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An education in more ways than one

Joshua Sands has been hounding his mother to send him to boarding school since he was in eighth grade. A baseball player, Joshua wanted to pursue every avenue to improve in the sport of his choice. His mother, Odia Gaskin, balked at letting her child go at such a young age and said no — that was until this year, Gaskin has finally relented. Her son, who will be going into eleventh grade, will be attending The Linsly School in West Virginia.

And it’s nothing new. Bahamians have sent their children to boarding school for years as they seek the best avenue for their children academically and athletically. Joshua who will have attained his 16th birthday by the time he departs on August 20, is just one of a large number whose parents are willing to make the sacrifice and pay for a boarding school education for their child.

“I held back on letting him go to boarding school even though he kept asking because I wanted him to do at least one set of national exams, and to be a little bit more mature,” said Gaskin. “And at 16, he should be a little more grounded, and a little more mature to be on his own as opposed to ninth grade when he wanted to go.”

Allowing her son to go to boarding school will also be a sacrifice for Joshua’s mother who is accustomed to paying approximately $5,000 annually for his private school education at home. At Linsly, the fees are $37,000 and change. But she has received financial assistance for her son who will be playing baseball and the opportunity to play other sports.

“Baseball is giving [Josh] the opportunity … it’s a sacrifice … it’s not free, but he will get the opportunity to expand himself, academically and athletically to prepare for the global market to compete.”

And while Gaskin, a mother of two, said a few weeks ago she was not ready to let her eldest child go, she said she now has been able to come to terms with the fact that the boarding school experience is something she knows her son wants and needs.


Teaching independence

“I’m hoping this process teaches him a little more independence and gives him the exposure he needs to be able to be more self-sufficient. As a parent I micromanage a whole lot and this will help me get over that as well,” she said.

While Gaskin is preparing to send her son to boarding school, it’s something that Edward and Alneka Russell went through two years ago. Their son Rizzario “Rio” Russell is entering his third and final year at The Webb School in Bell Buckle, Tennessee. Like Joshua, Rizzario, 17, who played baseball and was getting a private school education at home had pushed his parents for the opportunity to play baseball at the high school level in the United States and the opportunities it would open up for him. He now also plays football.

“I had to not look at myself and think about Rio’s future and not be selfish, because with him being athletically inclined, I didn’t think he would benefit as much at home as he would have abroad. That’s what inspired me to let him go,” said Russell who admitted that it was hard.

But she said her son who had maintained an honor roll status at home has continued to excel at boarding school. Rio’s grade point average is 3.5.

“He has maintained his academics, and excelled in areas where I thought he would have fallen,” said Russell.

Like Joshua, Rio has also received a partial scholarship that helps his parents for the school that costs approximately $37,000 per year. But no matter what they pay, Russell said it’s all been worth it as the exposure her son has gotten has been great for her son.

“They can’t go there depending on anybody. They have to be able to wake themselves up on time, know when to do their homework and when they have time for sports. They have to be responsible for themselves,” she said.

For parents contemplating allowing their children to attend boarding school, Russell says the parent has to first take a good look at their child and weigh out whether they are responsible enough.

“Rio was a responsible child, so it made it easy for me to release him,” she said.

As he commences his third year in the fall, Rio is already looking forward to applying to universities. And he believes allowing him to attend The Webb School was one of the best decisions his family ever made for him. He admits to having been homesick during the first few months, but he says he got over it pretty quickly when the athletic seasons started up and he began to bond with people.

“Once I got over the homesickness it became easier, because it’s a close family atmosphere, because everyone lives on campus, besides day students. Teachers also live on campus so if you need help you can go to the teachers. Even our principal and organizers live on campus so it was easy to get through because they’re all right there,” he said. “I’m actually enjoying this experience. I would choose it again any day”

Most days Rio arises at 6 a.m., then he heads to breakfast for 7 a.m. before classes between 8 a.m. – 3:05 p.m. At 3:45 he engages in the sport of the season until 5 p.m. He has dinner at 6 p.m. for half-an-hour and study hours between 8 p.m. and 11 p.m.

Rio has plans to study anatomy and physiology in college with the view to becoming an orthopedic surgeon. He says biology is his favorite subject, that he likes French a little bit, and he absolutely detests math. It’s Rio’s aim to remain an honor roll student and improve his grade point average, and to continue to excel athletically so that he can get a lot of scholarship offers.


Home away from home

For those students who are apprehensive about attending boarding school, the two-year veteran says they should be, because if it’s anything like his school he says it’s like another family away from home.

His mother also encourages parents to not hold their children back and to give them the opportunity if they can.

“If your children have the potential I think it’s a better opportunity than keeping them home, because they become more well-rounded because of the exposure to different people and different cultures because it makes them a better person,” said Russell.

As Rio prepares to commence his first year in high school and makes ready for college, Russell says her 10-year-old daughter, Zaria, is already requesting that she be sent to boarding school. But she has a few more years before that happens. Russell does not believe she would let her go at age 15 though, considering she’s a female and also her last child. Besides she says she does not think it would be as easy for her to release her second child as it was for her to let her first child go. When the time comes, she said she would see what would happen.

Both Gaskin and Russell worked with intermediary, Patrick Knowles from The Academy in Grand Bahama to help them sift through the many boarding institutions and pick the best school for their child. He also assisted with negotiating financial aid for them. This year The Academy has assisted with 15 children getting into boarding school. Since it began in 2007, Knowles said they have impacted 75 families by getting their children into boarding school to help them prepare for university.


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