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Education, independence and friendship: the pros of boarding

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Kelly Sheehan, of Schools to Know, second right, on a past visit to Bermuda with representatives from US boarding schools (Photograph supplied)

For 24 years, Kelly Sheehan has travelled to Bermuda to talk to parents about the benefits of boarding schools.

She is passionate about the subject and is thrilled that she has been able to form friendships with so many families along the way.

Ms Sheehan will return to the island next month for a fair highlighting 40 boarding schools in the United States. Spread over two days, the event is organised under the auspices of her company, Schools to Know.

“My goal is to introduce as many families as possible to as many of these wonderful boarding schools as I can,” she said.

“I truly feel there's a boarding school for every child — whether you can pay the full amount of tuition or part of the tuition. What boarding schools seem to provide for our children is some independence, some accountability, lifelong friendships, but also being able to go on a Sunday morning and have brunch with your algebra teacher and say, ‘Hey, I didn't understand the homework last week. Can you sit and talk with me?’ ”

Schools to Know was founded by Tory Dodge, an educational consultant who used to live in Bermuda but has since returned to the US. She started hosting fairs on the island 30 years ago as a way of connecting families with schools appropriate for their needs.

“Basically over the last three or four years I have bought her out of it, but she's still involved,” Ms Sheehan said.

“I’m not an educational consultant. My goal is just to introduce as many families as possible to as many of these wonderful boarding schools as I can.”

Ms Sheehan and her husband worked for boarding schools for decades. Before joining Schools to Know, she would host “smaller fairs” in the US.

“[They were for] traditional American boarding schools where [Ms Dodge’s] were more for schools with learning support or junior boarding,” she said.

Schools to Know featured institutions in Britain and Canada as well as those in the US — participants at fairs numbered between 80 and 100 each year.

Since the pandemic, however, “the British schools now do their own thing and Canadian schools are doing their own thing”.

A past Schools to Know boarding fair at the Bermuda Underwater Exploration Institute (Photograph supplied)

Ms Sheehan believes there is a school suited to the needs of every child.

“There are boarding schools for students with learning differences. I would say most of the schools that come to the Schools to Know fair are truly traditional high schools but in the last ten to 15 years there has been a bigger push for educational support services.

“Even if you're a child that tests perfectly on a standardised test, you may have some organisational issues or something that you may need help with.”

Boarding schools have responded to that need in recent years particularly, Ms Sheehan added.

“Especially in the last three, more and more schools are really focused on a student's wellbeing and wellness. At Pomfret School, St Andrew's school in Florida, Solebury School, an all-boys school, or Emma Willard, they're creating wellness programmes for their students and they're using their time on a Saturday morning to have a wellness curriculum.

“There's more focus on mental health without it being in people's faces. It's just becoming a natural conversation. And that's an impressive piece of what these boarding schools are doing.”

The point of the fair, however, is to introduce the schools to families in “a casual setting” so they can take all the information in.

“I think the reason fairs happen is to give families that opportunity to wander around and say hello. There's no pressure, there's no interview. I actually say to families, you don't need to fill out an inquiry card, just give me your e-mail and I'll send you the inquiry link if you want to fill it out.”

A past Schools to Know boarding fair at the Hamilton Princess & Beach Club (Photograph supplied)

In a talk with the National Archery Association of Bermuda, the request came for schools that offered the sport. Ms Sheehan reached out to those on her list.

“Three schools have a strong programme in archery and four schools have clubs. So she's going to share that with her families: if you want to stick with archery and you would like a boarding school in the US, here are the schools to look at.”

All of the participating schools have between two and six students from Bermuda who board with them.

As an educational consultant, Ms Dodge would make expert recommendations. Ms Sheehan listens to parents’ requests and gives a list of appropriate schools, at no charge.

“We come to Bermuda because we've been welcomed. There is a strong history of boarding school here in the three countries — in the UK, Canada and the US.

“My belief is in the boarding idea. It’s not just for one type of child. With our traditional schools, there are different levels of academics, there's different levels of athletics, there's different levels of arts. I think the schools that have come down are those that are trying to create a well-balanced, confident child.”

As for families, there are many different reasons why parents decide a boarding school is the best option for their children.

“It's really an individual choice. We will see families where both parents work — maybe they travel a lot and boarding school is a great space for that. Or we see families that, maybe they've moved to Bermuda [and] know they're not going to there for long and so they want their child to be in a high school and not have to transfer. Boarding schools become like second homes.”

• Schools to Know will be in Bermuda on October 1 from 3pm to 5pm at the Hamilton Princess & Beach Club and October 2 from 5pm until 7.30pm at the Bermuda Underwater Exploration Institute. To register, or for more information, visit schoolstoknow.com

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Published September 19, 2023 at 8:00 am (Updated September 19, 2023 at 7:20 am)

Education, independence and friendship: the pros of boarding

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