Some of the world’s best universities are located in the United States and the competition to gain entry into top schools can be fierce. Developing a competitive edge is key, and it’s become a compelling enough reason for parents to send their children abroad to study at schools with boarding programmes.
Dean Topodas, Director of Residential Life at Windermere Preparatory School (WPS), said the school’s boarding offering was actively sought out by families as a catalyst to enable their children to attend a university in the US. He said many parents were persuaded by the quality of education, extracurricular activities and opportunities on offer.
“An IB school like ours [provides learning that] is very student-driven and project based,” Mr Topodas said.
“Students don’t just absorb information and spit it out on a test. We provide an education that goes beyond classroom learning, giving them the chance to join clubs and do activities.”
“Then what’s high on everyone’s list around the world is getting into a good college or university so that they’re prepared for the future. That’s at the heart of why they’re coming.”
That preparation for the future isn’t limited to developing academic prowess. Mr Topodas said the structured boarding programme that WPS provides enables students to develop crucial life skills just by opting to study and live away from home.
“Through structure they develop time management skills,” he said.
“We map everything from dinner to extracurricular activities, so they learn how to get everything done.”
“They develop a strong work ethic. It’s on them to get things done on their own.”
Michaela Marcela Marcovici, Boarding House Director at Collège Champittet Pully agrees. She said a boarding programme helps students to quickly become independent and more responsible.
“Day students don’t have that level of independence,” Ms Marcovici said.
“It’s not only the structure – they have to be organised with their time, their room and their belongings.”
With 16 nationalities represented in the WPS boarding programme and 36 at Champittet, students are immersed in learning from their peers who come from a range of different backgrounds. They get to learn about another’s culture and customs.
Mr Topodas said this was invaluable in this increasingly globalised world.
“There’s something about eating dinner with someone and seeing them in their pyjamas that breaks down a lot of barriers and allows you to make a friend for life,” Mr Topodas said.
He explained students go through a shared experience where they can develop friendships with roommates that may last a lifetime, much like life at university.
“They’re connected to each other and therefore the school,” he said.
“There’s a deeper appreciation of where they came from.”
That appreciation doesn’t come without difficulties. Ms Marcovici said students as young as 11 years old join the school and can often struggle during their first three weeks.
Twelve-year-old Sophia was one such student. She found it hard to concentrate at school because she missed her mother a lot. By reaching out to Michaela together with the support of her mother, they helped her re-establish her goal of learning French and encouraged her to create a schedule of activities to keep herself busy.
“Every time she missed her mum she’d try and keep busy,” Ms Marcovici said.
“We encouraged her to make new friends, find time for the gym or the library. Now she’s a student ambassador giving tours to girls who come to visit. It’s better to be honest and tell them it’s part of the process.”
Mr Topodas said it’s about each student becoming their own advocate.
“Kids need to learn to speak up for themselves if they need help,” he said.
“We’re not going to let them fall into a gutter. But the best learning happens when you stumble but recover.”
Developing independence and self-sufficiency also paves the way for learning and practising soft skills too, like communication and greater self-expression, leadership and confidence. To support this area of development, Champittet will offer a leadership and training programme in 2020 for all boarding students.
“A few years later they will realise I learned teamwork at boarding school, confidence, flexibility through the willingness to adapt in a different environment,” Ms Marcovici said.
Above all, reaping the benefits and learning the key skills boarding schools have to offer will only help those who are receptive and willing to make the most of a valuable life opportunity.
“The most successful students are the ones willing to embrace challenges and embrace being here,” Mr Topodas said. “Boarding school is the world on a smaller scale. Explore it, understand it. You just got to be an active learner.”