Boarding schools are one of the longest standing schooling options for missionary kids. Though they have become less popular in recent years with the increase in education options that keep kids at home with their parents, there are still some instances when families decide together that this schooling option is the best for all members involved, and many of these kids have a very positive experience.
Pros: high quality of education, quality facilities and education resources, extracurricular activities, strong and often long-lasting peer friendships, may keep kids closer in proximity to their parents (if the only other option would be for them to stay back in the home country), children learn responsibility and how to live well with others, parents can continue in a ministry environment that is either unsafe or ill-equipped for missionary family life, children often learn and experience more aspects of their own home culture, the staff are devoted to serving God and the students who attend are their mission field
Cons: separation from parents, children may feel abandonment either during their schooling experience of later in their adult life (this was mentioned as being especially true for children who attended boarding schools beginning at an early age, such as 1st grade), parents can’t completely know what is happening in day-to-day life and children may hide certain things to keep from hurting their parents, children may appear to be thriving on the outside but could be hurting internally if families don’t have very open and honest communication and a pre-existing strong family bond, it can cause more damage to a family already struggling, without conscious effort children who board especially in remote areas may become overly sheltered and thus be shocked at the realities of the world when they enter college or otherwise re-enter general society
Considerations for missionaries considering boarding schools:
-There is an excellent article “Boarding School Readiness and Transition” that is available on the website of the well known Christian boarding school, Black Forest Academy. It is very objective, and even though it is on the website promoting the option of boarding school and expresses many of the benefits, it is very truthful about the various factors that will make for both a good and bad boarding experience. It does not say that children living apart from their parents is ever an easy decision or transition, but it gives some helpful information to help decide if it is perhaps a good option for a family.
-Children who are a part of the decision making process and who choose the option for themselves rather than being “sent off to boarding school” by their families without feeling that they have a choice fare much better in boarding schools than those who feel that they had no choice. It has been advised in several articles to talk with your child and hear their feelings first before expressing the reasons that you think it would be good for them. Listen well to your children. It has been advised not to send a child to boarding school if they do not want to go.
-The Black Forest Academy article heavily emphasized the necessity of healthy pre-existing family relationships and good and open lines of communication. The article stated that they have rarely seen a wounded family see any healing by sending a child to boarding school and have seen those students struggle, and in contrast, the children who thrive are usually those from families who clearly communicate that their children are of utmost importance to them and who maintain strong family bonds.
-Several places mentioned that this should be considered a last option, but one of the surveys mentioned how if this is the option that God leads you to, He will be faithful to provide the strength and wisdom to make it work.
Have your kids attended are they currently attending a boarding school? What else would you have to share about this option? If you are looking into boarding school as an option, what questions do you have? (Those with experience, please feel free to respond to the questions asked!)
Thank you so much to Nancy and Keri, who helped with this post by sharing about their personal experiences with boarding schools!
(Other resources used for this post: “Boarding School Readiness and Transition” Black Forest Academy, “Boarding School for MKs, Boon or Bane” MK Planet, “Schooling Options for Missionary Kids” video on preparingtogo.com, Third Culture Kids by David C. Pollock and Ruth E. Van Reken)