D.C. area families board students at local private schools

A growing subculture of private school students are boarding at institutions within driving distance of their homes, a set-up that allows them and their parents to avoid the crawling D.C. commute and to get the boarding school experience without being 500 miles away in the anxious post-9/11 era.
By Michael Birnbaum
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, November 3, 2009

For Sean Woo, boarding his sons at St. Albans School was an easy choice. His two teenagers got the prestige, the rigorous academics and an around-the-clock minder all in one package. And with St. Albans just a half-hour drive from Woo's McLean home, he could still make all the choral concerts and sports events.

"We would have been ferrying them around everywhere" had his sons attended Langley High, the neighborhood school, Woo said. "The traffic, particularly during the times that the kids need your attention, is ridiculous. . . . [St. Albans] is just very convenient in that sense."

Woo's sons are part of a small but growing trend of private school students who board locally. Some families say they think the combination of a crawling D.C. commute and a heavy homework load would make it impossible to attend such schools any other way. Other Washington parents say they're too busy to have the kids at home. And some value the boarding school experience but don't want children 500 miles away in the anxious post-9/11 era. For many, it's a combination of all three.

At St. Albans, 19 of the school's 23 boarders have families who live within driving distance of the school. Ten years ago, locals made up about a third of the boarders, said Jeanne Hamrick, a spokeswoman for the school. Boarding costs $13,677 in addition to the regular tuition of $32,990.

Woo said that he and his wife -- a consultant and a physician, respectively -- weren't interested in their sons being far away but that they liked the idea of boarding schools.

"They mature a little bit," he said. "And where can you get 24-hour supervision, seven days a week, for just a nominal increase over the tuition?"

John Woo, a senior, said that he enjoyed being away from home.

"It's nice not to have your parents looking over your shoulder," he said. He enjoys the company of his fellow boarding students, he said, noting that they plan weekend activities together. A recent outing to a Redskins game was "sad, but fun," he said.

Boarding schools across the country have also seen more local families, said Peter Upham, executive director of the Association of Boarding Schools.

"In general, people that are considering boarding school are not looking quite as far afield," he said.

That has been the case at the Madeira School in McLean.

"We have seen a gradual but consistent increase in boarding students who are coming from within a two-hour radius of the school," said Meredyth Cole, assistant head at Madeira, where the bill for boarding is $11,110 in addition to the regular tuition of $35,050. Like St. Albans, the school enrolls boarding and day students. She estimated that half of the school's 161 boarders are from no more than two hours away. A decade ago, that figure was closer to a quarter.

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