A boarding school, in the 21st century? With all boys? And starting as young as middle school? Isn’t that a bit…old-fashioned?
As families evaluate their son’s middle school options, many of them reject the idea of junior boarding school because of what their friends and family might think. But despite the somewhat anachronistic reputation boarding schools enjoy among those who haven’t fully researched their benefits, there are a number of good reasons to keep an open mind.
We spoke with Judy Gobbi, Director of Residential Life here at The Fessenden School, about some of the reasons parents choose to send their sons to an all-boys junior boarding school. As Judy sees it, there is no single leading reason families choose to enroll their sons here. “Everybody has a different reason for looking at junior boarding schools,” she says.
Whatever has led you to consider junior boarding school for your son, odds are, many other families have had the same experience.
According to Judy, here are three of the most common reasons parents choose junior boarding school for their son:
1. For a Greater Academic Challenge
According to the Junior Boarding School Association, “During the middle school years, the range of student ability becomes more pronounced as course content becomes increasingly involved and complex.”
Given the resources available to them, it’s impossible for some local schools to cater individually to the academic needs of their full range of students, from those that need extra help to those who crave an advanced challenge. Those in the latter group may start to feel bored and disengage from academics.
“Research shows that our schools are consistently failing to provide opportunities for top students to realize their potential,” writes education writer and former teacher Samantha Cleaver in Scholastic Teacher. “We are teaching to the bottom half of our classes with perhaps devastating ramifications.”
At a junior boarding school like Fessenden, on the other hand, the highest achieving students (and the lowest, for that matter) are never bored. Small class sizes allow teachers to customize their curriculum to the needs and goals of individual students. Teachers encourage intellectual curiosity and academic risk-taking, emphasizing the importance of developing independent learning skills. Students are celebrated by their teachers and classmates for reaching their full academic potential.
In addition to advanced courses like Algebra II, Pre-Calculus, and Programming & Robotics, junior boarding school students at Fessenden have access to more modern learning resources than most local schools, including a library with more than 20,000 items and the Ciongoli Center for Innovation, a cutting-edge technology workspace outfitted with tools like a laser cutter and a 3D printer.
2. For the Benefits of an All-Boys Environment
If you’re a parent of middle school aged boy, you don’t have to be told; boys at this age can be more than a little rambunctious. In a coed middle school, this can be a problem. Boys and girls develop differently and have different learning styles. Almost necessarily, these schools have to temper the natural energy of boys to maintain order in the classroom.
“For some families, the reason they choose junior boarding school is because they have a precocious, ‘rough and tumble’ boy, who seems to be getting off track every once in awhile in a coed middle school,” Judy says.
Boisterousness is not only accepted at an all-boys junior boarding school like Fessenden, it’s planned for. Teachers integrate hands-on, active learning into all of our classrooms, channeling boys’ boisterous energy into educational opportunities.
And there’s a reason one of Fessenden’s enduring logos is the image of a running boy. It’s not unusual to see teachers leading their students on a lap around campus or a round of jumping jacks to burn off energy before getting back to learning.
This doesn’t mean there’s no place for quieter, more contemplative boys. They thrive in this environment, as well. One of the key benefits of a good, all-boys school is that it works for all kinds of boys. As one Fessenden parent put it, “It’s given them confidence, the confidence to pursue their interests and desires without feeling pressure to conform to a single path.”
3. Because There Are Advantages to Having a Partner in Parenting
No matter how hard you try as a parent, there are always distractions which make it difficult to give your son as much attention as you would like.
Maybe you and your spouse both have demanding careers. Maybe you have to travel frequently for work. Maybe you’re caring for an aging or ailing parent. Whatever the case, a junior boarding school can help you give your son the individualized attention he deserves.
“A junior boarding school can step in and offer new ways to help boys with study skills, life skills, and so on,” Judy says. “They can serve the parents in a supportive role.”
This doesn’t mean allowing a school to raise your children for you. At Fessenden, we are proud to be partners in parenting. In fact, many parents tell us their family bonds strengthened as a result of their son joining us.
“I think sometimes when both parents have their own careers, they can’t spend as much time as they would like with their sons because of the demands of their jobs,” Judy notes. “For some of those parents, if they happen to live nearby, what a great opportunity to consider five-day boarding. Their son can be here from Sunday night or Monday morning through Friday while everybody’s off at work, and then they can have quality time on the weekends with their family.”
Why are you considering junior boarding school?
These are only three of the reasons families choose an all-boys junior boarding school like Fessenden. There are many more (for example, top-notch athletic facilities and the chance to compete at the highest level in their age groups or a robust performing and visual arts program). Why do you think junior boarding school is a good fit for your son? Let us—and the other parents reading this post—know in the comments section.