Sarah was a bright young student who needed a bigger stage than her international school could offer to follow her passion for music. The right boarding school gave her an outlet to pursue that dream.
Young people in internationally-mobile families often face many disruptions in their education as their families move from one country to the next. Many times their educational needs cannot be met at the location of the new international assignment. These needs might include fulfilling graduation requirements, consistency in the curriculum, special learning needs, social and emotional needs, continuity with school and friends, and a sense of community. As someone who specializes in working with globally nomadic students, I know that boarding schools can present an excellent option for meeting these diverse needs.
The first thing about boarding schools that most kids think of these days is Hogwarts from the Harry Potter movies. But in fact, most boarding schools today are nothing like the caricatures in the movies. Instead, they provide safe, nurturing, personalized learning communities with strong residential support systems in place. Boarding school faculty and staff today understand that the entire boarding school experience should be designed to bring out the potential in every student.
When working with families, the conversation about boarding schools often begins with a parental request for a list of schools where other students have gone. However, instead of focusing on a list like this, I encourage parents to first focus on the needs and aspirations of the individual student, and then go looking for a school to match the student – because there is a huge range of options out there and each student is unique.
Traditional Boarding Schools
Jennifer’s parents took a new assignment in a new country with an extremely small international school that would not be able to offer her many academic, social, or extracurricular opportunities. She and her parents realized her needs would be better met in a traditional boarding school that could better prepare her for college or for comparable online universities.
One usually thinks of traditional boarding schools as 4-year college/university preparatory programs. However, even within this definition, one can look at large, highly-competitive schools with extremely rigorous programs. Or one can think of smaller schools with college prep programs that offer closer-knit communities. These traditional schools can be co-ed or single sex institutions, and, by the way, there is much educational research supporting the benefits of single-sex education for adolescents. Another important factor in choosing a school is the school and boarding culture on campus – are the schools’ and other students’ values compatible with your own family’s values? Will your child fit in with the other students in the school? Are there sufficient numbers of boarders to run a top-flight boarding program? What kinds of extra-curricular activities are offered that encourage the development of your child’s interests?
Schools for Students with Learning Disabilities and/or ADHD
Marcus was a high school student with learning disabilities and ADHD who lost motivation and hope because of repeated academic failure; finding a school that catered to his needs gave him his future back.
There is a spectrum of wonderful schools and programs that are tailored to children with special learning needs. The most important factor is to first identify what the child’s learning needs are, and that usually means an updated psycho-educational assessment. Once the learning needs have been pinpointed, one can think about where the student’s needs will be best met. There are schools that specialize in serving bright college-bound students who have language-based learning disabilities, and others that work beautifully for children with Aspergers or Non-Verbal Language Disabilities. Other schools work with children who have more significant needs and most likely are not college bound. Still other students have mild needs that can easily be met in a learning support program in a traditional boarding school. Many of the specialized schools also have all the other elements of the traditional boarding school, including a wide variety of athletic and other extra-curricular activities designed to encourage the development of the whole child.
Emotional Growth and Therapeutic Schools
Yet another category of schools includes those that work with young people who have emotional needs that are interfering with their ability to move forward with their lives. These schools combine academics with psychological and/or psychiatric support so that these students acquire new coping skills and approaches to better deal with their personal challenges. These schools have extremely dedicated and highly-trained staff members who understand how to approach kids who are struggling, and I have witnessed many amazing “turn-around” stories. However, it is very important to understand what to look for in these schools and programs to be assured that your child is getting the best in therapeutic services.
When working with young people who are struggling emotionally or who are not making good decisions, it is often beneficial for them to participate in a wilderness program to begin the therapeutic work that allows them to deal with their issues. Wilderness programs take young people out of their comfortable environments and place them in one that is free of modern-day distractions. There they can work with highly-trained and experienced therapists in an intensive, authentic, 24/7 environment. They learn that nature is one element that cannot be manipulated and therefore learn to confront their personal challenges. These are NOT boot camps, survival camps, or punitive in any way. Health and safety are paramount at all times. In these cases, usually a boarding school placement is made after the completion of a wilderness program.
Matthew was a sweet and gentle teenager with significant developmental delays; though the international school had done all it could for him, it no longer had the resources to meet his needs the way a school that specialized in kids like him could.
A school that might have worked for a relative, friend, or neighbor may not be the right fit at all for your child’s needs. Researching schools on the Internet also does not give a complete picture of the culture or reputation of the school. A website gives one a snapshot of what a school is all about, but it can’t tell the whole story. When considering boarding school as an option for your child, many families find it helpful to seek the professional advice of an educational consultant who has experience placing young people in appropriate settings and who has made numerous campus visits. By using an educational consultant who is a member of the Independent Educational Consultants Association, you can also be assured of the highest professional and ethical standards in school placements.
The best boarding schools are places where students and teachers are all part of a dynamic, caring, and nurturing learning and residential community. These schools are committed to meeting the academic, social and emotional needs of their students. As difficult as it may be for a family to consider having a child leave home to attend boarding school, sometimes it is really is a gift of love and wings that can change a life forever.
Disclaimer: Children’s names were changed in this article to protect their privacy.
About the author:
Rebecca Grappo, M.Ed., founder of RNG International Educational Consultants, is a Certified Educational Planner and member of the International Educational Consultants Association. She has visited over 130 boarding schools in the United States and Europe and guided hundreds of internationally mobile students to find the right boarding school for their individual needs. You can visit her website at www.RebeccaGrappo.com or send her an email.
This article first appeared in www.Expatwomen.com