Boarding School: The Unexpected Choice

Tuesday, October 12, 2021

Barbara Scott, Executive Director, Parents League of New York

I am a former boarding school parent. And, like many boarding school parents today, I did not attend such a school myself. In fact, growing up in the New Jersey suburbs in the shadow of a major university, independent school kids, whether boarding or day, generally seemed exotic. While my same age peers endured many of the same trials of adolescence, they seemed different in the way visiting a new country seems both intimidating and exciting all at once. So, when I became a parent in New York City and faced decision points around the education of my own children, I had only a vague sense of what sending a child to independent boarding school might entail.

As a public school kid, my own education provided good academic and social challenges. I was fortunate to reside in a place where most families were highly educated, if only because university towns attract academics and others who want their kids in rich intellectual environments. My high school class was not typical of the segregated classrooms so many families face today. It was a diverse setting where we shared ideas, connected opportunities and tested our limits in the most desirable ways. It was also a school environment where it was safe to make mistakes and a time where the stakes for growing up did not seem nearly as high.

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In choosing boarding school for my own children, I entered a school culture with unfamiliar rules and traditions. Thus, I focused on finding a place that would keep my children safe, challenge them intellectually and encourage them to grow into good people.  After all, I had already chosen a sleep-away camp whose motto is “help the other fellow.”  What surprised me about applying to boarding school was the independence my eldest child showed in researching schools, writing essays and showing up for interviews with authenticity. In education, we speak a good deal about process, but this was a journey and a serious process rolled into one. I learned a lot about my child and myself along the way.

I always say that parenting is the toughest job I will ever have. The job description reads something like: Long hours, little pay, patience and good humor needed. No training required, bedtime reading skills preferred and willingness to fail and learn from your mistakes.  What I have learned about boarding school is that some kids will thrive and meet opportunities they may never be afforded elsewhere. My children made life-long friends with whom they remain connected post-college and they had teachers who saw them for who they were, much of the time. Each eagerly engaged in sports, academics and other programs that gave them a sense of belonging and graduated with social skills they have brought with them into young adult life. They are kind, loyal and considerate of others, not just because of my parenting but also because living in a residential community as a teen teaches many life lessons.

In watching my children and their peers I have also learned that some kids need a longer runway for growing up, so entering boarding school at 10th or 11th grade or for a post-graduate year are good options. Some students need programs that are small and intimate while others are comfortable being on a campus with a student population the size of a small college. What I know for sure is that the teenage years can be joyful but also hard. Trust your gut and find the place that has the programs, values and practices your family desires. Then call regularly even if your kid doesn’t answer the phone and visit whenever you can.

 

Considering boarding school for your child? Come to our Boarding School Virtual Fair and Admissions Panel starting October 18th! Register Here.