Myths of Boarding School
Back in the day, parents used to threaten children with being sent to boarding school if they were poorly behaved. The idea was odious. Images of cruel adults and stark, bleak corridors leading to overcrowded dormitories. The modern reality couldn’t be further from the truth; however, some of the mythology remains.
The negative images of boarding schools make it very difficult for many parents to be receptive to the idea for their child. This is most problematic for parents who are in a situation where boarding school is their only option due to physical isolation or some other factor beyond their control. Those images also limit the options of students who would possibly have access to greater educational opportunities if they were open to boarding. With these people in mind, let’s debunk some of the myths of boarding school.
1. Boarding school destroys your relationship with your child
The myth exists that once you send your child to boarding school you effectively end your time as a parent. The assumption is that if you do not see your child every day, you lose your connection with them and they become adults without you. This is simply not true. Parenting from a distance is different but it is not inferior. You are still the greatest influence in your child’s life, and it is still you that they will turn to with their happiest and saddest news.
It is interesting that some parents say, one of the benefits of boarding is that when they talk to their kids it isn’t just about their homework and the logistics of sports training or telling them to put their washing in the basket. It’s about having fun together and talking about the things that really matter. They recognise the value of the relationship. In some cases, their family unit ends up being much closer than it would have been otherwise.
2. Everyone is miserable and homesick
Homesickness is a natural aspect of boarding school. Boarders miss their families and parents also suffer ‘child-sickness’, of course they do. However, those emotions are heard and acknowledged by boarding school staff as natural and students are supported.
All boarders experience homesickness differently. Some are extremely homesick in short bursts; some have a small longing for home in the background for a long time. For most, homesickness passes. A 2015 study found that 38 % of boarders never experience homesickness at all. Modern boarding schools benefit greatly from technology. Connected devices mean most boarders are in contact with their family daily.
For the vast majority of time, children in boarding school are connected with friends, teachers and staff who are also significant people in their lives. They don’t replace family, but they are significant. They are happy relationships. Boarders are busy people; they tend to be heavily involved in sport and co-curricular as well as activities outside of the College. After all, those opportunities are why they came to boarding school in the first place.
3. Boarding school food is terrible
I know from experience that in years gone by, boarding school food was terrible. These days most boarding schools employ catering companies who are highly experienced at producing large numbers of meals without compromising on nutritional value, freshness or quality. They also provide lots of different options, so boarders have a choice in meals.
At Santa Maria College, Damien Rooney is in charge of catering. He knows that the food he prepares is never going to replace mum and dad’s cooking at home, but if he can give the girls food they really love and make them happy, he does exactly that.
4. Boarders have no privacy
The film industry would have us believe that children in boarding schools sleep in dormitories and have no privacy. In most contemporary boarding schools, students have their own cubicle, or their own room. The privacy of their room is respected, and they can have quiet conversations with parents or friends. Mobile phone technology has improved this aspect of boarding school dramatically.
It is interesting to see boarders interact with one another. From a very young age they are mindful of each other’s boundaries and need for space. Santa Maria College’s Head of Boarding, Tracy Webster says, “Often a boarder will choose to jump under their doona and watch Netflix for a while by themselves. We all need alone time. The other girls are highly respectful of each other’s need for chill-out time.”
Tracy also says, that if a girl has a problem or is upset there are private spaces where they can meet with a staff member. The other girls tend not to surmise or gossip. They figure if there is something they need to know they will be told.
5. All boarders are from farms
It is true that in Western Australia a lot of boarders are from farms. We live in a huge state with a small population in the regions. That inevitably means that farming families often have no choice but to send their children to boarding school. That said, there are also many regional families who are not from the agriculture industry. They live and work in regional centres but come from widely varying contexts. There are also some students who come from overseas. These students may come from Australian expatriate families, or from families from overseas who value and invest in an Australian education.
Boarding school in 2021 is a far cry from the images conjured by popular culture. They are vibrant, connected communities. So, although it is not perfect to have to send your child away for education, the long-term benefits far outweigh the challenges