Boarding school: Wish it was an option for more kids

His selection into a public boarding school changed Anthony Black's life, as this photo with President Obama shows. (White House)
His selection into a public boarding school changed Anthony Black’s life, as this photo with President Obama shows. (White House)

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

26 comments Add your comment

Good Mother

December 19th, 2011
11:31 am

I can’t imagine sending my kids to live away from me for something other than an extreme hardship such as if I was dying of cancer and couldn’t care for them.

Eighteen is too soon for many children to go off to college and live on their own, at fourteen, it is just unthinkable.

If we are turning over our children to live with and be cared for by strangers, then what is the point of being a parent at all?

Tonya C.

December 19th, 2011
11:47 am

I would love to do this, especially for my oldest. I believe the greater independence children are taught young the better. Each child is different, and I can’t say I would use this option for my middle child, but who knows?

I am trying to get a scholarship for my son to go to sleepaway camp,so it is good to know that financial aid exists for these types of opportunities.

William Casey

December 19th, 2011
1:41 pm

I’m glad that I kept my son at home attending Northview. I wouldn’t trade watching him grow into a man for anything in the world.


December 19th, 2011
2:32 pm

Unless the home envoronment is truly disasterous, children belong at home, not shipped off to some schoold for strangers to raise.

Of Course

December 19th, 2011
2:50 pm

Why would you want to send your children away? If that’s what you want to do with them, why did you even bother to have kids. I think boarding school is for selfish parents who don’t want to raise their kids.


December 19th, 2011
2:54 pm

It all depends on the kid. I’m almost 40 but I went to a boarding school for my junior and senior years. It was a school I has to take the SAT as part of the application process. My teachers had PhD’s and the format was much like college. We had a girls dorm and a boys dorm and very strict rules for conduct. We also went home once a month for a long weekend. Our breaks during and between semesters was also much like college. So it wasn’t like I was never home. And I was home in the summer.

By the time I went my parents had done all they could do to instill their idea of morality into me. Because, honestly, if your kid doesn’t have it by age 15/16 they’re never going to get it.

So off I went, with the values and lessons my parents had instilled, and I had the best time and I was exposed to a much more rigorous education. And, I was able to go on a trip to Russia, right after the fall of the Soviet Union.

And this was a public boarding school. Tuition wasn’t high and free for those who qualified.

If my son had this opportunity and wanted to do it, I’d let him. Afterall, this is one decision you can always re-do, if it looks like your child isn’t succeeding in the way you would like.

I know my parents were scared but they took the chance and it was a success.


December 19th, 2011
3:00 pm

I think for many, it is a great idea.

Ole Guy

December 19th, 2011
3:04 pm

My first “boarding school” experience started on a fine day, back in 64′, when Mom and Dad tearfuly waved me off, on a Grayhound, bound for Benning School For Boys. Upon arrival, I, along with a few hundred scared kids, was told that the “nice man” in the “Round Brown” would be “my mother and my father” for the next 8 weeks…WE WERE SO RELIEVED!

Hillbilly D

December 19th, 2011
5:01 pm

Unless the home environment is truly disasterous, children belong at home, not shipped off to some school for strangers to raise.

That pretty much sums up my view.

I guess my version of “boarding school” was spending most of each summer with my grandparents. Learned more about life and the world from listening to them, than I ever did in school.

Another Comment

December 19th, 2011
5:11 pm

I really don’t know if Riverside Military Academy is anywhere in the same class as the Conn. Boarding schools mentioned in the article. My ex-husband went to Riverside, it is clear from him and everyone of his buddies that I ever met that it was a school for “trouble makers”. If I had known that I would have avoid him and ran the other way. He even has is demerits posted on his facebook page today. Along with pictures of the other Riverwood loosers.

I went to college up North with kids who went to the boarding schools mentioned. A girl down the hall from me went to the one in Wallingford, Conn., She was a rich kid whose parents traveled all the time. Another guy I knew went to Hodgekiss and his father turned out to be the President or CEO of US Sugar. He came to college with no alarm clock or anything. He was used to be told when to get up in the morning. The guys thought he was poor, until he hitched a ride home for the Holidays and they found the Mansion and then figured out what Daddy did. He also had borrowed money from all the guys in the dorm at college. Everything was paid for at Boarding School. On the otherhand they did have good stories about the Kennedy children and other politican children who were at boarding school with them.

Hillbilly D

December 19th, 2011
5:22 pm

Another Comment

Most everybody who’s lived in North Georgia for awhile, knows that about RMA.

Oh My!!!

December 19th, 2011
6:23 pm

I would say it is good for some kids. It gives them a shot at independence and also gives them an idea of what it is to be responsible for laundry, eating and getting up on time without mom and dad directing their every move.


December 19th, 2011
6:27 pm

The only kids I know who have gone to boarding school were about to get in serious trouble. I would never have sent mine off, although it would have made my life a lot easier; it would also have been a lot poorer in ways in addition to money.

The church denomination I visit is very aggressive about sending kids off to church boarding school, as young as 6 although most are sent to boarding school by the time they start high school. I cannot understand the thinking on this–that strangers are better to raise your children? But it is very common within the denomination.

Ed Johnson

December 19th, 2011
6:32 pm

@Old Guy,

Wow! You had “Round Brown,” too? So did I, but at Jackson School for Boys, ’66. Enjoyed the heck out of it!

Dick Cheney

December 19th, 2011
6:35 pm

Caught the blog headline on the fly, just wanted to remind everyone I still strongly support boarding. A school that actually teaches boarding – Dude! And no, boarding is not torture.

S Dunn

December 19th, 2011
8:10 pm

Riverside is no longer known for “troublemakers”. They are a college Prep school. My son goes there and he has never caused any trouble anywhere. We sent him there as his local public school is so large he just got lost in the crowd. If you are not a star athlete or star student, the teachers did not know who you were. At Riverside, everyone knows who you are and the students get alot of individual attention. It was the hardest thing I ever did to send my son to boarding school, but I did it for HIM, not because I am selfish, it is the best opportunity for HIM. His growth has been incredible.

Chris Clontz

December 20th, 2011
8:51 am

People who make negative comments about Riverside or the boys who attend the school, are out of touch with what the school is all about. This school teaches, in addition to the standard college prep curriculum, all the facets of leadership, respect and discipline, and character development. There is no other school that knows and teaches to boys better! This institution is an asset to our state both in terms of its beautiful campus, its staff and the academic offerings. I am a proud mother of a Riverside cadet, and would be happy to talk to any parent considering Riverside for the their son’s education.

Rachel M

December 20th, 2011
10:35 am

My son is in his 5th year at Riverside and I assure you he is no “troublemaker”. No more than any young man that attends a public school. RMA’s model of teaching is geared for how boys learn, which is different from how girls learn. We believe in single gender education and the approach of developing the whole boy. The Honor code is taught and lived. “I will not lie, steal or cheat nor will I tolerate those that do”. When you break the Honor code, there are consequences. I am certain public schools don’t/won’t do that. When the idea was presented to me five years ago, I was shallow minded and thought “I could never send my son to a military school”, after tons of research, I found that RMA is NOT a correctional facility but more over a school that allows a young man to get out what he puts into his own growth. Every person on staff at RMA is dedicated to these young men. I live 17 miles from the school and I am there every chance I get. Our family has observed our son grow in ways that I could have never imagined. RMA cadets are respectful, polite, engaging and confident. I am proud to have son that attends RMA and would be happy to share more info if you should be interested.

Ole Guy

December 20th, 2011
3:56 pm

Ed, it was RounBrowns first, followed by Black Hats at Jump School followed by the “Friendly TACs” at OCS…followed by (Mr) Victor Charles. I only enjoyed the heck out of it when I stepped off that Freedom Bird onto terra firma USA!

Good to hear from you, Bro!

Ole Guy

December 20th, 2011
4:04 pm

To the good folks whose sons are in attendance at Riverside: This experience provides, for your sons, an excellent opportunity to develop their leadership skills. As their peers see your sons’ enthusiasm, esprit, and tenacity toward achieving goals, this will become “infectious” and spread throughout the entire Corps of Cadets. Good luck to your young men!

Ole Guy

December 20th, 2011
4:28 pm

Rachel, it is a fine thing, through your frequent visits to campus, that you support your son’s venture into manhood. However, you may wish to consider “throttling back” on the frequency of contact. You are, quite obviously, a familiar, if not loving presence. part of your son’s experience in developing into an independant, responsible adult rests on his “inner strengths”…his resolve to self-direct with confidence. Give him a chance to do so in your periodic absence. The weekends…the periods of “freewheeling” in the absence of strict regimentation, provide an excellent opportunity for your son to learn just who, and what he is. Give him (loving) space!

Frances Pitchon

December 22nd, 2011
6:12 am

It’s a shame the author did not bother to call Riverside Military Academy and ask for an informational interview or even bother to look at the Riverside Military Academy website as her statement about Riverside is gravely misguided. We chose Riverside for our son for three reasons: 1. We wanted a boys’ oriented education: Education is failing boys as shown by the skewed number of girls obtaining the top grades and academic awards and going onto college while boys are lagging farther and farther behind. Our last straw at a co-ed school was when our son was assigned “Rebecca” by Daphne Du Maurier for his 9th grade Honors English class. I mean really? How is a 14 year-old boy to relate to a victorian novel centered around female angst? 2. We wanted strong leadership training for our son: Not only how to take responsibility for his actions but also self confidence and pride in all he does starting with a firm handshake and expanding into a host of responsibilities from fellow students to community service to daily school related activities. 3. We wanted an efficient, well run school with easy access to teachers and administrators: We were tired of the politics and lack of action surrounding his old school. At Riverside teacher-parent communication is highly encouraged, the administration, including the President is happy take time to chat with us, and communication is upfront and open. There is also a very clear accounting of where school funds are spent with careful consideration of how funds are used. Check out the President’s blog on the school website. Riverside does have a more open admissions policy than the Connecticut boarding schools. This is because they believe many boys are underachieving in our current educational system. However if the student does not get on board with the program including good grades and following the honor code and school protocol, they are not invited back. On a side note, Col. Benson, the school President, is strongly committed to education and very concerned with the current state of our public schools. Who wouldn’t be with the current cheating scandal in the Atlanta public school? Many Riverside students are on scholarship including a number of outstanding boys who have been “saved” from Atlanta’s failing public schools. Stating Riverside is a school for “troubled” boys does everyone a misservice as it could lead parents to miss an excellent educational option for their sons.

Ole Guy

December 22nd, 2011
11:50 pm

Ms Pitchon, it is my guess that those who would cast ill-founded statements upon such a fine institution are actually in awe of such fine educational leadership which is able to provide youth with a goal-oriented approach to their academic, as well as their personal lives, and, in fact, can see that the two are, indeed, interdependant.

Good luck to your Son!

N. GA Teacher

December 23rd, 2011
10:49 pm

I am a career public school teacher, but boarding schools are a great idea for some kids. Traditionally boarders came from ultra-rich European families that sent children “away” to great schools far away. In America, despite the new availability of nearby public or private schools, this class of people (who, don’t kid yourselves, wish to remain distinctive and exclusive) continued this tradition, only now it served more their upper-class adult social needs, such as seasonal moves and lavish events. William and Katherine can now move to Palm Beach in the winter and not have to worry about the daily school trials of Biff and Muffy. Not that they don’t care about their kids-they DO, but in a culturally foreign way to the way the other 99.9% do! They seem to have less need for the emotional dependency the rest of us have, probably because money security takes care of a lot of issues that force other families to behave in different ways. Then there are the OTHER reasons: the schools the kids attend ARE great. The McCallie school in Chattanooga is a perfect example. Second, some schools, like military prep academies, DO offer unique environments that greatly benefit a child who just can’t seem to “get it” in a traditional home setting or in a disfunctional home. The inner-city New York school is a great example, but that is externally funded and simply cannot, be replicated on the large scale it needs to. It is VERY sad that so many of our inner city kids WILL be left behind NOT by the schools they attend (a public misnomer) but by the families and environment they return to every day.


December 24th, 2011
8:17 am

By the time our children were 16, we didn’t see very much of them. Their whole world revolved around their friends. The same was true for me when I was that age, and also for my wife. I can’t speak for the rest of you, but a boarding school probably would have worked well for any of our family at that age.

Ole Guy

December 24th, 2011
3:05 pm

N. Ga Teach, try not to exude the “hero of the working class” mentality…I completely agree that many families, of means, send “Biff and Muffy” to the “finnest” schools so that they may be free to sun in Palm Beach during those “dreadful” months in Boston Blue Blood Country, however (if you really think about it), many parents are not willing to allow the little ones the opportunity to “grow from within”; to learn to become self-sufficient; to come to realize that they can actually function in the absence of Mom and Dad hovering over their every move. Observe the multitudes of parents who: create long long lines of traffic simply to drop off and pick up the little ones at school’s front door step…observe the many many parents who twist the arms of both teachers and principals in an effort to “get that TOTALLY UNEARNED “A”, when the kid actually performs at or near the failing level. Parents…whether they realize it or not…have created, within their kids, a “dependancy factor”. How many kids, in high school, are able to function in an independant mode? During the later part of the 60s/into the 70s, 18-to-early twenty-somethings flew helicopters into combat (often times, this experience came within 18-to-24 months following high school graduation); the very same age group assumed responsibilities for kids, oftentimes younger than they, who were called upon to venture into harm’s way. This generation, as many before, HAD TO GROW UP, and do so fast, not because they necessarily wanted to, but because they HAD to.

The kids to whom you refer, Teach, do not have to; are not allowed to experience the trials of growing up. While of means, “Biff and Muffy” must still learn to function in the absence of “Mummy and Father” in attendance. They must learn to live, with both peers and their seniors, while observing the “rules of the house”. Many parents, however, are too unsure of themselves; to unsure of their “little ones” actually being able to “figure things out for themselves” without parental input.