Does My Child Need to Switch Schools?

Why boarding school might be the answer

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School should be an exciting time for children, but unfortunately, for many students, school can be a difficult and even troubling experience. The needs of students in our world today - from learning differences to unique career aspirations - are more varied than ever, and as a result, it is even more important for parents to assess the needs of their children. This includes advocating for their child in the classroom, seeking out additional resources for counseling or tutoring, and even determining whether or not their current school is the right education model.

Does my child need to switch schools?

If your family has reached that point of deciding that finding a new school for your children is a must, the next steps can be confusing. One of the alternative options for high school today for many students is private school, and some may even consider boarding school. 

Boarding school can be a wonderful experience for some children. They can engage in the extracurricular activity that compels them—whether it is hockey, basketball, drama, or horseback riding—while they have access to top-flight academics and college preparation and are developing independence and self-confidence. However, not every child is ready for boarding school.

Here are some questions to think about if you are considering sending your child to a boarding school:

Question #1: Is My Child Independent?

Independence is one of the main ​qualities that boarding school admissions committees look for in potential applicants. Students at boarding schools not only have to be able to handle a new living situation, they also have to be able to advocate for themselves by asking to meet with teachers, deans, or other faculty members without parental prodding. If you are considering sending your child to boarding school, take a realistic look at the degree to which your child can advocate for him or herself and to which he or she accepts help from teachers. These variables are vitally important to success in boarding school, so encourage your child to move towards a comfortable interaction with his or her teachers and a comfort level with asking for help long before he or she leaves home.

Question #2: How Comfortable is My Child Away from Home?

Homesickness can strike many students who attend sleep-away camp, boarding school, or college. In fact a study published in 2007 by Christopher Thurber, Ph.D. and Edward Walton, Ph.D., reported that previous studies had found that anywhere from 16-91% of teenagers residing at boarding school were homesick. Studies have found that homesickness is pervasive across cultures and among both sexes. While homesickness can be a normal and predictable part of boarding school life, students who attend boarding school can fare better if they’ve had successful experiences living away from home before. They will feel more comfortable adapting to a new living situation and to connecting with other children and with adults who can help them adapt to their new environment. They may also understand that homesickness will usually abate over time and that feeling homesick can be a part of the process of being away but that it does not mean they cannot get used to living in a new place.

Question #3: How can my child benefit from a diverse community?

People naturally vary with regard to openness and responsiveness to new experiences and environments. It is important for children who attend boarding school to be open to meeting new people and experiencing new things. Boarding schools in the United States are increasingly diverse, and many schools educate a large number of international students. Living with and getting to know diverse students, including those from other countries, can be a broadening experience that helps children learn how to live in an increasingly global world. In addition, boarding schools are helping students learn more about their own and other cultures through such events as having special menus in the boarding school dining hall. For example, at Phillips Exeter in New Hampshire, 44% of the students represent people of color, and 20% of the students are Asian-American. The dining hall at Exeter hosts a Chinese New Year celebration. The dining hall is decorated for the event, and students and faculty are able to savor food from a pho bar to sample Vietnamese soup with chicken or beef and rice noodles, seasoned with basil, lime, mint, and bean sprouts.

There is also a dumpling station, where students can try their hand at making dumplings, a traditional family activity during the Chinese New Year. These types of experiences can be wonderful if students are open to them.

Updated by Stacy Jagodowski