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TABS Initiative to Help Families See Benefits of Boarding School

In August The Association of Boarding Schools, with almost 300 schools in its membership, announced a 5-year initiative to shine a spotlight on the value of boarding schools throughout the United States and Canada. This collaborative initiative reflects 16 months of in-depth research and review by more than 160 leaders from 96 TABS member schools. 

TBG is pleased to share this Q&A with TABS Executive Director Peter Upham and Director of Member Relations Andy Hirt to explore how this new initiative will help families find the “best-fit” schools for their children.

Q: What is the goal of this initiative?
Pete: College-prep boarding schools in North America are among the best schools in the world. Yet many families seeking independent school educations don’t realize that boarding schools are a viable option for their children. They may only know about boarding school from watching Harry Potter movies or reading J.D. Salinger. We want to dispel myths and provide the stories and evidence of how these schools help students grow and get on the road to success in college and in life.

Q: Can you share some of that evidence here? 
Pete: The world needs the kinds of graduates that come out of boarding schools. One study, funded by TABS and conducted by an independent research firm, found that boarding school graduates are 50% more likely than other school graduates to finish college on time. This effect holds true after separating out the effects of family income and parents’ education. Boarding school alumni also go on to graduate school at higher rates, advance more quickly in their careers, and have higher levels of civic engagement. 

Q: Why are boarding schools so successful?
Pete: Modern boarding school is transformational because it infuses kids with the skills, values, and competencies that the modern world requires. In education, we hear a lot about preparing students for globalization, collaboration, fast-paced change, and critical thinking. The boarding school model provides an immersive, wrap-around experience where students can grow. The emphasis is on a rich, holistic education that prepares kids to be leaders rather than emphasizing standardized tests. Plus, on average, boarding schools are more diverse and global than typical public and independent day schools. Students are living, studying, and collaborating with students from across North America and around the world.

Q: What are some of the misconceptions people have about boarding schools?
Andy: Some families worry that these schools are not welcoming environments for families who do not have a tradition of attending boarding school. Yet more than half of the students at boarding schools today are first-generation. The bulk of my career has been working in admissions offices. I loved greeting families who had no direct experience with boarding schools. After a few hours on campus, these families were blown away by the diversity of student bodies, the safety and beauty of the campuses, the rigorous academics, and the range of extracurricular opportunities. The students suddenly had a new vision of how exciting and fun school can be. 

Q: What are some of the key parts of this initiative?
Pete: Because boarding schools are so spread out, over the next few years we will create an online community for parents. This will serve as a resource for families who are just learning about boarding school opportunities, as well as a place to exchange ideas among families whose children are already at boarding school. Even before those forums are created, however, we offer families a wealth of information at boardingschools.com. Data for the profiles on this site comes directly from member schools, making our site the most comprehensive and reliable online source about boarding schools. We also offer a magazine called Now Boarding, which is available for free upon request. 

Andy: For our school members, we are also creating a Center for School Innovation and Improvement. Our schools are already at the forefront of curriculum development. This center will facilitate exchange of ideas and the continuous innovation schools need to remain at the forefront. That is the kind of dedication and value that educators bring to boarding school environments. 

Q: Any closing thoughts?
Andy: Our members represent an incredible diversity of schools to serve an incredible diversity of students. At some boarding schools students live in cabins and chop their own firewood. Some schools are focused on the arts. Some schools look like mini-college campuses. We encourage families to think about where will their students fit in best, and what type of school will best respond to their needs.

Pete: If you want the best education possible for your child, you’d be remiss to not at least look at boarding schools. We encourage parents to check out our website, check out a campus, and see for themselves.