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The Admission Blog addresses topics that frequently come up in conversation with inquiring families.  It is frequently updated.  Please browse to learn more about Oak Hill Academy’s mission and approach to a boarding school environment encouraging growth.

Mike Rodgers '87

Director of Admission

Oak Hill Academy: A Coed Boarding School Campus Life Beyond Academics

When I give tours of our 240-acre campus in the Appalachian Mountains of Southwest Virginia, I frequently get two general comments:  Many people feel we remind them of a small town where everyone knows each other.  That’s true.  Most of our faculty and staff (and their families) live on campus, and everyone does know, and looks out for, each other.  I also get feedback on how Oak Hill feels like a miniature college campus.  I agree with that, too.  We have only 150 students, and they are so busy and engaged that it often feels like a college campus–buzzing with activity.  Check out this video to get an idea of what that looks like:

Between the end of the school day and Quiet Hours in the dorms at 8:30 pm, our students go in several directions.  Here are some examples:

  • On a typical day, 1/4 to 1/3 of our student body has some type of after-school obligation or meeting with teachers.  That’s 8th period, tutorials, or after-school study hall.
  • As school is dismissed at 3:30, our students run back to the dorm to change out of school uniform, organize their rooms, pick up things they’ll need for practice, etc., video game a little, watch a little TV and, generally, just unwind.  This doesn’t last very long, however, because there is lots to do outside the dorm.
  • Our equestrian center is quite busy after school with barn work and trail rides.
  • Practices and clubs, such as art, debate, and music meet.  The weight room is open for the guys, and the girls’ dorm fitness center is available.
  • The Alumni Campus Store is the place to see your friends and be seen, as well as to pick up groceries for the room or enjoy a snack of pizza or a sandwich with friends on the store’s deck (or around the fireplace in the winter).  This space serves as the social hub–like a Student Union would be on a college campus.
  • Our library remains open until late in the afternoon and is becoming more of a destination as facility improvements continue and book offerings expand (hint: it also has the strongest Wi-Fi connection on campus).
  • In a typical week, there are several van loads of students leaving for off-campus destinations for games, community service opportunities, or faculty advisee fun trips to dinner or a movie.  In the winter, these outings include weekly Ski Club trips.

The list continues, but by now you understand there is a lot to do as part of Campus Life at Oak Hill Academy.  Many students discover a new passion or pick up an old interest.  Extracurriculars are an important part of the balance we seek for our students between academic and social growth.  To experience campus life at Oak Hill Academy for yourself, please complete the inquiry form below.  We’ll discuss our school and your student and, if we are both encouraged, we can schedule a personal campus tour at your convenience.

A Boarding School Home Room Prayer Inspired by MLK, Jr. Day

Each morning in homeroom at Oak Hill Academy, a prayer is offered as our school community gathers in Chapel.  I found today’s prayer, delivered by our Campus Minister, inspiring and particularly revealing of our hearts here.  We are a Baptist boarding school community, AND there is tremendous diversity found on our campus.  This message was delivered and received in the spirit this day deserves.

Heavenly Father,

After much wrestling with the demons of hate and prejudice, after turmoil, riots, and death, I believe you inspired the better nature of enough people of the United States to set aside this day to honor Martin Luther King, Jr.  Help us to be thankful for the bravery of Dr. King, and all those like him who, inspired by the life and death and resurrection of Jesus the Christ, took up their crosses and dared to challenge the unrighteousness of the status quo.  I am thankful for the prophetic voice of Dr. King.  Thankful for his enduring words.  Thanks for all people whose faith in you inspires them to have the moral courage to confront acts of intolerance, bullying, oppression, hatred, racism, sexual harassment, or any act of injustice.

 Forgive our apathy.  Call to judgment our acts of willful ignorance.  Convict our hearts and minds that we may repent of the harm we perpetuate on others.  Cleanse us of our iniquity.  Lead us into the light of your love that we may hold sacred our common humanity.

 I pray these words in your name.  And Amen.

 

 

 

 

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Oak Hill Academy Christian Boarding School in a Globally Diverse Community

Since Oak Hill Academy’s founding in 1878, the opportunity to provide spiritual growth has been an important part of its mission.  The school was founded by the congregations of several small churches in the area, and from the beginning, the Oak Hill student body has been welcomed as they attend Sunday service each week, right alongside members of the greater Mouth of Wilson, Virginia, community.  Even though our student body has changed a lot in the intervening years since our founding, our mission hasn’t.  And this consistency and steadfastness is a beautiful thing to see in practice in an ever-changing world.  Our alumni, myself included (class of 1987), take a lot of comfort knowing that today’s generation is being exposed to the same life-changing opportunities for spiritual growth they had. Frankly, most of our students come to Oak Hill Academy without having “spiritual growth” as one of their top 3 goals.  However, for many students, it is a very real and tangible side benefit of attendance here.

Our student body is incredibly diverse, with 18+ nations and 24+ states represented.  There is economic, racial, political and yes, religious, diversity found in our student body.  Our approach, therefore, is inclusive in nature – not exclusive, or with a doctrine-specific lead-in.  We all attend church together – Muslim students, Jewish students, side by side with those raised in Catholic and Protestant Christian churches, and those students who have never regularly attended services of any kind.  The message that is delivered is clear:  We are all children of God, created by God and loved by God.  With that consistent message of hope and responsibility, we are planting seeds.

There are other spiritual opportunities at Oak Hill Academy.  Homeroom is a daily gathering of the whole school community in the Rev. A.J. Fletcher Chapel in the center of campus.  We start the day in prayer with a short devotion which is often spiritual in nature, but always encouraging and uplifting.  This is followed by the business of our small, college prep boarding school – announcements and recognitions.  Additionally, weekly Youth Group meetings represents a significant opportunity for students to explore or hone leadership skills as the group often plans service projects and other events.

 

 

 

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Oak Hill Academy: College-Prep Boarding School in a Co-educational Community

The title of this blog is not merely an exercise in alliteration.  Oak Hill Academy is very intentional in providing both a College-Prep environment, where a sense of independence and self is nurtured,  AND providing the necessary structure and healthy boundaries we feel are required in a co-educational setting.  As the father of two girls who attended and graduated from Oak Hill Academy, I have a keen perspective on how our objectives come together at the intersection of “college prep” and “structured environment,” particularly in managing the supervision of a small campus of high school boys and girls.

Developing a variety of healthy relationships is a focus at Oak Hill Academy.  Our small size (approximately 150 students and 60+ faculty/staff adults) leads to a great opportunity for meaningful relationships and growth in this area both inside and outside of class.  Our “smallness” also allows for a level of supervision that is on the “strict” end of the college prep boarding school spectrum.  Our boys and girls attend class, events, church and meals together, and feel a real sense of community, but our policy is that they do not meet unsupervised.  That necessitates a lot of on-campus supervised events, so that it feels very coeducational and natural.  There are still dress codes for after school and weekends–times when our students are not required to wear the school uniform of khakis and polos.  For dorm life, there is a girls’ side of campus and a boys’ side campus, so after dinner and any sponsored club activities, the students are separated for the evening and night.

Some of the opportunities to interact outside of class for our students, both boys and girls, include the very popular Alumni Campus Store which serves a function similar to that of a student union on a college campus. Socializing, snacks, personal items, and apparel are all available here.  Whenever the store is open, there is also adult supervision.  Our meals in the Vaughan Dining Hall are coed.  We attend Sunday morning worship service all together as a student body at Young’s Chapel Baptist Church. There are supervised social events both on and off campus on the weekends, as well as during the week – such as Ski Club trips in the winter and Warrior Nights on select Saturdays throughout the year.  Many of the traditional high school memories are made at Oak Hill Academy, including the Winter Dance and a Spring Formal, both long-standing traditions on “The Hill.”

 

If you are considering boarding school for your student and are closely comparing co-ed and single-sex options, please contact us in the Admission Department at Oak Hill Academy to discuss our approach.  

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Oak Hill Academy – Providing Structure in a Non-Military Boarding School

I often encounter families who’ve looked at military schools, led by the desire for structure for their student, only to find that the military school approach may not be the right fit.  – Mike Rodgers ’87

Let me be clear:  Military Boarding School is a great fit for some students, and there are some very fine, historic institutions that do a great job of fulfilling their missions. I’m sure you are finding many types of boarding schools in your research, each with a specific approach and mission.  Chances are, there is a school that is the correct match for your goals, and a military school may be exactly the right fit for some.  However, I often encounter families who’ve looked at military schools, led by the desire for structure for their student, only to find that the military school approach may not be the right fit.  Whether that is because there is resentment on the part of the student, or some other factor–it’s not the right fit.  Many families find Oak Hill Academy as an alternative to military school for some valid reasons.

Structure:  In comparison to a military school environment, there are many overlapping elements of structure at Oak Hill Academy that support the goal of defining boundaries and fostering personal growth through responsibility and routine.  We wear a school uniform (albeit a uniform packet that gives a lot of options, so we are not dressing identically–think polos and khakis with several different pullovers available).  We have a scheduled day that culminates in mandatory study time in the dorms, and set times for “lights out.”  We have consequences for failing room inspection or missing homework.  This means that our students don’t find it easy at Oak Hill Academy.  Our cell phone policy that restricts use to weekends, and strict limits on internet access are two of toughest adjustments for our students.  I’d classify our half-day Saturday school schedule as another part of our structure that takes some getting used to.  It all serves to have our students becoming comfortable doing more than the minimum.  These rules are not designed to make Oak Hill “tough,” but rather they help provide the structured environment that leads to focus and a greater capacity for grit.

Accountability:  Without disparaging the military school approach, I can tell you that our approach focuses on coaching and teachable moments that are dependent on being relational, and on positive peer pressure.  An accurate impression of our approach is that we do not lead with the punitive, but with coaching instead.  There are several intervention steps before a student is corrected with things like work detail, social restriction, or a loss of certain privileges.  There’s accountability, but it is couched in a supportive relationship. Students here don’t have authority over other students, but are coached to be positive influences through our leadership program and in countless informal teachable moments with our faculty, staff, and resident managers who live with the students in the dorms.

Student Buy-In:  Our small, coed, student body is full of students who were involved in making the choice to attend Oak Hill Academy.  One important criterion for admission is that the student must be able to articulate that they see an opportunity for growth, on some level, in attending Oak Hill Academy.  That doesn’t mean that everyone enrolls with a huge smile on their face. We completely understand the difference between apprehension and opposition.  Making a change to boarding school is inherently intimidating or even scary for most students.  But a campus tour will reveal that our students are not resentful about being at Oak Hill Academy.  Not every day is a walk in the park–our students bump up against their areas of weakness and are pushed to grow. And it’s all outside their comfort zones.  The game changer for most is that they recognize the opportunity to grow and make the kinds of changes they, deep down, want for themselves.  And they are doing it in an environment where they feel supported.

 

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Oak Hill Academy: A Virginia Boarding School Promoting Academic and Character Growth

Today’s blog contributor is Director of Student Affairs, Aaron Butt, who illustrates Oak Hill Academy’s daily approach to our mission.  Here is the December Update:

 

From the Director of Student Affairs:

The Oak Hill campus is quiet as I take walks with my children in the afternoons – everyone is at home for Christmas Break, and I hope you are enjoying a restful, peaceful time with friends and family.  We have finished our first semester, weathered exam week, and grades are posted.

The three weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas were filled with a flurry of events – we had our first significant snowfall of almost 7 inches, and students enjoyed a “snow-cial” on the hill sledding and drinking hot chocolate.  Last weekend was the Christmas dinner and annual winter dance; for me the highlight was watching students in their formal dress linger in the dining hall after our meal, enjoying each other’s company.  The past three weeks have also been full of basketball – students came out many nights to the Turner Gym to support our JV, Red, and Gold teams.

One of the biggest high points of this time of year is hearing about college acceptances.  Regularly in our morning assemblies we hear announcements of students who have been admitted to colleges, and it reminds me of the value and purpose of Oak Hill – to transform young men’s and women’s lives, and put them on a path toward success.  We call ourselves a structured boarding school; a coed, college preparatory school; a place where students can grow, be challenged, and have an opportunity to start fresh.  But these are all just words, and it is a blessing to see these words in action as our seniors start to plan their futures.

As the Director of Student Affairs, one of the things I have been talking with students about is the connection between our structure and academic success.  We limit cell phone usage.  We require promptness, a standard of appearance, and politeness.  We do not tolerate disrespect, and we prohibit certain behaviors.  Why?  Because we believe that there is a connection between these principles and these college acceptances.  Students here are allowed to focus, encouraged to engage, and pushed to reach our high expectations.  Academic success can happen elsewhere, but we believe this is a special place where learning and behavioral needs are acknowledged and addressed, and where students can build patterns that will aid them as they move on to college and beyond.

As we enter January and a new semester, my focus is going to be on the little things—the little, simple things we do each day which define us and show what kind of people we are.  We will emphasize being on time, tucking in shirts, pushing in chairs, being respectful and attentive, coming to class prepared, watching the words that come out of our mouths.  These things all seem small in themselves, but I am convinced that the small decisions we make today define and prepare us for our future.

May you have a blessed, refreshing holiday, and I look forward to seeing our campus full of students again soon!

Aaron Butt, Director of Student Affairs

 

 

Boarding School Core Values Reflect Students Seeking Growth – With or Without Learning Differences

“We all are working on our areas of weakness here, mine just happens to be a focus issue, so I don’t stand out in a negative way.  We share in each other’s successes here no matter what the obstacle we’re working through personally.”  — Current Oak Hill Academy student

Almost 6 years ago now, the Oak Hill Academy leadership group was asked the question:  “What characterizes the Oak Hill experience, based on your own time here?”  That discussion led to the creation of The Oak Hill Academy 4 Core Values.  I’d like to discuss these values, how we use them to build a framework of support, and how they reflect what we do well as a school.  There is special relevance here for students with learning differences, and the executive function challenges and emotional growth needs that often accompany them.

Responsibility.  Our students recognize their need for growth in this area, as it is perhaps the most obvious.  Our structure supports better study habits, with features like designated nightly study hours, and homework interventions that do not allow students to simply miss assignments or get behind. The structure allows our students to feel on top of their academic work.  For many of them, this is a new feeling–and one they like.  The seeds of this sense of accomplishment may start when our students see that they cannot hide in a small class, or that their teachers see homework assignments as more than just tasks to be done, or that their peers have learned to value staying on top of their work.  For students trying to manage ADD or ADHD, task completion is a foundation on which self-esteem builds.  Follow-through is cultivated in dorm life, too, with things like students doing their own laundry–an eye-opener for some!  Our resident managers place an emphasis on coaching self-reliance and organization that lead to a new definition of self for students who’ve seen themselves as forgetful or irresponsible.

Community.  As a former student myself, I’ve developed some theories as to why our student body each year becomes exceptionally close.  Our location fosters the mindset that “we’re all we’ve got, so we’d better take care of each other.”  Our cell phone limits mean that our students get good at talking to each other, not about each other.  In talking with students with learning differences about why they’ve been successful here, I found that because our students come to Oak Hill Academy seeking growth and improvement, there is less judgment and more support among their peers.  Students feel less self-conscious about their challenges and instead focus on the improvements.  As one current student put it, “We all are working on our areas of weakness here, mine just happens to be a focus issue, so I don’t stand out in a negative way.  We share in each other’s successes here no matter what the obstacle we’re working through personally.”

Moral Courage.  Discovering a student’s leadership qualities often starts with developing a positive self image.  In a small boarding school like Oak Hill Academy, with a student body of 150, the opportunity to make a contribution is heightened.  Oak Hill students feel less social pressure, and they more readily see themselves in new roles, including that of a leader.  It is part of the culture on our campus to offer opportunities to strengthen the moral center and use it as a foundation for leadership.  Serving on Honor Court is a growth experience some of our students have and an opportunity to help their peers see mistakes as a learning opportunity.  Our students embrace leadership in daily, informal ways, too. The setting of a dormitory is a laboratory for students to learn and practice interpersonal skills and to support one another in making positive choices – and they are coached on how to do so.  The bonds made here propel students to be positive models for each other.  We often see that a feeling of competency in one area leads to confidence in other areas.

Transformation.  I remember being in that room, almost 6 years ago when our 4 core values were being created.  Without a doubt, the most sincerely expressed idea by our students was that they felt “growth” characterized the Oak Hill experience.  Improved grades and creating a transcript that opens doors was just the surface.  There is a pride of self-improvement that characterizes the Oak Hill experience for the overwhelming majority of our students.  For the learning difference student, having grades that more accurately reflect their true abilities is a game changer.  When college acceptances are announced in homeroom, or when a student is handed an acceptance letter in the college lab, it is often emotional.  Our track record of 95%+ college acceptance rates for our students is not taken for granted, but is rather a reminder of the important work being done at Oak Hill Academy.  Helping students grow and change their trajectory.  That’s our mission, and it permeates all we do.

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A boarding school that allows your ADD or LD student a feeling of belonging?

I was diagnosed with ADHD at a young age, and in my old high school, where 30+ kids in a class was typical, I was failing.  It had me questioning myself and if I was even smart enough for school.  I’ve been at Oak Hill Academy for three years, and it hasn’t been easy, but I now have the grades, and, more importantly, the belief in myself, that I now see college options opening up. – A member of the class of ’18.

The following point comes up often in conversations with prospective parents:  Oak Hill Academy offers a uniquely non-competitive and non-judgmental academic and social environment.  All boarding schools will tout a “family feel,” and most do have that.  Living closely with others and sharing a common experience will lend itself to forming strong relationships — there is a lot to bond over in a boarding school.  What makes Oak Hill Academy unique in this regard?  The short answer is that our students come to us (with or without a learning difference) because they want to grow — academically, socially, and emotionally.

For students who struggle with learning differences such as ADD, ADHD or processing issues, a supportive environment where these differences are not seen as “problems” is essential.  For any struggling student, with an LD diagnosis or not, a good environment should be about building up self-esteem and feelings of competency.  Families who choose Oak Hill Academy are looking for that to happen in a non-competitive, nurturing environment (academically and socially).  Oak Hill Academy understands that. It is reflected in our approach and is found in the way our students relate to one another.  This is where Oak Hill Academy stands out in the college prep boarding school world.  Oak Hill Academy is not a “sink or swim” environment.

Study skills coaching, a focus on organization techniques, and a recognition of the variety of learning styles are woven into our college prep curriculum.  The work is not watered down, but the coaching aspects of our classrooms and dorm life are front and center.  Understanding learning differences, for example, means that we understand that ADD and ADHD are found in individuals of all intelligence levels and capabilities.  So we keep high standards and a college prep focus.  Our structured and supportive approach means that we help bright kids become the engaged students they want to be, deep down, despite the challenges of learning differences.

My conversation with the student quoted above continued to reveal a student who has grown in a lot of ways.  The student points out that the small class sizes at Oak Hill Academy, coupled with teachers who are patient and know her well have been a game changer.  ” I have a relationship with my teachers here; they know me.  I trust them when they see me drifting and snap me back.”  Instead of attending separate classes for special education as was the track in her large public school, her relationship with her peers has been a catalyst for growth.  “We all are working on our areas of weakness here, mine just happens to be a focus issue, so I don’t stand out in a negative way.  We share in each other’s successes here no matter what the obstacle we’re working through personally.”

For more discussion on Oak Hill Academy’s approach and your goals for a great boarding school experience that fits your student’s needs, please call our Admission Director, Mike Rodgers at 276 579-2619, or let’s arrange a good time to connect.

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Oak Hill Academy Structured Boarding School That Works With Challenges Associated With ADD, ADHD

Oak Hill Academy, a small, coed, college prep boarding school in Virginia offers a unique opportunity for students struggling with attention issues such as ADD and ADHD.  While we are not specifically a learning differences school, our small size and intentional approach have made us an attractive option for many families whose students are looking to grow in areas of weakness that often accompany learning differences.  Over the years, our structured approach and experience working with executive functioning issues – with or without a diagnosis of a specific learning difference – has made Oak Hill Academy a standout on the college prep boarding school spectrum as one of the best options available to promote student growth.  The schoolwork is not “watered down,” instead, we double down on the coaching aspects of academic and personal growth.

I’d like to outline some specific examples of this structured approach and how our strategies address the challenges your student may be facing relative to their learning difference (LD).

  • If you’ve heard the frustration of “Why do I keep losing things?” from your child, you can appreciate the need for organization.  Boarding school offers an opportunity for an organized, systematic routine that is just plain difficult to establish at home.  The structure at Oak Hill Academy includes some very intentional approaches, both big and small, to form healthy habits that lead to feelings of competency and organization.  A core value here is that once a student tastes success, they want more of it.  That happens in the area of executive functioning for students at Oak Hill.  Room inspections, set laundry times, dorm chores, and a designated quiet time for study each evening are all accompanied by lots of coaching from our resident life staff who live in the dorms with our students.  In the school building, teachers require planners and orderly notebooks that form the basis of academic organization, which is supported by constant mentoring about how to use those key tools.  There is as much “coaching” going on as “teaching.”  We don’t have school lockers; instead our students keep all of their needed materials in a Nike backpack that is regularly cleaned out and pared down to the essentials with the support of our teachers who are study skills professionals.  Frequent decluttering is an important aspect of our approach to staying organized.
  • Providing an environment where students can exercise some control over their responsibilities is essential at Oak Hill Academy.  A quick example is the laundry time I mentioned earlier.  Having to perform this mundane, but ultimately important, life skill helps give our students a sense of control, as well as the good feeling that comes with completing a solo task.  We recognize that there is value in doing laundry beyond just having clean clothing – it represents a very real opportunity to foster a sense of competency in our students.
  • Providing some autonomy within a structured, coached environment is important, too.  Our regular evening routine starts with “Quiet Time” at 8:30.  During the next hour, our students begin their homework and preparation for the next school day.  Many of our students need practice in shifting gears from the afternoon busyness of sports practice, equestrian work, music practice, and socializing to taking care of personal and academic business in the evenings.  From 8:30 to 9:30 pm, students can shower, prepare a snack, clean rooms, meet with a peer tutor, or get right to their homework.  This hour is for intentional focus on strategies to better utilize the even more focused study hall hour from 9:30-10:30.  We take our evening routine in the dorms seriously because it presents teachable moments that reinforce our overall scheme.

All of the above are supplemented with study skills classes; an additional supervised study hall after school for those struggling to maintain homework completion; and alternative evening study spaces in the library or dorm common areas with even more hands-on assistance.  These are a few of the supports and interventions available for students who are bumping up against executive functioning weakness.

This is an incomplete description of our approach to working with students dealing with issues surrounding learning differences.  If your boarding school search includes the need to address some of the issues I’ve described, look closer at Oak Hill Academy.  Better yet, please call to discuss your child, his or her specific needs and challenges, and how Oak Hill Academy offers an opportunity to grow.

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