Using Domestic Students to Boost a Boarding Population

Using Domestic Students to Boost a Boarding Population

by Cindy Veitch, communications officer at St. Andrew’s College (ON)

While boarding enrollment continues to wane across North American independent boarding schools, St. Andrew’s College (SAC) is experiencing an uptick. This upward trend is linked to a robust residential life curriculum that offers a sophisticated mix of programs and activities. Access to study halls, teachers, special-interest clubs, and inter-house competitions are just some of the many enticements. A vital weekend program lets boys sign up for whitewater rafting, weekend ski trips, and professional sporting and theatrical events. It adds up to students who are productive and engaged seven days a week.

The extensive residential curriculum and activities offered distinguish St. Andrew’s and set the standard for excellence. The all-boys’ school located in Aurora, Ontario, has an enrollment of 633, of whom 259 are boarding students representing 22 different countries. Admission officers travel the globe to spread the word; however, enticing boarders from their day population is the aim of three innovative programs. The result is some very respectable boarding numbers—in the past five years, 80 day students have transitioned to boarding.

The 5-Day Boarding Pass program was introduced to let day students in grades 5 to 11 give boarding a try. Since the program was introduced in the 2010-2011 school year, more than 284 families have taken advantage of a complimentary week in boarding for their sons. These numbers have run close to capacity for the past several years.

Student Dutch Smith tried out boarding in grade 7 with the 5-Day Boarding Pass and knew it was for him. He started boarding full time in grade 8 and now, in grade 9, he has earned the honor of House Captain in his residence. “He has really bonded with his teachers and peers,” says his mother, Sarah. “Dutch is an only child, so his fellow boarders are like brothers. He receives the support needed to be a responsible leader. It gives me confidence that he has every opportunity to succeed.”

The Transition-Up program came about at the same time, but focuses on university preparation (UP), offering senior students a range of life skills and activities to help ease their transition to university. The program focuses on five areas that help boys realize potential and prioritize goals: enhanced study skills; residential programming; university guidance and counselling; health, wellness, and life skills; and athletic training. “I was spending up to 12 hours a day at the school,” recounts former day student and Head Prefect James Michaelis, a 2016 graduate. “I tried out boarding in grade 11 and moved in full time for grade 12. The idea was practicality, but boarding was so much fun.” Impressively, boys who convert to boarding see an improvement in their academic standing during the crucial university application timeframe, as well as being better prepared overall for the university experience.

It’s also no secret that day student converts make some of the best boarding students because they have already been immersed in the school’s culture. “Our housemasters love to have these boys join their houses because they know the expectations and embrace them,” says Michael Roy, director of admission, marketing & business development.

The third program the school uses to stimulate interest in boarding is the Andrean Residential Experience (ARE), introduced in 2014. It helps make boarding affordable by matching parents’ investments from the time their son enrolls in the program through grade 11. Middle school families are matched at $2,000 per year and upper school families at $3,000. When a middle school family moves into the upper school, contributions will change to $3,000. The money can be applied to a half year of boarding in grade 8 and/or a full year of boarding in grade 12.

This is the third year for ARE, but the first in which program funds have been applied. Of the 20 boys who converted from day to boarding in 2016-2017, 12 were a result of ARE.

The beauty of all three programs is that they are internally driven and optional. “Each is meant to inform families and give their sons the opportunity to explore boarding,” explains Roy. “They also serve to complement other strategies like information nights and brochures sent home with report cards.”

St. Andrew’s has found that there’s no easier way to market boarding to parents than to let their sons experience it. After trying it out, the boys become the drivers of the program.