December 10, 2018
There was a time when boarding schools were attended primarily by children of the rich and famous, but changes in educational philosophy, socioeconomics, and family structure have rendered that reality obsolete. Today most boarding schools in the U.S. have foregone elitism in favor of ethnic, educational, and economic diversity. And for kids with learning differences there are more choices now than ever before.
If your local school provides small classes with individualized learning options, optimal study and test-taking skill development, appropriate social situations, and exciting extracurricular opportunities, you probably don’t need to look for a residential school. If, however, you think that there is room for improvement in any of those categories, the right boarding school may enrich your child’s life.
Where to Begin
Each school has a mission statement that defines its philosophy. The first step is to seek out those institutions that mesh with your philosophy. The online directory from The Association of Boarding Schools (TABS) (www.boardingschools.com) provides information on hundreds of schools and allows you to tailor your search to your child’s needs and wants (location, size, school type, support programs, etc.).
It’s a great starting point, but the real decision-making begins with an open discussion with your child in which you explore wants and needs.
The Setting Counts
A child who prefers having access to a city may be uncomfortable in a rural setting. When you tour or interview, make sure that your child sees the dorms and the dining hall. Strike up conversations with students about sports and social life as well as academics.
Respect your child’s wishes. Most children know what helps them learn and what hinders them. Sometimes even the idea of a dress code makes a school intolerable. Remember that a student who isn’t comfortable in an environment won’t be available for learning. Keep an open mind, and don’t judge a school by one student with blue hair.
Be a Smart Shopper
Education is a product and you are the consumer. Before making a final decision, make sure that you are completely aware of your child’s unique needs. Be able to document and discuss them with school personnel. Look for challenging academics, and ample support if difficulties arise.
The real picture of the school may be less idyllic than the photos on the website depict.
Ask about the disciplinary process, and be certain that the school culture does not contradict the moral code that sustains your child. Ask about study hall, dorm life, teasing, bullying, hazing, racism, smoking, substance abuse, and length of faculty appointments.
A Worthwhile Tradeoff
Although it may be difficult to send your child away, the rewards often outweigh the initial reluctance on the part of the student or parent. A successful boarding school experience can provide your child with academic enrichment and enduring friendships while fostering initiative, independence, and self-confidence—all of which may help put your child on a path to lifelong productivity.
P.S. Once she’s made the break, help ensure success by sending care packages and goodies from home. They’re as integral to a boarding school diploma as four years of English.