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When I talk about my experience in an Adventist boarding academy, many people, particularly non-adventists, ask me what I did to make my parents send me away during my vulnerable teen years. From my perspective, I see my parents sending me to boarding school as an act of mercy and love during that particular time in my life. However, the reaction that some people have towards my experience makes me wonder — is this normal?
Adventist boarding academies have been around for over 100 years and are meant to be safe, fun, educational facilities that keep Adventist values at the center. With such a mission in mind, these schools are known for their strict rules, from dress code to relationships between students. Unfortunately, sometimes these rules go too far.
In an interview, a Southern student who was expelled from an Adventist Boarding Academy for kissing another student said, “These schools have the right intentions but sometimes care about the rules more than the students.”
Such a punishment for a simple act of affection appears to be a bit of an overreaction. With circumstances such as these, schools seem to turn to punishment before they turn to guidance.
My last year at boarding academy, I had the opportunity to be a resident’s assistant in the girls dorm. That year, I was able to see more of the hardships of dorm life. From recreational drug use to pregnancy scares, students found ways to break the rules. When students were caught, it was heartbreaking to see them get punished when, really, they needed help. It seemed that the rules were not enough; there was something missing. I think there were times when students would have actually benefited from less strict rules. For example, if students were allowed to hold hands on campus, perhaps they would not jump to go farther the moment they had time alone.
In the results of an informal social media poll, the majority of Southern students who went to boarding academy and participated in the poll had many positive things to say about their experiences. Students had the option to further explain and said they enjoyed the time with friends and the close community. Students mentioned that some of the difficulties included the food choices, drama and homesickness. In the same social media poll, 66% of Southern students who answered said that going to boarding academy helped them adjust to college. The poll revealed that although there are many hardships in boarding school, many people do look back fondly on their time there.
Looking back, I do appreciate a lot of memories I made in boarding school, but there were some things that did not make sense to me. I think the schools could do a better job enforcing and explaining rules to students, guiding them instead of punishing them, teaching them to do what is right rather than restricting them from what is wrong.