It’s a difficult decision for many parents to send their children to boarding school. This decision can be even more daunting when your child has been identified with a learning disability and you have spent years as his or her most consistent and outspoken advocate. Nonetheless, the questions are there. Is it the best thing for the student? Who will make sure the student is getting the help they need? Will they/we be happy with this decision? Is it worth the financial investment? These are very real considerations for families, and by sharing the benefits of boarding school, we hope to dispel some of the fear and apprehension of this decision, and see it as a tangible and hope-filled opportunity.
From the beginning, it is essential to find a learning environment for one’s child where the teachers pave a foundation of possibility, and support students through difficulties and triumphs. At boarding schools like Eagle Hill, teachers play an integral role in students developing a love for learning, inside and outside the classroom. Boarding school teachers naturally have the opportunity to spend extra time working through obstacles the child may face academically, and to encourage students to get involved in activities that demonstrate their strengths, including those that fall outside of the classroom setting.
Boarding school teachers have the resources and time to support both the child’s academic challenges and social growth. They can support students in enriching activities that build their character, and their identities as students and citizens of the world. Whether it’s collaborating with students to run programs on the weekends, or in the dorms, or participating in community service events with a group of students and staff, teachers at boarding schools are highly involved in the lives of the students, and can help to make the transition from home to school for both student and parent less stressful and more positive.
Similarly, student life counselors, or dorm counselors, are committed to helping students learn life-management skills, hone college-preparedness strategies, and develop social skills for the future. These faculty members are part of the team of people that will be responsive to a student’s emotional world, whether it’s difficulties with peers, academic stress, or dealing with family difficulties at home. Together, this team of boarding school staff and faculty, along with the student’s family, will give the child the supportive and safe environment that is needed to step outside of a comfort zone and achieve success in all areas of life.
One of the main benefits of living in a boarding school situation is that students get the opportunity to share a community with many people from different backgrounds and beliefs, which may be more diverse than their own hometowns. This larger-world experience prepares them for being global citizens who embrace differences and who know how to navigate the nuances of interactions with people from all over the United States and the world in a respectful and collaborative environment. For many students, boarding school life provides their first in-depth experiences with people outside of their home communities, and can foster the development of an ethical, positive, and culturally sensitive attitude toward difference of all kinds. When the campus hosts its fall and spring Family Weekends, students get to see their own family members interacting with people from different communities, and get to see parents, grandparents, and extended family model these same appropriate interactions on a larger scale. They come to understand that family, community, and society do not have to be made up of those that are the same—physically, ethnically, or ideologically—in order to play an integral role in their lives.
Just like any other adolescent, students with learning differences want to find the balance between boundaries, being given independence, having fun, and being pushed to challenge what they think they are capable of achieving in order to feel fulfilled and happy. For many students with learning differences, however, the necessity of after-school tutoring can hinder the students’ ability to get a well-rounded and authentic high school experience, and may mean that it is hard to find this balance. At Eagle Hill, and other boarding schools specializing in educating students with learning differences, the academic assistance the students need is built into the school day, which allows them to participate in sports and possibly be part of a team for the first time. This role as student-athlete boosts confidence, can improve physical and mental health, and can open their minds to the possibilities of new opportunities equaling successful experiences. With the built-in academic support, the students are able to manage their schedules and complete their classwork, while being exposed to activities such as sports, theatre, campus leadership positions, and even clubs for which they may not otherwise have had time at a school without built-in support. All of this lends itself to a more well-rounded experience, and a fulfilled and happy adolescent!
At a boarding school such as Eagle Hill, where many of our alumni/ae are still actively involved in the community, students and alums have the opportunity to interact and find support in one another. Alumni/ae serve as role models and mentors offering guidance in navigating high school, thriving in college, entering the workforce, and networking to move ahead. The ability to have relationships with these individuals who once stood in their shoes, understanding the challenges and sharing the fears, provides hope and motivation to Eagle Hill’s current students. In conjunction with this aspect, our college counseling experts lead students through the college application process to find appropriate colleges, which offer various levels of academic support and help guide students and parents through this lengthy and at times complex process. This expertise is invaluable in ensuring the continued success of students who face certain academic challenges.
Overall, the boarding school experience enriches the student’s life in an all-inclusive way. It allows them to grow at their own pace, while being part of a larger community where opportunities for growth abound. Families are encouraged to stay engaged, to visit whenever possible, and to take part in the community life of the school. The school and the families become a team of supporters to help our students gain the confidence and skills they need to face a complicated and, at times, unpredictable world, with critical thinking skills, and an independent spirit that will fuel their desire to challenge whatever limits were once put on their academic lives. Together, we face challenges; together, we create plans; and together, we go farther.