Uniquely Distinguished Boarding Schools

By Taylor Smith

The boarding school experience is unique to each individual student and school. For some, the setting or architecture may be a defining feature — encouraging students, faculty, and alumni to dream big. For other institutions, traditions hold a special place in the heart of each graduate — a perpetuation of history, pride, and scholarly achievements. While some of the schools described here believe in the importance of a single-sex high school education, all of them hope to instill in their students a passion for collaboration. Perhaps one of these high schools is well-suited to your family.

Avon Old Farms School

Avon Old Farms School in Avon, Conn., is known for many things, including brotherhood, scholarship, integrity, sportsmanship, and stunning architecture. In 1913, Miss Porter’s School graduate Theodate Pope Riddle, one of Connecticut’s first licensed female architects, purchased 3,000 acres of land in an area known as “Old Farms.” It was Riddle’s intention to build Avon Old Farms in the “distinctive Cotswold Tudor style.” The materials used to construct the school were gathered from quarries, fields, and forests on site. Riddle is said to have remarked on the construction: “Beauty of material and authentic design, yes, but imagine the boys trooping in with muddy boots from the farm and you will see the reason for stone floors and excellently strong and simple furniture!”

Nestled in bucolic Farmington Valley, Avon is located 20 minutes from Hartford, Conn.; two hours from Boston, and two and a half hours from New York City. A largely self-contained campus, visitors are almost always struck by the community’s emphasis on nature and the co-mingling of the academic experience within a natural setting. This perspective harkens back to Riddle’s own intention to create a school “where students live and learn amongst nature.”

In addition to the architecture, the influence of English secondary school traditions are evident in the current school curriculum and traditions. The unusual school mascot, the Winged Beaver, reflects the school’s motto Aspirando et Perseverando, which translates to aspiring and persevering. The wings of aspiration represent the soaring flight of an eagle and perseverance is symbolized in the diligence of a beaver.

Learn why Avon Old Farms School is considered to be the top private all-boys boarding high school in Connecticut at www.avonoldfarms.com.

The Hill School

Founded in 1851, The Hill School is a coeducational, college preparatory, boarding and day school for grades 9-12 and postgraduates in Pottstown, Pa. Known as “The Family Boarding School” for its emphasis on a strong sense of campus community, The Hill was the first boarding school in the United States where students and faculty lived together. Small class sizes, small group meetings with advisors, weekly chapel services, and sit-down meals are meant to foster friendships amongst students and faculty members.

Family Night occurs every Tuesday night within the dormitories. Abandoning the normal study routine for one evening, students participate in games, activities, and general dorm bonding. Oftentimes, dorm parents will provide “hall feeds” and dining options on Family Night.

Other noted traditions are The Hill School vs. Lawrenceville School rivalry, which extends back to 1887, making it the fifth oldest high school sports rivalry in the United States.

Emphasis is also placed on formal academic dress code; boys are required to wear a coat and tie to class and girls must wear a blazer and collared Oxford shirt. Just prior to commencement, soon to be male graduates receive a Hill School tie and girls are given a Hill School scarf at the Alumni Association Induction Brunch.

After the completion of the commencement ceremony, the newly-appointed graduates leap into The Dell, the on-campus pond. Female faculty members and sixth form girls gather for the Sixth Form Tea on the Sunday before graduation.

The familial atmosphere extends beyond the campus to The Hill School’s alumni network. As noted on its website, more than 30 percent of current Hill students have a legacy connection to the school. Regional alumni events are held throughout the year, encouraging strong friendships among Hill students even long after they have graduated. The yearly Reunion Weekend occurs every June and attracts Hill families from around the world as they “come home” to The Hill community.

Experience campus life for yourself at www.thehill.org.

Miss Porter’s School

Miss Porter’s School in Farmington, Conn. was founded in 1843 by Sarah Porter. An impressive scholar, Porter was tutored by Yale professors and mastered four languages in addition to teaching herself Hebrew in her 80s. The school’s enrollment grew quickly, in part due to the support of Farmington area fathers who wanted to educate their daughters in the liberal arts. By the 1880s, Miss Porter’s School had risen to national prominence and boasted nearly 100 young women as students.

Miss Porter insisted that her students were well-rounded, which extended from academia to physical exercise (a novel idea at the time). Girls were encouraged to familiarize themselves in tennis and horseback riding, along with history, botany, Latin, arithmetic, reading, spelling, geology, and astronomy, to name a few.

The modern-day Miss Porter’s School describes its mission as “educating young women to become informed, bold, resourceful, and ethical global citizens. We expect graduates to shape a changing world.” Founder Sarah Porter stated, “They came as girls; they left as women.”

With such a long history of encouraging and educating young women, Miss Porter’s has produced many notable alumnae, including Fulbright Scholar Award recipients, White House fellows, and Academy Award-nominated directors and screenwriters. Additional internationally-known alumnae include Jackie Kennedy, Lily Pulitzer, and Gloria Vanderbilt.

At last count, the number of boarding students is 212, while the number of day students is 113. The alumnae number approximately 5,990 worldwide.

Learn more at www.porters.org.

Blair Academy

Founded in 1848 in Blairstown, N.J., Blair Academy has decided to amplify its forward-thinking and collaborative philosophy with the opening of the state-of-the-art Chiang Center for Innovation and Collaboration (CIC). Designed to stir the imaginations of Blair’s students, CIC is home to the Fine Arts and Technology departments. The open-air architectural design boasts a Collaboration Forum, two media labs, art and ceramics studios, a maker space, and fully-outfitted technology classrooms.

The layout enables groups of all sizes to convene for academic work and guest presentations. For example, CIC plays host to Blair’s famous Society of Skeptics lecture series. Individual students will also be able to pursue hands-on problem solving in the areas of the arts and technology, the goal being that these imaginative exercises will engage, inspire, and propel Blair students into college and beyond.

Discover more  at www.blair.edu.

Peddie School

The Signature Experience program at the Peddie School in Hightstown, N.J. enables juniors and seniors to design their own program of independent research under the guidance of faculty mentors. Students have the freedom to fully immerse themselves in a subject matter of their choice, culminating in publicly sharing with the school-wide community what they have discovered.

The Language Signature Experience takes the study of Chinese, French, Latin, or Spanish out of the classroom and into the world at large. For example, Elizabeth DeMoine ’18 used her Signature Experience to offer free swimming lessons to low-income Spanish speakers in her area. DeMoine’s Spanish language skills enabled her to connect with and instruct members of the Hightstown community, fusing her love of Spanish, swimming, and teaching.

The Research Science Signature Experience can take on any form that a student wishes, from researching child development to genetics or computer programming, all within a professional laboratory setting that is above and beyond what is typically available to a high school student. Cait Barrett ’17 chose to study zebrafish alongside graduate students in the Mullins Lab at the University of Pennsylvania.

Students with a passion for writing may be interested in pursuing a Creative Writing Signature Experience. Juniors and seniors will have access to Philadelphia and New York City, visiting professional writers, faculty advisors, electives, and guidance in submitting their novels, short stories, plays, poetry, or creative nonfiction for publication. Peer review and public readings are also a part of this intellectual experience. At the end of their coursework, Peddie students will have a substantial portfolio of original work.

Recent Signature Experiences also include original coursework in the fine arts, performing arts, robotics, Asian studies, and scientific study. Another option for Peddie students is to pursue a Signature Experience the summer before their senior year. A faculty director will work with an individual student during the winter and spring to develop the logistics of an independent course of summer study. Peter Le ’17 chose to travel to Uganda to develop and produce videos for a nonprofit organization that educated Ugandan youth on topics ranging from health to politics. As a result, Le learned to improvise, think on his feet, and see projects through from start to finish. “The whole point of the Signature Experience program is to teach you to work independently. That’s also the whole point of a Peddie education,” according to the school.

Schedule a visit and tour at www.peddie.org.