Boarding Schools


For most people boarding schools conjure up thoughts of young men in navy blue blazers with white shirts and a tie going to a beautiful school with ivy covered walls and the game of polo being played in the distance. Oh, and don’t forget thoughts of parents with fat wallets and a family trust fund. This is what Gordon Vink, the director of admissions at Mercersburg Academy in Pennsylvania, calls the “Holden Caufield-Catcher in the Rye syndrome”(Parker 111), a book about the troubles a boy faces at his prep boarding school.
To an extent the image holds true. Prep schools offer collegiate type atmospheres, have strict rules, and often teach generations of students from the same families. The simplest definition of a boarding school is a place that parents pay for a stodent to live and go to school. The school’s teachers, coaches, and administrators live in dormitories with boarders and act as their family enforcing the strict rules, making disciplinary decisions, and overseeing behavior and academic performance.
Boarding schools can be one or all of the following: academic boot camp, a place for parents to put kids they don’t want around or don’t have the time for, a haven from deteriorating public schools, a necessary credential for children of the rich and famous, or a training ground for tomorrow’s leaders. These schools range from small unknown institutions which will accept anyone, to the elite schools, which are very selective and are a pipeline to Ivy-league schools and success.
Boarding schools are superior to public day schools. Proponents of boarding prep schools claim the schools offer unparalled discipline, a stronger curriculum, exellent facilities, a way to get in to better colleges, a superior learning environment, staggering extra-curricular options, and allow students to attain a higher level of performance. Opponents argue that the astronomical cost, anywhere from $8000 to $25,000 per year for the most elite, is too expensive. They also claim the rules are too extreme and suffocating, and that students experience an abundance of stress.
The biggest argument against boarding schools is cost. With an average cost of $8000 to $25,000 (Topolnicki 100), many parents ask: Are private boarding schools worth the expense? The extra attention and frills don’t come cheap. “It’s like buying stock or a new house,” says private school consultant Georgia Irvin. “It’s a major investment.” (Parker 111) But many boarding schools have been working hard to increase their financial aid and to structure new methods of payment. Pricey prep schools are more likely to give scholarships. Sixteen percent of students who attend get financial aid, which averages $5,400 a year. ( Topolnicki 101) Boarders also must consider what they are getting - tuition and all living expenses. “Just think about how much food a typical teenager eats,” Susan Laittus says. She pays $21,000 a year for her child to go to boarding school. She feels no price is too high when thinking of her children’s future. That $21,000 also gives her child access to a private beach, surfing classes, and a recreation room with an ocean view. One alternative to get a similar education is to move to an advantaged public school system, but then there are high property taxes to pay and the average home costs between $125,000 to $500,000 in such affluent neighborhoods. (Topplnicki 100) If the costs can be overcome, then a private boarding school is worth every penny.
Another problem is the system of rules the schools use. Boarding schools generally plan every hour in the student’s day. From wake up to lights out, every hour in the student’s life is set. At Exeter Boarding School in New Hampshire, classes start before 8:00 AM and often don’t wind up until 6:00 PM. (Morgan 103) Jenny Cantrell’s first discovery at Mercersburg Academy in Pennsylvania was the school rule book. Jenny had to be at dinner from 6:20 PM until 6:50 PM, then have study time from 7:30 PM to 10:00 PM. After 10:45 PM she was expected to be in her room. On weekends she has to sign in at her dorm between 7:00 PM and 8:00 PM to report where she would be until her 11:00 PM curfew. You can’t just leave to see a movie if you are tired of doing schoolwork.