For many people, boarding schools are shrouded in mystery. Here, we lift the veil to explore this educational option.
The concept of boarding school comes to most with some preconceived notions.
Thanks to Hollywood, some imaginative types may picture boarding schools as places where children learn how to become wizards. While others think it’s where unruly children are sent as punishment. But boarding school isn’t about delinquency or wizardry.
Boarding school is actually a modern option that many families can consider. According to The Boarding School Review, there are roughly 300 boarding schools in the US and Canada.
“A boarding school education is one of the greatest gifts a parent can give to a child,” said John A. Williamson, owner and executive director of Linden Educational Services, an Orange County-based company that offers consulting services to families looking to find the right boarding school. “Not only do these schools help students attain the best degrees and qualifications, they provide a foundation for life, success and personal friendships that last forever.”
According to Williamson, California is home to more than 25 boarding schools. And some of those schools are right here in Orange County.
Fairmont Private Schools offers private school education all over the county, from the preschool to the high school level, but they also have a student boarding option.
“The Fairmont Boarding option is for families that value educating the whole student,” said Yvette Tung, Fairmont Boarding manager. “Learning doesn’t stop when the students leave campus.”
Fairmont premium student boarding is currently open to international students entering grades nine through 12, with each residence housing all boys or all girls. Each student boarding home has a “resident parent” and students receive daily professionally catered meals and private van/shuttle service to and from school.
“We are preparing them for the competitive environment of university,” said Betty Petersen, director of International Admissions at Fairmont Prep Academy.
St. Catherine’s Academy in Anaheim is a boys’ Catholic school with a military tradition and boarding options. Day students make up about 50 percent of the student population of boys in transitional kindergarten to eighth grade, but there are options for five-day boarding and seven-day boarding. The five-day boarding program is available to students in fourth to eighth grade. In this program, students reside on campus from Sunday evening through Friday afternoon and return home on weekends. The seven-day boarding program is also open to fourth to eighth grade and students reside on campus throughout the school year, returning home for the spring, winter and summer vacations.
“SCA is the ideal environment for any boy because SCA offers a very structured environment, same sex education, leadership opportunities and more,” said Belinda Gordillo, St. Catherine’s Academy’s manager of communications. “The school is designed to help students learn and grow.”
Boarding school can foster independence and be great practice for university living.
“Being in a boarding house with the structure to give the student a feel of independence while having 24-hour supervision is a happy medium between dependent living with the parents and independent living at college,” said Tung.
Williamson added, “Boarding school students are uniquely prepared for university life. They arrive at a university better prepared for academic rigor because they learned how to be responsible at boarding school.”
And those skills continue through the student’s life.
“Studies show that boarding school graduates not only excel at university but advance rapidly in their professional careers,” Williamson said.
Boarding schools also can provide an immersive multicultural experience. Gordillo noted that St. Catherine’s Academy has a high population of students from Mexico and China, whose parents have also studied at SCA for many generations. Petersen said Fairmont Prep is quite diverse as well.
“Forty-seven percent of our student body comes from 11 different countries,” said Petersen. “We want students to be able to communicate with a wide variety of people from a diverse background. That is something that is going to resonate not only in college but eventually in the work space as well.”
And the chance to interact with a global community is not lost on the students.
“What was truly valuable to me were those multicultural friends I have met who sat with me at the same dining table,” said Ken Hsu, a student at Fairmont Prep Academy. “I found it amazing to have such conversation with them because I got to promote, exchange and expand my perspective on a global society.”
Could your child be a good fit for boarding school? You may be surprised to find they are.
“Any child with intellectual curiosity can be a good candidate for boarding school,” Tung said. “Mature, responsible, open-minded students may thrive initially, but all students learn those same skills in the boarding program.”
Williamson said, “Across the world I repeatedly find that most any child would be a wonderful candidate for a unique and enriching education at a boarding school.”
According to Williamson, the path to a positive boarding school experience starts with finding the right school for your child.
“We believe the key to a successful school placement is understanding the specific needs of a child and knowing the essence and the culture of each boarding school,” Williamson said. “Whether a child needs competitive academics, athletics or arts programs, or a school with therapeutic or special needs.”
Of course it can still be hard for parents and children to live under different roofs.
“The first time stepping into a boarding school may seem daunting. Many are used to their own routines, food or environment,” said Tung. “Going to a new school is difficult for any child.”
It can be tough on parents, too.
“For many parents, this is the first time they are apart from their sons,” said Gordillo. “It’s not rare for students to get homesick at first. This is very hard, but most students admit they adapt within a few weeks.”
But the outcome can be invaluable.
“The benefits are so amazing,” said Gordillo, “and so worth it.”
By Sarah Mosqueda