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A boarding school is an institution where children live within premises while being given formal instruction. The word "boarding" is used in the sense of "room and board", i.e. lodging and meals. As they have existed for many centuries, and now extend across many countries, their function and ethos varies greatly. Children in boarding schools study and live during the school year with their fellow students and possibly teachers or administrators. Some boarding schools also have day students who attend the institution by day and return off-campus to their families in the evenings.
Boarding school pupils are typically referred to as "boarders". Children may be sent for one year to twelve years or more in boarding school, till the age of eighteen. There are several types of boarders depending on the intervals at which they visit their family. Full-term boarders visit their homes at the end of an academic year, semester boarders visit their homes at the end of an academic term, weekly boarders visit their homes at weekends. There are also semi-boarders who attend a boarding school in the school hours for formal instruction and activities but return home by the end of the day. In some cultures, boarders spend the majority of their childhood and adolescent life away from their families. Boarding schools are relatively more prevalent in the United Kingdom (UK), India, China, and parts of Africa. These countries begin boarding schools at a very early age and for a longer span of time. However, boarding schools are relatively less prevalent in Europe and the US where it is mostly seen for grades seven or nine through grade twelve -- the high school years. Some are for either boys or girls while others are co-educational. In the United Kingdom which has a long tradition of classic British boarding schools, many are independent (private) schools that have elite associations. While there are also state boarding schools, many of which serve children from remote areas.
In some societies and cultures, boarding schools are the most elite educational option (such as Eton and Harrow, which have produced several prime ministers), whereas in other contexts, they serve as places to segregate children deemed a problem to their parents or wider society. Canada and the United States tried to assimilate indigenous children in the Canadian Indian residential school system and American Indian boarding schools respectively. Some function essentially as orphanages, e.g. the G.I. Rossolimo Boarding School Number 49 in Russia. Tens of millions of rural children are now educated at boarding schools in China. Therapeutic boarding schools offer treatment for psychological difficulties. Military academies provide strict discipline. Education for children with special needs has a long association with boarding; see, for example, Deaf education and Council of Schools and Services for the Blind. Some boarding schools offer an immersion into democratic education, such as Summerhill School. Others are determinedly international, such as the United World Colleges.
The term boarding school often refers to classic British boarding schools and many boarding schools around the world are modeled on these.
A typical boarding school has several separate residential houses, either within the school grounds or in the surrounding area.
A number of senior teaching staff are appointed as housemasters, housemistresses, dorm parents, prefects, or residential advisors, each of whom takes quasi-parental responsibility (in loco parentis) for anywhere from 5 to 50 students resident in their house or dormitory at all times but particularly outside school hours. Each may be assisted in the domestic management of the house by a housekeeper often known in U.K. or Commonwealth countries as matron, and by a house tutor for academic matters, often providing staff of each gender. In the U.S., boarding schools often have a resident family that lives in the dorm, known as dorm parents. They often have janitorial staff for maintenance and housekeeping, but typically do not have tutors associated with an individual dorm. Nevertheless, older students are often less supervised by staff, and a system of monitors or prefects gives limited authority to senior students. Houses readily develop distinctive characters, and a healthy rivalry between houses is often encouraged in sport.
Houses or dorms usually include study-bedrooms or dormitories, a dining room or refectory where students take meals at fixed times, a library and possibly study carrels where students can do their homework. Houses may also have common rooms for television and relaxation and kitchens for snacks, and occasionally storage facilities for bicycles or other sports equipment. Some facilities may be shared between several houses or dorms.
In some schools, each house has students of all ages, in which case there is usually a perfect system, which gives older students some privileges and some responsibility for the welfare of the younger ones. In others, separate houses accommodate the needs of different years or classes. In some schools, day students are assigned to a dorm or house for social activities and sports purposes.
Most school dormitories have an "in your room by" and a "lights out" time, depending on their age when the students are required to prepare for bed, after which no talking is permitted. Such rules may be difficult to enforce; students may often try to break them, for example by using their laptop computers or going to another student's room to talk or play computer games. International students may take advantage of the time difference between countries (e.g. 7 hours between UK and China) to contact friends or family. Students sharing study rooms are less likely to disturb others and may be given more latitude.
As well as the usual academic facilities such as classrooms, halls, libraries, and laboratories, boarding schools often provide a wide variety of facilities for extracurricular activities such as music rooms, gymnasiums, sports fields and school grounds, boats, squash courts, swimming pools, cinemas, and theaters. A school chapel is often found on site. Day students often stay on after school to use these facilities. Many North American boarding schools are located in beautiful rural environments and have a combination of architectural styles that vary from modern to hundreds of years old.
Food quality can vary from school to school, but most boarding schools offer diverse menu choices for many kinds of dietary restrictions and preferences. Some boarding schools have a dress code for specific meals like dinner or for specific days of the week. Students are generally free to eat with friends, teammates, as well as with faculty and coaches. Extra curricular activities groups, e.g. the French Club, may have meetings and meals together. The Dining Hall often serves as a central place where lessons and learning can continue between students and teachers or other faculty mentors or coaches. Some schools welcome day students to attend breakfast and dinner, in addition to the standard lunch, while others charge a fee.
Many boarding schools have an on-campus school store or snack hall where additional food and school supplies can be purchased; may also have a student recreational center where food can be purchased during specified hours.
Boarding schools also have infirmary, a small room with first aid or other emergencies medical aid.
Students generally need permission to go outside defined school bounds; they may be allowed to travel off-campus at certain times.
Depending on country and context, boarding schools generally offer one or more options: full (students stay at the school full-time), weekly (students stay in the school from Monday through Friday, then return home for the weekend), or on a flexible schedule (students choose when to board, e.g. during exam week).
Each student has an individual timetable, which in the early years allows little discretion. Boarders and day students are taught together in school hours and in most cases continue beyond the school day to include sports, clubs and societies, or excursions.
British boarding schools have three terms a year, approximately twelve weeks each, with a few days' half-term holidays during which students are expected to go home or at least away from school. There may be several exeats, or weekends, in each half of the term when students may go home or away (e.g. international students may stay with their appointed guardians, or with a host family). Boarding students nowadays often go to school within easy traveling distance of their homes, and so may see their families frequently; e.g. families are encouraged to come and support school sports teams playing at home against other schools, or for school performances in music, drama, or theatre.
Some boarding schools allow only boarding students, while others have both boarding students and day students who go home at the end of the school day. Day students are sometimes known as day boys or day girls. Some schools welcome day students to attend breakfast and dinner, while others charge a fee. For schools that have designated study hours or quiet hours in the evenings, students on campus (including day students) are usually required to observe the same "quiet" rules (such as no television, students must stay in their rooms, library or study hall, etc.). Schools that have both boarding and day students sometimes describe themselves as semi-boarding schools or day boarding schools. Some schools also have students who board during the week but go home on weekends: these are known as weekly boarders, quasi-boarders, or five-day boarders.
Other forms of residential schools
Boarding schools are residential schools; however, not all residential schools are "classic" boarding schools. Other forms of residential schools include:
- Therapeutic boarding schools are tuition-based, out-of-home placements that combine therapy and education for children, usually teenagers, with emotional, behavioral, substance abuse, or learning disabilities.
- Traveling boarding schools, such as Think Global School, are four-year high schools that immerse the students in a new city each term. Traveling boarding schools partner with a host school within the city to provide the living and educational facilities.
- Sailing boarding schools, such as A+ World Academy, are high schools based on ships that sail around the world and combine high school education with travel, and personal development. Classes typically take place both, onboard and in some of the ports they visit.
- Outdoor boarding schools, which teach students independence and self-reliance through survival style camp outs and other outdoor activities.
- Residential education programs, which provide a stable and supportive environment for at-risk children to live and learn together.
- Residential schools for students with special educational needs, who may or may not be disabled
- Semester schools, which complement a student's secondary education by providing a one semester residential experience with a central focusing curricular theme—which may appeal to students and families uninterested in a longer residential education experience
- Specialist schools focused on a particular academic discipline, such as the public North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics or the private Interlochen Arts Academy.
- The Israeli youth villages, where children stay and are educated in a commune, but also have everyday contact with their parents at specified hours.
- Public boarding schools, which are operated by public school districts. In the U.S., general-attendance public boarding schools were once numerous in rural areas, but are extremely rare today. As of the 2013–2014 school year, the SEED Foundation administered public charter boarding schools in Washington, D.C., and Baltimore, Maryland. One rural public boarding school is Crane Union High School in Crane, Oregon. Around two-thirds of its more than 80 students, mostly children from remote ranches, board during the school week in order to save a one-way commute of up to 150 miles (240 km) across Harney County.
- Ranch school, once common in the western United States, incorporating aspects of the "dude ranch" (Guest ranch)
In the UK, almost all boarding schools are independent schools, which are not subject to the national curriculum or other educational regulations applicable to state schools. Nevertheless, there are some regulations, primarily for health and safety purposes, as well as the general law. The Department for Children, Schools and Families, in conjunction with the Department of Health of the United Kingdom, has prescribed guidelines for boarding schools, called the National Boarding Standards.
One example of regulations covered within the National Boarding Standards are those for the minimum floor area or living space required for each student and other aspects of basic facilities. The minimum floor area of a dormitory accommodating two or more students is defined as the number of students sleeping in the dormitory multiplied by 4.2 m², plus 1.2 m². A minimum distance of 0.9 m should also be maintained between any two beds in a dormitory, bedroom, or cubicle. In case students are provided with a cubicle, then each student must be provided with a window and a floor area of 5.0 m² at the least. A bedroom for a single student should be at least of the floor area of 6.0 m². Boarding schools must provide a total floor area of at least 2.3 m² living accommodation for every boarder. This should also be incorporated with at least one bathtub or shower for every ten students.
These are some of the few guidelines set by the department among many others. It could probably be observed that not all boarding schools around the world meet these minimum basic standards, despite their apparent appeal.