“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.