If you’re reading this post, you’re very likely considering (or have already scheduled, hooray!) a visit to Tabor Academy and perhaps a number of other independent schools. You understand that the visit is a critical part of the admissions process for parents and students alike. However, you might be curious about what to expect and how to make the most of the visit.
"Look at the People, Not at the Stuff"
Head Tour Guide Julia P. ‘18 says, “On a tour, while enjoying the beautiful campus and gaining knowledge about the student life at Tabor, it is very important to pay close attention to our sense of community. As you walk through the academic center or along the path to the dining hall, make sure to notice all of the friendly faces around.” We know you won’t miss the view of our waterfront, the inspiring art studio spaces, the Marine and Nautical Science Center, and our turf field complex. Boarding schools are fortunate to have beautiful facilities, but the people and programs are more likely to have the bigger impact on the student experience. Julia continues, “Looking at your surroundings can give you an idea of what life is truly like at Tabor, a very inclusive and caring community.”
Tabor’s Dean of Students, Mel Bride, sums it up with a quote she is often overheard sharing with a visiting family: “Look at the people, not at the stuff!’
At Tabor, we often hear that families are impressed by the close-knit, family feel on campus considering that we enroll over 520 students. Without intentional steps, the nature of a school’s community could be left to chance. A few steps that we have taken at Tabor include our 3x weekly community gatherings where our entire school comes together, our vertical housing and small dormitories (ranging from 7-34 students), and our Tabor Team requirement for freshmen in the fall. These are small things with big dividends for students that we have intentionally chosen to implement at Tabor. You’ll want to evaluate the things that each school does intentionally to help create community.
Some questions that you might ask when you visit a boarding school campus:
Where Is the Joy?
After touring a number of schools, you’ll be able to know where to look for signs of joy on campus. Once a family has determined which schools have an academic program suitable for their child, the decision will likely come down to the overall feel of the student experience. In her years as Dean of Students, Mel has seen the impact that joy and playfulness can have on a student’s willingness to step out, immerse themselves in the community, and try new things. While a seriousness of purpose is important within the academic realm, joy and playfulness are important to the rhythms of daily life.
Who Will Be There?
A student might wonder, “Who am I going to go to for help without my parents?” and a parent might wonder, “Who is going to be there for my kid?” It’s worth putting some thought into whether the student is likely to want to find one primary go-to adult, or whether or not they will be comfortable seeking out different adults depending on the nature of their question or concern. A student will likely benefit from being able to connect with a range of adults and older students. As Mrs. Bride notes, “Parents are usually looking for multiple things. They want to know who’s going to take care of their child, and who they are going to look up to. Sometimes this is the same person, but it might need to be multiple people depending on the student.” Asking about the advisor program and houseparent system can help a family understand how a student’s needs might be met in different schools.
How Do Friendships Form?
Asking a tour guide to talk about their friendships on campus can be very telling. Is friendship limited to grade, classes, dorm, or activities? How often do they cross over? How many friends does s/he have who don’t resemble anyone they grew up with? Tabor’s vertical housing system is one of our features that facilitates this from the first days of the Tabor experience. Students are assigned to dormitories that include students from each grade level, enabling cross-grade level friendships to form in an aspirational setting. Students report that vertical housing allows them to see what kind of a Tabor experience they might like to have in future years and have a consistent network of peers to draw from. On any given day, there is someone to ask for advice. During any given study hall, there is likely someone who has taken that course before for homework help or note-taking tips. Students are able to remain in their dorm for consecutive years if they choose, which creates a consistent, family-like environment within the dorms. A student’s dorm family may be entirely different from their team(s), activities, classes, and advisory groups. As one of our Tabor students (Aaliyah G. ‘19) says, “Once you make one friend, they introduce you to other people and then you make ten more friends. By the end of the year you know everybody.”
Touring boarding school campuses should be inspiring, thought-provoking, and fun. A family should be prepared to love a school they were not expecting to love. Equally, a family should be prepared to be underwhelmed by a school they have been anticipating visiting, perhaps for years. No boarding school is simply a high school. These are living, breathing places with personalities, character, and the ability to make a lifelong impact.
We hope to see you on campus at the School by the Sea!