Myth #1: Boarding schools are just like Hogwarts
For many people, the words ‘boarding school’ conjure up images of Harry Potter wandering the austere halls of Hogwarts. But the reality of modern-day boarding is very different indeed.
“Boarding houses no longer exist in haughty isolation, impervious to change,” says Ian Rowe, Director of Boarding at Carruth House at Whangarei Boys’ High School. “Much like the learning and development institutions they work in tandem with, boarding houses must move with the times and adapt in order to stay relevant and in demand.”
Take Huntley School in Marton, for example. Founded in 1896, it is New Zealand’s oldest and largest preparatory boarding school, yet it has adapted to changes in education and technology while managing to stay true to its core belief: that children need grounding in the vital basics of academic learning and life skills to carry them through their transformation into effective adults.
Headmaster Sam Edwards quashes the misconception of boarding school as a distant place where parents threaten to send their children.
“Far from sending their child away, parents choose a boarding school because they believe in investing in their child’s education.”
Myth #2: The food is bad
The days of dry corned beef and over-cooked broccoli are thankfully gone. In fact, for Huntley Year 7 student Quin, the lunches prepared by the school chef are one of the highlights.
Carruth House at Whangarei Boys’ has a dedicated catering team that prepares good, wholesome and nutritious meals that are typically fresh and seasonal, says Rowe.
“And in the weekend, boarders get the opportunity to help out (under supervision) and will sometimes make a batch of cookies for everyone.”
Myth #3: They’re breeding grounds for boredom and mischief
Sam Edwards says Huntley’s school culture is one in which kids can be kids.
“Our safe, rural environment means our students are kept busy and active – free from the distractions and influences of the internet, TV, computer games and cell phones. Instead you’ll find our students spending their free time outside building huts in our orchard or riding their bikes on our mountain bike track.”
Bam Bam, a Year 8 international student from Thailand says there are “so many cool things” to do at Huntley.
“I play rugby, tennis, I do ballet and I learn the piano. I kind of like drama too and am practising for our school play at the moment.”
Meanwhile Year 7 student Quin enjoys cricket and hockey and sings in the Huntley rock band. He’s thinking of learning the drums next year.
At Carruth House at Whangarei Boys’, boarders are actively encouraged to participate in the sporting and cultural activities on offer, alongside their studies.
“Sometimes, we have to have a conversation with the odd boarder about letting something go as it is tempting to get involved in too much!” says Rowe.
“We regularly have boarders doing volunteering work for the local Hospice shop, Lions Club activities like help pack citrus fruit for the South Island and odd jobs requested by the community.
Rowe says boarders have access to great academic support, with structured study and learning programmes.
Myth #4: Bullying is rife
Tom Brown’s School Days and any old English narrative around boarding school contain references to bullying and hierarchies. Fortunately this culture is now generally confined to history and fiction.
Huntley School doesn’t allow mobile phones at school, which is reassuring to parents like Jenni Giblin.
“There is no chance of cyber bullying because the kids simply aren’t on their devices. They’re either in the classroom or outside playing sport or riding on the mountain bike track or building huts. As a parent you know they’re in a safe environment with good sound care and values at its core.”
Headmaster Sam Edwards says they strive to provide a safe environment with clear boundaries, curfews and rules. A matron on duty 24/7 and 360-degree internal sensors are part of ensuring the students’ safety.
Rowe says at Carruth House at Whangarei Boys’ they strive for a home-like environment.
“We take student leadership seriously by carefully training senior Prefects to become ‘big brothers’ and always look out for the interests of the younger and newer boarders. All boarders are integrated, share, live together as a family and form deep bonds.”
“Boarders themselves often mention the lasting friendships they make and the sense of community, feeling like they belong to something bigger than themselves, as the principal benefits of their boarding experience.”
Myth #5: Boarding doesn’t prepare you for the real world
Rowe says the life lessons and opportunities boarders receive benefit them throughout their lives. He points out the expertise they gain in managing their time, money and resources.
“Many ex-Carruthians return to say that Carruth House has given them the confidence and courage to deal with the unfamiliar territory ahead,” says Rowe. “I have had countless ex-boarders return to Carruth House after living in university halls of residence and flatting to say that, ‘boarding in Carruth House made me way more prepared for university than the others who didn’t attend a boarding school’.”
Sam Edwards says Huntley’s eight school values – service, honesty, tolerance, enthusiasm, kindness, respect, responsibility and G.D.P (guts, determination and pride) – arm their students with soft skills and attitudes that will allow them to thrive in today’s world.
“Team work, for example, is developed quite organically in the boarding environment as learning to be productive team members and communicate with others is part of daily life.”
Myth #6: Boarding School takes a one-size-fits-all approach
“Supporting each student’s personal development is critical in preparing our students for the future,” says Edwards. Huntley School aims to tailor the boarding experience to each student’s individual needs.
This is also a focus at Carruth House at Whangarei Boys’.
“One of the major developments in our boarding house has been the professionalism and expertise of the residential staff. The ability to care for all manner of students from a variety of backgrounds with varying needs has improved markedly in recent years,” says Rowe.
Myth #7: They’re just for rich or rural kids
Boarding is not reserved for students living in isolated communities.
“In Carruth House, we have boarders who could very easily catch a bus to school each day but choose to board at the school as it works much better around their schedule of schooling and co-curricular activities,” says Rowe.
Nor is it an elitist option, anymore. There are a number of scholarships aimed at students who wish to experience boarding school.
Myth #8: Students hardly see their parents
“Long gone are the days when boarders and parents were not allowed to contact each other during term time,” says Rowe. “The modern boarding house experience is much more fluid. Parents can be much more involved in their child’s day-to-day schooling and can communicate more freely with them.”
Edwards describes Huntley as “a home away from home” for the students.
“Excellent communication between school and home means that parents are continuously in touch with progress and can regularly pop in to school for sports matches, concerts and plays.
“Our students have the opportunity to go home in the weekends if they wish and we have two compulsory ‘in weekends’ a term – often held around key school events such as our annual Golf Day which helps to build community.”
Supportive culture grows happy, confident children
Jenni Giblin says it wasn’t a simple decision to send their eleven-year-old daughter and nine-year-old son two hours away to boarding school. After all, many would argue the Waipukurau farming family are spoilt for choice with numerous quality primary schools in the Hawke’s Bay region.
But once Jenni spoke with headmaster Sam Edwards, she knew they needed to take a trip to Huntley in Marton.
“In our very first conversation with Sam he was very keen to hear what was important for our children and how he could tailor Huntley to what our kids were interested in. Then when we visited I was struck by how engaged the children were, and what a safe, happy environment it was.”
That was two years ago. Since then Jenni describes a massive change in their children’s confidence.
“We went from dropping off a shy, quiet girl at the start, to Charlotte taking on the Head Girl role in her second year.”
She credits the Huntley teaching team, many of whom live on site with their families, with creating a magical family environment.
“The relationship between staff and students whether it’s on sports field or cultural events is quite magical. There is a love, support and pride that I haven’t seen between staff and students at any other school.”
Like one big family
“It’s just like a big family living together inside a house that’s at school.”
That’s Mahanga Mitchell’s take on boarding school. The Year 11 student is in his second year of boarding at Carruth House at Whangarei Boys’ High School. He’s a fan.
“I love it. The people that you live with – they’re like your brothers. And the staff are like your parents. It’s like one big family.”
Mahanga is from the Hokianga.
“It’s an at risk area, with not a lot of opportunities and far away from good schools,” he says.
Inspired by two of his cousins who had good experiences of attending Whangarei Boys’ as boarders, Mahanga decided to check it out. Impressed with the academic programme and the co-curricular opportunities on offer – particularly sports and kapa haka – he decided that it was for him, too.
Mahanga was fortunate to secure a full scholarship to attend the school as a boarder.
“It’s a pretty different sort of experience – but I love it.”