By Gavin Atkins
Some of the very best boarding schools in the world are to be found in the United States. A common feature of these outstanding schools is the very low number of students per teacher and the excellent facilities. The other big reason you may consider a US boarding school is that they all have outstanding track records when it comes to placing students in American colleges or universities. Otherwise, these schools are amazingly diverse. The following list is offered as a step by step guide as to how to make this choice, followed by a selection of some of the top boarding schools in the United States.
Plan ahead: Finding someone who will not only take care of your child, but provide the platform for their education for the rest of their life is one of the most important decisions you will ever make. For this reason, it is best not to make any hurried decisions.
Thanks to the Internet, it is possible to find out a great deal about a school before even setting foot there. Many of these schools can give you virtual tours and provide you with opportunities to contact them with questions. This research should help you to narrow the choices down to suit the needs of your child, but it’s still only just the beginning. Ideally, you may need a year to research your options and to plan for enrolment.
Work out what you want first: One useful approach may be to write down the things you are looking for before you even begin your research. Take into account things such as your budget, religious values (if it is important to you), the size of the school, and the amount of support or autonomy that you want your child to have. It could be you may want to locate a school that offers remedial study opportunities in specific subjects, or special programs for talented and gifted learners. Think about whether your child is best suited to a boys-only, girls-only or co-educational school. If your child has a particular aptitude for an area of study or extracurricular activity, you will want to find a school with a strong track record in that area.
Involve your child from the beginning: Choosing a boarding school is all about finding the right school to suit your child, and the ideal way to get them excited about the prospect is to involve them in the process from the beginning. It is also important for your child to have a sense of ownership of the decision and to feel excited about the choice you make. If they have a particular outside interest – whether it be sport or music – choosing a school that provides opportunities in these areas can give them a focus that makes the decision that much easier.
Ask questions: In finding the right school for your son or daughter, you will have many questions. Once you have a shortlist of schools you are interested in, email each of them a list of questions. You might like to ask, for example: What are the entry requirements? What level of English proficiency is required? What support is offered for speakers of other languages? What expenses over and above fees are likely to be incurred? Is financial assistance available? How do you cater for children who are gifted in the area that my child excels in? Does the school cater for special dietary requirements? How can we be sure our child will be safe and secure? What are the class sizes and is one-on-one tutoring available? What pastoral care and counselling is available? In what ways are children able to contact their parents?
Visit the school: You wouldn’t buy a place to live without inspecting it first, and if you want your child to find a home away from home, you really must visit in person before committing to an enrolment. As well as visiting, you should book in for an interview, which is your chance to really find out whether the school is the right fit for your boy or girl. Bring along any other questions that you may have with you to the interview. There really is no substitute to visiting a school for getting a feel for the culture of the place, and support available for your child.
Stay in touch: Most schools allow you to apply for a place and enrol online. By this time, you should know all you will need to about the school, but this is not the end of the journey. As much as boarding school is about developing independence in your child, it is still very important to keep in touch with your child and the school to make sure that your child’s needs are being met. Make sure that your child is able to contact you when necessary and that they have a schedule when they will meet up with you during the holidays.
There is a great reason why a student might be motivated to get to work at the Squaw Valley Academy – and an even better one for a parent to send them there. SVA is situated right next to Lake Tahoe, one of the great skiing and snow sports arenas of California. So long as they have followed the rules and finished their homework, students can go out and enjoy the snowfields every day. For parents, there is the knowledge that Squaw Valley boasts that 100 percent of its students achieve entrance to tertiary study, with each student averaging acceptance to three colleges or universities. The secret to its success is the small class sizes and personalized attention that students receive. SVA is an international boarding school for grades 8-12 with a focus on preparing students for entrance to a college of their choice, and in particular, has special options to help students enter universities in the highly regarded Californian system. Visit the website.
Founded in 1794, the Cheshire Academy is one of the oldest and most exclusive schools in the United States. It attracts many students from around the world to the town of Cheshire, Connecticut. This region is steeped in the educational culture of the New England, where some of the most prestigious universities in the world are to be found. Although not a large school, Cheshire boasts an impressive and diverse list of prominent alumni that includes captains of industry, musicians and athletes. Cheshire prides itself on its state of the art facilities, including a fiber optic network with 30MB access to the internet, wireless access from all academic areas of campus, three computer labs and two mobile wireless laptop classrooms. Cheshire Academy encourages students to participate in a variety of activities, but students have excelled in a number of national competitions related to mathematics and computing. Teaching at Cheshire revolves around a student-centred approach to learning and a moral code that is used as a guide by students to develop character. Visit the website.
Situated in Baltimore, St Timothy’s is a boarding school for girls run under the guidance of the Episcopal Church. The school promotes building young women to achieve their full potential and aspires to nothing less than educating the next generation of leaders – politicians, scientists, and groundbreaking artists. If any of this sounds a little ambitious, St Timothy’s is certainly the place that can make it happen thanks to a student teacher ratio of 6 to 1. Although only a small school in terms of numbers of students, around 30 percent come from overseas. St. Timothy’s offers the International Baccalaureate Diploma Program which is recognised as a pathway by leading universities around the world. Visit the website.
Riverstone International School is a unique independent school located in Boise, Idaho that offers an education based on the International Baccalaureate. The school has two campuses: the Warm Springs Campus, which houses the elementary and middle school in southeast Boise, and the Broadway Campus, housing high school students from grades 10 to 12 in downtown Boise. The Broadway Campus has an atmosphere much like a small college, and also allows students access to downtown Boise’s many resources, including Boise State University. Riverstone students are actively involved in every facet of school life and enjoy a wide range of co-curricular programs. With over 40 percent of their high school student body coming from other countries, Riverstone is committed to international education. Riverstone students are consistently admitted into the finest colleges and universities throughout the world, and the Class of 2010 received in excess of $2,900,000 in non-loan and merit-based scholarships. Visit the website.
The Gunnery is a co-educational boarding and day preparatory school for students in grades nine to 12 situated next to the village green of the picturesque small historic town of Washington, Connecticut. It has no religious or military affiliations. The mission of The Gunnery is to promote the four cornerstones on which character is built: scholarship, integrity, respect and responsibility. There are nine dormitories on campus that house from 12 to 48 students each. Each dormitory consists primarily of single and double student rooms, but also houses faculty members and their families. Some 85 percent of the faculty lives on campus, and classes are small, maximizing student-teacher interaction and support. The Gunnery is considered to be one of the leading preparatory schools in the country, and an integrated living and learning community characterized by high expectations, trusting relationships and pervasive warmth. Visit the website.
THE CULVER ACADEMIES – INDIANA
The Culver Academies are independent college preparatory boarding schools consisting of Culver Military Academy and Culver Girls Academy, situated in Culver, Indiana. With over 750 students, The Culver Academies is one of the largest boarding schools in the United States – and it has the facilities to match. Students at Culver enjoy the kinds of amenities that many university students would envy, including its own Performing Arts Centre, ice arenas, and equestrian centre. A bonus for students is that the campus sits on the shores of Lake Maxinkuckee which allows students to enjoy sailing and other water activities. Culver boasts one of the most extensive academic and activity offerings available at the high-school level, as well as one of the finest athletic programs in the country. Visit the website.
CHRIST SCHOOL – NORTH CAROLINA
Christ School is an Episcopal secondary boarding school for boys in Arden, located in the beautiful mountain regions of western North Carolina. The program at Christ School emphasizes leadership, academic study, and spiritual growth. While it is an Episcopal school, it is open to students of all faiths and backgrounds. Christ School is ideal for those who love the outdoors, offering opportunities for boys to explore the 500-acre wooded campus complete with streams, a lake, and trails for hiking or mountain biking. With only 10-12 boys per class, Advanced Placement and Honors courses in all subjects, and 60 percent of the teaching staff living on campus, it is no wonder that Christ School prides itself on successfully placing students in some of the best universities in the United States. Visit the website.
ANNIE WRIGHT SCHOOL – WASHINGTON
Situated in the Tacoma, Washington, the Annie Wright School has a truly international outlook. It is a preschool-12th grade independent school of about 450 students. It has a co-educational day program up until grade 8, and an all-girls day and boarding school in grades 9-12. About 25 percent of the Upper School is composed of international students, primarily from China, Korea, and Taiwan. As the oldest all-girls school in the Pacific Northwest, the Annie Wright Upper School has a rich and respected heritage of educating young women. For girls in grades nine through 12 who are ready to develop authentic passions and make a well-rounded education a priority, Annie Wright offers an extraordinary and enduring educational experience, culminating in the awarding of a Diploma from the International Baccalaureate. Visit the website.
HARGRAVE ACADEMY – VIRGINIA
Hargrave Military Academy claims to be no less than America’s premier military boarding school – and with a 99 percent college acceptance rate over the last eight years, it has much to boast about. Hargrave provides a safe learning environment for boys in grades 7-12 and one postgraduate year. The daily structure of a military school provides a higher level of accountability and responsibility than can be found in most secondary schools. The military aspects of the school include the wearing of uniforms, a military style organization of personnel, ranks and a chain of command. It is ideal for boys who seek purpose and structure in their day to day lives. The Academy prides itself on developing self-discipline, character, ethics and leadership in its cadets, enabling young men to maximize their full potential. The tenet of Hargrave Military Academy is to help young men grow, academically, athletically, and spiritually – mind, body, and soul. Visit the website.
NEW HAMPTON SCHOOL – NEW HAMPTON
New Hampton School is an independent college preparatory high school, the only boarding school in New England authorized to deliver the International Baccalaureate Diploma Program. Located in the naturally beautiful Lakes Region, NHS is notable for its strong academic support program available to students with learning differences who often become top scholars of their class. NHS has a vibrant and diverse offering of arts programs including an award winning film department. All activities at NHS are well supported by an impressive suite of facilities, including everything from a theater to ski and snowboard center, and a 340-acre mountain area for outdoor recreation. An average class size of 11-12 means that all students are well supported. Approximately two-thirds of the student body resides on campus, housed in 13 family style dormitories. Visit the website.
Gavin Atkins is a communications graduate based in Sydney, Australia who has worked in various positions at universities for more than 10 years, including a period as a House Parent in an English Language Centre.