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The Culture of a School
Published: 05/04/2011 by Heather Johnson
One of my favorite parts of my job is visiting boarding school campuses. As an educational consultant and boarding school graduate myself, I get excited every time I step foot on a campus. I look forward to meeting the people who are shaping young lives, to learning about the outstanding opportunities available to the students, to seeing the facilities and meeting the students themselves. I also look forward to learning what is special about each particular school. What makes it stand out? What is the culture of the school? What kind of student would fit here?
I think that, often - before families visit boarding schools - they may have a general sense of what a boarding school is. They may envision that idyllic boarding school scene, imagine the engaging classes and the dorm rooms students share. They know why they are considering boarding school: smaller classes, study hall, time management responsibilities, athletic opportunities, a supportive learning environment, an opportunity for independence. What they might not understand is, that while there are common themes among schools, each has its own culture as well.
Perhaps a family has chosen a school because they do know about the culture of this specific place. Students who are artistically or musically inclined might already know of the wonderful schools offering more in-depth opportunities in these areas. Someone who wants to study Chinese may have already researched those schools that specialize in foreign languages. Sometimes, however, the campus visit is what helps to bring the culture of a school to light. While a student may enjoy the classes being offered, they might not be interested in some of the mandatory events. They may love the music program at a school but find that athletics seem to be the more dominant extracurricular activity. A more formal dress code might not be what they're looking for.
I'm a firm believer in students trying things for the first time and expanding their horizons. I also think that, for the strength of a program, some things can be overlooked (school uniform, for one). However, the beauty of the boarding school world is the variety of choices, and this is what truly excites me. When I visit a school I can have a student in mind -- one I know would thrive there because of something I learn about the school's program or see in their students. It's great to be exposed to new things, and it's important to find a place that really fits. Visiting the campus, talking with students, perhaps sitting in on a class; all of these things can provide information about the environment and culture of a school. While much can be learned through catalogs and websites, nothing replaces the visit for information gained about a particular place.