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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.