A Refreshing Boarding School Perspective

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A Refreshing Boarding School Perspective

Mr. Bannard on JV Baseball in 1998

Mr. Bannard on JV Baseball in 1998

Courtesy of Preston Bannard '01

Mr. Bannard on JV Baseball in 1998

Courtesy of Preston Bannard '01

Courtesy of Preston Bannard '01

Mr. Bannard on JV Baseball in 1998

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Boarding school is an interesting concept. A few hundred teenagers are thrown onto a campus, often in the middle of nowhere, who are then expected to make friends with everyone else, get enough sleep, and excel in all their classes and sports. Boarding schools have existed for hundreds of years, and while it is easy to get caught in the seemingly-permanent way of life at Groton, institutions like ours have gone through drastic changes in ideology, target audience, and curricula. Admission officer Carolyn Chica and Latin teacher Preston Bannard both attended boarding school when they were high schoolers and provide unique insight into their own experiences.

Ms. Chica, who is one of the youngest faculty members on campus, enrolled in Phillips Academy Andover as a 9th grader in the class of ’08. She chose to attend boarding school to experience a new environment. She applied to be a part of the Prep for Prep 9, an educational program supporting students of color in NYC in their growth through high school and college, and then convinced her parents to consider boarding school. According to Ms. Chica, Andover became both her Hogwarts dream come true as well as an introduction to a lifetime of learning and teaching. When speaking about her experiences at Andover, Ms. Chica mentioned that she was part of the Step team. She reminisced that “performing with [the step team] was always a thrill. After high school, I found less opportunities to engage in organized dance.” Her favorite memory, still fresh in her mind today, is of a Saturday night at Andover. After a huge snowfall, she left the dance with her friends and participated in a snowball fight. She was completely buried in the snow and terrified at the time. However, looking back on that night, she remembers only “the fun, the friendship, and the freedom [she] felt on campus.”

Although Andover was mostly a positive experience for Ms. Chica, she, like many of our seniors, experienced insecurity and self-doubt during her college process. While she was well supported by her community and anticipated college life, she was terrified of rejection and failure. She said, “I had been so successful up until that point that I worried about letting people down and was afraid of hearing ‘no.’”

Ms. Chica has visited Andover many times since her graduation, and she is always surprised by the growth and progress of the school both socially and academically. This past year, she returned for both her ten-year high school reunion and the 50th year anniversary of Andover’s Af-Lat-Am Club, the equivalent to Groton’s Cultural Alliance. She misses the proximity of the dorms, which fostered some of her lifelong friendships. Remembering her time as a student, she reflects on her friendships today: “We don’t get the opportunity to sit in the dining hall for hours or to stay up late laughing about all the funny things that happened at the dance earlier that night.”

Mr. Bannard, a 2001 graduate of Groton and a current classics teacher, began at Groton as a third former. He also made the decision to attend boarding school on his own, with the belief that “it would provide [him] a greater challenge and more interesting academic experience.” Mr. Bannard looks back on his boarding school years fondly. He loved “sitting in the mall during 10-12 with friends (or playing Mario Kart), or in front of the fireplace in what is now Hamlin’s dorm.” The two memories that have stuck with him were singing during Lessons and Carols and being on the mound as his team beat St. Mark’s in baseball during his senior year. Upon graduating from Princeton and teaching Latin at the Baldwin School for a few years, Mr. Bannard decided to return to Groton because he wanted to experience connecting with his students in the same way he was able to do so with his teachers. Groton especially appealed to him because of his own overall positive experience here.

We are all familiar with the boarding school “grind”: all work, all pressure, all struggle. Sometimes, perhaps in the middle of winter, students go as far as thinking about how much easier it would be in another education system. However, as Ms. Chica and Mr. Bannard enthusiastically shared with the community, boarding school is a privilege. Places like Groton foster precious memories, friendships and lifelong lessons. Ms. Chica, when asked if she would attend boarding school all over again, stated, without hesitation, “I would… During those four years I learned so much about leadership, friendship, and of course, scholarship.”