Boarding Schools in the South: A Broad Array of Opportunities & Perspectives

The idea of southern boarding schools suffers from the same breakdown that brings all generalizations to an end once you train a focused eye on the subject; it's more complicated and nuanced. Boarding schools in the South are a complicated group.

People use the term 'southern boarding school;' but it's undefined meaning means different things to different people.

Are we talking about schools that are particularly southern or are we talking about schools that hold and preserve what one can term southern perspectives and traditions?

Both kinds of schools thrive in the south.

A Little Perspective

The notion of boarding school runs wide and deep in New England. Churches and denominations arrived in North America with a commitment to education; colleges and boarding schools grew out of many of the denominations, towns and visionary educators. A few schools have 200+ year histories. Some boarding schools pre-date public school systems; some New England boarding schools began as the local academy- serving as the public school with the town footing the tuition for local students.

The American South is younger and so are its boarding schools. While many southern boarding schools grew out of religious traditions and visionary educators few- if any- started as the local public school as the New England 'Academies.'

Confronting Assumptions

Boarding school is simply not woven into the educational fabric of most families in the American South. Public schools dominate the educational landscape. The South- until recently- had little generational wealth. Growing up in the South, the only ways that one might learn about boarding schools were through books like A Catcher in the Rye and Separate Peace or, maybe, you met someone or someone's parent(s) who had gone to boarding school.

The physical distance and cultural difference makes boarding schools seem like the province of wealthy New England and Midwestern families and, or, conversely, that students attend boarding schools only because of an underlying problem.

I still remember my parents' experiences from our school years. Almost always on queue- upon learning that I attended boarding school- my folks' friend or acquaintance would lean in closely whispering, "what's the problem?"

As Ginger Bell, The Brook Hill School, Director of Admission, explains: "…we have found that our constituents often only think of boarding schools in Texas as a means to assist "troubled kids" and their parents. We have had to actively fight this perception…"

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Southern Boarding School Opportunities/Flavors

Working from their relative youth and geographies southern boarding schools offer special opportunities and advantages to families considering boarding school.

Proximity- Southern boarding schools provide a combination of rural setting and proximity to the region's major cities- the safety and reduced distractions of a rural location combined with proximity to a large urban center. In choosing a southern boarding school, families living in the South have more opportunities to maintain connections and involvement with their children. Participation and connection are a car drive rather than a full day's travel or flight away, allowing parents to support extracurricular programs like theater and athletics.

Affordability- Several of America's more affordable boarding schools are located in the South. The roots of the lower costs and lower tuitions are- as I've discovered- are matters of great debate.

No matter the reasons, several of America's best boarding school buys are in the South.

A Plethora of School Types- Boys, Girls, Coed, Religious Affiliation, Military, Highly Competitive, Nurturing and Growth oriented, every type of boarding school lives and breathes in the South.

Informally Distinctively Southern- If you were to visit every AQ Member School in the South, you would probably be able to say it is in some way distinctively southern- from the climate to old style polite interaction.

You would more than likely meet incredibly polite students who meet and greet adults, very naturally, with 'yes, mam' and 'yes, sir.' It's as natural as 'what can I get you baby' when being waited on at just about any counter in Memphis.

Scott Breed, Subiaco Academy Admission Director, sums it up this way:

"I think, the climate, lifestyle, friendliness, natural/outdoors types of activity and safety that comes being away from the risks of a more urban environment…are all strong selling points. Plus…the lower cost factor…is another attractive feature/benefit."

Formally Distinctively Southern

Military schools in the South carry many idealized southern values into the modern world. The concepts of honor, integrity, tradition, duty, responsibility and service live and under gird the teachings and traditions at many of the southern military academies.

Dan Thompson of Fork Union Military Academy explains: "In the southern way of thinking, these values, often associated with the military and soldiers, should be the qualities expected of any solid citizen in our democracy.

It was this emphasis on what might be called the "soldierly virtues" that led to the creation of many "military schools" throughout the South in the 19th and early 20th century. These schools did not grow out of a militaristic goal of creating soldiers, but, rather, to accomplish the goal of building honorable and worthy citizens."

AQ Member Schools in the American South

Admiral Farragut Academy
An Honor Naval Academy founded in 1933, Pine Beach, NJ, a second campus opened in 1945 in St. Petersburg, Fl. Offering co-ed grades K-12, AFA has a 92% re-enrollment rate and 100% college acceptance rate. AFA only considers students who want to attend. AFA is NOT a "boot camp" and will not consider children who are disciplinary problems. AFA is alma mater of two of the twelve men who have walked on the moon.

Asheville School
Our exceptional faculty and academically talented, high-achieving students constitute a school dedicated to scholarship, character, and community. Founded in 1900, Asheville encourages intellectual rigor, clear communication, and sound study habits. The middle 50% of the class of 2007 scored from 1790-2090 on the SAT. The acclaimed outdoor program utilizes our stunning location for climbing, kayaking, and mountain-biking. We offer numerous interscholastic sports, an equestrian program, and outstanding options in the fine arts.

Blue Ridge School
Blue Ridge School is dedicated to providing a sound college-prep education for capable and willing young men. Blue Ridge is a supportive, structured community where self-esteem is founded upon solid accomplishment in the classroom, on the athletic fields, in the arts and in a host of co-curricular activities. A caring and committed faculty and staff continue to provide individual attention to each student and show him how to succeed.

Camden Military Academy
Camden Military Academy's mission, first articulated by Colonel James F. Risher, headmaster of Carlisle Military School and founder of Camden Military Academy, is to accept young men of unfulfilled promise and lead them to a future of success. This philosophy, with its roots firmly established at Carlisle, has served young men at Camden now for half a century. Cadets learn to practice the concepts of honor, integrity, and duty as they grow in their everyday lives on campus. They learn to accept responsibility for their successes and failures in the classroom, on the athletic fields, and in their military roles. Cadets are encouraged to develop their own individual strengths and talents while at the same time to respect the rights of others. The school's philosophy is to develop the "whole man" to the end that he is prepared not only academically, but also emotionally, physically, and morally, to face the trials and meet the opportunities that will be his after he leaves Camden Military Academy.

Florida Air Academy
Florida Air Academy is Florida's largest boarding school and is home to one of the country's premier student leadership programs. Day and boarding students in grades 6-12 are challenged by a top college preparatory academic program enhanced by co-curricular opportunities, including performing and fine arts, championship athletics, flight training, scuba, martial arts, surfing, skateboarding and equestrian training. A supportive, family-oriented staff provides supervision and guidance along with 24-hour campus medical services.

Fork Union Military Academy
Our Mission- The mission of Fork Union Military Academy is to provide young men a college preparatory education in a residential, Christian environment. Using the best aspects of the military system, the Academy teaches its cadets responsibility, leadership, discipline, and pride by providing an atmosphere in which spiritual, mental, and physical growth can flourish.

The young men come from near and far and from all stations in life. They are a wide range of races, religions, talents and abilities. What they have in common is the desire to go to college one day, and parents and relatives who want them to have the education it takes to get there.

Hargrave Military Academy
Hargrave Military Academy is a private, Christian boarding school serving boys from grades seven to one postgraduate year in Southwest Virginia. Hargrave offers a 'How to Study' program, discipline, and challenging college preparatory classes in a meaningful, structured environment for each student.

The "whole-person" is addressed at Hargrave. Development of personal responsibility, fitness, academic grades and moral character are important goals for each Cadet. Opportunities for personal achievement build a more successful, rewarding future for our students.

McCallie School
McCallie was founded in 1905 by brothers J. Park and Spencer McCallie. The school accepts young men with above average to exceptional academic abilities and those students matriculate at some of the best colleges and universities in the country. McCallie graduates are national and regional leaders in business, government, the arts and religion.

Today McCallie has an enrollment of 910 and stresses a strong academic orientation along with physical and moral development.

Miller School
Miller School began with the vision of Samuel Miller, a 19th-century mercantilist born into poverty in 1792, educated through the good graces of others, and steeped in philanthropy upon achieving financial success in adulthood. At a time when only the financially capable could afford education, Mr. Miller maintained his vision for a school that would educate students seeking to maximize their potential regardless of their financial circumstances. Upon his death in 1869, Mr. Miller left the balance of his substantial estate to start Miller School in the Ragged Mountain hills where he grew up in western Albemarle County, Virginia. The Miller School of Albemarle opened its doors in August, 1878, and has been preparing girls and boys for college, adulthood, and life ever since. Through more than 125 years, Miller School has had various incarnations - as a manual labor school, military school, and college preparatory academy; as an all-male institution that became one of the first coeducational schools in the region in 1884, then flipped back to all-male and back to coeducational again, ultimately leading to the coeducational college preparatory school for girls and boys in grades 8-12 & PG that it is today. Throughout those eras, Miller School has held constantly to Samuel Miller's vision of providing educational opportunities to willing and receptive students regardless of their financial condition. Today, Miller School is home to students from around Virginia, around the United States, and around the world (with over 15% of its student body coming from foreign countries spanning the globe).

Saint Andrew's School
An Episcopal School founded in 1962. It is a nationally recognized K-12 day and boarding college preparatory school.

St. Andrew's-Sewanee School
One of the oldest Episcopal Schools in the South, St. Andrew's-Sewanee School traces it history to 1868 and the founding of the Sewanee Grammar School, a junior department of the newly founded University of the South. In 1981, the School consolidated the histories and traditions of the Sewanee Military Academy, St. Andrew's School, and St. Mary's School for Girls to create one strong and dynamic school and alumni body. Alumni of the school include several noted actors, authors, and musicians, including Pulitizer-Prize winner James Agee.

St. Bernard Preparatory School
St. Bernard Preparatory School is a co-ed Catholic boarding and day school for grades 9-12. For over a century St. Bernard has been providing a quality education to generations of students.

Subiaco Academy
Subiaco Academy, founded by the Benedictine monks of Subiaco Abbey in 1887, seeks young men of character and intelligence, from around the world, who have a desire to go onto a college or university of their choice by working diligently in their studies. Subiaco is located in western Arkansas near Fort Smith. Subiaco boasts small classes, individual attention, music, fine arts, drama, championship sports, a full range of honors and AP classes, and 100% college placement. We strive to develop the whole person within the Catholic Benedictine tradition of prayer, scholarship, and work. A beautiful 100- acre campus with excellent facilities provides the setting for a young man to grow graciously to manhood.

The Webb School (TN)
The Webb School-- Sawney Webb's goal was to build moral character, make ladies and gentlemen of his students, and prepare them for any challenge that may come their way. This has been accomplished for over 135 years through a solid liberal arts education, a strong sense of honor, and an interactive school community. The Webb School has produced 10 Rhodes Scholars and its graduates have gone on to attend prestigious colleges and universities across the nation and to lead important, successful and fulfilling lives in business, education, and the arts. It is our intention to keep this tradition alive by providing a sound education combined with high moral values.

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  • As stated earlier, the perception of southern boarding schools as places to "fix" troubled kids are the perceptions most often found in our state of Alabama. To further this, some of our kids from around the country feel a stigma going home and telling them where they go to school, not because of the rich tradition and good education they are receiving at our place (St. Bernard), but because it's in Alabama. Until our public school friends in our deep south states start to make a real change, our school will be hurt with the knowledge that we're in the South. John Arndt, April 8, 2009 12:13 PM
  • Education in southern boarding schools is an impressive and beneficial for the students because of its religious traditions and creative work. This is good from other public schools because of its Physical and cultural distance. If education and residential facilities in academies good and can develop moral values in learner’s character then distance of learning centers dose not matter. Yes this school is beneficial for south children but other students also can take admission without any fear. boarding schools, August 4, 2011 12:22 AM
  • I love the fact that you have highlighted boarding schools in the South. I also grew up in the South, and have often witnessed a reverse prejudice against all things southern. But what students and families don't realize is how gracious, hospitable, and just "good" southerners can be. Intolerance is ugly no matter which way it goes - it's high time that people opened up their minds to the wonderful opportunities that are available in the southern part of the United States. Rebecca Grappo, August 27, 2011 10:55 PM

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