Middle School Options: Junior Boarding School

Two Schools Respond to Common Questions about Junior Boarding School

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As parents consider options for their children's middle school education, especially if there is a need to switch schools, a junior boarding school may not always be the first thought. However, these specialized schools can offer students things that students won't find in a typical middle school setting. Find out if a junior boarding school is right for your child by learning what two schools have to say about this unique learning and living opportunity for middle school students.

 

What are the benefits of a junior boarding school?

When I reached out to Eaglebrook School, a junior boarding and day school for boys in grades 6-8, they shared with me that junior boarding schools work to build strong foundational skills in students, such as organization, self-advocacy, critical thinking, and healthy living.

Eaglebrook: A junior boarding school also improves a student’s independence at a young age while exposing them to diversity and potential adversity in a safe, nurturing environment. Students have a broad range of activities and opportunities right on campus, and are constantly encouraged to try new things. Junior boarding school can also help to improve relationships among families. Parents are taken out of the role as the primary disciplinarian, homework helper, and chauffeur and instead get to be the chief supporter, cheerleader, and advocate for their child. There are no more nightly fights about homework!

Every student at Eaglebrook is given an advisor, who works in concert with each student and their family. The advisor is the point person for each student and his family. 

How do you know if a junior boarding school is right for your child?

Eaglebrook noted that one very important aspect of deciding if a junior boarding school is a good fit is to simply visit, noting that families who believe that any of the benefits that were addressed in the previous question ring true, then it's time to schedule onr.

I also connected with Indian Mountain School, a co-ed boarding and day school in Connecticut, told me that the willingness of the child to attend a junior boarding school is an important component of deciding if a junior boarding school is right for your child. 

Indian Mountain: There are many indicators of a good fit for junior boarding, but the first is a willingness on the part of the child. Many students have sleep-away camp experience, so they understand what it feels like to be away from home for significant stretches of time and are excited about the chance to learn and live in a diverse community with peers from all over the world. They welcome the chance to grow in a challenging but supportive classroom setting where class sizes are small and the curriculum has depth and breadth beyond many of their local options. Some families are also attracted to the ability to have all of the students’ activities (arts, sports, music, drama, etc) all in one place, and thus the opportunity to expand their horizons without limitations on time, transportation, and family schedules.  

Are students developmentally ready for boarding school at such a young age?

Indian Mountain: Many are, but not all.

In the admissions process, we work with families to determine if junior boarding school is the right fit for their child. For students that are ready, the transition is typically an easy one and they are immersed in community life within the first few weeks of school.

Eaglebrook: The structure, consistency, and support of a Junior Boarding School program meet the developmental needs of children in middle school. A Junior Boarding School is by definition a safe place where children are allowed to grow and learn at a pace that works for them.

What is daily life at a junior boarding school like?

Indian Mountain: Every JB school is slightly different, but I assume a similarity is that we are all highly structured. The day begins when a faculty member wakes the students up in the dorm and supervises them through “check out” before heading to breakfast.

Boarding students and faculty eat breakfast together before starting the academic day at roughly 8am. The academic day ends at roughly 3:15. From there, students go to their sports practices, which generally end around 5pm. Day students depart at 5 and then our boarding students have one hour of free time in their dormitories with a faculty member until dinner at 6pm. Following dinner, students have study-hall. After study-hall, students typically spend time in their dormitories or go to the gym, weight room, or yoga classes. Faculty members supervise quiet time at the end of the evening and “lights out” happens between 9:00-10:00 depending on the age of the student.   

Eaglebrook: A day in the life at a Junior Boarding School can be fun and challenging. You get to live with 40 boys your own age, play sports, take art classes, act, and sing with students from around the world who share common interests with you. Home Nights every two weeks are nights to spend with your advisor, their family, and your fellow group members (about 8 of you) doing a fun activity and eating dinner together. On a day-to-day basis, you are faced with important choices: Should you go play pickup soccer with your friends on a Saturday afternoon or should you go to the library and finish your research? Did you ask your teacher for extra help at the end of class? If no, then you can do that at dinner and get in a math review before lights out. There might be a movie showing in the gym on Friday night or a camping trip you need to sign up for. Did you have that meeting with your advisor and your roommate to talk about the argument you two had the other day? Don’t forget to leave your phone in the tech cart in your dorm when you go to class. There is a lot going on at Eaglebrook on any given day. And the students, with guidance, have a lot of room to make choices and figure things out. 

Other than dorm experiences, what do Junior Boarding Schools offer that day schools don’t?

Eaglebrook: At a Junior Boarding School you have a “class day” that never ends and teachers who never “clock out” because everything, from a sit-down meal in the dining hall to an evening dorm meeting where you get assigned your dorm job for that week has learning value.

You can rely on the community at a Junior Boarding School to look out for you while you spread your wings. Teachers see your value beyond the grade you got on your history paper or your math test. As we say in our mission, “In a warm, caring, structured atmosphere boys learn more than they ever thought possible, discover inner resources, develop self-confidence, and have fun along the way.” And there is a lot of fun to be had. Weekends at Eaglebrook are designed to give students a break from the class day while holding them to a structure that forces them to not veg out in their rooms for 48 hours. There is time to relax, but there is also time to go skiing, go canoeing, head to the mall, go watch a college sports game at a nearby school, do some community service, and eat a delicious brunch. Built in study halls allow you to get your school work done, too.

Indian Mountain: Junior boarding schools offer the opportunity to get to know teachers in an expanded supportive role, a vibrant community life and friendships with students and dorm-mates from all over the world, and access to multiple activities, teams and programs all in one place. 

 

What are the challenges that students at Junior Boarding School face, and how does the school help?

Indian Mountain: There is no generalized challenge that students at JBS face. Just like all schools (boarding and day), some students are still learning how to learn effectively. To support these students, we build in time for students to work with their teachers for extra help. We also have a learning skills departments and tutors on staff who can be available for one-on-one work with students, if necessary. Some students struggle with homesickness, but generally this only lasts for a few weeks at the beginning of the year. Just like at all schools, we also have some students who need emotional support for all kinds of reasons. Since we are a boarding school, we offer support from two full-time counselors on site. They also work with groups of students to support them in relationship with their peers and classmates and through challenging moments for students in early adolescence. 

Eaglebrook: Students live, go to class, play sports, participate in activities, and eat meals with their peers. While this can provide a fabulous opportunity for them to form lifelong friendships, it can also be difficult. Teachers and advisors are constantly monitoring relationships and social situations to make sure that each child has a safe, healthy, and fun place to live and work.

If a student is having academic difficulty, the advisor works with that student and his teachers to develop a plan to get help, do extra work, and correct the situation before it gets too dire.

Students do get homesick, and advisors work with families on how best to alleviate those feelings. That plan is probably different for each individual situation, which is fine. Something we try to do at Eaglebrook is meet every student where he is. Individual attention to each boy is paramount.

 

Where do Junior Boarding School graduates go for high school?

Eaglebrook: Most simply, they move on to their next phase of schooling. For the vast majority of our students, this means a private secondary school. Our placement office, which assists each ninth grader and his family with the application process, makes sure that the next school is the right fit for that individual. No matter where they move on to after their time on the Hill, they will have the skills and the network of people at Eaglebrook to support them.

Indian Mountain: Most of our students will matriculate to independent schools all over the United States, primarily as boarding students but we do have students that pursue the excellent local day options. A few of our students will return home to local public schools and occasionally graduates matriculate to independent day schools in New York City. We have a secondary school advisor who helps eighth and ninth grade students with the entire application process from compiling a school list to writing essays to submitting materials. We typically have approximately 40 or more boarding secondary schools on our campus every fall to meet with our students and inform them about their options. 

How does JBS prepare you for high school and college?

Indian Mountain: Our schools help students develop the self-confidence to take ownership of their learning experiences. Because of the supportive relationships they have with their teachers (some of whom may be their coaches, advisors and/or dorm parents), students are adept at asking for help and speaking up for themselves. They learn the benefit of being self-advocates at an earlier age and develop leadership, critical thinking, and communication skills so they are ready to take full advantage of opportunities ahead in high school and beyond. Our students also develop independence alongside the presence of committed faculty, take intellectual risks in a nurturing environment, and learn about the importance of embracing community, all the while being kids and having fun.