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California Boarding SchoolsBoth our educational consultant and the head of our daughter's school encouraged us to visit a certain school in California. Initially it seemed crazy to us to consider a school so far away when we live surrounded by the country's great preparatory schools. However there were some cultural sites we wished to visit, and a school visit justified a junket. As we flew into the airport, wildfires were raging beneath the plane. It was a beautiful, terrifying sight, and one which I thought would put our daughter off California forever. However the warm weather and outdoor lifestyle drew her right in.

Our school visit was the fourth day. The drive to the campus winds through orange and olive groves and ends in a breathtaking view of the surrounding countryside. When we first arrived all of us there for interviews were introduced to each other , and we sat in the reception room and chatted with the admissions officers. They also had the best scones of all the schools we have visited and a lovely selection of teas and coffee. This always makes me feel as if my child will be well-fed.

It's one of those schools where the child has a separate tour from the parents. Our tour guide was well-chosen for Easterners anxious about sending their baby far from home as she too was from the East Coast. She spoke articulately about the school and her reasons for loving it. Afterwards we realized we had seen very few indoor spaces, rather the tour was about the ethos and culture of the school. The interview was similar in that we skipped right over many of the traditional questions on both sides and went right to approaches to education and how our family values fit with the school's values. When we were told that there are no mall trips, we knew the school could be a great fit for our child.
After the interview we had the opportunity to watch the student-run school assembly, where we were impressed by how supportive the students were of each other and how articulately the made their announcements. That it was held in an outdoor amphitheater further added to the charm of the school.

It was exciting for us to visit a school which is so true to its mission, so committed to having the students lead active outdoor lives while still maintaining the highest academics standards. We left calculating how many trips our frequent-flyer miles would get us if our daughter is fortunate enough to be accepted.

There are a couple of final school visits to share with you, but as time is running short in the admissions process, today I want to move to the real work of the process- the applications.  We met with our educational consultant at the beginning of last week to winnow the list of schools visited to a list of six to which our daughter will apply. The goal was to have two "reach" schools, two "probably" schools and two "safety schools. While this sounds logical, in reality it may be just a mind game as our son was accepted into one of his "reach" schools and wait-listed at both his "probably" schools. After much discussion, our daughter decided to apply to five schools, which based on the feedback from the schools and our own instinct seems reasonable. It's been an interesting process as there are schools on her final list which I never would have guessed would have made the cut at the beginning of the process and schools to which she doesn't want to apply that I was sure she would love.

Over Thanksgiving, we sorted out all the reference forms with a separate folder for each subject, signed all the releases and stamped all the envelopes before putting it all in a big envelope for the administrator at her school to distribute. Two of the schools like an additional personal reference. This is a more difficult decision as we wanted someone who knows our daughter well but also whom we also feel will take the time to write a thoughtful and balanced recommendation. Our daughter chose to ask her riding instructor.  Our son asked a Boy Scout leader and a Sunday School teacher. I am a believer in accompanying the references with an effusive thank you note as writing all of them for the many eighth graders who are applying to schools must be a labor of love.

Our daughter is now on her own to write the essays while we write our own essays for the parent statements. In our house that means, I write and my husband edits.  It's hard not to provide input into their essays and hard to distill my child into a page on her strengths and weaknesses. Maybe AdmissionsQuest can tell us how the essays are weighted versus the interview and recommendations. It might relieve some of the pressure.
I had the pleasure of participating on a tour of two Western MA boarding schools & an 'early college' program (more on that below). As I did with my Ojai Valley boarding school trip, I typed up my visit notes to provide you with my impressions of each school. I hope you find them helpful.

Buxton School
Founded by Ellen Geer Sangster, Buxton School is located on her old family estate in the Berkshires. It is a small, diverse, dynamic, exciting, comfortable and a flexible boarding community where caring teachers and students form relationships in a non-graded academic setting. Students are assessed and evaluated three times a year and new students have a fourth assessment. Facilitating relationships and growth, Buxton students change rooms and roommates three times a year. I liked the positive energy on campus both from students and faculty. Buxton offers a wide ranging curriculum from writing, to fabulous art work (displayed throughout the school), to African drumming and dancing.

Students have no internet access in dorm rooms. However, internet access is available in all classroom buildings. A newly renovated academic building is light, bright and takes advantage of the beautiful setting. A new arts building will be under way this year which will only add to their mission and wonderful campus. Buxton is a very academic and intriguing school where education matters in significant life-changing and world-changing ways designed for highly motivated students. The community lives by "Buxton Customs," a one page set of community guidelines, rather than a formal rule book.

Created with Admarket's flickrSLiDR.

Bard College at Simon's Rock
Bard College at Simon's Rock is the only four-year college of the liberal arts and sciences specifically designed to provide bright, highly motivated students with the opportunity to begin college in a residential setting after the tenth or eleventh grade. They have small classes which are intense and rigorous; everyone is engaged in discussion. At Simon's Rock students are encouraged to test theory in practice - in the laboratory, the studio, and the field, in rehearsal and performance - to develop sense of themselves as thinkers and creators with individual voices and perspectives. A very impressive campus with a very enriching academic program both individually, extended campus projects, internships and field experience and study abroad program.

Editor's Note: "A Parent's Boarding School Admission Journal" appears every Thursday throughout the admission season. Check-in each week to read the Boarding School Mom's latest entry.

Having undergone the prep school admissions process twice with our son, we thought we knew what we were doing, but our highly focused eighth grade daughter has disabused us of that notion and taken charge of the school search. Before school was out last June, she had me schedule her appointment with the educational placement consultant. She arranged for a meeting with the head of her current school to seek her input as to appropriate schools, and she started doing research on-line.

After researching about 20 different schools which included driving through some over the summer in order to get the feel of the school without students, she has narrowed her list to 11 at which she wants to interview. While her father and I would like to have her within two hours of home, she insists on considering three schools in southern New England and one in California, a school highly recommended as a good fit for her by both our consultant and the head of her current school. Our daughter is considering all-girls schools, co-ed schools and schools both with and without strong horseback riding programs. She has been thoughtful about her choices, so we are trying to be open-minded; and in fact are looking forward to our trip west.  

Now as any of you with multiple children know, they are different. Our son let us drive the process, read the catalogs in the car on the way to the tour and may have heard half the advice offered by the consultant. As a boy, the whole question of what to wear was moot. The same navy blazer, tie and penny loafers worked for every interview for two years. She has had two practice interviews during which she was encouraged to provide thoughtful, expansive answers to the interviewers questions and discouraged from fidgeting, actually studied for the SSATs, and has spent the last month worrying about what to wear to which interview.

Some observations from the field on the school visit:

  1. Be on time. We once observed a mother and daughter break out in a heated argument in the reception area blaming each other for being an hour late.

  2. Turn off your cell phone.

  3. Have your child dress at least to the school's dress code.

  4. Parents too should dress to the dress code but also should not upstage their child. I have been distracted by fathers in blue jeans and tee shirts and mothers in sequins that might have been more fitting at a holiday party.

  5. Wear comfortable shoes. Tours always involve a lot of walking over uneven ground and are often in the rain, cold or snow. I have regretted choosing vanity over comfortable and warm.

  6. Have a snack and a drink before you arrive. Most schools offer only the token cookie, and we are invariably starving by the time we leave.

  7. Write thank you notes promptly and your child should do the same. While I have no idea if this has any effect on the outcome, it seems the right thing to do.
The First Interview

Our daughter's first interview was two weeks ago. Because we were worried that she would be overcome with stage fright and not speak, our consultant arranged for her to interview with a very experienced admission officer at a school where she should be a strong candidate. 

The school had arranged for a girl who had attended our current school to give the tour.  However when that girl failed for some reason to show up, they recruited a lively, engaging senior to show us the school. Our daughter was smitten with the girl's passion for the school, articulate description of its strengths and, I must admit, her sense of style. They chatted away, and I might not have been there. The last time I had seen the school there had been many feet of snow on the ground, and this sunny, warm day the school seemed much more attractive. I worked my way through much of the reading material in the reception area while she was interviewed. Imagine my astonishment when my turn came, and I learned my daughter had chatted away for 40 minutes.

When we left, the admission officer gave her a rubber mascot of the school and a pen with the school's name. Our daughter was delighted. That night she e-mailed her tour guide a thank you and received an immediate reply offering to answer any further questions and wishing her luck. She sent a prompt thank you to the admission officer and received a lovely note in return with a magnet shaped like the school's pennant. The feedback from the school through the consultant was that the interview had gone well. Our daughter was so warmly received at this school that she definitely wants to apply and indeed feels she should go there if accepted because they have been so nice to her.

I am so grateful that she had a positive first interviewing experience to build her confidence as we go forward. We'll see what the next ten interviews bring.

To maintain privacy and confidentiality, our author writes under the pen name "Boarding School Mom" and all family, child consultant, and school names will be changed or omitted. You can reach AQ's Boarding School Mom at [email protected]. 
My notes from a recent visit to  The Winchendon School...

I didn't expect to be so taken by the beautiful campus; beyond beauty, the campus boasts a golf course, new academic building and  new ice hockey rink. The student body appears very diverse and multicultural.

Winchendon is working to expand the strength of its boys athletics to it's girls teams. Boys athletics sports strong PG programs in boy's soccer, basketball and ice hockey. The school will have a girl's ice hockey team for the first time this year.

Academics are influenced by Ted Sizer's principles of the Coalition of Essential Schools, with "teachers as coaches, students as workers." The curriculum emphasizes individual skill building, team effort and positive reinforcement.

Students seem happy and focused! Students with learning difference could be very successful academically at Winchendon through the support of their daily tracking and grading system. John Kerney seems a great new Head of School who has made some good changes and will make some more.

Photo credit: The Winchendon School

Update: For those interested in learning more about the program, checkout my podcast, Cardigan Mountain School Introduces PEAKS, with Cardigan's Brian Beale, Associate Director of Admission, & Ryan Feeley, English Teacher & Summer Session Director.

During a visit to Cardigan Mountain School (an all-boys, junior boarding school in Canaan, NH),  I saw a school in the midst of implementing a new academic initiative. Personalized Education through the Acquisition of Knowledge and Skills  (PEAKS) will serve as a backbone for the school's academic life. Old standbys like study/learning skills and language lab- fee based services at most schools- will be incorporated into PEAKs and become part of every student's curriculum without extra fees. 

Focusing on study skills and teaching the different ways students learn, Cardigan expects PEAKS will provide each student with more control and insight into the ways that he learns- instilling an approach to learning that a student can use in any setting.  When entering or confronting a new environment, a student who's learned through PEAKS will have an idea of how to identify what he needs to and strategies that he might employ to work through the material. 

The program will be both highly accessible and supportive. Not only will students take formal PEAKS classes during the school day, they'll have opportunities throughout the afternoon & evening study hours for additional group sessions and one-on-one tutoring. 

At the end of their Cardigan experience, each and every graduate should prove well prepared to succeed carrying the abilities of self-recognition and self-sufficiency into their chosen secondary schools. You can read a brief description of the school's program below:

"Guided self-development is the cornerstone of the class, and its focus lies in helping each student, no matter his skill level, become a better learner and self advocate. In this course, students will be introduced to different types of learning styles and a variety of study skills. After identifying their own learning style(s), students will explore and practice effective study strategies for each type of learner. Upon completion of the course, students should be fully cognizant of what type of learner they are, be able to describe their learning style, and be able to both explain and execute relevant strategies that will be effective in their future educational pursuits."

Photo Credit: redjar
Family travels took us to New England last week and I had the opportunity to pay three boarding schools quick visits. Thoughts and observations:

South Kent School
I spent the most time at South Kent School. I've always enjoyed the feeling of the SKS campus- as s member of opposing teams playing SKS teams and as an adult. It's a small boys school that remains dedicated to boys education and the campus has always had a warm familial feel. I got to talk to Rich Brande, the school's admission director. I asked few questions and got an update on SKS today.

The most interesting things I learned about at SKS are their third form (9th grade) and fourth form (10th grade) programs. Each form operates under a formal title with a specific set of goals; third form- A Sense of Place: Community and Belonging; fourth form The Quest- Coming of age. Each form program is team taught integrating subject matters and methods.

The Marvelwood School
Pouring rain limited our view to a drive around the Marvlewood campus. My wife- who lived on this campus when it was the Kent School girls campus- noticed Marvelwood's new gym- the Anne Davidson Scott Athletic Facility. We didn't get a chance to go inside, but it appears quite nice.

You can learn more about Marvelwood's new athletic facility by visiting the school's site.

Wolfeboro, The Summer Boarding School
As long time members of the Wolfeboro family, we spent good parts of two days on campus. I never cease to be amazed by how well the school maintains and upholds it's structured days. Three sit-down meals, classes, activities, and homework six days a week provide innumerable lessons for students. We ate three meals with students in the dining room. Students and faculty seemed pleased with their summer's work.

Checkout AQ's New England boarding schools list for a complete run down of all of the schools in the region.
Focused, tight community is a great quality of boarding school life that draws students from all over the world.  Sometimes, though, boarding school students need something to broaden their perspective--a reminder that their efforts inside the confines of a boarding school prime them for work and future contributions to society.

Buxton School is the first school that I've come across that makes a conscious effort to take the entire school beyond its campus and have every community member engage with an urban setting.  This is no small matter given that just above 80% of the US population lives in metropolitan areas.

Every year Buxton takes the entire school into a major North American city "for a week of exploring, learning, experiencing, investigating and understanding."  Recent visits include New Orleans (see photo below), Philadelphia, Chicago, Washington, D.C., Toronto, Puerto Rico and Havana.

Buxton School visits New Orleans

Before the trip, the entire school researches the topics that they will cover in the city-- homelessness, public transportation, civil liberties, local politics--whatever the city has to offer.  Students do all of the planning.  They arrange project interviews; schedule all trip logistics and budget.

Each trip also includes performances of the All-School Play in which every student plays a role or performs a function.

Beyond their personal responsibilities, students get a feeling for the roles, contributions, and efforts that individuals must make in order to fully participate in an urban setting.

"The trip allows you to experience the real world in real ways, to have interactions that are unscripted and improvisational but also purposeful and explore fascinating, complicated and thorny issues firsthand."  Students and faculty analyze and think about the issues that they've studied and seen through group presentations that are made upon returning from the trip.

What a tremendous way to broaden the frame of reference of students and expand the horizons of a tightly knit academic community.  It's gratifying to see that the faculty at Buxton is teaching the connection to the larger world.

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