The boarding school option has much to offer Foreign Service kids.
BY LAWRENCE JENSEN
News of an overseas posting brings much excitement and planning for a diplomatic family. When children are part of the equation, a discussion about educational options invariably begins: What are the schools like in our new country? What about college placement? How safe will life be for my child in our new post? Will my child be comfortable in his or her new environment? Are we ready, as a family, to consider other educational options?
Continuity and social stability for teens in the family is often a major concern, one that drives lots of dinnertime discussion. “Another move? You’re kidding me, right?” one student recalls exclaiming to his parents at news of an upcoming post change. “It was just too much,” he added. “I really felt divided. Living abroad was appealing, but at the same time, I wanted to stay stateside.”
For this student, the discussion had less to do with the excitement of going abroad with his family, than it did with his ability to maintain a measure of constancy in his life. Like many other children with parents working abroad, this student chose an American boarding school.
The Association of Boarding Schools lists tens of thousands of students in member schools, most of them in the United States. Nearly half of the boarding students in these schools are from countries outside the U.S., and many of the students who carry American passports are the children of parents working abroad.
The international “feel” of a boarding school campus offers a measure of familiarity to diplomatic dependents, because their worldviews give them the ability to adapt to their new surroundings quickly and easily, and to make friends anywhere.
A senior prefect at his Virginia boarding school, Alex Moreno feels that his international experiences have helped him to understand the angst of being the new kid in school: “I know that adjusting to new surroundings is sometimes not easy for some kids, and I like to reach out and use what I’ve learned about settling in. Living in different cultures has helped me to be open-minded and flexible.”
Student Max Monical has had a similar experience. Because many cultures and nationalities can be found on a single dormitory hall, Max believes, “anyone can fit in. I tend to try to bring different cliques together as much as I can. I feel safe and confident, because the teacher encourage us to pursue our interests.”
Max’s sister Samantha led the way to boarding school, arriving a year ahead of him. When it was his turn, he confesses to having had some reservations about boarding school life: “To be frank, I dreaded the idea, because I thought it would be strict and that I would have no freedom. I couldn’t wait to get back to school this year.”
His point of view is an interesting one, but not that unique: he loves the personal independence he has found in boarding school, but at the same time he misses some of the freedoms of life at home. “My days are structured and busy,” he notes, “but in my free time, I can hang out with my friends, work out in the fitness center, go on weekend shopping trips and to dances at other schools.”
In an exhaustive study of boarding school students, graduates and their parents, TABS found that 87 percent of boarding school alumni report being “very well prepared” for college. In addition, the study found that boarding school students spent twice as much time outside of class with teachers and coaches than did students in public schools.
Many boarding schools have some sort of host-family program that connects day families with boarding students.
Not surprisingly, 86 percent of boarding school students report being “very satisfied” with their family lives, even though they did not live at home. Clearly, the sense of community, the academic rigor and the dedication of the adults in boarding schools are all valuable.
Schools that are primarily boarding institutions will tend to offer more features and services for students whose parents live far away. An international student office, or a dean charged with boarding student management, is decisive in creating and maintaining programs that are important to a boarder.
Weekend activities, health care, supervision, dormitory and food all head the list of topics of interest for boarding students, but especially for those for whom the campus is their home away from home.
When Samantha arrived at boarding school, she was uncertain about how—and even whether—the “day” students (those who live locally, and do not board) would interact with boarders. “Many of my friends are day students, and they are just great,” she smiles.
Many boarding schools have some sort of host-family program that connects day families with boarding students. Such host families can be excellent resources for boarders, welcoming them into their homes during short breaks and weekends and attending plays and sports contests to cheer on the boarders. They can also be an important link between boarding and day students.
An adviser who is up-to-date about various aspects of the boarding students’ lives is another important element, as well as the teachers who live on campus, and whose focus is the well-being of the boarders.
All three students say that they miss their parents, but feel supported and inspired by a community that is focused on their progress and success. “Anyone who can go to boarding school really should consider it,” says Alex, with Samantha and Max nodding in agreement.
If you are considering boarding school for your child, contact the Family Liaison Office’s Education and Youth team at the U.S. Department of State. Leah Wallace, FLO’s Education and Youth Officer, encourages all families under chief of mission authority to contact FLO. Wallace adds, “FLO can happily assist with your boarding school selection and navigation through the allowance regulations.”