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What are Classrooms Like at Small Boarding School Oak Hill Academy in Virginia?

In response to continuous inquiries into what makes up a typical day at Oak Hill Academy, we are producing some short videos highlighting various parts of the school day.  Earlier, you saw how we begin the day together heading into homeroom in the Chapel.  Today, I wanted to share with you our classrooms and how those look and feel.  I grabbed my video equipment and spent, literally 15 minutes, popping into various classrooms to capture a slice of the experience of being in our school building.  The results are a video that, while not dramatically shot, shows an honest, real look at our school day on The Hill.

Our teachers treat their small classrooms as their living rooms.  Through this video, you may be able to see the personalities and teaching styles with which our students engage each day.  You are invited to take a walk with me through the English Academic Building, on the campus of Oak Hill Academy, in the small Blue Ridge Mountain town of Mouth of Wilson, Virginia.  Something special is happening here.

Oak Hill Academy: Small Boarding School Campus

Today’s Admission Blog post is inspired by many recently asked questions about our campus.  Many people want to know what a 150-student campus looks like.  I know from the comments on tours that we are much bigger, and have many more buildings than most expect to see.  With campus empty during Spring Break, and a little time on my hands, I decided to take a golf cart and show prospective families a bit of our campus. Oak Hill Academy is a 240-acre campus, so this video just highlights the center part of campus–our Administration Building and Dining Hall, the Chapel, Alumni Campus Store and on out to the soccer field.

For generations of alumni, this small but scenic campus has been a part of their success story.  Students and families seeking a new approach for their students choose Oak Hill Academy’s emphasis on academic and personal growth to change their trajectory and to open options to college.  To schedule a full tour of campus, or to discuss Oak Hill Academy as a fit for your student, please contact the Admission Office at info@oak-hill.net  or (276) 579-2619.  Tours are conducted throughout the Spring for individual families on an appointment basis.

 

Oak Hill Academy: Virginia Boarding School Tradition Since 1878

In 1878, the congregation of Young’s Chapel Baptist Church in Mouth of Wilson, Virginia, started a school.  Some 138 years later, Oak Hill Academy carries on the mission to provide a structured, Christian-based education for personal and academic growth here in the Grayson Highlands, a particularly scenic portion of the Blue Ridge Mountains in Southwest Virginia.  We are very proud of our heritage and our development over the years into a school that provides these opportunities and opening doors to college success to students from more than 20 countries and 23 states this year–all the while staying true to the mission of the school.

Perhaps inspired by “Throwback Thursday,” I want to share with you today the Ussery Archives Room, in the lower level of the Rev. J.F. Fletcher Chapel on our campus.  In this space, we honor the past and remind ourselves of our place in the scheme of a long tradition.  The Archives Room is a rather formal, well-appointed, multi-use space.  Various campus groups from Leadership, to the Honor Court, to the Board of Trustees use this space to meet.  It is also home to the Admission Department and most tours start here to get a sense of this history.

Please enjoy this admittedly lengthy video (I’m a history teacher by trade) as I take a walk through the years in the Ussery Archives Room to share some of the history of Oak Hill Academy.

If you are considering a boarding school option for your student and are looking for a boarding school with a long tradition of helping students with academic, personal and spiritual growth, I encourage you to contact the Admission Department at info@oak-hill.net or (276) 579-2619 to discuss your goals for your student and the possibility that Oak Hill Academy is a good boarding school fit.

 

Oak Hill Academy: Boarding School as a Chance for a New Direction

One of the most common themes I encounter in admission inquiries is a desire to make a change.  As Oak Hill Academy’s position in the college prep boarding school world is to offer a unique opportunity for a “Turning Point,” this is the kind of inquiry I consider a fit for our mission.  This change in direction often involves academic performance, but it can also be a need for personal growth.  Oak Hill Academy’s small, structured environment means that there is a relational component here that may be missing in a student’s current school setting.  These positive relationships are the catalyst for growth.

Small class sizes means that our teachers know their students–their strengths and relative weaknesses.  In small classes, we address learning styles, and there is greater opportunity to individualize our approach to teaching and motivating.  The small school population means that peer relationships are strong, and that is often the “x-factor” in helping students find their motivation.  In a structured routine, our students emphasize to each other the opportunities to get organized, to stay on top of things, and to be proud of the improvements they make.  The abundance of support and extra help opportunities (such as 8th period tutorials) assist our students in following through on their goals for themselves.

Why do we emphasize the phrase “The Turning Point?”  Because it is one of the key elements our students identify as part of their Oak Hill Academy experience.  A short few years ago, our student leadership group was challenged to develop four core values that define their experience at OHA.  “Transformation” topped the list. This is the most important aspect of our calling as a school, as voiced in our Mission Statement:

Oak Hill Academy is a coeducational, Baptist affiliated, boarding/day school committed to excellence in education and adolescent development in a non-military setting.  The mission of Oak Hill Academy is to offer a safe, secure, nurturing environment for girls and boys needing a change in school, peer, community, or family relationships.  Oak Hill provides a structured college-preparatory program to students in grades 8-12.  Our curriculum challenges the brightest student and encourages those who are unmotivated, who are underachieving, or who are experiencing difficulties in their school setting.

As families are reviewing the course of the current school year, now is the time many are considering a need for a change in direction.  I invite you to take a closer look at Oak Hill Academy as a potential good boarding school fit to help that happen.  We are currently considering applicants for both our summer session http://oak-hill.net/summer-school/ and the upcoming Fall enrollment.  Please contact the Oak Hill Academy Admission Department at info@oak-hill.net  or call (276) 579-2619.

Boarding School Experience Preps For College Life

As I watch our students preparing to depart for our two-week Spring Break today, I’m reminded that one of the greatest similarities between boarding school and college is the flow of the school year.  Like college, Oak Hill Academy’s schedule is punctuated by significant breaks.  This is important for a few reasons:

  • The Oak Hill Academy student body currently represents 24 states and 20 countries.  That’s a lot of plane travel!  Logistically, students need considerable stretches of time to make travel home worthwhile and meaningful.  To this end, in addition to our Spring Break, we have a 10-day Thanksgiving Break and a two-and-a-half week Christmas/New Year’s Break.
  • Because our students all board (we do not have a lot of day students from the surrounding area in rural Grayson County, Virginia), it is healthy to reconnect with family and friends after an extended period of focused study and busy campus life.  We attend school on most Saturdays (half days) and frankly there just aren’t any “days off” in the boarding school schedule.  These breaks are equally important for our parents and families, as they are excited to catch up and reconnect with their students as well.
  • An important part of our students’ experience is learning to finish strongly while anticipating scheduled breaks.  Our students have to guard against, in the words of a past OHA principal, “mentally packing their bags too early.”  With the college calendar of breaks preceded by deadlines and exams, this is vital training.  We are intentional in helping our students learn how to see things through and delay the gratification that comes with breaks.

By the way, there is a lot of planning and coordination involved in providing shuttle service for over half of our student population.  Buses are chartered to get kids to flights from Charlotte, North Carolina’s Douglas International Airport.  Travel plans are confirmed with each family.  More local families (a relative term) are coordinating ride sharing permissions with each other as we have a strong contingent of students from Northern Virginia, Maryland and the D.C. area.  In the midst of the excitement, there are a multitude of details that are handled by our transportation coordinator.  A big THANKS to you, Mrs. Cooper!

  

Right now, as I brace for a much quieter campus over the next few weeks, I’m still excited about the current admission cycle.  As more than a quarter of our student body graduates in a typical year, I’m enthusiastic about how next school year’s enrollment is shaping up already.  I’m also very involved in working with summer session applicants.  Oak Hill Academy’s summer school session is a great opportunity for grade improvement and for new students to gain momentum and settle in heading into next school year.  Please feel free to contact the Admission Department, especially during Spring Break, at info@oak-hill.net or simply call (276) 579-2619.

In the meantime, A Happy Spring Break To All!  Bring on the snow!

U.S. Boarding Schools for International Students: Baaba O, Oak Hill Academy ’14

We were excited to hear from Baaba recently that her graduation from Liberty University is fast approaching and that she has been accepted into Johns Hopkins to continue her post-graduate work!  Baaba is remembered fondly on The Hill for her sincerely kind and warm personality.  Baaba, originally from Ghana, was very involved on campus during her two years at Oak Hill in activities ranging from cheerleading to taking a leadership role in our Youth Group.  Her love of God shined through in all her relationships on campus and we couldn’t be more proud of her.  Baaba was also very serious-minded about her studies and took great advantage of the resources available to her–it was not uncommon to find her visiting her teachers during 8th-period tutorials.

Oak Hill Academy is proud of the success and long tradition of our international students.  Our quiet location in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia leads to a campus community that is very tight-knit, and we rely on each other to make community.  Our international students have always played a big role in this sense of closeness, and Baaba is among the best examples.  Although homesick at times, Baaba truly invested in the relationships here among her peers and faculty and was, in turn, fully embraced by Oak Hill Academy.  In a recent letter back to our Dean of Girls, Baaba shares the special place that Oak Hill Academy holds for her:

“Hi, Mrs. Crede! I hope you are doing well. I miss you all so much and hope to come visit this summer! I wanted to let you all know, and hope you can extend this to all the teachers who taught me, that I am graduating with a B.S. in psychology this May!!  And I got accepted into Johns Hopkins this fall to continue my master’s degree in clinical mental health.  Oak Hill really changed my life. Meeting you and all the other faculty on that campus is how God turned my story into something beautiful, a story I can be proud of. I treasure every memory I made there. It is an honor to be part of the Oak Hill family, and I look forward to seeing you all soon!

In a follow-up conversation with Baaba, she shares with me the powerful idea that the most lasting impact is the confidence that she developed at Oak Hill Academy .  She relates, “OHA was the first place I ever had teachers believe in my capabilities, and they made me see it, too.  I remember the moment, in summer school Algebra, when Ms. Sargent made me believe in myself.  I’d never been good at math, and she actually taught me to an “A” on my final exam!  She took her time and taught me as much about myself as about formulas.”

(Oak Hill Academy offers a summer school session that is often a great place to start.  For more details visit here:  http://oak-hill.net/summer-school/ )

For Baaba, it was this confidence that was her Turning Point.  “I can’t stress enough how prepared I felt heading off to Liberty University.  It (college) was harder than I thought, but I wasn’t scared.  I knew that I could develop relationships with my professors because I’d done that at OHA.  Campus life at Liberty wasn’t overwhelming because of my experience of campus living at OHA.  I was ready!”  Baaba also mentions that she was able to graduate from Liberty University in three years, largely due to the college credits she earned her senior year at OHA through our dual college credit program.

Baaba’s choice of Liberty University proved to be a tremendous fit.  She gives a lot of credit directly to the Oak Hill Academy College Planning Department, and in particular, Mrs. Groves.  One of the attractive features at Liberty University was the spiritual opportunities they offer.  Baaba sees that as an extension of what she experienced at Oak Hill Academy.  “I definitely feel that I was able to grow closer to God during my time at Oak Hill Academy.  I think the structure and the quiet times offered gave me much needed time to think.  I became very thoughtful and intentional in my spiritual life while at OHA.”

We look forward to Baaba’s coming back to campus for a visit soon!

Boarding School Traditions – Being A Part of Something Bigger

Oak Hill Academy is a small boarding school located in the rural, Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia.  These two facts lead to a campus that is extremely tight-knit.  Since 1878, Oak Hill Academy has done “community” exceptionally well.  Today’s homeroom devotion, delivered by our Head of School, Dr. Michael Groves, reminded us all of our school’s long-standing mission and our place in this tradition.  I asked him to share his thoughts from this morning in our blog.

“Wow, look at that cool blazer!”  Such were the words coming my direction this morning as I walked to homeroom assembly.  In honor of our final chapter of this year’s Spirit Days here at Oak Hill Academy I decided to wear an old (1960s?) mustard yellow OHA blazer.  Instead of the students laughing at the slightly too small, old-fashioned, polyester jacket … they loved it.  “Can we wear those jackets to church?”  “Where can I get a blazer like that?”

In our morning devotion today (while wearing the blazer) I shared with the students that at Oak Hill Academy we always need to be aware that we are part of something much larger than ourselves.  I keep this old jacket hanging visibly in The President’s Office for just such a reminder.  For 138 years this boarding school in the mountains of southwestern Virginia has served as a “Turning Point” for students from across the United States and from all over the world.  As members of the faculty and administration we are blessed to play a small role in this tremendous legacy of supporting students.  Today, it was an antique and ill-fitting blazer that reminded me of the charge before us in this timeless and important community … Oak Hill Academy.

 

Michael D. Groves, Ph.D.

President

Starting the day at OHA

I’ve received a couple of requests to show the schedule of a typical day at boarding school for our students.  I’ll tell the story through a series of videos that show the major parts of a day at Oak Hill Academy.  Let’s start at the beginning – Homeroom in the Fletcher Chapel, a tradition.

 

Boarding School is an Opportunity for Discovery. Arts, Anyone?

One of the most provocative questions I can ask a prospective student on a campus tour is, “Are you artistic?”  Nearly always, the reaction is either an enthusiastic “yes!” or an emphatic “no,” with very little middle ground.  Knowing that we are heading to tour the art studio either way, I’ve learned to never wholly predict a student’s experience here based on their interests coming in.  Boarding school students are something of a captive audience, with friend groups that introduce new activities to each other and an environment that allows easy access to new experiences–so being at Oak Hill Academy can be an awesome time of discovery, and I know that these applicants can’t imagine how much their definitions of themselves will grow during their tenure here.  We are going to the art studio regardless of their answers, and I’m smiling inside.

CiCi works on the hallway mural that will greet students as they enter the art studio

Oak Hill Academy’s art program is an integral part of the culture of growth that is at the heart of our school’s mission.  If a student comes in with a passion for art, our program is broad enough to introduce new media and techniques.  Some of our advanced classes include water color and oil painting, graphic design, and an array of three-dimensional work like ceramics, diorama building and sculpting.  For those getting introduced to their artistic side, beginning classes include basics like drawing and sketching, and allow students to look at art and the world around them with new eyes.  The philosophy that our art teacher, Dennis Wymer, embraces is that we all possess an artist’s eye, and the journey of discovery is the real curriculum.

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There are a ton of performing opportunities at Oak Hill Academy from formal audiences to open mic nights

In addition to the visual arts, I’ve written and posted extensively about our unique music curriculum that both introduces students to playing music and develops existing talents through a very hands-on, collaborative approach.  You won’t find students holed up working on scales here.  Instead, our beginning through advanced classes work out pieces of music together–often contemporary hits that you would hear on the radio.  Through this process many of our musicians become multi-instrumentalists as they are exposed to genres from Appalachian Old Time and Classic Rock to EDM (electronic dance music), broadening their appreciation for music. (Just today, I heard a Miley Cyrus song coming from first period and a Bob Marley classic coming from third period.)

Bello prepares to play a zombie in last year’s play “Ten Ways to Survive the Zombie Apocalypse”

Our theatre program provides a great opportunity for discovery as well.  Known for being extremely accessible and democratic in their development (students work out details of original plays through improv moments in rehearsal), our productions are full of students who didn’t anticipate that theatre would be a part of their Oak Hill experience.  The transforming power of the theatre department is displayed each year, as shy students step out of their shells on stage, as crew members find their places back stage, and unlikely friendships are forged through long hours of rehearsal.  I’m always amazed to see a student known for basketball or equestrian or soccer or mathematical abilities expand their identity by stealing a scene in one of the school plays.

To discover more about the opportunities at Oak Hill Academy, please contact the Admission Department at info@oak-hill.net or speak to our Director of Admission, Mike Rodgers, at 276 579-2619.  We are now in full swing with considerations for summer session and the upcoming school year.  It’s a great time to visit campus!

Considering Boarding School? Consider these tips when planning a campus visit.


Because there is a whole spectrum of boarding school options, choosing the right boarding school fit for your student can, and should, involve plenty of research.  Perhaps you’ve become interested in boarding school for your student and a Google search of “boarding schools” has turned up a dizzying array of choices.  Today’s post from the Admission Desk at Oak Hill Academy is designed to help you develop a game plan, which may or may not lead you to consider Oak Hill Academy as the right fit.

Number 1.  Spend time defining your goals for your student and take the time to get their input.  Some of the best initial inquiries I receive are from families who are working with their student to articulate real goals that go beyond improving grades or opening up college choices.  For example, If you have determined (and your student may even begrudgingly agree) that you are seeking structure as a main feature in a boarding school, then structure can be a great filter in searching schools.  In my experience, if the concept of structure doesn’t appear in a school’s mission statement, there is likely to be an environment that can be thought of as “sink or swim.”  Take the time to identify one or two main goals and two or three secondary goals for your student and include those key words in your search.

Number 2.  I know it may sound painfully obvious, but read the school’s published mission statement (for some schools, you may have to dig around the menu a bit).   All boarding schools have them to one degree or another, and it is often the standard by which many schools are accredited.  This is where a school goes beyond the marketing of the school–like showcasing the beauty of the campus–and instead rolls up its sleeves and exposes the core values that guide its approach.  If your goals for your student are not given a voice by the school’s mission statement, move on.  Look for a mission statement that is prominently displayed and well articulated.  See http://oak-hill.net/mission-statement/ for example.

Number 3.  Consider school profile elements such as student body size, classroom size, and boarding vs. day student ratios, as these all can have a profound effect on a school’s culture.  The first two may be somewhat obvious, but just because a school is small does not mean it necessarily has a small number of students in every individual classroom.  Go beyond the question of school size and ask for specifics on the school’s goals and the reality of class size.  Most boarding schools also have a population of day students–local residents that attend during the school day but do not live on campus.  Be sure to consider this ratio as it can influence campus cohesiveness (both positively and negatively), and ask questions regarding after-school campus life and dorm life on the weekends.

Number 4.  Ask questions regarding the academic support that is available to students outside of class time.  This inquiry will yield a lot of information regarding the school’s philosophy and attitudes toward academic rigor.  Again, lining up your goals for your student with a school’s mission is key here.  If you are looking at boarding school for grade improvement and growth in college-ready habits, a sink-or-swim environment may not be for you, as there is likely a need for as much coaching as instruction for your student.  Ask how learning differences are addressed and if learning styles are taken into account in the classroom.

Number 5.  A campus visit should be about “feeling” the mission of a school as much as hearing about it.  Ask to tour the school building and pop into classes (applicants may be self-conscious doing this, but trust me, having tours come into your classrooms is as much a part of boarding school as eating in the dining hall).  Some schools allow applicants to audit classes, and that is great if there is a passion for a particular subject, but I believe here is where quantity counts.  Try to visit as many classrooms as feasible on your tour because each classroom, even at Oak Hill Academy, has its own personality and vibe.  Getting as broad a view of the whole as you can is more important than having your socks knocked off by one all-star teacher.  Additional tips to keep in mind on your campus visit:

  • Ask to see a lived-in dorm room.  This will communicate much about a dorm’s culture and acceptable standards.  Look for a good balance between relaxation and comfort and a dedicated area for schoolwork.
  • If possible, have lunch in the dining hall.  The cafeteria is a great place to take the pulse of a school and see kids in a social environment with their guard down.  Notice the make up of lunch tables and the evidence (or absence) of cliques.  You’ll also get to form your own opinions on the food.  I often say, “a meal is worth a thousands words” when it comes to questions regarding the food on our campus.
  • Insist on meeting current students during your tour.  In boarding schools with a positive culture, this is no problem at all as current students will likely approach tours themselves, as they do at Oak Hill Academy.  We have many students here who have been trained and coached to give effective tours, but just as often, the organic interaction with an encountered student is the difference-maker on a tour of our campus.  I am very intentional in having current students join tours for lunch or handle the dorm portion of a campus visit.  It’s a good sign when a school trusts current students to handle parts of the tour without the Admission Officer.
  • Take a look at a school’s social media prior to a visit.  It provides current material for visitors to ask questions about and, to a degree, gives an unfiltered view of the campus culture and day-to-day campus life.  See Oak Hill Academy’s Instagram account here:  https://www.instagram.com/oakhillacademy/ or Facebook page here:  https://www.facebook.com/oakhillacademyva/

I hope these tips will help make your boarding school search more intentional.  Each boarding school has high aspirations for meeting their particular mission, and with research and a clear sense of your goals for a boarding school fit, a match can be found.  Please contact the Admission Office at Oak Hill Academy to learn more about our very unique position on the college-prep boarding school spectrum and how Oak Hill Academy has, for generations of students, been a Turning Point.