Only a handful of junior boarding schools exist in our country, and their unique and dedicated focus is to nurture and support elementary and middle school students. If you live outside New England where boarding schools abound, you've likely never even realized that opportunities like this are available to children in the eight-to-fifteen-years-of-age range. Once you do realize it, your next response is likely some version of "Who sends their kids to board at such a young age?" As a head of a junior boarding school, I hear it a lot, and in truth, I love answering it.
My first response is that parents who are looking to meet their children's needs are the ones who seek a junior school. Those needs may be about increased academic challenge, a more diverse student body, or more attentive teachers. Parents are delighted to find our small classes and warm, cozy dorms which plan age-appropriate activities for young adolescents. They often have children who will appreciate closely proctored evening study halls with teachers and library facilities close at hand. Sometimes parents seek the change in family dynamics when an "only" child now has a handful of dorm mates who become surrogate siblings, while others enjoy allowing the oldest in a large family to test the waters of independence in a very safe setting. Many see a junior boarding school as strong preparation for secondary school. They recognize that their children's teachers will be their coaches, their dorm parents, their tutors, and those relationships become profoundly meaningful. Those who send their children to junior boarding schools are not negligent, disinterested parents whose lives have no room for family life. They have simply done their due diligence in looking honestly for the settings in which their children can maximize their potential.
My own children are now grown and in their twenties. None went to junior boarding schools, in part because even I didn't know they existed when my kids were in middle school. They have, however, seen what happens for students and adults lucky enough to share that experience, and guess what? Two of the four now work in junior boarding schools. They both are teachers who truly cherish time spent with middle schoolers. They embrace the inconsistencies of the age, its joys and its sorrows. They thrive on the students' energy, and they sincerely celebrate their accomplishments. They wake them up in the mornings, teach them all day, coach them after school, help with homework, and tuck them in at night, and like me, they don't want to do anything else. They are typical of the faculty you'll find in junior boarding schools.
Another version of "Who sends their kids to junior boarding schools?" is "Why do junior boarding schools exist?" They exist because kids and parents need them, and I'm glad that they do. They exist for bright, well-rounded kids who are ready to spend part of the academic year living away from home. They meet a wide range of needs, and families will testify to the transformative qualities of our schools.
About Shelley Borror Jackson
Shelley Borror Jackson is the Head of School at Bement School (Deerfield, MA), a co-ed school serving day and boarding students in grades kindergarten through 9. Learn more at: www.bement.org