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How Boarding School Offers Summer Independence

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Boarding school independence

Summer break provides ample opportunity for fun. But if you want to improve a lagging grade, get ahead on course credits, hone a talent or practice living independently, you might consider spending part of your off-time in a teen summer program at a boarding school.

There are 231 college-prep and junior boarding schools that offer summer programs, according to Boarding School Review. Many in the United States welcome a mix of domestic and international students and teach ESL (English as a Second Language) to help students from overseas integrate into the American experience and culture. Some students use the programs as an introduction to boarding school before enrolling for an academic year. Others are looking for an academic challenge or extra learning support or want the experience of living in a diverse student community.

The campus experience, combined with a busy schedule, allows for a focus on personal growth.

“You’re kind of taken out of your regular environment,” says Mark Davis, director of programs for the Idyllwild Arts Summer Program in Idyllwild, Calif. Students who enroll in a class while living at home don’t typically have the discipline to avoid distractions like friends, TV or social media, he says. On a boarding school campus, however, students have a full schedule of classes, community meals, activities and field trips.

At Idyllwild, there is also one less distraction: cellphones, which have unreliable service in the school’s mountain location about 125 miles southeast of Los Angeles. Some schools restrict the use of screens. Wolfeboro: The Summer Boarding School in Wolfeboro, N.H., even has a strict no-devices policy, requiring students to write out email messages and hand them to staff to send.

Wolfeboro accepts students ages 10 to 18 for its six-week summer program. The aim is simple: “Make a stronger student, no matter how strong you are today,” explains Edward A. Cooper, head of school.

The foundation of many of these summer programs for teenagers, like the one at The Hun School of Princeton in Princeton, N.J., is to build students’ confidence “so they feel more at peace with who they are and are more confident when they take the SAT,” says Mark Harrison, the school’s director of summer and auxiliary programs. Because the program is only a month long, students take a limited course schedule, sometimes for credit, in one to three core subjects like math, science or writing.

In addition to traditional academic subjects, many boarding school summer programs offer electives as well as sports and physical activities. Other schools have specialized or customized paths. Many offer financial aid.

With its coastal location in St. Petersburg, Fla., Admiral Farragut Academy (a military boarding school during the school year) offers two-week, noncredit courses in marine science as well as aviation and engineering/STEM/robotics. It has four-week electives in scuba and sailing and six-week credit courses in math and science. Math courses are always offered. Jessica Van Curen, the academy’s director of marketing and communications, notes that science classes are “very much on demand” and if at least three students request a class in the six-week program, it will be taught, and a survey is conducted after each session to provide feedback.

At Idyllwild, students focus on one area of artistic study from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. each day, including visual arts, filmmaking, fashion design, dance, creative writing and theater. Emphasis is placed on preparing kids for college and helping them create a portfolio, finish a short film or create a monologue or other audition piece.

The quality of teachers is another draw for boarding school summer programs. The Hun School, while not a pipeline to Princeton University, hires recent Princeton grads. Wolfeboro is committed to hiring only experienced teachers. Idyllwild hires teachers who actually work in the arts, such as a successful novelist and people with Broadway credits. Its approach to getting students is very proactive.

“We tell (our teachers) to do more than just teach the kids that show up. Recruit the kids you want to teach,” Davis says. A teacher who conducts student orchestras around the country, for example, might suggest a talented musician attend Idyllwild’s summer session. Once students are on board, teachers are encouraged to suggest where they might apply to college or to recruit them for their own conservatories or universities.

Boarding school summer programs aren’t just about academics. They also teach students how to live in a community and develop the skills that will be needed to be self-sufficient in college.

“Our kids learn .… the basic things that you might not even consider, like learning to live with roommates and kids from other backgrounds and cultures,” says Van Curen.

“The big thing is it’s a short amount of time,” explains Harrison, “but it’s really impressive to see how quickly community builds and how sad kids are to leave.”

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Kay Keough is a freelance writer, editor and designer based in Sandwich, Mass. She covers arts and entertainment and community news in the Cape Cod area, designs information graphics for data-driven stories and copy-edits a variety of publications. She is a technology enthusiast with several years of experience as a tech journalist and in her spare time is an improviser, painter, baker and candlestick maker. She can be reached at k_keough@yahoo.com.

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