The 21st-century boarding experience
Mark Venn-Dunn, Head of Boarding at ACS Cobham International School, reveals the secrets to modern-day boarding
At ACS Cobham, we have 110 boarding students from over 30 different countries, and this year we will open a brand new, £15m boarding house. The new house will provide an enhanced world-class school residency for an additional 113 boys and girls, with single en suite rooms for all senior students.
The beauty of an international school is that we’re not bound by tradition. With the new boarding house, we’ve asked ourselves ‘how should boarding be?’ and created the ideal situation for today’s children. With light, airy rooms, an array of social hubs and state-of-the-art facilities, enhanced by views across the school grounds, students have a modern, family-style space to relax, study and live.
The new boarding house has a modern, spacious design, with a contemporary L-shaped layout, which extends over four floors. Each floor has accommodation and common rooms for students. A triple-height atrium maximises natural light and space, giving boarders commanding views across the campus and woodlands.
There are multiple hubs for students to socialise, study and eat, including a cinema-style room, games room and study areas with flexible furniture for group work.
As well as accommodation for boarding house staff, there’s a walk-in medical centre with a fully-trained medical team, extensive landscaped areas and a BBQ. And the residency sits within a secure, thriving, 128-acre campus full of study, creative, and recreational facilities. Boarders have ‘out of hours’ access to the school’s sports, academic, technology and performing arts facilities too, including six tennis courts, a 25-metre pool and six-hole golf course.
Creating a home from home
The family-style design of the new boarding house provides students with a live-in open space shared with peers so they have a place to socialise, study and cook, just like at home. There are six common rooms and two study spaces, so multiple hubs to watch the latest films, relax, socialise – even revise!
This homely style residency complements the ethos and boarding programme we already have in place
The kitchen and lounge areas, as well as the outdoor space and BBQ, enable family-style group meal cooking, preparation and eating, a far cry from the traditional long dining halls, which can actually be quite isolating. The cinema-style room helps bring students together too, while the various other spaces allow for down time or other groups to do other activities. Our aim is to enable students to really make themselves at home and enjoy the flexible, comfortable spaces however they choose.
A welcoming environment
This home-style residency complements the ethos and boarding programme we already have in place. With a student body made up of many nationalities, an international boarding school naturally fosters a welcoming environment, enabling students to quickly settle in and make friends wherever they are from. Modern international schools work hard to help children feel at home and tend to have a much stronger focus on helping building relationships than traditional boarding schools.
At ACS Cobham, for example, we talk to our new students about their hobbies and interests even before they start term so they can be paired with roommates who share the same or complementary interests. A student welcome committee writes to each student before they join and newcomers can chat and introduce themselves online before they arrive.
Orientation weekends, which often form part of a welcome for boarders, help students to get to know each other through fun, collaborative activities and sporting challenges. These teambuilding activities make sure that boarders feel part of a diverse community from the very beginning of their boarding experience. The new boarding house, with its multitude of communal spaces and opportunities to socialise and mix with others, will enhance this process and ensure everyone feels welcome.
The boarding programme also encompasses weekend activities, skills and leadership courses, committee opportunities and much more. Led by our highly experienced boarding staff team, the programme fosters personal development and helps cultivate skills for life.
Underpinning our family-style house and boarding programme, our expert residential house parents, boarding team and full-time nurse ensure our students have the constant support, guidance, and care to be happy, inspired, and ready to make their mark on school life.
Adapted to accommodate the busy lifestyle of the modern family, we also offer flexi-boarding with a number of different options for boarders and families. It’s an ideal alternative for students with co-curricular activities that finish late or start early; or for those who are considering full boarding to get a taste of boarding life. It can also provide a home from home for students whose parents need to travel extensively for work and need a flexible arrangement.
Flexi-boarders are encouraged to engage with the full residential programme, including weekend activities, ensuring they reap the rewards of the dynamic environment and rich experience of boarding, even if it is only for a short period of time.