Travel with May and Louise to Virginia Boarding Schools

This past week were in Virginia visiting boarding schools. We spent our first day touring Chatham Hall and Virginia Episcopal School. When we got to Chatham, the girls were in an assembly doing a presentation on world health for their Leaders in Residence Program. This year, Ashley Judd will be educating the girls on world health. She is very active in the fight against the spread of the HIV virus and girls were reporting on what they had learned from their research, getting ready for her visit to the campus.

On our tour, the girls were particularly proud to show us the new barn given by the Mars (M&M Candy) family. The Chatham Hall Equestrian Team had recently won top honors at an IEA program. The girls were also exited to tell us about the I-Quest Programs: students write a grant request and are awarded research funds to conduct an independent study in a special area of interest.

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Our next school tour was Virginia Episcopal School (VES). It has been several years since visiting the campus and we met with many new members of the administrative team. The school has become more selective in the type of student they will accept. The head of school, Tommy Battle, is in his 5th year. Chris Button is the residential director and discussed how important the residential program is in terms of the boarding school experience. The school is helping students understand the importance of their unique digital “signatures” and how those can impact their futures. The new performing arts building is under construction and will add a beautiful new dimension to the VES culture. Table tennis and yoga have become new favorite sports and are a good example of how new student interests are encouraged and developed. When we spoke to the faculty returning the learning center, we were amazed that there are no additional fees for participation in this great resource.

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We toured three schools on Tuesday: Blue Ridge, Miller, and Stuart Hall. We were so excited to see our students thriving at Blue Ridge, including two who had just arrived mid-year. Kevin Miller, head of the learning center, is passionate about helping students improve in study skills and reading. He is quick to try out new assisted technology that supports student learning. Blue Ridge really focuses on and “gets” boy and their unique learning needs. The outdoor club is extremely strong here and a new club has started in cooking–yes, cooking! The boys have found a love for cooking. We saw some budding engineers working on their robots.

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Arriving at Old Main at Miller School is still a mind blowing experience with its beautiful neoclassical architecture. When we entered the dining hall the room was a buzz with both students and faculty. The woodworking studio is so well equipped and students were learning how to turn wood on a lathe. We loved the just renovated dance studio and were impressed with the new cycling program. Miller has 1600 acres on campus and 14 miles of trails created by students. There is a new skateboard program as well.

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At Stuart Hall, we were warmly greeted upon arrival by their head of school, Mark Eastham. A big change at Stuart Hall since our last visit, is the acceptance of boys in their boarding program. Staff were amazed that they were able to fill all the boys dorm spots in less than 2 years. Stuart Hall has always had a diverse but very accepting student body. We were impressed with the arts offering, hand-on science classes, and the leadership opportunities for each student. There is a plan to move the admission’s office to downtown Stanton as a way to involve the community into the life of the school.

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On our last day, we toured Woodberry Forrest, St. Margarets and Christchurch School. Since Louise’s brother is an alum and she visited the campus in 1975, she was excited to see the additions to the campus. The impressive double helix hanging in the atrium of the new science building set the tone for the building. The addition of the expansive dining hall overlooking the Blue Ridge Mountains was breath-taking. When we spoke with their head of school, Byron Hulsey, he discussed what a strong foundation boys in the third and fourth form received in the basic skills needed for success in college.

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We received a warm southern welcome the minute we stepped on campus! The head of school, the girls and some of the faculty were all excited about our arrival and we immediately were assigned to different learning stations to learn as much as possible about the school in the shortest amount of time. Different stations included the athletic program, residential life, the differentiated instruction in the academic program, college counseling, and leadership roles for the girls. St. Margarets is just developing an extensive river program to take advantage of their location on the Rappahannock River.

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The tour ended at Christchurch School where Jeb Byer, the headmaster, greeted us at the bus. We enjoyed hearing about how the curriculum at the school has been trasformed over the last few years. Students make extensive use of the history and ecology of the river and the surrounding geography to make the learning in the classroom come alive. Each year there are integrated learning from all core subject areas. The new LEAD certified science building is the hub for much of this activity. Christchurch also has an outstanding learning center and can take a student with mild to moderate learning issues.

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