Making a successful transition to Boarding School

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Making a successful transition to Boarding School

Back to school preparations look different for every family – some are picking out new backpacks or lunchboxes, others are finishing up summer reading assignments, while some are preparing to transition to a whole new type of learning experience – boarding school.  

The benefits of boarding are plentiful, but like any new experience, there will be a transition time. We have a few suggestions to help smooth the path ahead. 


Discuss expectations.

“For a successful transition, families should establish expectations together before arriving on campus,” says Perkiomen School’s Associate Head of School Carol Dougherty. 

Deciding when and how will families connect can be helpful. Will it be via phone call or FaceTime?  Texting?

It will be important to learn the customs or rules of a specific school. Some schools have a “lights out” policy at a certain time of night or a “no devices” policy during dinner or other community events.  Knowing what the policies are for your student will help establish community norms that extend beyond the campus to your home life.  

Learn how often a family can visit or when breaks or long weekends fall in the school calendar, so you can plan to see your student.  

Ask what other ways families can engage within the school community either through parent events (in-person or in these changing times, maybe via Zoom), school-wide events like Homecoming or Opening Night of a theatrical performance, or via the student’s advisor.



Honesty is the best policy. 

Try to be patient and open, remembering that this is a new experience for everyone, but will be unique to your family.  

“Similar to sleepover camp, when transitioning to a boarding school environment, everyone experiences moments of struggle when something is new,” says Perkiomen’s Head of School Mark A. Devey. “Be sure to have an honest conversation and a plan, so the student and parent are prepared to deal with a small amount of discomfort on the pathway to a life changing experience.”  

“Schools have your student’s best interests in mind,” says Devey. “Don’t be afraid to share a student’s particular needs or challenges. Holding back information isn’t helpful. The more your school knows, the more you can work together as partners to make it the best experience possible for your student.”


Open your mind and heart to growth. 

“To prepare, parents could read Carol Dweck’s Mindset,” says Dougherty. “Boarding school life is a true growth experience and families should be ready to support their student’s growth.”


Believe in your choices. 

Consider erasing any misconceptions you may have.  There is no shortage of misconceptions out there regarding boarding schools. You may see these exaggerations on TV or in movies, hear your friends talking about it, or even your family members.  One common misconception is sending my child to boarding school makes me a bad parent. Many first-time boarding school parents worry that, by enrolling their child at a boarding school, they are telling the world that they chose to send their child away and neglect their responsibilities as a caretaker. The real story is, by finding the right match for your child in a boarding school, a parent is showing a fierce commitment to their child’s education and future. Given some space and independence, children also have the opportunity to develop beyond their parent’s vision. While boarding school parents may not be physically with their child every day, it can often mean the shared conversations are richer, and the trips home are more meaningful. 



Perkiomen School family



Middle School: focus on the practical

For younger students, in grades 6-8, boarding school education provides this age group the perfect amount of independence, while still being supported in their middle-grades school experience. 

“It encourages students to try new activities, while also providing opportunities to embrace their passions with like-minded individuals,” says Perkiomen School’s Dean of the Middle School Justin Sell. “The time before, between, and after classes allows the students to build bonds and relationships that last far beyond the middle school years, with peers and faculty alike.”

For middle school boarders, families should discuss the new expectation of independence in their student’s life and prepare for practical changes like navigating friendships, doing their own laundry, and being on time for meals, classes, and activities.  

“Finding a school that provides an environment in which a student can take educational and personal risks, with the necessary support, can make those experiences life-changing or affirming,” says Sell. “The life-skills middle school students learn beyond the boarding school classroom are a valuable addition to the educational lessons they will learn within the curriculum.”


Boarding School student and family at Perkiomen School


Upper School: foster independence

Older students, in grades 9-12, or post-graduates, will have more freedom and flexibility built into their day. They will be focused on time management and balancing responsibilities like leadership positions, athletic practices and games, and higher-level coursework. These moments will prepare them for the freedoms and challenges of university life. 

“Students should not hesitate to ask lots of questions,” says Dougherty. “Or seek help when needed.” Families should discuss proper etiquette for speaking with teachers and advisors, how to schedule an appointment or meeting, or who to turn to on campus if the student needs additional support. Visiting the campus with the student will help the student to establish a level of familiarity and ease any uncertainties. Be sure to check out all the buildings and facilities and meet some faculty and administrators so the student knows who to turn to with a question or issue.  



With patience, communication, and honesty as the focus, your student’s transition to Boarding School life can be a meaningful and exciting change for the entire family.  



For more information on the benefits of boarding at Perkiomen School please, click HERE
To learn about North American Boarding Schools, please click HERE.



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