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Boarding School

Joe Harkins ’96
Georgetown Prep Residential Dean, Dorm Parent

For a parent, the decision to send their child to a boarding school is not one made lightly. It is a profound act of faith and trust rooted in the belief that their child will emerge from the experience as a stronger, wiser, and more well-rounded version of himself, better equipped with the tools necessary to face all that life may  throw at him. In addition to the academic development, athletic success, and extracurricular opportunities available when choosing Georgetown Prep’s Residential Program for their son, parents are acknowledging the transformative power of education, coupled with a deep belief in the values of compassion, integrity, and service.

In the fall of 2015, a young man named Carl from the small town of Indianola, Mississippi, arrived at Prep as a quiet junior resident student. He was an extremely polite and respectful young man, a conscientious student, and an excellent swimmer. Carl was looking to be challenged and developed in ways that he was not finding from his school at home, and so he and his family made the decision for him to come to Prep to finish his high school career.

Looking back on that time in his life, Carl said, “While excited to experience the world beyond Mississippi, I was apprehensive. Months away from home and the culture shock I knew awaited in Maryland led me to question if going to Prep would be the right call for me…I was alone, but not for long.” Within hours of his arrival on campus, Carl was befriended by his new roommate, a young man from Nigeria, the other members of the swim team, and numerous other students from 15 states and 17 different countries who made up the boarding population at Prep. He was invited to watch movies, play video games, join  soccer and basketball games after study hall and, according to Carl, he “was never alone again.”

Upon graduating from Prep in  2017, Carl matriculated to college, where he said that living in the dorms at Prep afforded him the opportunity to master skills like time management, organization, and even seemingly simple things like doing laundry, allowing him to “spend more time capitalizing on everything else (his) university had to offer.” Carl was able to maintain nearly a 4.0 GPA in a challenging pre-medical curriculum, while also swimming at the collegiate level, joining a fraternity, and serving his community as a volunteer firefighter. Today he is a 3rd year medical student at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences, preparing for a career as an Army doctor.

What Carl describes – central to  Georgetown Prep’s boarding school experience -- is a profound sense of community developed through shared experiences. Within the walls of Prep’s Residential Program, students find not only classmates but lifelong friends, mentors, and role models. Living amongst their friends and peers, as well as 29 Dorm Parents, boarding students at Georgetown Prep are constantly surrounded by a sense of camaraderie and mutual support. Together, and with the help of their Dorm Parents, the boys learn to navigate life’s challenges while developing essential skills at an earlier age than most of their peers.

Once removed from the safety net of home, boarding students must necessarily develop a sense of independence in how they go about their work. The ability to take personal ownership of their academic and social responsibilities is a skill that many of their peers won’t develop until years later, but which must be nurtured early and often in a student living away from home.

Boarding students quickly learn to separate the concepts of what they want to do from what they need to do. While living with the freedom to choose what to do and when to do it, students living in the dorms realize the importance of time management and the necessity of carving out time to see teachers, do homework, attend athletic practices and extracurricular activities, and for recreation.

Upon arriving on campus at Georgetown Prep, students immediately become a member of an international community. Prep’s diverse student population from various cultural, ethnic, and socioeconomic backgrounds offers a variety of perspectives, forcing each student to consider viewpoints that may be different from his own. Living and learning alongside peers from different parts of the world fosters a deep and healthy respect for diversity.

Students living in the dorms at Prep are also presented with a variety of unique leadership opportunities. Whether being elected a senior prefect, serving as a grade-level captain, or leading weekend activities, boarding students learn to collaborate with and inspire their peers in ways that are unique to the experience of living and working in a dormitory setting. Learning these skills as a high school student can set them up for any future leadership position.

Further, boarding students are faced with a variety of challenges that require a strong sense of resilience. They learn to adapt to new environments, overcome setbacks, and bounce back from failure. Prep’s resident students develop the ability to learn from each failure and to use it as an opportunity for growth. Whether those challenges come in the form of struggling with a difficult assignment or dealing with homesickness, students develop new skills and coping mechanisms and learn the importance of perseverance.

What sets Prep’s Residential Program apart from other boarding schools is the holistic development of each individual student. In the tradition of Jesuit education, students are not merely taught, but mentored, challenged, and inspired to become men for others. Beyond the rigorous academic curriculum is a deeper, more profound mission: to instill a sense of purpose and moral conviction in every student’s mind. That mission permeates everything we do at Prep, and those boys residing in the residence halls are able to live and breathe it 24 hours a day.

Each student brings something special with him to Prep; I don’t mean something better, but something unique that sets him apart from everyone else. Prep’s Dorm Parents ensure that each of those individual attributes are celebrated in an environment where each student can feel seen, heard, and validated. It is our job to understand and appreciate each students’ strengths, and to accompany them as they grow and develop their talents. Most importantly, however, it is our job to provide a support system similar to what each of the boys would have at home. Though they may be miles and miles away, they are surrounded by people who want to celebrate their successes, comfort them in times of failure, and offer them love and encouragement as they grow into the best version of themselves. It is our job to ensure that the boys living in the residence hall understand that they are never alone.

When welcoming new boarding students to Prep at the start of each school year, I promise the boys two things: 1) it will not be easy, as they will be challenged in and out of the classroom and forced to overcome obstacles that many of their peers may not face for years to come; and 2) while encouraged to confront those challenges head on, they will never be alone in doing so.

Like Carl said about his Prep experience, the boys coming through Georgetown Prep’s Residential program will never be alone again.

Hoya Saxa 24/7


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