Have you ever considered boarding school as an option for high school? For students and parents alike, it can be difficult to envision a teen attending high school hundreds of miles away from home. In fact, less than one percent of United States high school students attend boarding school. I was part of that small group as a boarding student at McCallie School, a Chattanooga, Tennessee all-boys college preparatory school. I hope that sharing my experience will help North Shore teens evaluate boarding as an option.
I began high school as a day student at Lake Forest Academy. However, transferring to McCallie as a true “boarding student” sophomore year was an opportunity for me to be away from the comforts of home and to grow in independence and responsibility.
Boarding school experiences are partly influenced by the school’s location and the students who attend. McCallie is located on Chattanooga’s Missionary Ridge, a Civil War battlefield. I never imagined going to school in an area steeped in this aspect of American history. McCallie has been a leader in the social evolution of Chattanooga. The school embraces positive aspects of traditional Southern culture (i.e., hospitality, manners, and respect) and welcomes a diverse student body. Saying “yes sir/ma’am” became part of my vocabulary and I’ve made friends from across the United States, Asia, Europe, and the Caribbean.
In most cases, part of the boarding lifestyle includes sharing a space with an absolute stranger. Your first task with your roommate is moving into your new dorm room. While moving in can be tiresome, once completed you both will appreciate the unique living space that you’ve assembled. As the school year progresses you and your roommate will start to pick up on each other’s tendencies and preferences. If you both hold each other accountable in respectful ways, your boarding experience will be enjoyable. Nine times out of ten if you are a good roommate you will have a good roommate in return. My roommates over the three years at McCallie have become some of my closest friends.
FOOD AND CARE PACKAGES
Unless you want to purchase food constantly, you will eat what the school provides. McCallie has a dining hall with pretty good food. However, after a few months the good food became rather repetitive.
Receiving a care package from home is something that can really make your week. While I wasn’t one to be homesick, I appreciated a care package from my family. Being reminded that your family loves and misses you is a great comfort—it’s the small things that can make the transition from home to boarding school easier.
At boarding school, academics feel like a 24/7 exercise. There are dorm faculty—teachers who live in apartments that are part of the dorm buildings—who provide students with help outside of school hours, if needed. Students also support each other. When help was needed, my friends in the dorm were there for me and I was there for them.
Some people attach a stigma to boarding school. They believe that by enrolling your child in boarding school, you are shipping him/her off to be parented by someone else. My parents and I didn’t agree. For me, it was the best choice and an incredible opportunity. Although the transition wasn’t easy, it’s fair to say that I have taken advantage of the opportunity by performing academically, gaining independence, and developing into the mature young man I am today. After graduating from McCallie earlier this year, I entered my freshman year at Northwestern University. By sharing my experience, I hope North Shore teens will consider boarding school as an option.