Why Boarding School Was The Only Option For Our Teenage Son

by Nikkya Hargrove
Originally Published: 
A dorm room with a bed with a black mattress, brown-burgundy chair and a wooden desk with a grey lam...
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This school year, we made the decision to send our son to boarding school. After touring three very different schools, the school we chose is the right fit for him. It’s where he needs to be. It wasn’t an easy decision to make as parents, but necessary for his social, academic, and spiritual well-being. My wife and I are two very involved parents. We are our kids’ best advocates, and encourage them to live their best lives.

I’d always thought of boarding school as a rich person’s luxury. It seemed like boarding school was a parents’ cop out — toss your kid off to someone else and let them deal with them. As the parent of a 10th grader who, for five days a week lives over an hour away from home, I know now that boarding school is the opposite of a cop out and not a luxury in any way.

Our son is one of 35,000 American students currently attending a private institution for their education.

We sought out a more supportive academic community because we weren’t happy with the support that our son, who has a 504 plan, received at our local high school. We chose this school because of the academic and social support they provide for kids on the spectrum, as our son is. We knew that for him, he would thrive in a community that supports his academic, social, and emotional health.

We cannot afford boarding school. We are very lucky to have a very good financial aid package for our son to attend his school. Without it, he would not be going. We pinch pennies. We lower our weekly food budget. We find side hustles. We do what we need to do to give him this opportunity, and still it’s a heavy financial lift.

I work for a nonprofit and my wife is a hospital chaplain. We aren’t rolling in the dough, and we have two other kids at home to support. Our pockets aren’t deep, but we do know how to sacrifice to make this educational choice for our son. That’s what we do as parents, right? Make the necessary adjustments so that we can give our kids what they need.

When I tell people our son is in boarding school, I either get a blank stare or am bombarded with questions: “Ohhh…boarding school? How did you make the decision?” “What’s wrong with the school in your town?” “Do they have good financial aid?” “Does he want to be there?” So many questions. These days, I pick and choose which I answer and how.

We also have a community of family and friends who understand the value of what a good education can do for one’s future. My wife was a former sixth grade teacher and I have a degree in school counseling — so we saw the academic, social, and emotional areas our son needed extra support in. COVID gave us the opportunity (thank you remote learning) to come up with a different academic and social experience for him than what he had last year. He is a tenth grader this year, making new friends and making an academic footprint he can be proud of.

We communicate more with our son’s school staff now than we ever have. One of the many fears I had about sending our kid to boarding school was that we’d infrequently hear from teachers or staff. Boy, I found out quickly that I was wrong. We receive multiple emails a week about our kid, and overall campus news. We participated in a virtual meet-and-greet for all 10th grade parents. I text with my son’s roommate’s mom a few times a week, and there is support for both parents and kids as we are all adjusting.

We made the best decision for our family. Everyone certainly had their opinion when they learned that our son would not be living in our home for five days a week, or when they heard how much we are paying each month to send our kid to boarding school. But the academic support and social nourishment that he receives there that makes it all worth it. It’s these weekend experiences that we use to maintain our strong family unit. He still has his chores to do, a bedroom to keep tidy, teeth to brush, and friends to see every weekend.

We’ve not thrown our son away. We aren’t walking around with blinders on, thinking we are richer than we are. We are two parents who advocated for more financial aid, sought out scholarships, talked to other parents about their experiences as a parent of a boarder, and have sacrificed every single day for our three kiddos.

There isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach to raising kids. Each kid is so different and needs different things. Yeah, it’s hard work. And sometimes you just don’t know if anything you’re doing is working, or even going right until something happens — and for us, that something was boarding school. Our son is more social, more outgoing, and putting in the work to make better choices for his academic career. A few weekends ago, he shared, “This school is the right place for me.”

We think so too, so no matter what we’ve got to do, we’ll make it work.

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