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Elements of OHA Structure: Highlighting Cell Phone Use

The topic of cell phone use in admission conversations is nearly as pervasive as cell phones themselves! The importance and impact of cell phone and social media use by teens (and adults) cannot be overstated. In our continuing series about the structured boarding school environment offered by Oak Hill Academy, our Director of Student Affairs, Mr. Aaron Butt, explains our cell phone policy in detail, the ideas behind it, and what we are doing to promote appropriate phone use. 

Our students were born into a world defined by technology.  The oldest of our current students were seven years old when the first iPhone was released.  For most, cell phones have been a part of their lives since before they can remember.  Children, on average, receive smartphones at the age of 10.3 years.  Phones, and all they can do, are a reality of our students’ lives. 

As educators, parents, and cell phone users ourselves, we know that there are sizable dangers.  In fact, a recent New York Times article notes that even the Silicon Valley developers of smartphone technology are wary of what they are creating.  We know that a lot of our students have struggled with misuse of their phones: overuse, setting boundaries, and a whole host of other issues that can have negative effects on virtually every aspect of their development.  We also know that our job is to prepare them for the world beyond Oak Hill, where cell phones have become a ubiquitous and integral part of life.

So–what can we do as a small, structured college prep boarding school when it comes to encouraging healthy cell phone behavior?  First, we try to remain true to our values.  We are a school that values face-to-face interactions and dialogue.  We also try to foster personal growth by teaching time management, how to build routines, and how to set boundaries.  Second, we as a school must be willing to change, grow, and adapt along with our students.  How do we teach effective, appropriate technology usage?  How do we teach moderation?

Our current policy is based on four components:  the need to disconnect and invest; establishing pockets of appropriate use; tying access to responsibility and age; and education.

Disconnect and invest:

Our mission is for Oak Hill Academy to be a “turning point,” including a chance to start fresh.  All students begin the year without their phones for four weeks.  Everyone is in the same boat – new and returning students – and we believe this allows students to make deeper connections to their peers and to invest in our community right from the outset.

Pockets of appropriate use: 

We value the ability to unplug and put our phones away.  All students have their phones on the weekends, Friday through Sunday.  They collect their phones from the resident managers after class on Friday, and turn them in before bedtime that night.  On Saturday and Sunday they collect their phones in the morning, and again turn them in before bed.  Students never have their phones during our Quiet Time (study hall), and never have them overnight.

Tying access to responsibility and age:

Students who have proven that they are responsible, and have met certain academic and behavioral expectations, receive additional phone time.  The criteria are based on the number of behavioral infractions, academic performance, homework completion, getting to class on time, and other factors.  Seniors who have met the criteria will receive their phones on Wednesdays and Thursdays, from after school until Quiet Time.  Juniors and sophomores will receive them on Thursdays.  Eighth and ninth grade students follow the standard phone schedule, with no additional time, as it is developmentally appropriate for younger students to have less access.


We teach best practices in technology usage through our Resident Life curriculum, advisory curriculum, and other instruction.  We discuss positive usage, addiction, online bullying and inappropriate sharing, and how to use social media for good. We review case studies and work through various scenarios.  Last year, we invited an organization called The Social Institute to campus to lead student discussions and conduct staff professional development and parent seminars.

In short, Oak Hill Academy tries really hard to balance staying true to our mission with addressing the world’s current realities.  And one of the realities of today is that things are continually changing.  The above is our current policy, but we are constantly reevaluating and making adjustments.

What will remain true is that our students will always need routines, structures, boundaries, and accountability.  They will always need adults to model good behavior and good practices.  They will always need supportive parents, teachers, peers, coaches, resident managers– a team around them to challenge and encourage them.  Cell phones are part of our lives today, and while we don’t know what new issues are on the horizon, we’ll be here to guide our students through them.

Aaron Butt
OHA Director of Student Affairs

OHA Spirit Days Curling–the Results are In!

by Lauren Oberman ’20, 21st Century Journalism class

Mo sends a stone across the floor for the sophomores.

As part of the Spirit Days events, Oak Hill Academy recently added “floor curling.” Basically, the objective is to take the “stone” and slide it into the “house”–a white mat with a target of three circles in red, white, and blue. Although these circles do not mean different points, the closer you are to the blue, the better. Curling is usually played on ice, but Oak Hill acquired modified equipment to allow for play on the gym floor. The stones are set on casters to slide across the gym floor smoothly.  Brooms are used to sweep the path of the stones in an effort to control their speed and direction.

This year’s curling competition took place last Wednesday and featured teams of four, including at least one girl and one faculty member. The 8th/9th grades team was Landon Fisher, Arthurline Mulbah, Andy Rosen and Ms. Bronson. The sophomore team included Andie Schultz, Andrew Baker, Mo Alahmary and Mr. Massey. Representing the juniors were Lauren Oberman, Christen Reeves, Jade Renaud and Mr. Doan. Finally, the senior team participants were Kalab Haimanot, Tobias Rotegaard, Kyra Souliere and Mr. Wymer.

The first round saw the juniors vs. the 8th/9th grades. The game started off slow with no points scored in the first round, but eventually the juniors came out on top with a score of 2-1 in the sudden death round.

The junior curlers took first!

The second matchup was seniors vs. sophomores.  Kyra Souliere ’19 said, “I had a lot of fun curling. We didn’t win, but I really enjoyed playing.” It was a very intense match with Mr. Massey and Andie Schultz leading the sophomores to take the win with a 5-3 score.

Playing for third place were the 8th and 9th grades vs. the seniors. The underclassmen scored 2 points to take 3rd place, giving the seniors 4th. In the last matchup, between the sophomores and juniors, Lauren Oberman and Christen Reeves led the scoring with 3 points for the juniors, while Mr. Doan and Jade Renaud played a great defensive game, preventing the sophomores from scoring. Christen Reeves ’20 exclaimed, “I didn’t do the best in the first game, but we came back in the second. It was a lot of fun!”

Congrats to the juniors for winning first place and to the sophomores who came in second!

A Shoe Story: Trust Me on This….

Every Wednesday morning at Oak Hill Academy, our Director of Student Affairs, Mr. Aaron Butt, shares a devotion with students and staff gathered for homeroom assembly. Below is a story Mr. Butt told recently that reminds students to embrace the opportunities for growth that our structured boarding school environment provides, challenging as they might be, and to trust the adults here to help them distinguish between what they want in the moment and what they need to go forward.

When I was 16, my grandparents took the four of us grandkids to a shoe store in Winchester, Virginia, to buy each of us a new pair of shoes.  My grandmother had grown up during the depression on a dairy farm in Massachusetts, and my grandfather flew B-24s in WWII.  They spent little, saved what they had, and didn’t take the prosperity I knew for granted.  So taking us to a store to buy new shoes was a big deal for them.

Well, I had a plan that day: to buy a new pair of tennis shoes for school.  Nothing definite, but I knew what I wanted–maybe a pair of Nike high-tops or Reebok pumps.   My grandparents had a different idea.  When we arrived at the store, I was informed that I didn’t have a choice–I had to buy a pair of dress shoes. What?! What was I going to do with a pair of dress shoes?  I certainly wasn’t going to show up at school the next day in them.  Why were they forcing me to get a pair of shoes I didn’t want?  …But they weren’t budging.  Well, I thought, I guess dress shoes are better than no shoes.  So I walked out of that shoe store, quite disappointed, with a pair of brown Rockports.  …Rockports?  Who had ever heard of Rockports?

Here’s the thing. My grandparents knew something I didn’t.  They were able to envision a future I couldn’t–a future where I would need, appreciate, and potentially even like a pair of dress shoes.  I wonder if they envisioned this:  that more than 20 years down the road, I would be an administrator at a boarding school in rural Virginia called Oak Hill Academy. And that I would still be wearing those brown Rockports this morning.  I have worn these shoes more than any pair of shoes I have ever owned–and every time I do, I appreciate my grandparents’ refusal to budge.

Now, that was just shoes.  But there were plenty of other times they pushed me in directions I didn’t particularly want to go.  When we’re growing up, there are times that we have a plan, and we know for sure what we want.  But we don’t always know what is best for us, what we need, and what is going to help us grow.  At 16 or 17 I had a hard time seeing 20 years down the road and anticipating what skills, qualities, and even shoes, I was going to need.  So I needed people around me (like my grandparents) to challenge me, nudge me, and prepare me for what was coming.  I didn’t always agree with them, or like what they were suggesting, but I trusted them because I knew they cared about me and wanted what was best for me.

At Oak Hill we sometimes ask you to do things you don’t necessarily think make sense, things you don’t necessarily agree with, or want to do.  I would encourage you to trust us.  Trust Oak Hill; trust your parents for bringing you here; and trust the adults in your life who have invested in working with you.  The OHA faculty and staff have been doing this a long time. We can see out a bit further than you can. We have been through a bit more of life than you have.  I hope we earn your trust. And maybe, just maybe, 20 years down the road you will still be using the skills and lessons you learn this year at Oak Hill.

Right now is the time to embrace this challenge to trust, and to embrace change and personal growth—things that aren’t necessarily easy.

So–I want you to remember these brown Rockports. I didn’t want them. But I’m glad my grandparents had the wisdom and strength to disagree with me.  Remember this story when you’re pushed or challenged, and trust that there are good people, just like my grandparents, who are here at Oak Hill because we care about you, and we might know a thing or two about what lies ahead for you.

Mr. Aaron Butt
OHA Director of Student Affairs

Little Things Matter – Especially if Everybody Does Them!

Every morning at Oak Hill Academy, the community hears a devotion in homeroom assembly–a positive start to the day. Our Director of Student Affairs, Mr. Aaron Butt, regularly addresses the students and staff on Wednesdays during this time. Below is one recent offering, about how doing little things strengthens our small boarding school community.

There is a situation that I consistently run into–both as a parent, and as a school administrator. I’m sure you can relate: while walking around our dining hall, I see a napkin left on a table, or a cup, or a fork, and I ask someone leaving the table – “Can you please pick that up and throw it away, or put it in the dish window?” And what do they say? You can guess what they say: “That’s not my fork, my napkin, my cup. I didn’t do that.”

That drives me nuts. Why? Because someone’s got to do it. If I could track down the owner of the napkin, if I could interrupt the breakfast meal, hold up homeroom, do an investigation, call in witnesses, take fingerprints and collect DNA to determine the original user of the napkin or cup, wouldn’t that be great? …But really? Ultimately, I don’t care who did it; it doesn’t matter. What matters is that there’s a fork on the table that needs to get picked up. I’ve picked up 7 already, and it really doesn’t matter who left them, the forks needs to get cleaned! Is it my job? Is it someone else’s job? Who cares? Pick up the fork!

Those of us who are parents spend half our lives cleaning up other people’s messes. Last night (like many nights before) I went around the house turning off lights, picking up toys, putting away dishes, arranging shoes–none of which were mine. I didn’t make the messes. Should my kids learn to clean up after themselves? Sure. Are they messy? Yes. Do they need to be more responsible? Yes. (And that goes for the rest of us, too.) But in the moment, what matters is that there are lights on unnecessarily and they need to get turned off. I remember when my oldest son was about 3 months old. I changed his diaper for probably the 6th time that day. Afterward, I called up my mom and thanked her. I had no idea about all the things my parents did for me–how much time, work, and energy they put into me. We have no idea how much others are coming behind us, cleaning up our messes.

There’s a book that I love that I read to my kids. It’s called If Everybody Did, by Jo Ann Stover. It goes through humorous situations about what would happen if everybody…walked in the house with muddy shoes, left toys on the stairs, or squeezed the cat. Of course the results are catastrophic—and funny. In the world outside a children’s book, what would happen if everybody left dirty utensils on the table, spit on the sidewalk, or threw their trash in the ocean?  I dream sometimes about the opposite–what if everybody didn’t?

So what happens at Oak Hill if we all ignore the candy wrapper on the sidewalk? What if everybody thinks, “Well, someone else will pick it up.” What if we all assume someone else will pick up the water bottle we left on the bleachers, or the fries we dropped on the floor? What if we all just said, “Well, I didn’t do that…not my problem, someone else’s job”?

On the flipside, I sometimes imagine, and even catch glimpses of, an OHA community where “Everybody Did”–for good. What if we were a school campus where everybody looked out for each other, held the door, picked up after each other, noticed what needed to be done–and did it, even if it wasn’t their problem?
I see glimpses of that: a student checking the van to make sure it’s clean before getting off; another boxing up a board game she probably didn’t leave out; a dorm resident helping clear out her floor when her Resident Manager was sick; a wrestler staying behind to clean a mat; another student helping carry cardboard boxes to recycling.

That’s the community I want to be a part of, where “everybody does” the good things. And let me tell you, I’m grateful for people who do help me out, who are willing to pick up my messes, and who don’t hold my shortcomings against me–because I’ve inadvertently left behind my fair share of napkins, or coffee mugs, or dirty cups.

So please, next time I ask you to do something like pick up a napkin, don’t say, “It’s not mine.” Remember that you are part of this community. And remember how much others have done for you. Then stoop down and pick up that breakfast bar wrapper on the way to church.

We’re in this life together.

Aaron Butt
Director of Student Affairs


Oak Hill Academy Kicks Off “Spirit Days” 2019!

by Lauren Oberman ’21, 21st Century Journalism Class

At Oak Hill Academy, February is the month of “Spirit Days,” a series of special dress-up days and friendly competitions among the classes that brings the whole campus community together for some fun and games. To kick off this year’s event, we dressed with today’s theme–“Pajama Day.” In the afternoon, we participated in “Minute-To-Win-It” events: Oreo Stack Relay, Ping Pong Catch, Egg Roll, Corn Hole Challenge, Water Bottle Flip, Stack-it-Up Penny Challenge, Stocking Head Water Bottle Challenge and the Basketball Shooting Competition. The class team with the most points at the end of the month gets to miss a Saturday school and sleep in!

The Oreo Stack Relay takes a team of two students. One runs the width of the gym, drops to the floor, and grabs an Oreo with his/her mouth (no hands!). The person then runs (Oreo in mouth) back to the other side and delivers the Oreo to his/her teammate, and repeats. The second member of the team, who must stack the Oreos on a table. The object of the game is to see who can create three stacks of five Oreos first.  If a tower falls, the team has to start all over again.This year the seniors came in first, the juniors took second, 8th/9th graders placed third with the sophomores finishing fourth.

The Ping Pong Catch is another two-person team game. The students stand facing each other several feet apart. The point of this game is to bounce a ping pong ball to your partner, who tries to catch it in a cup. Each team must bounce and catch ten ping pong balls, then trade places and bounce and catch ten more ping pong balls. Today’s winner of this challenge was the sophomores, followed by the juniors, then 8th/9th graders and seniors.

The Sophomores try their hands at Corn Hole.

The Egg Roll is another relay-style race pairing one girl and one boy. The teammates stand on opposite ends of the gym and attempt to roll an egg the length of the gym using only a pencil. That’s hard enough, but try it on all fours, holding the pencil in your mouth! The sophomores won this event, with the seniors taking second place, 8th/9th graders coming in third, and the juniors placing fourth.

The Corn Hole Challenge, otherwise known as the “bean bag toss,” is a very simple competition, with points awarded for landing bean bags on the platform or inside the hole. Each grade went head to head in 90-second rounds. This year the sophomores came out on top, and the juniors followed them in second place. The seniors finished third, and the 8th/9th graders finished fourth.

The Water Bottle Flip has become a huge trend in recent years (see YouTube for some crazy variations!). The basic idea of this game is to flip five partially filled plastic water bottles until they land on the table standing upright. The winner of this challenge was the 8th/9th graders, followed by the sophomores. The seniors placed third, and the juniors placed fourth.

Contestants in the “Stocking Head” challenge

The Stack-It-Up Penny Challenge was a new addition to this year’s Spirit Days events. One member from each grade kneeled with one hand behind his/her back, and had to stack pennies into a tower without knocking them down. The sophomores dominated this competition and stacked all 25 pennies first. The junior class was second; 8th/9th graders third; and seniors fourth.

The Basketball Shooting part of the competition was a race to see who could make one layup, one free throw, one 3-point shot, and one half-court shot first. One member from each grade went head to head. This year the 8th/9th graders just edged out the juniors for first. The sophomores finished third and the seniors came in fourth.

The final game of the 2019 Minute-To–Win-It Event was the Stocking Head Water Bottle Challenge. Contestants wear a pair of hose on their heads, with a tennis ball in the foot of one leg. The idea is to swing the tennis ball (no hands) to knock down a series of water bottles. The winner of this year’s Stocking Head Challenge was the seniors, and the juniors followed closely in second. Rounding out the event were the 8th/9th graders in third, and the sophomores in fourth.

We look forward to next week’s installment of OHA “Spirit Days!”

Contact Information

Oak Hill Academy
2635 Oak Hill Rd.
Mouth of Wilson, Virginia 24363

Phone Number  276-579-2619

Administrative Office Fax Number  276-579-4722

Academic Office Fax Number  276-579-2618

Ms. Cyndie Richardson

Director of Student Affairs
Mr. Aaron Butt

Dean of Girls
Mrs. Shaquera Clawson

Dean of Boys
Mr. Gary Crede

Director of Financial Affairs
Mrs. Rhonda Bowen

Student Expense Accounts
Mrs. Paula Phelps

Student Tuition Accounts
Mrs. Laura Phipps

Transportation Coordinator
Mrs. Regina Cooper

Director of Counseling
Mrs. Joy Groves, MA, LPC, NCC

Academy Nurse
Ms. Betsy Anderson
Mrs. Anita Perkins

For additional contact info., visit the Faculty & Staff Directory.