The AJC has an interesting story today on the rise in Southern families sending their children to boarding schools.
According to the story, Boarding school enrollment at schools in the Southeast rose 8 percent since 2010, according to the National Association of Independent Schools. Member schools in the region have more than 2,200 students. Nationally, enrollment increased about 1.1 percent to nearly 22,200 students in the same period.
My oldest attended boarding school on a merit scholarship that paid for everything including summer travel. It was an unsettling experience to put a 14-year-old on a plane, but it ended up being a wonderful opportunity for her. It changed her life in many positive ways, including introducing her to the wonderful young man she married two months ago.
Boarding school made my daughter resourceful and capable, able to book her own plane flights at age 16 and cope with eight-hour plane delays with no panicked calls to me. But I found the schools work best for kids who start out independent and motivated. There’s an assumption that boarding schools serve students who need a lot of guidance or are heading down on a risky path, but I found the opposite. The strong academic schools want students who bring few problems. My daughter’s school sent wrongdoers packing fairly quickly – being caught with drugs was an immediate ticket home. The good schools have waiting lists, so they aren’t financially compelled to keep problem students.
I wish that boarding school was a more realistic option for promising students from low-income households. There are many kids who would benefit from leaving behind not only their schools, but their communities, if those communities are dangerous or disdainful of the value of education.
The documentary “Waiting for Superman” showcased the SEED School, a public boarding school in Washington. The school says 91 percent of its students who enter in ninth grade graduate. It also says that 96 percent of its grads are accepted into four-year colleges and universities.
In the documentary, 11-year-old Anthony Black is admitted to this unique public boarding school off of the waiting list. In the film’s most poignant moment, Anthony arrives at the school, unpacks and tapes a photo of his late father, who died from drugs, to his dormitory wall. I am delighted to see on this video update from the filmmaker that Anthony is now in seventh grade and doing well at SEED.
Boarding schools offer the same benefit of any private school: a cohort that is, for the most part, eager to excel. I did not find great differences in the quality of teaching or the rigor between my daughter’s private school and the local high school attended by my son. Both kids were well prepared for college.
However, a stark difference was class size; she had 12 to 16 kids in classes. He had 23 to 27. And student involvement differed in dramatic ways. Boarding schools typically mandate after-school activities, so there is a wider variety of programs and sports and every student is involved in one or more. Few kids can disappear into the crowd or go unnoticed in a boarding school setting.
My daughter encourages her 12-year-old twin siblings to consider applying for scholarships to boarding school, but they are not as independent as she was at their age, in part because she was 11 when they were born and took on a lot of responsibilities for herself and her younger brother.
And that’s fine with me. I am happy to keep these last two closer to home.
–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog