Message from the Head of Boarding

IMG_1849When the long Christmas holidays come to an end and the new school year is about to begin, the question that sits in the mind of most boys, especially first time boarders, is: “What will it be like?” Most boarders know why they are boarding, but have little idea what to expect. Sometimes if you know what’s going to happen, it makes the anxiety much easier to deal with. What follows here then, are a few aspects of being a boarder and also a few tips, or guidelines, that may help. These comments are directed to both the boys and their parents, as often the adjustments that parents have to make can be forgotten.

Boarding is demanding, and to a large extent your happiness and success depend on your ability to come to terms with those demands. The first demand (and these are not necessarily in any order of importance) is for you to take responsibility for yourself. At the Drakensberg Boys Choir School, we are aware that this is easier said than done, and it doesn’t happen overnight. You will have to get yourself organised for music, class and prep (homework time) each day; you will have to organise and put out your laundry and collect it. You will have to make sure you look after yourself physically – shower and wash regularly, clean teeth, report any problems to the staff and so on. There are always people reminding you about these things, and plenty of staff who will help you, but the final responsibility is yours. The need to take responsibility for yourself has many important results, such as becoming more independent, self-reliant, and showing greater self-discipline. Not everyone reaches the same standard in these areas, but there are very few failures, and many notable successes! No matter what level you reach, you will earn respect for your efforts.

Another demand is for you to live with people you don’t necessarily like, or certainly would not choose to have as a friend. The easiest, and not uncommon reaction, is to dismiss or ignore such people, but the problem doesn’t go away. Some boys try to ‘change’ the people they don’t like, through physical or mental pressure, and this doesn’t solve the problem either. What a boarder has to come to terms with then, is tolerance and respect for other peoples’ individuality. This does not mean that you have to accept anything, but you should accept that different people have different ideals, values, beliefs, personalities and senses of humour. This is something that you may struggle with more than anything else, but it is a vital challenge that you must meet.

Another demand on a boarder is to come to terms with authority. When you first start, the Prefects’ authority is more likely to be one of acceptance, but you will all be given responsibility, of varying degrees and they have to learn to give authority as well. Boys will learn to accept the authority of another boy as well as staff, and sometimes this authority comes from a boy that you may not particularly like.

Related to this is the concept of justice, and one thing a boarder learns is that there are variations of justice.

Some people get caught doing something, while others seem to get away with it; some people seem to be luckier than others when tasks are being handed out, and so on. Of course we try to do everything we can to lessen injustice, but as in life, it never goes away and the ability to cope with, or to properly deal with injustice, whether real or apparent, is a valuable lesson.

boardingOne of the most difficult things you may encounter is the situation of being ‘lonely in a crowded room’. In one sense, DBCS will seem a busy, noisy and crowded place. As a result, privacy is often hard to find; you may find it difficult to make time for yourself – to do extra work, make a telephone call, or just to gather your thoughts.

You are lucky that at DBCS, the large grounds give you more space to do this than at most other schools. At one extreme there are boys who are crying out for privacy; and at the other extreme there are boys who are surrounded by others and yet they cannot be their friends, or join in their activities. In this way their loneliness is compounded and so is their unhappiness. Of course there is the middle ground, the situation when all boys are happy with each other’s company and enjoy the advantages of having so many friends so close together.

Ultimately, most boys like boarding school most of all because of this opportunity, but the less happy situations described above have been experienced by all boys at some stage, and it is realistic to understand them although they may not apply to you.

Finally, the greatest demand made on you is for you to make the most of the opportunities in front of you. If you want to make the most of life here, you have got to get involved. No doubt your parents, friends and certainly the staff here, will have told you and will continue to tell you this. Things don’t just happen; while there are lots of organised activities that are highly enjoyable, these rely on the enthusiasm and support of the people involved, also some of the happiest moments or experiences are from spontaneous activities that were successful because of the energy, enthusiasm and humour injected by the participants.

Boarding can be a wonderful and certainly a pleasant experience, though not necessarily all the time. It has challenges, but also many benefits. While staff will do what they can to make this life as pleasant as possible, to a large extent it depends on the response of the boys and the individual boy particularly. There are likely to be problems, but there is a good support system to help every boy and, again, you should learn this system and make use of it as soon as possible.

boarding 2We would wish to finish this section with a word to parents. A number of reactions to your son’s boarding will go through your mind sometime in the next few years: anxiety, sadness, guilt, pride, pleasure, anger, disappointment, surprise, happiness and frustration – to name a few. We cannot tell you what situations will exhibit these responses, but we do hope that the more pleasant reactions will be the most frequent. The advice we would give is to make your son feel that he is still supported, by attending parents’ weekends and concerts whenever possible, by keeping in contact with the Boarding Staff, his teachers from time to time, and at the same time respecting and helping him in his independence. He will not thank you if you try to do too much for him, however, he will always appreciate your interest and concern.

One thing that parents often find difficult is that your son has spells when you may not hear much from him.

One truth of boarding is that ‘no news is good news’. If your son is happy and enjoying himself then he may not think to phone you about it! He may phone with the sort of news he thinks you would like to hear, like test results, choir achievements etc. when they are good. I suppose what is true is that you will tend to hear from him only when he wants you to hear and when he does phone about problems, remember that you’ll only get his side of the story. I do not suggest that you disbelieve him, but, before you jump to conclusions, or make phone-calls, or write letters to the staff involved, do call the Boarding Staff to find out the other side of the story. Support your son in a time of crisis, but please act from a position of certainty about what has happened. Things can get exaggerated with distance.

Another thing that boarders’ parents have to cope with is that your son is growing rapidly, developing and changing in the time that he is away, but you are not able to see these changes slowly evolve. As a result, after the initial pleasure of welcoming him home, you may then be a little surprised by certain views, mannerisms or attitudes that he didn’t show when he was gently dropped off at school in January. Adapting to a new environment will see certain changes, but remember that your son may also be going through the changes associated with puberty and adolescence as well.

boarding 3If you are worried by some of these changes, please feel free to call the Boarding Staff about your son’s progress, growth and social integration at DBCS. You may find that he is very different and that his behaviour is a bit exaggerated – largely for your attention!

We would also suggest using friendships with other Drakie parents as these will grow the longer your son stays here. Get involved with the Drakie Parents Association. Talking about common experiences will help you cope with any problems and also increase your pleasure in your son’s achievements. There are a number of opportunities for parental meetings and friendships to grow – most of these occur during DPA meetings, festivals and parents’ weekends.

Each family, either parent or guardian, should make contact with the Boarding Staff of their son’s house, to arrange a time to meet with them either before they commence boarding or on the day of arrival. This provides an opportunity for parents to discuss their son and for the Boarding Staff to outline expectations of the boarding house. There may also be an opportunity to meet with the Sanatorium Sister, Caterer and Laundry Matron on the first day.

For both boys and parents, DBCS can be a rich and rewarding experience and you can be assured that we here at Drakies will do all in our power to ensure that it is just this for you.

Johan Linde