thacher experience becomes more poignant and meaningful, each student strives to make others' experiences as good or better. In addition to all of this, after my college experiences I feel like it's appropriate to make a shameless plug for room sizes - compared to Stanford they're HUGE! Also, most dorms also have outside walkways, as opposed to indoor hallways which truly unites us with the beautiful southern California outdoors.
2.) What did you like least about dorm life?
Yes, there were a lot of dorm rules - including curfew and lights outs hourse, strictly single-sex facilities and no choice in room selection. From an outsider's position it seems like this can be limiting, but honestly, every 13 year old (yes, I include my former self in that) needs structure in telling them when it is a good time to turn in for the night. And who wants to walk back from the shower in a towel to see a member of the opposite sex approaching you in the hallway? I'm only just getting used to this in college. While there is the typical moaning and groaning, I think each Thacher graduate can attest to the fact that they are who they are because of the school. For better or for worse, each tradition and guideline has shaped us into the talented and diverse individuals that we are today.


1.) What was the best thing about your dining arrangements?
We all eat in the same dining room - faculty, seniors, staff members, freshmen, administrators, sophomores, juniors. You see, community is of paramount importance at Thacher, and this is yet another way it is fostered. Additionally, four nights out of the week students and faculty dress for formal dinner. Each faculty member and their ENTIRE FAMILY hold dinner at each of the dining room tables to which a diverse group of students are assigned each week or so. You may be at a table with a group of students you have never talked to, or your best friends - decided by a computer algorithm programmed by a couple of Thacher seniors a few years back. I have learned of Mr. Coleman's Westpoint experiences first hand even though I never was able to take a class from him. I always looked forward to sitting at the headmaster's family table (the Mulligans - fondly referred to as the Mully's) because trivia usually dominated the conversation. Outside of dinner, we have a fantastic dining hall staff - contracted by Bon Apetit under the direction of Richard Maxwell, kitchen manager extraordinaire. They are always receptive to suggestions/recommendations entered by the students. Richard is considered an important part of the community.
2.) What did you like least about your dining arrangements?
It all comes down to the fact that we're a small school. While there is always the option of a salad bar, and bagel/sandwich station, the kitchen serves a limited number of choices per meal. The food quality is high, but there isn't much choice - especially for vegans (although being a vegetarian is really easy). Freshmen always love the fact that we have a soft-serve ice cream machine, but you learn by your sophomore year that it's best to leave that for special days so you keep off a few extra pounds ;-).

Social and Town Life:

1.) How welcome did you feel by the other students when you first arrived at the school
As a freshman, you are nurtured as a class for a few weeks before your real exposure to the whole school so that you bond as a group from the moment you arrive. There are a few orientation days and then you leave for a week-long camping trip to the Golden Trout Wilderness in the Sierra. It is incredible - and very much like college - how students, all initially complete strangers, get to be so close in such a quick period of time. You feel so welcomed by each other and wan to share in your common experience. The freshman dorm senior prefects are with the freshmen throughout this whole experience so they serve as the go-between with the freshmen and the concept of the school population. By the time regular school hours begin, you know each other so well that there is not a problem with fitting into the community as a whole - you do it together as a class. Throughout the year the freshmen continue to be pretty isolated because they must be involved in the horse program during their sports time - but that is all good for fostering class spirit. By the time they become sophomores they are ready to tackle the school head on with full enthusiasm.
2.) Describe the level of diversity and integration of students in your school:
The school is so small that you forget any racial boundaries you may have created at home. It shocked me to see students at Stanford tending to socialize with members of their own ethnic groups, because all through high school I had completely ignored it. Critical mass (in terms of proportion of school population) is important in branching off as a separate group from the norm of students, but with Thacher's size you rarely see groups separating off from the core. This is not to say that there is no support structure for students who vary from the "typical" upper middle class white boarding school student. Our diversity numbers attest to the fact that we have many students from lots of backgrounds and ethnic groups that help lead in students from their background into integration with the school. To give you some perspective: I am white, my best friend is half-Navajo, and a couple of my other close friends are Chicano and African-American. We do have an overrepresentation of whites, but that is frankly the nature of the boarding school beast. Our admissions department actively recruits capable students from many different backgrounds to keep bringing more people into the school that would not typically be able to. Like most schools, we work closely with A Better Chance to place kids like this. Unfortunately our endowment is not large enough for our financial aid to cover every student who needs it - but the current development campaign is working to make this possible.
3.) Describe typical fun activities you did on a weekend:
The Indoor Committee is in charge of organizing activities especially for each night - it could be a party held by a specific dorm (known as "open houses") or trips into neighboring cities or school-wide dances. Yet there is one rock-solid thing in the weekend program: the Mully's open house. Mr. Mulligan, our fabulous headmaster, and his wife, Ms. Sawyer-Mulligan and their daughter, Annie, and dog, Pennie, open their house every Saturday night to the entire school. We bake cookies, we watch movies in their family room, we turn their living room into a dance floor or twister game central. There is always a game of Jenga and often a guitar being played. Even when Mully (our name for Mr. Mulligan) is off campus or Ms. Mully is picking Annie up from somewhere the show must go on, and the students respectfully hold the Open House anyway. Traditions like Valentines Card contests and the Mangled Spoon Kitchen Helper awards make the nights great. I know it sounds hokey and I have a hard time convincing my friends at Stanford that it beats a clandestine kegger at a house when the parents are away - but it's true. Thacher alums come back for the Open Houses - you wouldn't want to be anywhere else.
4.) What was the town like?
There is a "town runs" bus every Wednesday and Saturday into the town of Ojai that is 5 miles away from campus. It runs on a regular schedule and allows students to go to movies, various stores and the supermarket on their own schedules. Our Wednesday academic schedule is shortened to facilitate our athletic teams in competing in games without disrupting their classes (we make up for the lost time by not observing traditional holidays by taking classtime off) so members of teams without games can use the town-runs bus on that day. Also, our student-faculty relationships come in handy if you have a desire to go into Ojai or the neighboring cities of Ventura and Santa Barbara. Faculty who are not busy are more than willing to take you on your errands - and you may see a kiddie soccer game along the way! Additionally the Indoor Committee (the student affairs group that arranges social activities) often plans weekend bus trips to Ventura or Santa Barbara to go shopping or to the movies. There is a one screen movie theater in Ojai owned by a Thacher family so many students will go see various films there - or go to the cities for more diverse selections. Ojai is also a resort destination for many Los Angeles folks so there are a lot of interesting restaurants around the town - and advisors are encouraged to take their advisees off campus to dinners at the various restaurants. Most advisee groups have about four dinners per semester.

Daily Schedule:

7:15 AMGet up. Take a quick shower and throw on clothes.
7:30 AMBreakfast check-in at the dining hall with the weekly TOAD (Teacher on Active Duty)
8:00 AMAP Statistics
8:45 AMFree Period
9:45 AMAP Spanish Literature
10:30 AMAll-School Assembly. It's Monday so the TOAD gives a talk on something meaningful to him/her. Then general announcements
11:00 AMLunch
11:45 AMAP English Elective
12:30 AMIntermediate Studio Art - Oil Painting
1:30 PMFree Period
2:15 PMAP Physics C
3:00 PMEnd of classes - general socializing, then back to the dorm to get ready for sports.
3:30 PMSports period - I'm in the Dance Ensemble.
5:00 PMBack to the dorm to shower and get ready for Formal Dinner
6:00 PMFormal Dinner (boys where coat and tie and girls wear similarly appropriate outfits. All sit at assigned tables with faculty and familites - tables are rotated every few weeks)
6:45 PMFree socializing time - hang out in dining hall, outside or within dorm areas.
7:30 PMStudy Hall. Freshmen and sophomores study in their rooms, juniors must be in academic areas, seniors may not disrupt those in academic endeavors.
9:30 PMFree time - hang out in the SUB (student union building) or around dorm areas - usually outside.
10:00 PMCheck in with your prefect in the dorm
12:00 PMAll seniors must return to their dorms for the night - all on the honor system
10:00 AMGet up. Go to brunch in the dining hall in my PJs - eat lots of good food and hang out with classmates for a while
12:00 AMLeave the dining hall pleasantly full - planning my day with friends.
12:30 AMTake the town-runs bus into Ojai to pick up some groceries and buy a friend a birthday present.
1:45 PMGet back from town - drop off stuff in my room and hang around the dorm a bit.
2:30 PMGo watch the JV Girls play a basketball game against Ojai Valley School. I was on the team a few years so I always go support them.
4:00 PMSwitch location from the gym and go catch the end of a great Varsity Boys Soccer match against Cate (our rival) - we win of course.
4:30 PMReturn to dorm, read a little for my English class, take a shower.
5:45 PMHead over to get some dinner - this is one of the three nights when we don't have formal dinner.
7:00 PMDo a little more reading, check my email and probably call my parents to say hi.
8:30 PMHead over to the Mully's for another Open House - I love to eat the freshly baked cookies.
11:00 PMCheck in with prefects in the dorm - seniors are allowed to wander afterwards.
1:00 AMAll seniors must be in the dorms - on the honor system as well.

Alumni Reviews
  Review School

  • Review Description
  • The Thacher School Alumni #1
    Class of 2017
    5 Stars   10/24/2017
    Pitzer College
    The tight knit community is a really rare quality at high schools in general but especially boarding schools. The relationships with teachers and students is so close and the fact that there is very few. . .
  • The Thacher School Alumni #2
    Class of 2017
    5 Stars   10/24/2017
    University of Montana
    The horse department at Thacher is both unique and outstanding. Unique because the school strives to keep the cowboy culture alive with over 100 horses and a fully outfitted western riding center. It is outstanding. . .
  • The Thacher School Alumni #3
    Class of 2017
    5 Stars   10/23/2017
    I loved Thacher because of the deep, respectful, and genuine connections in the community. Students, faculty, and staff were all so supportive to ensure I was the happiest and most challenged I could be. During. . .
  • The Thacher School Alumni #4
    Class of 2017
    5 Stars   11/19/2017
    Yale University
    You cannot mention Thacher without talking about the horse program; each freshman is required to take care of and ride a horse for the first year of high school. I rode all four years and. . .
  • The Thacher School Alumni #5
    Class of 2016
    5 Stars   11/19/2017
    Dartmouth College
    One thing that makes Thacher unique are the opportunities to form close, meaningful relationships with teachers and its commitment to helping students grow personally as well as academically. Whether it's out in the Domelands wilderness. . .
  • Show more reviews (20 reviews)
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