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October 2008 Archives

I recently came across an exchange between the authors of blog posts published in USA Today, Lenora M. Lapidus, Director & Emily J. Martin, Deputy Director of ACLU Women's Rights Project - New York and Meg Moulton, Executive Director of the National Coalition of Girls' Schools.

Ms. Moulton wrote a spirited defense of single gender education that focused more on science. My defense of single gender education will be simpler. Single gender education benefits some kids and not others. In my opinion, the benefits of single gender education depends on the student.

Lapidus and Martin argue in their short piece that the voices and choices of single gender education are driven by shoddy science, "hype," and the notion that "Sex differences are sexy." To some extent, they're right. Incomplete science makes it's way into the world and sometimes shouldn't be used to shape decisions.

But, the underlying assumption of their article is just plain wrong. They present and posit the relationship between incomplete science (coupled with social and popular hype) as a causal relationship. The ideas of boys and girls brain/developmental differences are in the public arena therefore a push for single gender education exists.

This is not a causal relationship. The authors miss the point here and the answer is simpler, disconnected from popular culture, and more complex at the same time.

Some students, boys and girls are more comfortable and may perform better in a single gender environment. The school environment choice grows out of what's best for this particular child. A coed environment or a single gender environment? Families and students may arrive at their school choice through an infinite number of avenues (assuming the student has a choice).

In the end, single gender education- like all school choice- is just a different way of going to school and where & how to go to school depends on what's best for each individual student.

There is no causal relationship behind choosing or, inherent evil in, single gender education. It is, simply, a different way of going to school.
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.

Before continuing with our adventures on the boarding school trail, I want to share my experiences over the past two weekends. These examples for me put in stark contrast the reality of the boarding school experience and a common perception of boarding schools.

The first weekend we spent at our son's school for Parents' Weekend. Despite the relatively large size of the school, we continue to be amazed by the personal touch we encountered from faculty and administrators. Our son remarked that he has never been happier in school, he is continually being pushed outside his academic comfort level, and he loves his extracurricular activities. The other children we met were also enthusiastic about their experience. One girl said, "This is the first time I've felt like I fit in school." There were many parents there who seemed to share a close bond with their children. Clearly it is a school filled with bright, athletic, well-adjusted kids.

Last weekend I attended my twenty-fifth college reunion. My roommate, who remains a dear friend, has a daughter in eighth grade who is, according to her mother, the brightest child in her kindergarten through twelfth grade country day school in the mid-Atlantic and a gifted vocalist and athlete. She wants to put her in another day school where she will be more academically challenged, but there isn't another school conveniently located. Naturally I suggested boarding school, to which my friend responded, "I love my child. I wouldn't send her away." My response was, of course, "My children have the opportunity to attend boarding school and get the best education because I love them." It clearly made some of my other old friends uncomfortable that I had chosen to "send my children away" too.

Another friend who lives in a prosperous suburb told me she has been getting the same response in her community. Clearly people either don't understand what boarding school is, or they feel as if we're suggesting that the local schools where they send their children aren't good enough. When the reality is that we simply don't feel that the local school is the best place for our child. We're not passing judgment on their decision.

My feeling is that individual parents know the right course for their own children. If you are considering boarding school, please visit some schools and talk to the kids there before allowing yourself to be swayed by public opinion.

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]. 
Franny Shuker-Haines, Associate Director at Buxton School (Williamstown, MA), was kind enough to chat with us about Buxton and how the school carries John Dewey's framework of progressive education into the 21st century. Buxton students are an engaged, active group. Through academics, work and community Buxton students practice their responsibilities to each other and to the larger world every day.

Question: What's the Buxton story?
Franny Shuker-Haines: Buxton has always defined itself as a progressive school. The school was founded in 1928 by Ellen Geer Sangster, a social worker, who was deeply influenced by the writings of John Dewey. Her goal was to create a school that would allow kids to learn from their experiences in the living present. To that end, she was determined that the school be diverse, interactive, intellectually stimulating, artistically rich, and community-oriented. Buxton continues to be all of those things; it is through students' interactions with each other (across every kind of societal "line" you can think of: race, gender, class, interest, ability, talent, educational background, etc.) in a variety of settings that they really get educated.

Q: What are some of the special qualities and programs that make the school?
FSH: Classes matter, but they matter as much for the content of the student-oriented discussion as for the raw content the teacher is hoping to convey. Community matters enormously at Buxton: the students maintain the physical plant through our twice-weekly Work Program, they maintain the dorms through daily work jobs, they maintain the spirit of the school through various leadership roles and caretaking duties. And the arts matter: virtually every student takes some kind of arts class at Buxton; many take many!

For a small school, we offer a wide and deep arts curriculum, because we believe in the outlet for expression that art provides, the discipline it requires, and the richness it brings to our collective lives. At the end of their time at Buxton, our students have learned what it means to take care of themselves and each other, they have felt the weight and rewards of real responsibility, they have lived among a small but very diverse group of peers, and they have learned to value their own curiosity, creativity and ability.

Q: What's specially valuable about a Buxton education?
FSH: It gives young adults a sense of agency. They know that lawns don't mow themselves, for example; they also know that dedicated people doing the right thing can make an enormous difference. Through our investigative all-school trip, they learn that the world is a complex place, but that it is being run by real people who you can talk to, learn from and challenge. They learn first-hand that "diversity" is not just an abstract term, but a process of getting to know individuals well, taking them seriously, and negotiating a shared life with them. And, maybe most importantly, they learn that they do not live in a vacuum--that their actions have real repercussions in the lives of others. In an increasingly global world, these skills and lessons seem more important to me than ever.

Visit the Buxton School's website or send them a catalog request to learn more.
From the "Do we really need this/how far do we want to take testing?" files- the College Board brings parents and schools a new test, ReadiStep. As told to the New York Times by College Board President Gaston Caperton, the test provides a "tool that would help them determine before high school what measures should be taken to ensure that students are on the path to being college ready."

I'm not sure what the College Board wants out of its latest test offering for eighth graders, but the notion of an additional test- beyond school, district, state and No Child Left Behind measures is puzzling. The College Board argues that districts need a multiple choice test layered upon grades, comments, classroom behavior, writing, and teacher/counselor evaluations in order to give clarity to a student's achievement and standing.

You have to ask yourself, how much validity can this test hold when administered to 13 year old students whose brains are in the midst of, or have yet to go through, the brain rewiring of puberty? Sure a test can give you a quick-hit as to where a student and his/her test taking ability stands at the moment of the test. But, exactly how far for forward can a test administered to 13 year old project into the future?

Lee Jones, a College Board vice president asserted at a news conference, "This is not at all a pre-pre-pre SAT. It's a diagnostic tool to provide information about students' strengths and weaknesses." (New York Times article)

The test is described as low stakes and voluntary. But, if a school or district adopts the test and makes decisions based on test results, then how low stakes can the test actually be? If the test isn't of use, then why adopt it?

Again, from the New York Times Article, Gaston Caperton, the president of the College Board, said the new test had been developed in response to the demand from schools and districts, which he said had requested a "tool that would help them determine before high school what measures should be taken to ensure that students are on the path to being college ready."

Most eighth graders haven't taken Algebra I and have yet to grow into abstract reasoning and thinking. Again, why this test? Is it better than assessments already in use? Does it augment current assessments?

Susan Rusk, the coordinator of counseling for the Washoe County School District in Reno, Nev and one of the test's developers tells the New York Times, that the test informs parents "kids are on track with the particular skills they would need as they go forward into taking the PSAT and SAT and being ready for college."

I know that I should stay away from sports analogies, but, here goes:

ReadiStep reminds me of the traveling sports teams for junior high and high school students- the travel soccer, baseball, swimming, etc. teams that compete for months on end fueled by parents driving their kids across the state on Saturdays and Sundays to play a game in a given sport every weekend. The playing mania welling-up from the belief that their kids may fall flat or become something less if they miss a single opportunity to compete.

I hear it now. If we don't take the ReadiStep, we might miss something.

If I were considering ReadiStep, I'd begin with these questions:

  1. Why an additional test? Would this new test be better? Is this the best way to gather any data that we want? Do we already gather this data?

  2. Would an additional- low stakes- test provide data and a perspective that we don't already gather?

  3. Would this additional test/perspective tell us something about a student that we do not or cannot know through our current system?

  4. Would this additional perspective/test be more accurate that the information that we currently gather?

  5. Would ReadiStep and its data add value to what we currently provide to parents?
Bluntly, it might be time to draw a line with the testing. Let kids get through middle school without a testing burden. Let kids and their brains grow, explore, play and learn through work and fun. The abstract reasoning and higher level thinking will come with time, development, and a commitment to their school work.
As the past admission director at Dublin School, a co-ed small boarding school in Dublin, NH, I'm now forced to look differently at the school- with consultant's eye. I now have to think about Dublin using a consultant's critique:

"Does the school do what it says it does; what kind of students will do well here; and are Dublin's students healthy and pleased with their work; is the school healthy; how are the faculty; is the school vibrant?"
I'm happy to say Dublin does make a difference. The school has a great sense of community; students and faculty have a special closeness that comes with small school environment. All students enjoy success in some significant way be it through their academics, visual and performing arts, athletics. The school brings the appropriate level of challenge to each student. Everyone has a voice on this campus.  

Brad Bates, the new Head of School, is the perfect Headmaster with his leadership and direction. I would not think twice about sending a student or a family to visit Dublin School. It is not only safe, but probably the most caring small boarding school community in the northeast. Visit the school's website to learn more.

A new principal at Phillips Exeter Academy is news because, well, it's a new principal at Exeter. Even for those not involved in the boarding school world, Exeter is the term synonymous with boarding school- the titular bellwether of boarding schools.

Thomas E. Hassan was formally appointed Exeter's 14th principal this past Friday; Mr. Hassan had been Exeter's assistant principal since 2001. Two angles make Mr. Hassan's appointment interesting:

  1. Mr. Hassan is the first Exeter principal to come from in-house since Bill Saltonstall (Exeter's ninth principal, 1946-1963).

  2. Mr. Hassan is the second Exeter principal- in my memory- to arrive with experience at the Rockefeller Fund. Back in 1981, Kendra Stearns O'Donnell became Exeter's first woman principal and she, too, had previously worked at the Rockefeller Fund.

The New York Times Magazine published a lengthy piece on her appointment in 1987.
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]. 
We thought it might be a good time to take a quick look at- ideally- where you'd like to be if you're applying to a boarding school for Fall 2009. Keep in mind that this is an ideal calendar. If you start later, the process is the same; you just go through the steps in a more condensed time frame.

By now, these are the things that you should have done if you're on a perfect schedule:

  1. Chosen whether or not to use the services of an educational consultant.

  2. Developed a handle on who your student is. What are his/her strengths? What does she/he need to develop further? What type of school environment does he/ she do best in?

  3. Coed school? Small school? Larger school? Single gender? Rural vs. urban? Structured? Progressive?

  4. Geographic location- far or closer to home?

  5. Researched schools online and developed a feel for the approaches and practices that make each school different.

  6. Developed a list of schools with environment and approaches that fit your students needs.

  7. Requested catalogs and applications.

  8. Registered to take the Secondary Schools Admission Test (SSAT)

  9. Started planning and scheduling interviews.
Visit our library of boarding school admission articles for full posts regarding the admission time line and working through admission processes.

Photo credit: inajeep
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

I recently had the opportunity to visit with Brad Bates, Dublin School's new headmaster. In his answers to our questions, he shares the thoughts and experiences that drew him to the school. He talks about his first months at the school and his vision for its future. His answers paint a picture of the qualities that make Dublin a vibrant, connected community.

Bradford Bates, Head of School, Dublin SchoolBrian Fisher (BF): What special qualities or feelings drew you to Dublin?
Brad Bates (BB): On my first visit to Dublin School I attended one of the school's daily "morning meetings." One hundred and thirty students sat in the Recital Hall with fifty adults lining the edges of the room while students and teachers took turns standing up in front of the group celebrating community. They made announcements, sang songs, reported on team victories and play performances, and generally inspired one another at 8:00 in the morning! These kids were not self conscious or hesitant, these were individuals who had clearly found their voices at Dublin. This one brief experience captured for me the very essence of this great school and convinced me that this was a place where I hoped to dedicate my efforts.

BF: If memory serves, your father attended Dublin did your knowledge or thoughts and feeling for the school lead you to Dublin? did you come to Dublin?
BB: My father attended Dublin and graduated in 1953. His mother died when he was young and Dublin was the major formative experience in his life. My brother, sister, and I were raised in the Dublin tradition and were taught to pay careful attention to our studies, experience art and music, get outside and ski as often as possible, serve the community, and do everything we do in life with "truth and courage." When I heard that Dublin was searching for a new Head of School, I felt this would be a perfect match for my background and a great challenge as well. My wife Lisa and I decided that this was the place we wanted to raise our own children.

BF: How have your first few months gone? What's been the most comforting and reassuring part of the school and what's been the biggest surprise?
BB: Our first few months at Dublin have been a powerful experience. We have always known that Dublin is one of the best kept secrets in the educational world, but we have been continually surprised by the small and large transformations that take place in our students when challenged to take risks in such a supportive environment. No one can hide here, we need everyone to participate in our classes, performances, dormitories, and athletic contests.

Last week my wife and I invited the seniors to our house to eat some milk and cookies and watch a ball game. The students were too busy to watch the game and ended up around our piano taking turns singing and playing. In such a media-infused culture, I found this simple and wonderful scene to be both comforting and reassuring.

BF: How have you been received by Dublin's many constituents?
BB: We have been welcomed by Dublin School's many constituents in the classic Dublin way; we have been warmly and generously embraced by everyone we have met. The culture and ethos of this place have a way of bringing out the very best in everyone who is fortunate enough to be a part of the community. We have a terrific "team" feeling here as we move forward.

BF: What do you see as Dublin's strengths and how will they move and shape Dublin into the future?

BB: Dublin School has always been about people. We have a beautiful campus, a unique New England village feel to our buildings, but our focus is always on the individual as part of a human community. Our diversity of backgrounds and interests combined with our clear mission to develop curiosity, engage in meaningful work, and live lives of truth and courage creates a structured learning environment where ideas are celebrated and nurtured and values are modeled and taught. I am confident that our graduates will shine in an uncertain world with their disciplined work ethic and creative approach to problem solving.

BF: What areas are you focusing on from the beginning?
BB: From the beginning, our team has been focused on creating a rigorous academic experience in a structured and supportive learning environment, building community by increasing family style meals and school forums, reconnecting with the opportunities offered by our beautiful 300 acre campus and the surrounding mountains and lakes, ramping up our athletic program, and providing the very best facilities for our terrific visual and performing arts programs.

BF: Looking to the future will you be exploring long range planning such a campus master plan and capital campaign?
BB: We are just completing an intensive master planning process that has been highly successful in marshalling the many talents of our great Board of Trustees and the many other constituents in our school community. We were fortunate to find an architect whose vision allows Dublin to become more Dublin than it is today. We have plans to add a number of buildings over the next ten years, beginning with an observatory and a visual arts building, but the focus of our planning committee has always been to increase community spaces where individuals can interact with one another and with our bucolic campus.

BF: Do have any thoughts or designs on changes and innovations will make Dublin stronger?
BB: As a history teacher at my previous boarding school I was fortunate enough to work with an inspiring group of teachers and we all worked together to create an innovative approach to teaching history. At Dublin I see an opportunity to develop an overall method or approach to learning, tying together our academics, athletics, the arts, the residential curriculum, our use of our beautiful campus, that I see as a way to further distinguish the school and collaborate with other schools seeking to innovate and design schools that will truly change lives and prepare students for the unique demands of stewardship and citizenship in a global economy.

BF: Make your case; why Dublin?
BB: Speaking of changing lives, in his book Colleges That Change Lives, Loren Pope argues that "a familial sense of communal enterprise" is an essential element of great schools today. This sense is infused in all we do at Dublin and is the very reason that the lives of students, teachers, and even heads of schools are transformed in powerful ways here. We all thrive at Dublin because each individual's unique talents are needed daily, and all of us participate in the school play, on our athletic teams, in our community dinners and forums, in community service, in our weekend "work gangs," and in our annual camping trips. Dublin is intentionally small and has found a niche among students and families who want to feel that they count in the life of the school. We could not be more excited as we begin this next chapter in the history of Dublin School.

To learn more about Dublin School, visit their website or send them a note.
Editor's Note: "A Parent's Boarding School Admission Journal" will move to a regular Thursday publication schedule. Check-in each week to read the Boarding School Mom's latest entry.

By this time we felt like professionals, our son was more confident; and we were more knowledgeable. We realized that the first impression gained in the admission office can tell you a lot about the school. We also learned to chat up the tours guides more. The best tour guide, the one from the school our son now attends, happened to be the student council president and his enthusiasm for the school and his thoughtfulness about the strengths and weaknesses of the school were most engaging. Many were memorable however. There was a school where our son had competed and didn't get that "friendly feeling", but we thought he should consider where the tour guide confessed in the chapel (I am not kidding.) to being on probation for alcohol abuse but as she hadn't been drunk very often, she appreciated the school's several strike policy. This was not what I wanted to hear as the mother of a then 14 year old. There was the tour guide who gave us a long tour of the gym and the multiple rowing tanks but just walked us by the outside of the academic buildings with the comment that he was at the school because his sister went to another school on our list, and she said he wouldn't be able to do the work at her school. This is the same school where the admissions representative told our son the kids in the dorm would think he was weird because he reads books. One school my husband and I really liked, our son ruled out; because the tour guide pointed out another tour guide and said "if you come here, don't talk to him; because he's weird."

Two of the best experiences were at smaller schools. At one school we were given a tour by a member of the faculty while our son went out with a member of the cross-country team, which is one of his sports. While our son was being interviewed, the headmaster made a point of introducing himself to all the parents in the waiting room. When we met with the admissions staff, other members of the girls and boys cross-country team introduced themselves to our son. The other really positive experience also paired us with a runner for a tour guide, and the cross-country/track coach visited with us in turn while the other was being interviewed.

The actual writing of the applications was no less stressful for doing it the second time only the pain was condensed as he had to get them done by the end of Christmas Break by mandate of his school's placement office. There was no delaying until the deadline. He reapplied to the two schools where he had previously been rejected and which remained his first choices. These were the long shots. He applied to two schools which seemed likely and two which we were pretty confident would take him.

This time when the day of determination arrived, he was accepted at the two "back-up" schools, wait-listed at the two "likely" schools, rejected at one of the competitive schools and accepted at the school he had wanted to attend since seventh grade. This school which is large and as our son says, "doesn't have to have a lot of rules, because there is so much work there's no time to get in trouble" seems to be a perfect fit for him. He's been there a month and loves it. He is stimulated and challenged by the academics, enthusiastic about the sports and gamely exploring new activities from debate to break dancing. In retrospect, it was a blessing that they did not accept him initially as his year at a junior boarding school gave him the confidence and study skills to succeed in this relatively unstructured and academically challenging school.

Recognizing and Understanding the Best Fit for our Daughter
Now we are embarking on the same adventure with our daughter.

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].
The success of a new school is always a great story. How did the school come about? Who provided the vision? The money? The early students and faculty. We found an article a few days back that tells the story of the American Hebrew Academy (AHA) and it has a personal connection for us.

We met Rabbi Alvin Mars, AHA's former headmaster at the Fall 2000 IECA conference in San Antonio. At that point Rabbi Mars was a headmaster without a school.  

Before AHA, America did not have a Jewish boarding school and it's opening was filled with questions? Will Jewish families send their children to boarding school; does non-orthodox Jewish education have an appeal and role in American Judaism; and, the over arching, what does it mean to be Jewish?

It's great to see that AHA has grown and prospered.

AHA's mission and vibrant intellectual life seem to have stuck a chord finding an audience of parents and students working to build and define Jewish identity and an American and world wide context.

Read a full article published by The Jewish Week about where AHA is today and its beginnings or visit the school's site to learn more-

The gallery below offers some photo images of the school. Many thanks to AHA's communications office for providing us with the collection.

My Tour of Proctor Academy

I visited Proctor Academy this afternoon to meet with Chuck Will and learn more about his popular blog, Chuck's Corner. We recorded a podcast interview that goes into a good bit of detail about the origins of the blog and how it has evolved over the years. I'll post it to the site in the next day or two (Update: I posted Chuck's Corner: The Blogging Voice of Proctor Academy. Check it out.).

Following the p'cast, Chuck took me on a tour of the campus- my first walk on the school's grounds since I interviewed there in (gulp) 1986. The school facilities were impressive-- from an environmentally rated dormitory to their Fowler Learning Center to a boat building woodshop- but my conversations with the students that we met along the way stuck out the most.

Each spoke thoughtfully about the school and the reasons why a prospective student might consider Proctor Academy. Their answers ranged from, "the school has shaped who I am as a person and what I want to be" to "the strong relationships between teachers and students." I'll post a video wrap up soon that features the students who took the time to chat with me (Update: you can watch the video below).

Reasons to Consider Proctor Academy from Peter Baron on Vimeo.

I snapped some photos and posted them to our Flickr account. You can check out the set below:

Because of the current financial crisis in our country, people are hesitant to consider applying to independent schools thinking they can't afford the tuitions. I am writing to tell the readers not to despair... all boarding schools offer generous financial aid to families who can demonstrate financial need.

Yes, the application process can be daunting, but the end result may be admission to a terrific boarding school program where your son or daughter can shine. And the great thing about financial aid is that your request for aid does not have any impact on admission to the school. Admissions decisions are separate from financial aid decisions. This does not mean that every family who applies for aid will get it. Schools usually get many more requests than they can meet. Sometimes your son or daughter may be accepted to the school but get put an a waitlist for financial assistance. In addition, aid is awarded on a first-come, first-serve basis and failure to meet the firm deadlines of the Financial Aid Committee may eliminate you from consideration. So be very cognizant of the deadlines. Priority for aid is oftentimes given to returning students.

All schools use the School and Student Service for Financial Aid (SSS) to collect basic information on income, assets, family size and the number of siblings in private schools charging tuition. SSS prepares a needs analysis which the school uses as a basis for its award. You can contact SSS for a copy of the Parent Financial Statement (PFS) at 866 387 2601 or online at Admissions Directors at the various schools and private Educational Consultants can help you navigate through the application process.

As stated earlier, don't give up on your dream of enrolling your child in an independent school because of finance. Take advantage of the generosity of schools through need based financial aid programs.

Good luck!!

College Admission Carnival Part II

Before I close down for the night, I wanted to let everyone know that AQ contributed a blog post & podcast episode to the second edition of Mark Montgomery's College Admission Carnival.

The podcast (College Admission Carnival) is an interview that I recorded with Mark for the Boarding School Podcast. In it we talked about the reasons why he founded the Carnival along with his plans for the future.

On the blog front, we submitted the Boarding School Mom's first entry to her Parent's Boarding School Admission Journal.

Many thanks to Mark for inviting AdmissionsQuest to contribute.
An article in the LA Times, "California boarding schools? It's not an oxymoron: Long a fixture of the East Coast, such campuses are gaining interest in the Golden State," highlights a couple of recurrent boarding school themes that we consistently revisit over the years.

1. The boarding school world is broader than most people know and great boarding school options exist in all four corners of the country- even the Hawaiian islands.

2. Boarding school and its intense busy life can be life changing experience for many students. But, boarding school is not for everyone.
Heading off to boarding school from Texas years ago, my parents often encountered the whispered phrase "What's wrong?" when friends, family, and neighbors learned that we were going far from home to live and learn.

The answer was straightforward; the benefits of boarding school outweighed the opportunities and setting of our large public schools. Boarding school seemed a good way for us to go to school and grow-up.

You've probably come across this kind of exchange if you live beyond New England's concentration of boarding schools, boarding school culture, and boarding school families.

My folks educated themselves and learned about school options for us and that's what it's all about.

If you have a student interested in boarding school or if you're interested in exploring boarding school options for your child, a myriad of options from types of schools to geographic regions abound. Research and explore the schools. They're all different. But one may be a great place for your student to learn and grow.

You can checkout the LA Times piece here or visit our list of California boarding schools to learn more about the available options.

Photo credit: davidrossharris

Editor's Note: "A Parent's Boarding School Admission Journal" will move to a regular Thursday publication schedule. Check-in each week to read the Boarding School Mom's latest entry.

One of the benefits of working with a consultant is that she was able to provide feedback from the interviews. Some of this was positive, but from others we learned that our normally voluble son had been uncommunicative and distant. I was also dismayed when sometimes he would hardly speak to the tour guide. Nevertheless, I made sure he followed-up promptly with a thank-you note, and we proceeded confident that he would be accepted at a competitive school. In fact against the advice of the consultant, he only applied to four schools.  Of these schools, three he would have been happy to attend and one we would have been happy to have him attend.

Then came the dark day when the consultant called to tell us that he had been rejected at two schools and wait-listed at two schools. As we recovered from the blow, she was terrific at helping us explore our options. One, we could push to get off the wait lists. By this time we only considered one of the wait list schools an option based on some things we had learned about the other school, but our son felt the school's strength - outdoor winter sports- didn't align with his interests. Two, she felt some of the schools at which he had interviewed but to which we hadn't applied, might accept him. We considered this as we had liked the feel of these schools very much, but felt that if they were the right fit, we would have applied there initially. Three, she suggested he attend a junior boarding school for a year and reapply the next cycle.

We knew next to nothing about junior boarding schools but our consultant gave us background information on the three she felt were most appropriate. All were within two hours of home and all terrific schools, but one she felt would be the best fit for our child. She arranged for us to visit on short notice. The tour guide was an intelligent, friendly boy and our son said that despite the rain, the school had a happy feel. The paperwork was submitted immediately, facilitated by the brevity of junior boarding school applications in comparison to the many essays required by prep schools. In one of the nicest touches we've experienced in our admissions journey, the school's Director of Admissions called shortly thereafter to tell us personally that our son had been accepted.

That Speed-bump Worked-out for the Best
He had a great ninth grade year at that school. In a supportive environment that truly understands boys, he studied with bright, engaging teachers, was coached by enthusiastic, talented adults who encouraged good sportsmanship and dedication, had terrific opportunities to participate in theater and the academic team and had the fun of living with boys from all over the world and this country without the pressure of trying to impress girls. He was able to prove that he could thrive in a boarding environment and that he could succeed at sports he had never been exposed to in his small school at home. He also had a fresh set of references from a school well-known to the high schools to which he next applied.  

The school has a great placement office with which we worked, but we also chose to retain our consultant again. She knew our son better than the placement office and also was supporting a smaller pool of kids. This time we again looked at nine schools, six of which were new to us. Although we understood the benefit of looking farther afield, we were clear that we wanted him within two hours of home.

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].

Photo Credit: bwats2
With Peabody House, Proctor Academy's new dormitory for 16 students and two faculty apartments, the school brings to life and ties together a history and growing commitment of stewardship to resources and the environment.

Proctor has a long history of environment connection and awareness through projects such as the school's woodlot and efforts to become carbon neutral.

With Peabody House, Proctor brings a system of responsible efficiencies to bear on community living. Peabody Hall will benefit from superior insulation, geothermal heating and cooling, electronic window management and boilers that can consume both oil and wood chips.

Headmaster Mike Henriques explains, "We teach by example.  These investments in ecological sustainability are ultimately cost-effective for the school."

You can read more about it on Chuck's Corner, a blog written by Chuck Will, a long time Proctor faculty member. Checkout the Concord Monitor's coverage here and here.

Photo credit: Proctor Academy
We're always expounding on the boarding school experience and the fact that relationships set the boarding school experience apart. For students and faculty, the crux of the boarding school experience is what you make of your opportunities and relationships.

We recently found this reflection by a Phillips Andover alumnus and we like it- a lot.  It doesn't sugarcoat the boarding experience, but the author makes a nice, concise argument as to why boarding school is a great fit and experience for some students.

Read Chelsea Page's column from the Georgetown Voice.

Midland School's Director of Admission, Derek Svennungsen, spoke with AdmissionsQuest boarding school blog about the school and progressive education. Midland, located in Los Olivos, CA, is an all-boarding, co-educational college preparatory school. If you're not familiar with the school, here's a brief description from their site:

"As other schools get larger and build more buildings and create more overhead, Midland makes do with redwood classrooms and cabins, an intentional and profound educational philosophy, and a belief that students, and adults, benefit greatly by living close to nature. As our students learn to do more with less, they also live--on a daily basis--the values of independence, interdependence, and stewardship of the land. As we continue to stay close to our mission and philosophy, Midland remains a powerful antidote to society's excesses and materialism."

We thank Derek for participating in our Q&A series.

Question: How is Midland a classically progressive school?
Derek Svennungsen: Connection is core of Midland's program. Academic classes connect students to the land in powerful ways. Freshmen take Midland 101, a class where students are on the property at least once a week. Students learn how to use maps and compasses, study the school's geography and history, learn the native and non-native flora, and take several camping trips whose purpose is to connect their learning to their lives.

Other classes, such as Writing with a Sense of Place, Geology, and Naturalist Studies, all make extensive use of the outdoors. Sophomores, in their chemistry class, install a solar array to help power the school. And as a culmination of their academic experience, each senior writes and presents a senior thesis, an extensive paper based on some question they want to answer.

Our facilities further contribute to the experience; classrooms are simple redwood cabins, one of which has only three walls, and are wood heated. This simplicity connects students to the natural world, and to each other, because there is nothing artificial to interrupt the specific and unique learning experiences that Midland offers.

Beyond the classroom, Midland's job system puts kids in direct control over the running of the school. Midland hires no custodial or wait staff; all campus jobs are done by students, and the job program is overseen by senior job heads. When a 14-year old is learning how to do dishes with a 17-year old, and they work together every day for an entire semester, an invaluable sense of pride, empowerment, and connection emerges.

Even in our rusticity and labor-intensive approach to living and learning, Midland is steeped in progressive values.

Q: What does progressive education cultivate in students?
DS: Today's youth don't spend much time working on the behalf of others. In our "do this for me" society, it is rare to be of genuine service. Midland counters this attitude by directly involving students in the academic and job programs. So instead of looking for others to solve problems, Midland students learn to be active and engaged, and look for ways to contribute. What occurs, then, is a unique combination of independence and interdependence. Students learn how to do things on their own, but most of what they do at Midland is done for the greater good of the community. This is a powerful lesson that can only be taught experientially and on a daily basis.

The best example of this is our Shower Fire system. The student showers are heated by wood fire, and each day, it is a different student's responsibility to make and stoke the shower fire. So the student is sifting ashes, cutting wood, and starting and maintaining a fire, all on his or her own. And every other student benefits from this one student's efforts. There is very little resistance to these job requirements, because it is the way the school is run, and the seniors are in charge of all these systems. So being of service becomes a natural, even a welcome, part of each student's experience here. It gets in the blood.

Q: How is progressive education valuable today?
DS: Most schools present themselves as places where a wide range of things will be done for the student. The promotion of this value has dangerous effects on students, who learn to expect things to be done for them and available to them.

At Midland, we look at it the other way: if you come to Midland, think of all the things you can do to benefit the school. This is a progressive and student-centered way of looking at what education is really for. And the results are students who don't expect to be pampered, who are accountable, and who want to be connected. This is why progressive education, and The Midland Experience, are so valuable today.

Q: It seems like understanding and connecting and sharing with others is a Midland cornerstone?
DS: We have two all-school assemblies each day, run by the two senior head prefects. Everyone has a chance to contribute during these assemblies. Five nights per week, we have family style dinners, in which faculty and students are mixed together by the senior head prefects, and each student stays at that assigned table for the week. This nightly chance to talk, eat together, and teach appropriate table manners is a centerpiece of our community. There is always something from our garden in the meal, often harvested by students earlier in the day or week. After dinner, many students study in faculty homes, which further connects students and adults.

It sounds like empathy is one the qualities that Midland students grow to understand? Midland is a tough place to go to school. The daily demands of academics, jobs, athletics, the environment, and living in a small community pose challenges that no other school offers. Midland students, having made the choice to be a part of this unique experience, are naturally empathetic. They understand that it's difficult, and they understand that everyone is making sacrifices here as we work against society's "me first" attitude. They've made the choice to be here because they believe in connectedness, in hard work, and, whether they know it or not, progressive education. We think John Dewey would feel right at home here at Midland School.

For more information on Midland School, visit their web site of submit a catalog request.

My Introduction to Online Tutoring

I'm a relative newbie when it comes to web tutoring so I was more than happy to hop on a call with the owners of to learn about their online tutoring company.

ziizooTutors that partner with ziizoo set their own rates and students grade the quality of their work, which in turn is posted to the public tutor profiles. Think e-bay for tutoring.

It's a simple (and from what I gathered) effective way to ensure delivery of quality services to each and every client. Of course, the other thing I found very cool is their web platform that combines web 2.0 tools like instant messaging and online whiteboards.

Most tutors focus on the core academic courses (i.e. Algebra, Geometry, Calculus, High School English, etc.), but a few list SSAT prep as an offering. Let me know if you decide to check them out. I'd love to hear how ziizoo works for you.

Hillside School joins a growing roster of schools incorporating energy efficient green technology into their newest generation of buildings. The common thread among these schools is a growing dedication to environmental responsibility and stewardship.

Hillside's Academic and Health Center features "specially tinted glass to better manage solar heating throughout the building; the implementation of recycled materials in the center's flooring, ceiling tiles, window blinds and acoustic tiles; and the use of environmentally sound materials in the manufacture of classrooms, student desk and chairs and lab stools."

The building achieves even greater efficiency by using a geothermal energy system that pumps cool water, stored in wells below ground, throughout the building's piping system.  Additionally "green roof" technology allows for growing grasses and other greenery on the roof, which can further reduce heating and cooling needs.

"In many ways, the new Academic and Health Center is representative of Hillside's continuing growth and commitment toward achieving excellence in junior boarding school education."  Hillside Headmaster David Beecher explained.

You can read more about Hillside's Academic and Health Center in the Community Advocate (Westborough, MA).

Photo credit: Hillside School
Our son attended a small, private, K-8, day school in our rural area. There were twelve kids in his graduating class. He had had the opportunity to sit in on a history class and have a tour of one, highly-competitive, boarding school in seventh grade and was sure that's where he wanted to go. His school didn't really have a high school placement effort, so we made a wise investment in hiring an educational placement consultant. We are now on our third cycle with her and have found her support and counsel invaluable.

She interviewed our son and provided us with a list of schools to explore via view books and web-sites and, from which, we narrowed the list to nine at which we would eventually interview. She wisely advised us to consider schools considered less competitive along with the "name" schools. She also encouraged us to look beyond the 100-mile radius we had initially imposed as schools seek geographic as well as ethnic diversity.  

By mid-September all nine visits were scheduled and the navy blazer had been purchased, and we set forth sure that our son, being the great kid that he is, would have many choices.  We were astounded by the facilities of many schools which seem to rival college campuses. A strong sense of community and caring embraced us at some schools, while at others we were dismayed when we saw athletes injured on the playing fields whose teammates couldn't be bothered to give them a hand up and ask if they were o.k.

We saw schools with more structure and restrictions than we impose at home, and we saw schools with what seemed like such little oversight, he might as well have his own apartment in the city. At some schools the admissions staff clearly were pleased that we were considering their school and made every effort to make us feel welcome, but at some we had the impression we were wasting the admission officer's time.

In my next post, I'll talk about a speed-bump and how the consultant helped us work through the process.

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].

As the parent of two children, a tenth grader who has gone through the admissions process twice (more on that in my next post) and an eighth grader who is in the process of applying to boarding school, and having visited 16 schools in the last two years; I was excited to be asked by AdmissionsQuest to share a parent's view of the admissions experience. The highlights are that you meet a lot of interesting people, visit many picturesque parts of the country, and get to spend a lot of quality time with your child.

As we assessed how the qualities of a school would be a fit with our son's strengths and weakness, we got to know him better. The downsides, as I'm sure any of you who are undergoing the process now understand, are the pain of having your child judged as "good enough" for a school, anxiety over finding the right school and how much it's going to cost and having Thanksgiving and Christmas vacation fraught with tension as your child gathers "inspiration" for his essays by watching movies and you turn into a harridan because application deadlines are looming.

Perhaps the hardest part is feeling that your child is competing for spots against their friends. Try as you might, it's hard not to think about how many from your school will get in where or to keep from panic when you hear a certain coveted school only has six spots for tenth grade boys. I have experienced the lowest lows and the great satisfaction of having our son find exactly the right school for him twice. Of course experience gives me some composure as we launch into the admissions cycle with our daughter, but I still feel a gnawing in my stomach as I contemplate the journey ahead of us.

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].

Photo Credit: bookgrl
We're excited to welcome a new blogger and series to onBoarding Schools. The title, "A Parent's Boarding School Admission Journal," will be written by a parent who's currently going through the school search process. This great new voice- rich with perspective and insight- will be a regular feature of onBoardingSchools during the 2008-2009 school year.

"Boarding School Mom" will share, comment, and reflect on her thoughts and experiences as she works to find the best boarding school fit for her youngest child. onBoarding Schools readers will enjoy an open, frank parent's take on everything from settling on a school list, to school visits, and interviews to working with an educational consultant. If a family has to work through it while finding a school; she'll probably talk about it.

She brings a wealth of experience and dose of good story telling to the onBoarding Schools audience. This is her family's third boarding school search and they have worked with the same educational consultant for each child's admission process.

To maintain privacy and confidentiality, our author writes under the nome de plume "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].

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About this Archive

This page is an archive of entries from October 2008 listed from newest to oldest.

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