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
It is Campus Tour season at Oak Hill Academy! Coming for a campus tour at Oak Hill Academy is a low pressure step toward helping your student see the big picture and to gauge the possibilities that exist for them here.
Two things have prompted this post today:
- We are already off to a very busy admission season, having received record numbers of inquiries and applications for the month of February. We have already completed the admission process for more than 20 families that have resulted in acceptances for either Fall 2018-19 or a Summer Session start this June. For a school whose enrollment is intentionally small (approximately 150 students), this is a fast start. Our mission is providing a “turning point” for students who need to change habits, mindsets, or environments. This means that, typically, many of our families wait until summer to contact us–after seeing a school year finish disappointingly. So it’s good to see so many families being proactive. They are already identifying a need for boarding school, and choosing to look closer at Oak Hill Academy as a unique fit for that need. We anticipate a Spring busy with campus tours. And we love it!
- I saw this scene yesterday afternoon outside the Alumni Campus Store. Not only is the admission cycle off to an early, fast start, so is the Spring weather that is perfect for visiting our campus. Tucked away in the Blue Ridge of the Appalachian Mountains in Southwest Virginia, our setting is very rural. Throughout the short, gray days of winter, our campus can understandably feel remote. It can be tougher to tour in the winter and come away with an accurate perspective of how engaging and busy our campus is 75% of the school year. Many of the prospective families that we host make the comment that we feel like a miniature college campus. That’s because they see our students going in 20 different directions at the end of the school day. When the weather is nice, especially, those options swell. Whether it is using our academic resources such as tutorials and “8th period,” or heading down to the equestrian center, to sports practices and club meetings, or simply checking in or hanging out with friends (or tossing a football, in this case) at the Alumni Campus Store, our students have options. Seeing students taking advantage of those options makes our campus lively and engaging. I’m happy when touring families can see that. Good weather, of course, helps.
If you are considering boarding school as an option for your student, I invite you to take a closer look at Oak Hill Academy. We don’t use the “open house” model, instead preferring to meet with families individually to get to know your student and the motivations for considering such a big change in school. That approach allows us to personalize the visit. My goals for every tour are straightforward: For our guests to meet as many people (OHA students and faculty) as possible, and to help prospective students see the opportunities here for themselves.
The meeting people part is extremely easy. Our students are outgoing and friendly with tours because they all remember how they felt on their tours–nervous, reluctant, or maybe even downright scared to undertake such a big change. Our current students bend over backwards to share with prospective students how, for them, the giant leap in deciding to attend Oak Hill Academy has paid off.
Helping students to see the opportunity our small boarding school provides, and to envision themselves being successful here is the part I take personally. Many, if not most, of the prospective students I meet with are apprehensive about the prospect of leaving friends, having cell phone boundaries, and an almost endless list of things that make them want to avoid making this move. Our mission is to provide a turning point for students. And taking a tour is the prime opportunity to move a student into the mindset of wanting more for themselves; of seeing Oak Hill Academy as a place where they can make the kinds of changes that are tough to make without also changing their environment. Coming for a campus tour at Oak Hill Academy is a low pressure step toward helping your student see the big picture, and to gauge the possibilities that exist for them here. Often, the experience can also be about blasting through preconceived notions of boarding school as a punishment. You’ll not encounter students who feel, or appear to be, “punished” by attending Oak Hill Academy.
Please call to discuss your goals for a good boarding school experience. If we are both encouraged by this conversation and think Oak Hill Academy may be a fit, we can look at a convenient day for you to visit campus. It’s that easy.
Oak Hill Academy
Mike Rodgers ’87,
Director of Admission
Oak Hill Academy Small Boarding School in Virginia Developing Moral Courage (“Evergreen Values” Series Post #3)
In this series of blogs, Admission Director Mike Rodgers considers “evergreen” values–those beliefs and qualities held to be true and valuable regardless of a changing society.
“Moral Courage” is perhaps the most nuanced of the concepts found in Oak Hill Academy’s “4 Core Values.” Of those four (Community, Responsibility, Moral Courage and Transformation), I find myself spending the most time discussing what we mean by “Moral Courage.” Many of us on campus probably take this for granted, because this is one of those “you know it when you see it” concepts. Still, it is well worth discussing, especially in a time (of ubiquitous social media) and place (our small boarding school campus) with great opportunity for our teenagers to find a voice and take ethical stands regarding important issues. While influences on the development of a moral compass are fast changing, we have long believed that giving our students the opportunity to develop moral courage is an integral part of our mission as a school. Let’s talk a little about our view of what moral courage is, the new opportunities we have to advance it on our campus, and the things our students are currently doing in this arena.
Our view of moral courage: Mr. Pease, OHA English Department Chair, explains it this way, “Character is what you do when no one is looking, but moral courage involves what we do when folks are actually looking.” This sentiment is particularly compelling for adolescents who value tremendously (whether they’ll admit it or not) what their peers think of them. Social Media can be a place to form an opinion, announce it to the world and get feedback (lots of it!). But the courage it takes to do this face to face can be daunting for today’s teens. While we do have a lot of boundaries that restrict social media use, we acknowledge that its power can be harnessed as a positive force. With that realization, we’ve partnered with the Social Institute to develop a curriculum aimed at positive social media use, and are developing student leaders on campus in this area.
At Oak Hill Academy, we value moral courage–standing up for others, and arriving at that stance through the empathy and consideration that comes with being part of a small boarding school community. On our campus, it’s much more than signaling a thumbs up or counting the number of “likes.” Having moral courage is about effecting real change in a place where you can see the impact on your peers in real time. It’s also about encouraging our students to create opportunities to do that.
Yesterday in our daily homeroom assembly, two of our seniors took a stand and shined a light on a phenomenon that is not easy to talk about: relationship and dating abuse and violence. As a college prep boarding school, we know our students will eventually be part of much, much larger communities and will be faced with a myriad of choices on where to stand on important and complicated social issues. Mikun and Chase, while exercising their moral courage by taking a stand on this particular issue, are also serving as positive role models for their peers. To keep the conversation going and the issue spotlighted beyond their homeroom remarks, the orange ribbons of Dating Violence Prevention Awareness Month were distributed to any of our students who felt concerned about this matter–and there were many takers!
While this is a large-scale, public example of our students speaking out about a cause, our small boarding school experience provides unlimited daily opportunities to take a moral stance on issues big and small. Because we are a small boarding school of approximately 150 students who live and learn together 24/7, we have the ability to impact each other every day. Our goal is for that impact to be positive and mutually beneficial. Toward that end, we have cell phone and social media limitations that promote interaction and engagement with the people in front of you, offering a real opportunity for students to develop interpersonal skills and practice moral courage. At Oak Hill Academy, this happens in real time, in front of real people, in a real community, and effects real change. This process grows moral courage–a quality of “evergreen” value.
Oak Hill Academy: Virginia Small Boarding School Emphasizes Community (“Evergreen Values” Series Post #2)
Community is one of the 4 Core Values of Oak Hill Academy. We do “community” very well, and we believe it is something that is tremendously needed—now more than ever.
One of the biggest benefits of attending a small boarding school like Oak Hill Academy is the extraordinary opportunity for belonging and shared experience. Developmentally, the teenage years have always been about learning to think beyond oneself, and to connect with something bigger than oneself. The challenges facing teens today threaten this healthy development–issues like an overreliance on video stimulation, and social media pressure for “likes,” to name a few. Studies show that today’s teens are lonelier and cite social anxiety in greater numbers than ever before.
Boarding school, especially a small one, represents an opportunity to hit the “reset” button–not only academically, but socially. Looking at Oak Hill Academy’s Mission Statement you’ll see the unchanging “evergreen” value of community emphasized. We are just as committed to adolescent development as we are academics, and we seek to provide a very nurturing and positive change in peer and community group. Today, I’d like to highlight a few examples of how we are very intentional in keeping the value we place on community “evergreen.”
- Our school community as a whole gathers together each morning in our Chapel for homeroom assembly—a decades-long school tradition. We begin in prayer, a short devotion is offered, announcements are covered, and importantly, recognition is given. The accountability to be on time, the shared experience of an intentional start to the day, and quiet emphasis on togetherness all reinforce the value of community on a daily basis. Personal thoughts and encouragement are shared by administrators, teachers, and students through the tradition of devotion and our students feel, and are reminded, that they are part of something greater than themselves.
- Small class sizes are an extension of the value we place on relationships within our school community. At Oak Hill Academy the teacher/student relationship is often the turning point academically, leading to the kind of confidence that promotes engagement. I’m asked all the time how Oak Hill Academy is successful in motivating the previously unmotivated student, and I first point to relationships—between teachers and students AND among the students themselves. Small classes allow this to happen. It is an important factor in the kind of community we promote here through relationships.
- As discussed previously (Evergreen Values Post #1) we place a comparatively strict set of boundaries on social media and cell phone access, including limiting cell phone use to the weekends. Our students often remark that life gets simple on our campus and priorities are rearranged to include engagement with the people around them. The remarkable diversity found on our campus means that our students often discover an ability to relate to a broader group of people than in their previous settings. These face-to-face interactions mean that the old-fashioned art of conversation is alive and well on our campus. We find that this is a whole new skill set for many of our students.
To consider more on the topic of teens finding purpose and connectivity, I urge you to look at a recent article by Educational Psychologist Amy L. Eva, PhD., published on Greater Good Magazine’s website. (Dr. Eva and Greater Good Magazine have no affiliation with Oak Hill Academy.)
Oak Hill Academy: Virginia Small Boarding School For Character Growth (“Evergreen Values” Series post #1)
Today’s blog post is the first in a series that was inspired by a conversation regarding “evergreen values,” those values that are held to be true, even in a changing society.
Oak Hill Academy was founded in 1878 in rural Mouth of Wilson, Virginia. Growing into a boarding school over its first decades, Oak Hill Academy has remained true to its founding mission to provide a structured, character growth opportunity—a Turning Point. A lot has changed since 1878. Oak Hill Academy’s mission has not. This makes us something of an outlier in the college prep boarding school world. Our approach to technology and social media access is different from that of most boarding schools. Let me explain:
Each and every boarding school you will encounter in your search for the right fit for your student will have a mission statement that communicates the school’s values. Often these values have evolved over time and reflect the challenges to each generation of young people—from the ravages of “rock and roll music,” through the cultural changes of the ’60s, the material excess of the ’80s, up to today’s great challenge of technology’s impact on adolescence. It is here and now that we find ourselves, as a school, having to be firm in maintaining our mission in a changing world. One of our unchanging values as a school, call it an “evergreen value,” is the belief that limiting technology allows for the emotional and social growth our families, and our students, are seeking. Time away from technology is necessary for the development of “soft skills,” those interpersonal intelligence skills such as reading emotions, empathy, reading body language, the ability to “read the room” and adapt – all skills that many experts cite as eroding as communication is taking place more and more exclusively on a handheld device. So we place limits on cell phone use and boundaries on what is accessible through our campus internet.
This means that Oak Hill Academy students can find themselves being uncomfortably outside of their electronic habit. The value we, as a school, place on healthy interpersonal relationships tells us this is a good place to be – outside of an electronic habit. Studies show, and experts continually propose, that anxiety and feelings of loneliness can be closely linked to social media overuse. (See article at PsychologyToday.com) So, we hold the line on technology boundaries – because we see it work. Our students cite higher grades, improved relationships, and an overall better focus as benefits. Alas, they still miss their cell phones during the school week, but they are also learning delayed gratification and perseverance.
We also balance these limits with opportunities for learning how to use social media positively. Our partners at The Social Institute would call this learning to “Win the Social Game.” Beginning with our initial Social Institute Pump Up Presentation, we are implementing a curriculum on campus, and building a network of student leaders, emphasizing positive ways to use social media. Our approach no longer relies only on placing boundaries and limits, but now includes a heavy dose of education and training in positive uses. Social media is not going away—it will continue to be a powerful force for this generation—but our goal is to develop the healthy interpersonal skills described above right next to healthy online skills. We are excited about this plan moving forward.
To further explore this, and other, core values of the Oak Hill Academy approach, please call or inquire with our Admission Department. We look forward to discussing your goals and the values you seek in a boarding school experience for your student.
As I’ve written in the past, Oak Hill Academy is a uniquely tight-knit, routine-oriented, community. Our size allows us to be that. Daily “homeroom,” a campus-wide morning assembly in our Chapel, is a very personal way to start the day and reinforces what we do well as a small boarding school. Here are some highlights:
- Homeroom in Chapel allows for the students AND faculty to share something of themselves in a very positive setting. Daily devotions take the shape of short stories, homilies, prayers, skits, and performances. It is really powerful to see a student who is taking Beginning Guitar advance to the point where they can and want to express themselves by performing in homeroom. It’s equally powerful to see a student, often fighting stage fright, share a heartfelt message with their peers. When a teacher shares something personal, like a talent (See the video below) or a personal story from their lives, it resonates with our students. It reinforces the relationships that exist here as we live in a small community.
- We start the day in prayer. It is a quiet beginning to the day and encourages us to intentionally shape the day with a positive goal. These moments are also a time of reflection, giving space for students to get their minds ready for the day. This is our morning routine.
- There are also announcements of the events of the day, reminders of responsibilities or fun things going on in the afternoon to look forward to.
- Giving recognition is also a big part of the homeroom agenda. Whether it is announcing the Student of the Week, giving a report on how the debate team did on a trip, a wrestling team recap, or college acceptances that have come through for our seniors–it is a time when everybody matters and everyone counts.
- Homeroom reinforces the accountability we have to each other. We start on time. Occasionally, students are late and they receive peer pressure–“If I can get here on time, so can you” seems to be the vibe.
To know more about Oak Hill Academy and our approach to the small boarding school model, I encourage you to contact me in the Admission Department at 276 579-2619.
Oak Hill Academy boarding high school partners with The Social Institute to explore positive social media use
From the Director of Student Affairs, Aaron Butt
Last week, Oak Hill Academy welcomed to campus The Social Institute, a nationally recognized organization with a mission to help students and schools navigate social media positively. We continue to value face-to-face conversations, unplugging, and finding the appropriate times and places to connect and use technology, but we are also committed to learning how to effectively and appropriately empower and educate students on how to handle social media, one of the biggest drivers of their social development. We are excited to partner with The Social Institute, who has been a contributor to the national conversation about social media for outlets like The Washington Post, ESPN W, NBC News, The Today Show, USA Today, and many others.
The Social Institute’s goal is to help teens use social media to strengthen their reputations, encourage and inspire others, seize opportunities, and change the world for the better. On Tuesday, the Institute’s founder, Mrs. Laura Tierney, spoke with the whole student body about the powerful voice they have through their phones and computers. Her approach was to recognize and acknowledge the dangers of social media, but to empower students to use their devices as a way to stand up for one another, build a positive reputation, and promote their interests and passions: how to have conversations with peers about positing private pictures, texting while driving, online intimidation and bullying. Through several exercises, called “sprints,” students were presented with various scenarios and asked to contribute positive responses, prompting a discussion about real-life actions to take in order to “win” the situation. The presentation was very practical, thought-provoking, and well-received by our students.
Mrs. Tierney’s visit included smaller breakout sessions with student leaders to hear their points of view about social media and how it is used at Oak Hill Academy, a small boarding school campus. It is clear that social media is here to stay, and adults and students have an obligation to learn how to set standards for appropriate use, both for themselves and as a school community. Standards include when to shut down, protecting privacy, and building an online support network of positive role models.
As a school, we recognize that we have a unique mission–one that includes placing limits on electronics and social media–and we believe Oak Hill is a special place where students can “grow where they are planted.” This structured environment offers an alternative to former distractions. We still believe in the value of monitoring and restricting student technology usage, but through this partnership with The Social Institute, we have a renewed awareness of our need to teach and prepare students on how to positively and effectively use social media. Restrictions are not enough. Teaching and modeling positive usage, with help from our new partners, are part of the equation.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.