Eighth-Grade Students Consider Boarding School Options

It is a rainy evening in Greensboro, North Carolina, and eighth grader Maggie Shoemaker sits at home studying for an upcoming math test. Her favorite band, Counting Crows, plays softly in the background as she recites equations in her head. She breaks occasionally to stretch and practice a few steps from her dance class, the jazzy syncopation apparent in her deft movements. Meanwhile, in Orange County, California, David Kim hustles out of orchestra practice, packs his flute and hops in a waiting car to be whisked away to tennis practice. His mother inquires about his day at school in a soft Korean accent. They do not pause for long, though. It is four in the afternoon, but both David and his mother still have much ahead of them. At the end of the day Maggie and David will finish their homework, have dinner, and climb into bed like teens across the nation. Though separated by a continent and different in background and interests, David and Maggie share a characteristic those other American youths do not. When they fall asleep, they will be dreaming of Phillips. Maggie is applying for admission for her ninth grade year, which begins in the fall of 2008. Though the thought of high school can be daunting to even the most well prepared middle school students, Maggie is accustomed to a busy schedule and a heavy workload. Maggie first heard of Andover through her sister, Molly Shoemaker ’08. Since Molly matriculated in 2005, Maggie has wanted to follow in her footsteps. Their father is also a PA alum, Maggie said. “I’ve been up there a couple of times with my sister and she says it’s really fun,” said Maggie. “Fun” to Maggie, as with most PA applicants, is a term closely related to “busy.” One need only listen to her talk about her schedule to get the picture. “I swim five days a week. I also dance two times a week, and that’s my favorite thing to do. I do tap, jazz and point. I also play the flute,” she explained casually. In addition to pursuing her athletic and artistic passions, Maggie, a straight-A student, takes her academics seriously. “I’m in ‘Very Strong Needs’ which is a program for people who want to be challenged in school. It’s basically advanced classes. All of my classes are like that,” she said. Maggie also stated she has a particular fondness for math and the sciences. “I’m good at math, I would say, and I think it’s easy most of the time. I like how in Math the answer is always definite, how there can’t be a change. Language Arts is more challenging for me.” In addition to pursuing her current interests, which would involve swimming competitively and continuing her dance lessons, Maggie hopes to try crew when she arrives. “I’ve seen [my sister] practicing on the water a few times. It looks fun. Besides, I like water sports,” she explained. Andover is the only school secondary school Maggie is applying to. Should she not gain admission, she plans to attend a program at Guilford College in Greensboro called “Early College.” At this program she would finish high school in two years and begin taking college level courses in her Junior and Senior years. Although admission is never certain, Maggie is confident about her prospects. She says that in addition to the superior education offered by Andover, she looks forward to the independence guaranteed by the boarding school milieu. Her only apprehensions are about the academic workload. “I call my sister and she always says she has a lot of work. I’m afraid I won’t have time for anything else.” The prospect of leaving friends and loved ones behind does not seem to phase Maggie. Instead, she is optimistic about making new friends. “I’ve been away from [my parents] every summer. If they come up to visit me, which they will, I think it will be okay,” said Maggie hopefully. == Next Year, Living on the East Coast? == Mirroring many of Maggie’s sentiments is David Kim, the boy of 14 from California. While many of his classmates may be lounging on the beach, David is pursuing a rigorous academic and extracurricular schedule he hopes will prepare him for application to and life at PA. “I’m a really hard worker, and I don’t give up easily,” said David with an air of self-assurance. His lifestyle reflects this proactive attitude. On an average day, this Orange County eighth grader rises at 6:30 for 17 hours of uninterrupted activity. Daily plans include early morning jazz band rehearsals, eight hours of accelerated classes, tennis practice, studying for the SSAT and an hour-long session with a writing tutor. The weekends are reserved for long-term homework projects, flute and saxophone practice, and Sunday church service. David does not seem bothered by this unusually challenging workload. “I have maybe one hour each weekend day for free time,” said David matter-of-factly. Though he is certainly more driven than the average teenager, David asserts his normalcy. “I’m friendly and open to everyone. I like to go to movies and I like sports just like any other guy.” And just like any other Andover applicant, David sets aside time to dream about his favorite school, to imagine about what it will be like and to plan what he wants to do. “The campus is really beautiful. It’s got such a long history I can’t believe it’s still standing. And the education! When I read through the catalogue, the level they were teaching was not only very challenging but it’s the manner in which they teach. They want you to think outside the box. That’s what’s so interesting. If I get in I will always be surrounded by people like me: they have a goal in life and they’re interested in important things.” Like Maggie, David plans to take on additional activities upon his matriculation. “Since I was born here in America, my mother tongue disappeared. I don’t speak Korean as fluently as I used to, so I was hoping to re-learn Korean, maybe at Asian Society. I also hope to pursue other foreign languages, particularly Spanish.” David also indicated he would like to learn to sculpt. “I’ve always built things in the garage, but I’ve never made anything beautiful.” Exeter is David’s second choice, and he plans to research other prep schools in the New England area. Though somewhat apprehensive about the change in rhythm of his schedule and his separation from his parents, he is ready to partake of the stellar education Andover offers regardless of any initial discomfort, be that homesickness or exposure to any vestiges of the “elitist” boarding school stereotype.