When families explore the idea of boarding school at the middle school level, questions–and, sometimes, eyebrows–are raised. It’s an emotional decision, charged with concerns about a boy’s academic experience and personal support. If you’re a parent in this position, here are three factors you’ll want to be sure to consider.
- Support in “the quiet moments.” It’s true: A middle-school-aged boy is rarely quiet. Rambunctious and energetic, he’s taking enormous developmental leaps–both physically and mentally–at a rapid pace. It’s easy to notice him in these moments as he runs down the soccer field, answers a question in math class, or jokes with his friends at the lunch table. But, what happens in the unscheduled time–in the quiet moments between class and practice, dinner and bedtime, high-fives and hang-outs? In a typical day setting, a boy is lucky if he has a classroom teacher who “gets” him–who not only teaches him, but makes an impression and inspires him. If he’s very lucky, he might have a coach who fulfills the same role. But in a junior boarding school, a boy is surrounded by caring, interested adults who are not only experts in their fields, but are experts in understanding and supporting boys’ development. These adults are part of a community, and someone is always there–even in the quiet moments, and even for boys who aren’t traditionally “star achievers.” And they provide support and connections not just at the “highlights” of a boy’s school experience, but in the quiet moments, as well–which is often when he needs support the most.
- Weekends. Most junior boarding schools offer several options for weekend activities (and some offer more than 20!). The important thing for families to weigh here is not so much the fact that activities are available (to keep boys occupied, energized, and entertained), but that the depth and breadth of offerings go far beyond what the average boy can access or experience at home. Many junior boarding schools are located in rural environments, affording easy access to outdoor activities like skiing, hiking, biking, and other sports. Schools in a more suburban location can offer the best of both worlds: the space and access to the outdoors, and the proximity to world class cities that offer artistic, cultural, and historical opportunities (not to mention fantastic restaurants and sports teams). While your son will be having the time of his life, we also think these trips and experiences can be a pretty valuable part of his education.
- The impact of the campus visit. A school’s viewbook, website, videos, and photos are necessities. They give families a first impression and sketch the elements that make up the school experience. But they’re only a start. (And, let’s admit it: no school is going to show photos of that science lab that needs updating, the dorm that needs renovating, or the boy who just learned that he flunked his science exam.) The campus visit is an integral part of the boarding school decision-making process, and often sways families one way or the other. They see firsthand the character of the boys. Engaged, excited, and polite young men speak volumes about a school’s approach, academics, and community. It’s great to observe classes and see teachers in action–not just to assess the caliber of the academics, but to watch how they engage each and every student. It’s helpful to meet actual students who welcome you and hold the door open–but it’s invaluable to watch them when they think you aren’t looking. If you’re considering a junior boarding school, give it a test drive: visit, observe a class, stay the night. You’ll likely learn all you need to know to make your decision. After all, you can’t shake hands with a viewbook.