High School Life: Choosing Balance Over Stress
Why look at private schools? This is the driving question for many families with teenage children. What is the difference between a ‘free’ public school and an expensive private school? We face these questions every day working in admissions and I am here to reveal one of the many reasons to explore private schools for your sons or daughters. One word: balance.
Being a teenager today in our rapidly changing world is a busy and nerve-wracking task. Our 13-19-year-olds are hectically trying to find the answers to questions like: “Where do you want to go to college?,” “What do you want to study?,” “What do you want to do with your life?”. These questions are ever-present in the forefront of teens’ minds, and they are not afforded with enough time or enough opportunities to enjoy the process of arriving at the much sought after destination.
Most private schools are here to level out the scale and offer teens opportunities to truly discover who they are and who they want to become in a comfortable and accepting environment before making the jump to college or university. Some private schools offer more than others, while some are more specialized. At Avon Old Farms School, the New England boarding school for boys, we offer our students balance through diverse opportunities to discover new passions within a structured daily schedule—along with support from the student body and faculty alike.
Whether it be a young man who is interested in aerospace engineering or who is a budding graphic designer, private schools generally offer students a diverse palette of options in order to pursue their interests. At Avon Old Farms, our boys seek to become well-rounded young men by the time they graduate. This evolution takes place throughout their years on campus as they take advantage of different opportunities.
For example, we may admit a rising freshman—let’s call him Jimmy—whose main interest is baseball, so he will obviously be able to play on one of our baseball teams in the spring, but what else is he going to do? We challenge our boys to step outside of their comfort zones, which is not easy, but the benefits last a lifetime. This freshman might have always wanted to learn how to fly fish or how to act in a play. Here, he would be afforded the opportunity to join our fly fishing club and perform in our theater production. Aside from this hypothetical example, there are opportunities to quench several more interests at a school like Avon Old Farms.
I know what you are asking yourself: How will my son be able to participate in so many new activities within a given day? The answer to your question exists in the second piece of our balance formula: structure. There is no question that some private schools have more structure than others. However, it is the structure of the daily schedule that will allow your son to participate in all of these interest-driven activities.
If we rewind to my imaginary freshman, Jimmy, we see that he has a few interests in baseball, fishing, acting, and we will add guitar to the list. At Avon Old Farms, our schedule is structured so that he will be able to touch on all of these different areas frequently without sacrificing time from other areas of life at Avon. A typical Monday goes like this:
- We begin the day with Morning Meeting—where our whole school community gathers together in our auditorium where both students and teachers make announcements before heading off to class.
- After a few classes, we have a one-hour block carved into the schedule called ‘Club Block’ on Mondays. During this time Jimmy is able to visit with the fly fishing club and any of the other forty that we offer to our students.
- After this, he attends more classes, one of which is his guitar class where he and other budding musicians work to learn the basics of the instrument.
- When classes are over, he heads off to his afternoon activity. In the spring this will likely be baseball, but in the fall and winter, he may want to dip his toes into our theater production to see if it is truly for him.
- Then, after family-style dinner, Jimmy has enrichment hour during which his teachers offer extra help back in their own classrooms. This is an excellent time for Jimmy to work with his teachers one on one. He can use this time to perhaps practice more problem sets with his Algebra two teacher or he can sit down with his English teacher and review the rough draft of his “Great Gatsby” essay.
The structure within a day at Avon Old Farms affords the boys with enough time to enjoy their own paths of self-discovery.
It is a daunting task for teenagers to step outside of their comfort zones. They confront self-conscious questions like, "Will I fail or make a mistake?" or, "Will others make fun of me?" If the answer to these questions is remotely close to ‘yes,’ then more often than not, teens will save themselves from potential vulnerability and avoid new opportunities altogether. Every day in schools we see our teens limiting themselves due to their self-conscious uncertainty. So, how do we change this trend?
At Avon Old Farms School we promote community and inclusion through our core value of Brotherhood. People often ask me if an all-boys environment is uber-competitive, and I respond by explaining that I think that our environment is actually uber-collaborative. Students, faculty, and staff are all here to support one another. Every new student at Avon Old Farms will have an academic advisor, a ‘big brother,’ teachers, dorm parents, dorm monitors, teammates, classmates, clubmates, and mentors. The many support systems in place for our students provide them with stronger footing to stand upon when they come across new opportunities.
Soon after our new students step on campus they see our upperclassmen and the many ways that they label themselves. Often you will find a dormitory monitor who is also a team captain and who also happens to have tried acting for the first time in one of our plays. Or, perhaps our best student is the president of a club, a violinist, and a new member of the soccer program. Our students who have been at Avon long enough are not afraid to try new things and to be vulnerable every now and again. Why? Because they all know that there is a precedent set by those who came before them, but more importantly the boys know that there is always a network of support systems standing in their corner!
So there you have it: balance. The equation is a simple one: opportunity + structure + support = balance. However, each piece of the formula is critical in order to provide teens with the resources that they need in order to fully engage in the process of self-discovery during high school.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Avon Old Farms Class of 2011