TASIS - The American School In England TASIS - The American School In England
What Makes a Great Boarding Experience?
Matt Kiely

What Makes a Great Boarding Experience?

Every now and again I have the pleasure of meeting with boarding alumni, some of whom were boarding at the School before I was born. I very much enjoy listening to the stories of their time at the School and how things used to be in the good old days. Perhaps unsurprisingly, they never seem to mention the quality education that they received here for several hours per day over a number of years, nor the soggy porridge, but they do take great delight in reminiscing about the homely chaos of twenty students sharing a dorm, battling cold showers in the depths of winter, and recounting various tales of clandestine midnight mischief.

Times have changed. Legislative standards are constantly being raised under the umbrella of safeguarding and schools are evermore on the lookout for an edge within a crowded market. This has led to increasingly fanciful facilities and blankets of smothering support whenever a child displays a hint of emotion. I feel sorry for students opting into new-build boarding facilities with their single bedrooms, kitchenettes, underfloor heating, and all of the ambience of a Travelodge. They are missing out on the essence of a great boarding experience, which is communal living and shared experiences. 

Yes, a dorm needs to be clean, safe, and comfortable, but an espresso machine isn’t going to one day be the best man at your wedding. Yes, a boarding program needs to be well organized and administered, but spreadsheets don’t make you laugh until you cry (unless you’re a Bursar). Yes, we need to make sure that the safeguarding of students is a priority, but keeping them under constant lock and key is akin to keeping a lion cub in a cage before releasing her and expecting her to have accumulated the necessary skills to survive in the wild. The best boarding schools find a balance between risk and experience in order for young people to flourish both within school and on into their adult lives.

Communal living creates memories. Investing time and resources in social events, trips, and fun activities is vital, and young people will deposit those memories into a bank that they can draw upon for a lifetime. Communal living also creates problems for young people to work through, which is equally as important as what they learn within the classroom. Ensuring that our boarding students are able to develop independence and resilience within a highly legislated environment is complicated. We want students to learn how to problem-solve and manage their own well-being. This sometimes requires a lighter touch than metaphorically wiping their noses for them at the first sign of a sniffle.

Ultimately, we want our young boarding students to be happy and successful and to leave us with a sense of belonging, so that one day they’ll be the ones returning to campus and reminiscing for all of the right reasons. My favorite day of the school year is senior graduation, and that’s not just because it’s the final hurdle before an epic summer holiday. It’s special as so many of the students cry their eyes out, because they are sad to be ending a significant chapter in their young lives. Communal living ensures that this chapter is not a gray monologue, but a creative collage of shared experiences. We as boarding schools must never lose that sense of shared belonging, because that lies at the heart of what we are.

Matt Kiely

Director of Boarding