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
While not offering clinical therapeutic services, Oak Hill Academy’s supportive, relational environment promotes academic and emotional growth
I receive a lot of inquiries from families who initially thought that the issues facing their child needed to be addressed in a therapeutic setting. Upon researching therapeutic schools, they did not see their child fitting that model. They expanded their search for boarding schools that, while not therapeutic, did offer a structure and support that fit their child’s needs. It’s a small list. Oak Hill Academy is on that short list, so they inquired or picked up the phone to find out more about our approach.
To be clear, if your child’s needs call for a clinical setting or clinical therapy, Oak Hill Academy may not be a fit. We are also not a fit when there is an issue of drug or alcohol dependency. While we are vigilant in providing a drug and alcohol free campus, we do not offer the clinical treatment often necessary to address underlying issues. When we do see a fit, it is often because what a family actually is seeking is a structured, caring, and a supportive environment – not group therapy. There are a lot of support pieces in place here, such as a school counselor, resident managers, caring teachers, and a set of Deans who are great resources for coaching and offering emotional support. I often make the statement that there is as much coaching going on at Oak Hill Academy as there is teaching. To clarify, what I mean is that we know our students don’t need another sink-or-swim environment – that approach has already been shown not to work for our students in their previous school situations. Instead, they need a relationship and a level of investment from those around them to become more engaged and motivated about their studies, about personal growth, and about the big picture—their futures.
A small boarding school environment is at the heart of what works at Oak Hill Academy. It allows for relationships to be real, both with peers and with teachers. It also allows us to be very personal in our approach with each student – to nudge, to advise, and to hold to higher standards, without feeling punitive. Far from a sink-or-swim environment, we don’t expect our students to “just figure it out,” but instead view our mission as helping students grow as they find their way, one student at a time. It’s a partnership that, for generations, has allowed Oak Hill Academy students to find their Turning Point.
Please call or inquire below to discuss your student – their needs, challenges and goals. Let’s also discuss your goals for a great boarding school fit and the approach you are looking for. We may be that fit, but it starts with a conversation.
Oak Hill Academy’s school mission is offering a “Turning Point” for students who are struggling or not being engaged fully in their current environment. Given this mission, offering rolling admission – often referred to as “open enrollment,” is important. As we head toward the second semester of the school year, many families are evaluating how this school year is going for their students. Oak Hill Academy receives many inquiries from families who are expressing frustration that old, recurring patterns of under-performance have resurfaced and their students appear unmotivated. Seeking to salvage the year, they have determined that a change is needed. The question becomes, “What should that new approach look like?” Here are three important considerations to help guide your search for a good boarding school fit for your student:
How much structure is present in the school?
There is a spectrum of structure in the boarding school world. From military structure all the way to very little structure in some academically elite boarding schools – there are many choices. Oak Hill Academy’s approach falls somewhere between those two extremes, but is skewed toward the highly structured end of the spectrum. A student recently described our environment aptly as feeling like “college with training wheels.” Being away from home fosters a sense of independence that is a catalyst for many students, but the boundaries provided by things like mandatory study hours, cell phone and social media limitations, tutorials, dress code, keeping a clean dorm room that is inspected daily, and a high degree of adult supervision help our students develop the positive habits that change their trajectory. While Oak Hill is most definitely structured, there is room to make choices within these boundaries so that it doesn’t feel “punitive.”
What is the amount of academic rigor offered?
Oak Hill Academy is a college prep boarding school with well over 90% college acceptance rate historically. It is important that colleges know that our curriculum prepares students for success. Some of our students are going on to very competitive colleges and universities, but we do not portray ourselves as an “Ivy League Prep School.” Our students are coming to Oak Hill Academy to grow academically. This usually involves changing the way they view themselves. We are very good at meeting students where they are and moving them forward – by tasting success, developing relationships with their teachers that is supportive but with high expectations, and by gaining experience following a good routine. We recognize different learning styles and work with a variety of learning challenges in a very intentional way. It is important to know that Oak Hill Academy is not a “sink or swim” environment, and that we do as much coaching as teaching in our classrooms and dorms. As students grow and want more for themselves, we are able to meet them with challenging AP and Dual-Credit College classes.
What is the right size?
Bigger is not always better, especially when it comes to a student body. It is important to our mission of helping students grow to maintain small class sizes – 8-10 students on average, with many classes smaller than 10. The relationships that develop with a small student body are often life-changing. As a young person grows, so too should their peer group. At Oak Hill Academy, with a student body made up of students seeking self-improvement and personal growth, a positive peer group is found. Our students want to study together because they want to see each other do well. Our teachers know our students’ individual strengths and weaknesses and work to develop strategies that are very personal to the student. Having a student body that is approximately 150 is central to Oak Hill Academy’s mission.
As you find yourself considering a boarding school option for your student, we hope you look closely at Oak Hill Academy and our unique approach. The beginning of the second semester has been a natural starting point for many of our students. There is, however, limited space available in our second semester enrollment and now is the time to consider Oak Hill Academy. There is still time for proper consideration and a campus visit while our current semester is in session between our Thanksgiving and Christmas breaks. I would love for you to meet our students and staff and see a regular school day on The Hill.
Almost all boarding schools seek to create a diverse school community. Oak Hill Academy, with a current student body that represents more than 25 States and 15 countries, has incredible diversity. As a Baptist boarding school, you might be surprised at the spiritual background diversity found among the student body at Oak Hill. Being situated on the low end of national boarding school costs means there is a great deal of economic diversity here as well.
From my seat in the admission office, I notice trends. We have a lot of inquiries from certain regions of the country and I’ve uncovered some thought-provoking dynamics to explain these pockets of frequent interest. For example, we recently enrolled a student from a large metropolitan area of Texas. The challenge this family faced when beginning their boarding school search is reflective of somewhat limited choices in their region. There were plenty of highly academic, rigorous college prep boarding school options closer to home, but they were seeking a college prep environment that would meet their student where they are, and not overwhelm them with a competitive climate. Many of these Texas boarding schools are very LARGE, raising the question: is everything really bigger in Texas? The small private Christian day schools they searched in their area seemed not to offer the individual approach they were seeking. So, they expanded their search and realized that geography should take a back seat to finding the right fit. (To address these parents’ pain point of “when will I get to see my child?”, Oak Hill Academy’s school year is scheduled to mirror that of colleges, which allows for periodic long holiday breaks and transportation coordination.)
While there are many boarding school options found in the Northeast, Oak Hill Academy’s location in Southwestern Virginia, near the intersection of Tennessee and North Carolina, positions us in a region with statistically fewer boarding school options. It is interesting to note that while we are a Virginia boarding school, Oak Hill enrolls as many, if not more, students from North Carolina as Virginia in a typical year. We maintain the specific mission of providing an option for under-performing students to find their “Turning Point” in a boarding school environment with a decidedly college-going culture, but one that is not “sink or swim.” So each year we have several boarding school students from places like New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and New England.
We are not seeking to become the most popular boarding school in our region. Instead, Oak Hill Academy will maintain its ongoing mission, now 139 years in, to be the area’s best option for a boarding school that provides a specific environment for personal and academic GROWTH.
Very often we are found by families who do not see, in their region of the country, this unique boarding school option. Please call or email to discuss your student, our unique mission and whether we are “worth the trip.” Many have determined that we are.
Today’s blog is a guest post from the Director of Student Affairs, Mr. Aaron Butt. We are a structured boarding school, but we sure have our fun! Life gets uncomplicated for our students on The Hill, and our students are not too cool to carve pumpkins or dress up for Harvest Festival. As a coeducational boarding school, we create a lot of supervised on-campus activities, and our Resident Life staff does a terrific job. Autumn in Virginia means changing weather, eye-catching colors of leaves and a host of campus events before the really cold weather comes. This is the time of year that our boarding school solidifies the close-knit community feel that will see us through the winter. Here, Mr. Butt outlines what October at Oak Hill Academy has felt like:
We had our first snow flurries on “The Hill” this past weekend – Sunday, October 29th! The temperatures have taken a dip, yellow and orange leaves are quickly dropping from the trees, and Thanksgiving Break is less than 20 days away. Despite some torrential rain on Saturday, students gathered at Noonkester Park’s Mississippi Pavilion for our annual Harvest Festival. The heaters were running and a fire blazing as we ate brats and stew, then on to games, a costume contest, and a well-stocked cakewalk.
I feel we are finally “in the groove” here at Oak Hill after concluding our first academic quarter October 16th. We still stress the importance of little things – getting to class on time, keeping a clean room, using quiet time effectively, managing technology usage, engaging with others respectfully, clearing the table – all small things in and of themselves, but practices and routines that allow us to grow and develop into responsible, independent men and women who can build on this foundation and find our passions and callings.
As I have said many times, Oak Hill is not easy – it was never designed to be easy. We often ask our students to do things they don’t particularly want to do. It is harder to hide here; there are more opportunities for friction, conflict, disagreement, and impatience. But we grow through friction. We grow through disagreement and conflict. I believe we grow even through someone telling us to go back to the dorms on a 30-degree morning to change into the right school pants.
I woke up this morning sore from a student flag-football game yesterday, and didn’t particularly want to get out of bed. But I did, and I packed my kids’ school lunches, got them breakfast, helped them dress, and stood at the bus stop. Thirty minutes later I did the same with my other “kids” – monitored breakfast in the Dining Hall, checked school dress, and hustled them off to homeroom in Fletcher Chapel. One thing I love about Oak Hill is the consistency. We know what to expect, when to be structured and orderly, and when to untuck and relax.This evening I look forward to walking with my kids from dorm to dorm trick-or-treating as the students hand out candy.
We are a community. Sometimes we get frustrated with one another, sometimes we say the wrong things or can’t keep our mouths shut. Sometimes we think things aren’t fair, and sometimes we don’t really want to get up in the morning, clean our rooms, put on uniforms, and head out into the cold.
But Oak Hill is a community, and continues to be a turning point. Three-fourths of our students made either the “A” or “B” honor roll for the first quarter; 80% of our students had less than 5 missing assignments over the past 12 weeks. Rooms are (slowly) getting cleaner.
My goal for the next month is for our words to have meaning and value, and for each of us to look for opportunities to encourage one another.
Enjoy a well-deserved Thanksgiving Break with friends and family, and we’ll see you soon!
Today’s Alumni Update is a guest blog by Oak Hill Academy President, Michael D. Groves. We recently had a tremendous opportunity for our student body to hear from someone for whom Oak Hill Academy provided a Turning Point. It was powerful for them to realize that they are part of Oak Hill Academy’s long history and are part of such an important, effective, and life- changing tradition and mission! We were so happy to have Mr. Pelton and his wife, Leslie (’67), on campus. Yes, Mr. and Mrs. Pelton met as students at Oak Hill Academy!
“In May of 2017, the Oak Hill Academy Board of Trustees nominated Oak Hill Academy alumnus George R. Pelton to be honored as Trustee Emeritus. The nomination was received and passed unanimously. The designation of Trustee Emeritus is an honorary title conveyed by a governing board upon a former trustee of an institution to recognize exemplary service. And George R. Pelton, OHA Class of 1967, certainly qualifies.
Mr. Pelton is an alumnus who has served his alma mater with distinction as a member of our Board of Trustees for many years. And, he is likely one of our school’s most successful alumni—and, given the names adorning the wall of Turner Gymnasium, that is truly saying something! A successful businessman who operates a large chain of car dealerships throughout Virginia (he is founding CEO of First Team Auto), George was a student at Oak Hill Academy from 1965-1967.
A glance at the yearbook reveals a sincere, serious-looking young man; George was very involved; and, yes, he did play basketball here (“short shorts” era!). He was also a recipient of a Senior Accolade. Mr. Pelton, was it “Most Studious?” (no). Was it “Most Athletic?” (no). Given that he is clearly one of our most successful alumni—it is a bit ironic that he was not selected as most likely to succeed. George Pelton was voted by his peers as … “Best Dressed.”
Mr. Pelton has created and funded a scholarship at Oak Hill in memory of his late son Geoffrey, who was killed by a drunk driver in 1993. He and his company are very involved and active in his Roanoke community, providing televised public service announcements—speaking out against drunk driving and texting while driving. George is also supportive of OHA by generously providing for the usage of vehicles from his dealerships, by contributing financially to our Annual fund, and—of course, supporting the Geoffrey Pelton Memorial Fund.”
Upon receipt of the plaque and official Oak Hill Academy “Jordan Brand” Jersey, Mr. Pelton addressed the gathering. He expressed appreciation for the honor and shared with the student body that he recalls vividly beginning his tenure on “The Hill” as a student. He needed structure and a place where he could be surrounded by people “who would not allow him to settle for less than who he should be.” He admitted that although there were many times he struggled as a student, “Oak Hill eventually won, and look where I am today.” A Turning Point, indeed.
The belief that “There is no such thing as an underachieving child…only an unmotivated one,” is a core philosophy underpinning the Oak Hill Academy school mission. In order to reach unmotivated students, or those struggling due to poor study habits or a seemingly underdeveloped ability to get things done, structure is key. The positive relationships formed between teachers and resident managers who “coach” as much as “teach” must be backed up with steps to ensure accountability. We continually demonstrate this in working with our students.
Take the issue of homework – A sticking point for many of the families I speak with who are looking for a new approach. I’m often asked, bluntly, “how does Oak Hill Academy motivate unmotivated students?” Another common question is “how are you going to make sure my student does their homework?” Because we believe that, deep down, students would rather be successful, to feel “on top” of their work, we have several homework interventions designed to foster the mindset of taking care of business and managing time – to value the sense of completion. I’d like to discuss what we do in this area here.
Students are required to observe “quiet” study hours, campus-wide each evening from 8:30-10:30. For most students, this means studying in their dorm rooms, with doors open, computers stowed away (unless required for an assignment), with resident managers circulating through the dorms to offer a hand or a nudge in the right direction. For some students, we see that a more hands on, guided environment is needed. If homework remains an issue, here are some of the intervention steps we can use:
- Some students are assigned to an additional afternoon study hall period monitored by our librarian with one on one assistance in organization and planning.
- Resident managers who identified homework issues with a student will provide more intense coaching in a dedicated study area outside of the dorm room. Each dormitory has such a dedicated space.
- In the school building, homework deficiencies are addressed that same day with 8th period office hours for teachers who can sit shoulder to shoulder with a student who struggled with an assignment, making sure the homework is done, addressing the underlying issue, and ensuring that a student’s homework challenge doesn’t “snowball.”
Our overriding goal in our approach to study time and, in an specific sense, homework, is to provide students with a consistent, productive routine. This involves holding students accountable for their work AND providing appropriate assistance and guidance. Structure and routine leads to habit. As their habits solidify and a sense of responsibility is internalized, opportunities for more autonomy emerge, preparing students for the choices they will need to make in college and life. The goal is to provide structure, yes, but really to teach independence, time management, and healthy self-regulation. Our structure takes our students from guidance to self-reliance, confidence and being better equipped. Homework is but one important factor in this growth.
I receive many inquiries from families looking for a boarding high school that works with struggling students. This struggle often centers on a learning difference such as ADD or ADHD, but it often has a lot to do with self-esteem and how the students are seeing themselves. A lack of academic success can lead to a host of issues regarding confidence and motivation. It often has very little to do with ability. We understand that here at Oak Hill Academy.
Our coeducational, college prep boarding school, located in southwestern Virginia, specializes in the under-performing student. “The Turning Point” most often lies in developing a sense of competency and confidence. We understand that the missing ingredient may truly be a relational approach that develops within a structured environment that values accountability. Because we understand this dynamic, we seek to be found by parents (and occasionally, students themselves) who are dealing with it. Being positioned as the boarding school for academic support means that I often speak with parents who want to know, up front, how we determine acceptance—especially if they are coming in with a transcript that doesn’t really reflect their student’s ability.
Today, I’ve decided to address this very common question with an infographic (below) that summarizes the top 5 things I’m looking at when working with a family applying for admission to Oak Hill Academy. If you are relating to the scenarios I’ve outlined above, I invite you to reach out, call or visit our website (www.oak-hill.net) to complete an inquiry form. I want the opportunity to speak with you about current openings or the next school year.
Oak Hill Academy’s mission to offer a “Turning Point” opportunity means that many of our most successful students begin through “rolling admissions.” Throughout the first several weeks of the school year and beyond, space is held intentionally so that we can still consider students for whom we are a good fit. Perhaps your student has begun the year (in their same school environment) with great intentions to make significant changes–academically, socially, emotionally, or even spiritually–but he or she is finding that those changes are harder to make than anticipated. Many parents who find their student in this situation think they have limited options, and they brace themselves for another uphill school year. In cases like this, it is often necessary to change the environment and find a new approach to school in order to effect significant personal growth. As one of few boarding schools with rolling admission, Oak Hill Academy offers an option to take that new approach, and I invite you to contact us to discuss your student and what we do well here.
What is considered a “good fit” at Oak Hill Academy from an admission perspective? Simply put, students who recognize a need for personal and/or academic growth do very well here. If students see the opportunity a fresh start gives them–to redefine themselves in ways that make them feel more competent, positive about their futures, and proud about themselves–they typically do very well here. Is it easy? No. But with our structured, nurturing approach, many students find it easier to take care of business and work harder and more consistently than ever before–because they can see the results tangibly. Small class sizes mean more engagement, but it also means a higher level of accountability: a student can’t “hide” in a class of 10-12 students. Individual attention and a faculty that takes a personalized approach give a student a sense of support that is a game changer.
Rolling admission is a long-held practice at Oak Hill Academy. We understand that there are circumstances that call for a mid-stream change in strategy. This means our teachers are experienced at meeting students where they are and moving them forward. It also means that our students, each of whom was the “new kid” at one time, relate very well to the challenges of making a change during the school year, and they are welcoming and supportive, making the transition less socially-intimidating than you might imagine.
If you have determined that the school year has not gotten off to the positive start you and your student hoped for, it is a good time to consider Oak Hill Academy for a new, and proven, approach. You may even have inquired in the past and want to revisit the possibilities.
We welcome a call or email in the Admission Department at this time of the year. Some of our greatest success stories began this way.
I first met David through the admission process at Oak Hill Academy. He had very good intentions; habits he wanted to improve; and, beyond his love of basketball, he was largely unclear where his passions lay. In many ways, David was the quintessential student, and person, we seek to enroll at Oak Hill Academy–one with good intentions, but needing structure and a relational environment to gain confidence and motivation. During his time here, David embraced small boarding school life–he took advantage of the opportunities at Oak Hill to be engaged in the classroom, on campus in leadership positions, on the basketball court and in the weight room. I recently caught up with David to find out what he’s been up to since graduation.
David attended the University of Waterloo in his native Canada since graduating on The Hill in 2013. Now, in an Honours Bachelor of Arts Program (the equivalent of grad school in the U.S.), he is wrapping up a Sports Business Major and picking up a minor in Corporate Entrepreneurship. “I’ve taken advantage of the robust Co-Op education program here and have gotten to work with some amazing companies in real world situations–sort of an internship experience,” he explains. As you can see in the photos above, David had the tremendous opportunity at one of his placements, Microsoft, to make some valuable connections and add to his resume.
David points to his experience in Oak Hill’s Leadership Program, and the collaborative aspects of a small student body, as inspirations to make a contribution at Waterloo. “I’ve also started a student organization that has helped students in my program get internships in the sports industry.”
One of his goals at Oak Hill Academy was to see how far his passion for basketball could take him. He played for the Oak Hill Red Team (second varsity) for two years and found an outlet for his talent and desire to work hard. He was a member of the Men’s Basketball Team at Waterloo for a couple of years, before his academics became more focused, and demanding.
I asked him how his experience at Oak Hill Academy, in hindsight, impacted his future.
Oak Hill really helped me unlock my potential. After living away from home, studying at OHA, and being part of a small community where I could develop my confidence, I became more independent, and more analytical about my future and the opportunities in front of me. I also became more in tune with my faith (OHA is a Baptist boarding school). It really helped prepare me for what was to come in university and in the “real world.” 21st Century Skills, a focus at OHA, means that our small student body gives everyone an opportunity–and encouragement–to develop skills in working in groups, speaking and presenting, and taking on responsibility beyond themselves.
What advice does David give to any student considering or beginning as a student at Oak Hill Academy?
Lock in! OHA puts you in a great situation to succeed, and the faculty and staff care for each student’s individual success. There’s a lot of meaningful activity going on on campus. If you buy into what is being taught and take an active approach to your academics, you can really do something special at Oak Hill Academy.