Boarding schools can work for military brats
By LISA SMITH MOLINARI | Special to Stars and Stripes | Published: April 9, 2019
April, the Month of the Military Child, reminds me of both challenges and opportunities faced by my own military children.
“Annabanana, knock ’em dead,” I said when I dropped my daughter off for her first day of 10th grade after we moved to Rhode Island. A typical Navy brat, Anna knew all about being the new kid, but this school was different. Very different.
Eight months prior, my husband, Francis, had received orders to Naval Station Newport. We visited the city to house hunt and investigate the public schools for our three children. Newport’s schools were disappointing, and we weren’t sure what to do. While exploring, we drove past an old stone wall emblazoned with a “St. George’s School” crest. A tree-lined road led to a stately building with two red doors.
“Wow,” I told Francis, “Is that one of those old boarding schools? Like in the movies?” Later in our base hotel room, Google confirmed that it was. The tuition was astronomical — impossible for us. But the admissions webpage encouraged “families of all economic levels” to inquire about financial aid.
“I’m sending them an email,” I told Francis.
“You’re wasting your time,” he replied, laughing.
The next morning, the Admissions Director called. He told us of their military scholarship program and offered to show us around. We met him at the red doors, and, with mouths agape, toured the stunning campus.
Eight months later, Anna arrived, nervous for her first day. Although the school offered to board Anna, she opted to be a day student, knowing she could become a boarder like the other “military scholars” if we got orders to move before her graduation.
Anna blossomed at St. George’s, which embraced her interest in fashion design as an academic pursuit, not as a hobby as others had. They gave her a fashion column in the school newspaper, allowed her to create garments in advanced art classes, entered her designs in contests and established a new position for her as costume designer for the musical productions. Anna completed a semester at sea aboard the school’s sailboat, where she earned science credits while traveling to other countries and tagging sea turtles. Anna became a popular friend to her boarding peers from all over the world. Most importantly, the school showed genuine respect for military families like ours who lead lives of service.
Anna is now a fashion design student at Syracuse University, thriving during her semester abroad at London College of Fashion. Her extraordinary high school experience undoubtedly contributed to her positive outcome.
Francis and I learned that boarding schools are not stodgy institutions where wealthy kids are stashed by neglectful parents. They are supportive educational environments that offer unique opportunities in ideal settings. In fact, according to a recent study, 78 percent of boarding students reported feeling prepared for college, compared to 23 percent of public school students. Ninety percent of boarding school students feel they have high-quality teachers compared to 51 percent of public school students. Only 50 percent of students find public school academically challenging, compared to 91 percent of boarding school students.
Furthermore, moving is harder on adolescents, who not only experience academic and athletic setbacks, but they are more likely to have negative psychological consequences. The chance for a four-year, uninterrupted educational experience makes boarding school a good option for military families whose children don’t want to endure the trauma of moving during high school.
It is possible for military families to afford boarding schools, but not without need-based grants, merit-based scholarships or financial aid. Although St. George’s was the first boarding school to offer a military scholarship, a new nonprofit, The Orion Military Scholarship Fund, Inc., (OrionMilitary.org) is in its early funding phase. Orion plans to begin offering merit scholarships to qualified active-duty military students to attend a variety of participating U.S. boarding schools beginning in 2020. Francis and I feel so strongly about the benefits that boarding schools offer military children, we recently volunteered to serve on Orion’s board.
While every military child deserves an education, those willing to explore unique alternatives could find extraordinary opportunities.