‘You Sent Your Child Away!’

Demystifying the Boarding School Experience

“Why would I send my child to boarding school?”

“Boarding schools are for…troubled kids.”

We hear these concerns expressed frequently by families we work with. And recently I’ve been thinking about better ways to demystify the boarding school experience thanks to some work I’ve done with a wonderful group of Admissions Directors, Heads of School and other educational experts at The Association of Boarding Schools.

So what exactly does boarding school offer? For me, decades ago as a student, it was mentors like Father Rogers, who taught me ethics in the morning, coached me in baseball in the afternoon, then invited me to his house for snacks and conversation about both in the evening. Or Mr. Hershey, who turned me from an apathetic science student to a passionate physics scholar when he brought our class outside, pitched stakes in the ground, and explained exactly why I could spin a curveball around them. These intellectual and athletic role models inspired me to explore my courses – and myself – at that precisely vulnerable time of adolescence when I needed this type of introspection and structure.

Later my wife Sarah and I became boarding school “triple threats” – teachers, coaches and dormparents. Our English and French students would come into our apartment, which was attached to their dorm, and ask for help with rough drafts and translations – and help with their own romantic drama and college pressure. We’d continue offering guidance on the fields and courts, at the McMillan table in the dining hall, during van rides to away games or the mall, or when we’d come home from the rare Saturday night out and relieve them from babysitting our two sons.

Even now, in our kitchen here in Boston, we still keep a ceramic bowl Serena from Lake Forest, Illinois made for us 20 years ago after we helped her with a dry run of her graduation speech. (She’s now a pediatric nurse.) And last week Chris, who had grown up outside of Detroit, paid us a visit. He lived 10 feet from our front door in 1988; we saw him develop confidence and skills then go on to study and play hockey at a NESCAC college. He came by the office in his role as Assistant Headmaster at a boarding school out West, having spent several years as a wilderness therapist as well.

When we switched from working at independent schools to running this consulting group in 2009, we soon became parents of boarding school students ourselves. Our liberal-minded son joined, of all things, The Conservative Club – because Mr. Mehos, his football coach and History teacher, invited the club members to his house to watch the presidential debates. And our other son, a classics-major-to-be, got the chance to be part of a one-on-one independent study to learn Greek – after he’d been shown how to chart out a weekly planner, break long assignments into manageable chunks, take care of his own room and laundry, and seek out his teachers for extra help.

Boarding schools offer more than sparkling Learning Centers, AP-laced curricula and turf-field blessed acres of playing fields. They serve as 24/7, holistic learning microcosms; nurturing communities led by compassionate adults who love kids so much they choose to live with them. Boarding school faculty are committed to helping teenagers navigate the dark tunnel of adolescence and develop academic and personal skills that empower them to emerge as confident, caring young adults, ready to tackle the challenges of college – and beyond.

Why would you send your child away to boarding school? Because it’s one of the most wonderful gifts that a parent can offer a child.

Don with his boarding school roommate Eric this past fall attending Eric’s alma mater’s football game in Atlanta. Eric became Don’s best man, and the godfather of both his sons.