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Note: TABS welcomes and values contributions from leading voices across the independent college prep boarding school world. However, the opinions expressed by our guest bloggers do not necessarily reflect those of TABS.

A Surprising View From The Helicopter

I have recently had the pleasure of working with The Association of Boarding Schools on a new initiative to increase student enrollment. It’s a category of great interest to me as a parent of two primary school-aged children who are on the verge of leaving their comfortable elementary school “bubble” and hit the real world of middle and high school. As we have delved into the trends affecting the category, I have come to the realization that I am, like many parents in my generation – a helicopter Mom. You know the type, we waited into our 30s and put ourselves through countless medical procedures in order to finally, gleefully, hold the title of “Mother”. Since they were tiny, our children have taken priority over all else in our lives and we have created industries out of finding ways to keep them entertained, enriched and educated. I wouldn’t have it any other way. And, like many of us up here trying to micro-manage the chaos, I have never even considered a boarding school experience because it’s such a departure from what I now know as “normal”.

Read more ›

Posted in Boarding schools, Dispelling Myths, General/Misc, Parents, Student Culture, Student Life, Students, TABS

Alumni Reflect on Lifelong Friendships from Boarding School

Students in Dorms

Green. Green. Green. Clustering, rolling, expanding. Cresting up and gliding down little hills, dancing criss-cross with a quiet river. Up where history gives way to leafy-fingered growth, the Taconic State Parkway is a beautiful drive that seems to be leading somewhere special, to the precipice of a great quest.

I love the journey but am relieved to arrive at manicured playing fields and little pathways winding between brick and wooden buildings. Familiar, yet totally unpredictable, like the ocean. I climb an old staircase to my room, pick my bed and put my computer on a desk. I know it so well and yet I’ve never seen this place before. I am not starting a new year at boarding school. It’s summer, decades later, and I’m a bridesmaid at one of my closest friend’s wedding, at the school where she now teaches.

Read more ›

Posted in Boarding schools, Dispelling Myths, Parents, Student Culture, Student Life, Students


 We continue to live in an era of rapid cultural evolution.  Reasonable people navigate these turbulent waters with humility, curiosity, and openness, yet even reasonable people can feel the passionate, loud, and often uncompromising voices of extreme perspectives – extreme advocacy for rapid evolution and extreme recalcitrance at the very concept of change.  At schools, we cannot share the self-indulgent luxury of extreme advocacy or extreme recalcitrance.  We must practice, model, and promote critical thinking, kindness, and sensitivity while engaging the day’s most contentious issues.Our obligation is to our students.  Our missions are clear – “to prepare students for college and life in mind, body, and spirit.”  Our communities embrace the idea that the most effective way to accomplish this mission is in the context of an intimate, caring community in which we both maintain high standards in all areas of school life while ensuring that every student feels known and loved.
Posted in Boarding schools, Counseling, Curriculum, Dispelling Myths, Diversity, Heads, Independent Schools, Professional Development, Student Culture, Students, Teaching & Learning

WHAT TO PACK! Your first year at boarding school

What to Pack - Suitcase

If you’re starting boarding school this fall – Congratulations! – you’re probably really excited and already packing or wondering what to take. Your school is likely to provide you a comprehensive list of what will be in your room, what you need to bring, what you might like to bring and what you are not allowed to bring. Follow this list. They know what they’re talking about and the list is specific to your school. Take special note of electronics. Are you allowed to bring tablets, ipads, kindles and desktops, only laptops, or no computer at all? What are the school’s rules about cell phone use? Which cell phone carrier has the best service on campus? Do you need to switch?

The school’s list and any additional answers you get will guide you well, so let’s consider some ways to think about packing for the first time, and go over a few “life-saving” hints.

Read more ›

Posted in Boarding schools, Dispelling Myths, Parents, Student Culture, Student Life, Students

Stereotype Threat & The Unique Advantage of Community

Planet earth in blue human eye

Remember SchoolHouse Rock? “Conjunction – Junction, what’s your function?” If you are too young, it’s worth a Google. I loved it and learned plenty about “Hooking up words, and phrases and clauses…” But another thing that always stuck in my mind was one of the American History skits in which the only woman was Betsy Ross sewing an American Flag. I thought, at the tender age of eight or nine, “Well, my Mom and I don’t sew, so we will never be part of American History.” I now recognize of course, that that does not “make sense” but I have recently come to understand the dynamics that would create that kind of impression, especially in a learning context.

At this year’s TABS/NAIS Global Symposium, Andrew Watson of Translate the Brain, presented a fascinating session on Stereotype Threat. He detailed consequences, how “ST” functions and offered strategies to defuse Stereotype Threat in the boarding school environment. What is the threat? For boarding schools in particular, Stereotype Threat impairs learning capacity and erodes community. I have been thinking about it ever since Global and spoke with Andrew to get deeper into the subject. Read more ›

Posted in Academics, Athletics, Boarding schools, Counseling, Dispelling Myths, Diversity, Heads, Independent Schools, Professional Development, Student Culture, Student Life, Students, Students of Color, Teaching & Learning

From Mexico to Lake Maxinkuckee

Growing up in Mexico, I thought I would be too homesick to attend school abroad. Luckily for me, my cousin – who admittedly had more foresight than I at the time – attended a Culver Academies summer camp, nestled alongside Lake Maxinkuckee in Culver, Indiana. Describing his experience, his words were pretty powerful: “It was one of the greatest experiences I’ve ever had,” he said. His experience opened my mind to the idea of going to boarding school abroad, so I began to do my own research.

I based my school search on the specific criteria that are important to me: a strong football program, co-ed student mix and competitive tuition. The more I looked into a potential boarding school experience, the more excited I was to start something new—a chance to meet new people, experience different cultures and prove myself in football. Read more ›

Posted in Admissions, Athletics, Boarding schools, Dispelling Myths, Diversity, Parents, Student Culture, Student Life, Students, Students of Color Tagged with: , , , , ,

Blown Out of Proportion

In the spring of 1984, my parents received a letter giving me the opportunity to opt out of attending Choate Rosemary Hall and receive help getting admitted to another boarding school for my freshman year.

The events that precipitated this letter were singular and startling, and are told through a specific point of view in the recently released movie, The Preppie Connection. A POV that I don’t find startling or singular, but which has inspired some animated discussion amongst many of us who attended Choate around that time.

On April 23 of 1984, two Choate students had been arrested at JFK International Airport for the possession of 350 grams of uncut cocaine they (allegedly, at the time) smuggled in from Venezuela. A devastating blow, mind the puns, to an almost 100 year old school that boasts the education of JFK himself, as well as Edward Albee, Adlai Stevenson, Glenn Close and thousands upon thousands of successful graduates. The story would be featured on 60 Minutes with Ed Bradley in the fall. The school was juggling devastating press, internal and external investigations, disciplinary actions, new policy decisions, and not least on its mind was its students – current and incoming. The school was dedicated to our futures even if it meant giving us up.

I was the googly-eyed 13 year old you’d be terrified to send into a hotbed of temptation, bad influences and international crime. But that wasn’t where I was going. I was going to the place I liked best – and of course I still wanted to go! Picking a boarding school wasn’t easy, but after narrowing down the specific offerings that were best for me, I was stuck on them, and I couldn’t wait. Regarding the cocaine scandal, I didn’t know the difference. People are doing whatever they’re doing. My family felt confident in the school and how they were handling such a complex situation. Read more ›

Posted in Boarding schools, Dispelling Myths, Students

Expanding Perspectives at TABS/NAIS Global Symposium

Global Symposium TABS-NAIS“Cheddar, Swiss, American – I never knew Americans ate so many dairy products – so many kinds of cheese! I didn’t know what was what!” laughs an East Asian student talking about her first year at boarding school in the United States. The video of this student and several others was presented at one of the Pre-Symposium Sessions at the TABS/NAIS Global Symposium earlier this month in Long Beach, California.

Having recently joined the TABS team, I was delighted to attend, and delighted again and again as I saw a combustion of sharing and exchange ignite before me. Coming from the private sector, I am accustomed to the guarding of trade secrets or the measured release of information, and found the unreserved openness and clear priority to reveal solutions, no matter who’s using them, to be truly inspiring. It filled me with hope – and solace really – for the current and future generations of young people who are served by these educators. While the US presidential election is going bonkers, the educators I saw were working together to promote productive inquiry, generate paths to empathy, and expand creativity and invention by including different perspectives. Attendees were from schools that often compete for the same students, but the dedication of these educators to provide the best for students — together — was the ethos of the symposium.

Currently many boarding schools have up to 20% international enrollment with the majority of students coming from China and South Korea. At the same time, acceleration of diversity within the United States is galloping forward. Featured Speaker Dana Mortenson of World Savvy cited statistics that project the US population will be 47% white by 2050, down from 88% in 1970, and that school age children are already at this percentage. In addition to economic, political and climate factors that are bringing our world together, the classroom is becoming the new melting pot. Mortenson, sponsored as Featured Speaker by Shanghai OvEdu Consulting, kicked off the Symposium with questions like – what should the future of learning look like? The Global Symposium is designed to find working solutions to just that, and to address innumerable intricate nuances and unpredictable challenges that spill out as if from an over-stuffed suitcase. Read more ›

Posted in Boarding schools, Curriculum, Diversity, Independent Schools, Professional Development, Student Culture, Student Life, TABS Programs Tagged with: ,

8 Reasons from One Perspective, and We Found More!

We stumbled upon a great blog post yesterday on PopSugar—Everything You Need to Know About Sending Your Child to Boarding School. Author Eleanor Sheehan is a boarding school graduate and provides 8 reasons why boarding school was a “positive choice” for her. In her words:

  1. There are a lot of rulesThacher School photo: Channel Islands , Thomas Hudson
  2. Academics are rigorous
  3. Discussions in class are encouraged
  4. Team sports are high valued
  5. Relationships are more intense
  6. Expulsions are common
  7. It’s rich in tradition
  8. The food is good

As a boarding school graduate, a mom, and someone who works in the industry, I read her piece nodding my head in agreement to most of her thoughts. She touches on some big selling points of the boarding school option including structure, top-rate academics, the forging of lifelong friendships and mentors, and learning to thrive and survive in order to prepare for the world outside of the boarding school bubble (namely…college and life).

But she also makes two excellent points in her introductory paragraphs that I wish more folks knew.

  1. We often hear the word “sent” — such as “I was sent to boarding school.” As if it’s a punishment or a sentence. Really, we need to coin a different term. These days we often find that kids are the instigators of this decision. They are opting in, asking for an incredible opportunity called boarding school.
  2. “…parents can still parent without being present…” — this is huge! While I’ve never parented a boarding school child (I’m still parenting toddlers), I can say as an alum that I saw my parents all the time. And, my friends whose parents lived further away—they even saw their parents and spoke with them frequently.

What was your experience?

Posted in Boarding schools, Parents, Student Life, Students

A Land of Two Caesars

I started Boarding School at age 13. My Mother was in finance and her big company had a toll free 800 number which allowed me to call from anywhere at no charge on my end. As long as I didn’t have class and she didn’t have a client in front of her, we could talk forever.

bananaThere was also this thing called a pay phone – it wasn’t a pre-paid mobile device. It was a large rectangular box with a handset, shaped sort of like a banana with a round part to talk through on one end and another round part to listen through on the other. Roughly twice the size of the iPhone 6. You held it in the middle. The handset was connected by a thick armored cord to the rectangular box that had a raised key pad and a slot into which you put dimes – a small round metal currency – later quarters. The contraption was usually mounted to a wall and sometimes in a small closet for privacy. (Long ago, there were things called phone booths which were free-standing vertical closets with windows and a pay phone inside. These were an excellent place – if you happened to be from outer space and your average skill set turned out to be supernatural on this planet – to rip open your button down oxford, shake off your glasses and emerge faster than a speeding bullet into the sky with your cape billowing behind you.)

For me, I simply used the pay phone. With the 800 number, no coinage needed. That thick armored cord was my umbilical cord.

I didn’t really miss home. I was up for the adventure. But so many things happened every day at boarding school that I felt my mother needed to know about all of them. There were a million things to say. Things she didn’t even understand like why we had to play The Ramones before going to the Saturday night dance instead of The Rolling Stones because we were all wearing striped socks like in Rock n Roll High School or that the variable that isn’t squared will determine which direction a parabola will open up on the xyz axis. But she knew about a lot of stuff – obviously – and she listened.

I got in trouble my first month at school for talking too loudly – and after hours – on the basement pay phone to my Mom. To my Mom!! How can you get in trouble for talking to your Mom!?

The phone was right under the dorm mother’s apartment. Check. But which Mom was in charge here? Read more ›

Posted in Boarding schools, Parents, Student Life, Students