I often encounter families who’ve looked at military schools, led by the desire for structure for their student, only to find that the military school approach may not be the right fit. – Mike Rodgers ’87
Let me be clear: Military Boarding School is a great fit for some students, and there are some very fine, historic institutions that do a great job of fulfilling their missions. I’m sure you are finding many types of boarding schools in your research, each with a specific approach and mission. Chances are, there is a school that is the correct match for your goals, and a military school may be exactly the right fit for some. However, I often encounter families who’ve looked at military schools, led by the desire for structure for their student, only to find that the military school approach may not be the right fit. Whether that is because there is resentment on the part of the student, or some other factor–it’s not the right fit. Many families find Oak Hill Academy as an alternative to military school for some valid reasons.
Structure: In comparison to a military school environment, there are many overlapping elements of structure at Oak Hill Academy that support the goal of defining boundaries and fostering personal growth through responsibility and routine. We wear a school uniform (albeit a uniform packet that gives a lot of options, so we are not dressing identically–think polos and khakis with several different pullovers available). We have a scheduled day that culminates in mandatory study time in the dorms, and set times for “lights out.” We have consequences for failing room inspection or missing homework. This means that our students don’t find it easy at Oak Hill Academy. Our cell phone policy that restricts use to weekends, and strict limits on internet access are two of toughest adjustments for our students. I’d classify our half-day Saturday school schedule as another part of our structure that takes some getting used to. It all serves to have our students becoming comfortable doing more than the minimum. These rules are not designed to make Oak Hill “tough,” but rather they help provide the structured environment that leads to focus and a greater capacity for grit.
Accountability: Without disparaging the military school approach, I can tell you that our approach focuses on coaching and teachable moments that are dependent on being relational, and on positive peer pressure. An accurate impression of our approach is that we do not lead with the punitive, but with coaching instead. There are several intervention steps before a student is corrected with things like work detail, social restriction, or a loss of certain privileges. There’s accountability, but it is couched in a supportive relationship. Students here don’t have authority over other students, but are coached to be positive influences through our leadership program and in countless informal teachable moments with our faculty, staff, and resident managers who live with the students in the dorms.
Student Buy-In: Our small, coed, student body is full of students who were involved in making the choice to attend Oak Hill Academy. One important criterion for admission is that the student must be able to articulate that they see an opportunity for growth, on some level, in attending Oak Hill Academy. That doesn’t mean that everyone enrolls with a huge smile on their face. We completely understand the difference between apprehension and opposition. Making a change to boarding school is inherently intimidating or even scary for most students. But a campus tour will reveal that our students are not resentful about being at Oak Hill Academy. Not every day is a walk in the park–our students bump up against their areas of weakness and are pushed to grow. And it’s all outside their comfort zones. The game changer for most is that they recognize the opportunity to grow and make the kinds of changes they, deep down, want for themselves. And they are doing it in an environment where they feel supported.