By Jane St. Clair
Over the past few decades, boarding schools have become more popular than ever. Part of the reason is the craze for Harry Potter. These books sold over 400 million copies, and many young readers are eager to have their own adventures at a Hogwarts, just like their literary hero.
Another reason is that in many families today, both parents have careers that require long hours and travel. These parents see boarding schools as a place where their children can get plenty of individual attention and other advantages while having fun with their friends in a completely child- or teen-friendly atmosphere. Boarding schools traditionally have the highest academic standards, and their structured daily schedules, with regular hours for study, meals, exercise, recreation, and sleep create a work ethic and discipline that helps students gain admission and success in college.
There is also a trend back to single-sex boarding schools, because new research is indicating that many children learn better and more effectively when they are taught in gender-specific ways. Girls are more likely to excel in math and science, recite more often in class, and take up sports in single-sex schools. They also have more adult women as role models in their lives, and they are able to take on leadership positions at their school. There is some evidence that boys achieve higher scores on standardized tests when taught in single-sex classrooms.
Another boarding school trend is increased specialization. Parents are demanding programs that reflect their child’s individuality, so now there are schools that specialize in art, music, drama, specific sports, or science, for example. Other parents want a staff that will work with their child to overcome certain challenges, such as lack of motivation, underachievement, depression, and learning disabilities. There are even secondary academies with boarding programs for severely overweight students, in which exercise, good nutrition, and workshops on losing weight are part of the curriculum.
Emotional growth boarding schools are also gaining popularity. You can find schools for children with Asperger Syndrome and autism, for example, where teachers with degrees in special education and therapists live and work closely with students. In Asperger’s schools, learning life skills such as dressing appropriately and understanding other people’s moods and body language is just as important as learning math.
Other boarding schools specialize in students who have been diagnosed with psychological problems such as bipolar disorder, oppositional defiant disorder, depression, eating disorders, and substance abuse. These programs have literally saved lives because some of their students enter with histories of suicidal ideation, running away from home, having trouble with legal authorities, or coming close to overdosing from drug abuse.
At these therapeutic boarding schools, students undergo daily and group counseling, and workshops designed for their specific diagnosis. For example, an adopted child may have an attachment disorder because she lived her early life in a series of foreign orphanages. At an emotional growth boarding school, she may work with small animals as a way of learning how to love and trust again. A teen with a drug problem may undergo special training to help him learn to avoid his old drug-using friends when he returns home.
The best emotional growth boarding schools employ highly trained psychologists and educators, as well as medical professionals. Each child undergoes a careful screening as part of the admission process. The school staff designs a specialized program of individualized learning and therapy for each student. While the child is away and working through his program at boarding school, the staff works with his family members to help them make necessary changes to maintain the child’s positive growth. Once the child returns home, the school staff provides intensive follow-up care, often for a year or more.