Diversity and “Sense of Place”

compressed_flags-with-boy-looking-at-them (1)Diversity of the student population is an important consideration when exploring junior boarding schools, or any school for that matter. While some parents value the opportunity for their sons to live and learn with students from different backgrounds and viewpoints, others are more concerned that their boys have the company of local classmates, fearing that they’ll otherwise be left out if international students clique together.

So what is the right balance between a global educational experience and a school with a sense of local identity? For parents, that question is somewhat subjective. We recently spoke with Jack Cecil, a current Fessenden parent, about the role that “diversity” played in his and his wife’s decision to send their sons to Fessenden.

Living in a fairly homogenous small town in Western North Carolina, Sarah and Jack knew none of the local schools would be able to give their boys the mind-broadening experience that comes with having a diverse student body. So when touring junior boarding schools, having a level of diversity that their home town lacked (financial, racial, national, religious etc.) was important factor.

Why Diversity is Important

Jack likens exposure to a diverse student body as being a bit like learning to ski or studying a language. At a young age, boys internalize what they see, hear and experience—and they never forget it.

By constantly interacting with boys from other states and different countries, students at Fessenden become “culturally agnostic,” a state in which being around others with vastly different outlooks, social values, customs, and religious beliefs is simply normal. As parents who both previously worked internationally, they believe that one of the best things they can do to help prepare their sons for adulthood is to foster their ability to interact and work collegially and collaboratively with people from different backgrounds.

Diversity Within Diversity Matters

Many junior boarding schools boast a “diverse” boarding community, but one of the reasons the Cecils were particularly drawn to Fessenden was the diversity among international and domestic students. At Fessenden, the  Admissions team makes a concerted effort to enroll boarding students from a variety of countries around the world and a multiplicity of states across the US. This gives boys the opportunity to learn from the broadest range of experiences possible.

Too Much of a Good Thing?

DSC_0250There is certainly a difference between sending your son to a boarding school without day students–where all of the students come from different cities and countries–and sending him to a day and boarding school that enrolls local students. While on paper, mixed boarding-day schools may appear “less diverse,” their sons have had the added benefit of a strong “sense of place” – a local, supportive community. Boarding students from out of state (or from out of the country) often go home with their friends from the greater Boston area on the weekends or stay with local families over the holidays.

The Cecils note, “At Fessenden, a boarding student from North Carolina can learn about the life and culture of Russia from their Russian roommate, spend evenings and have stay-overs at a home with another classmate in West Newton, meet parents of a teammate who attended the Boy’s Club of New York and enjoy a vacation with another friend and their family in Florida. Not only does this make for a rich social life, it also gives students the sense that multicultural inclusivity is the norm and helps them learn to respect and identify with one another’s social attributes.”

Different Strokes

At The Fessenden School, we’ve been very deliberate in the way we balance diversity within the admissions applicant pool and the overall sense of inclusion within the school community. We realize our particular approach might not be for everyone, but for Cecil family, it works wonderfully well. Perhaps the best way to assess any school’s inclusive approach is to visit, take a tour and see for yourself.

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