What Does Boarding School Cost?

Ninety-five percent of boarding school students reported being satisfied or very satisfied with their academic experience, compared to 86 percent of private day or public school students.

Two portraits of Tom Torlino

Death by Civilization

My mother died while surviving civilization. Although she outlived a traumatic childhood immersed in its teachings, she carried the pain of those lessons for her entire life. Like most Native American peoples, our family’s story is touched by the legacy of boarding schools, institutions created to destroy and vilify Native culture, language, family, and spirituality. My mother, Bernice, was a survivor of Saint Mary’s Catholic Indian Boarding School on the Ojibwe reservation in Odanah, Wisconsin. She called it the “Sister School,” a world ruled by nuns clad in long black robes.

Two hundred years ago, on March 3, 1819, the Civilization Fund Act ushered in an era of assimilationist policies, leading to the Indian boarding-school era, which lasted from 1860 to 1978. The act directly spurred the creation of the schools by putting forward the notion that Native culture and language were to blame for what was deemed the country’s “Indian problem.”

Native families were coerced by the federal government and Catholic Church officials into sending their children to live and attend classes at boarding schools. (About one-third of the 357 known Indian boarding schools were managed by various Christian denominations.) According to the Act’s text, Christian missionaries and other “persons of good moral character” were charged with introducing Native children to “the habits and arts of civilization” while encouraging them to abandon their traditional languages, cultures, and practices.

This is what achieving civilization looked like in practice: Students were stripped of all things associated with Native life. Their long hair, a source of pride for many Native peoples, was cut short, usually into identical bowl haircuts. They exchanged traditional clothing for uniforms, and embarked on a life influenced by strict military-style regimentation. Students were physically punished for speaking their Native languages. Contact with family and community members was discouraged or forbidden altogether. Survivors have described a culture of pervasive physical and sexual abuse at the schools. Food and medical attention were often scarce; many students died. Their parents sometimes learned of their death only after they had been buried in school cemeteries, some of which were unmarked.

Boarding School Tuition and Financial Assistance

Paying for boarding school tuition requires both careful financial planning and in-depth family discussion. As you view tuition and fees, keep in mind, boarding schools do offer financial assistance and they follow specific standards and guidelines for disbursements.

At first glance, they may appear expensive, but bear in mind the expenses you will no longer incur while your child is living away from home. Boarding school tuition and fees will cover everything from classes to room and board (meals), but also, transportation, clubs, activities, campus health care, and many other services. This means you won’t have to shuttle your son or daughter to sport practices, activities, or appointments. Boarding schools do it all and they do it 24/7.

While you compare schools and costs, make sure you contact the Admission Office to explore all of your financial options. Generally speaking, boarding schools offer need-based financial assistance, payment plans, loan options, and awards. They are committed to accessibility and affordability and will be sensitive to your concerns.

Teachers live in the dorms with students.

Bed, Room, Interior design, Lighting, Bedding, Property, Textile, Bedroom, Floor, Bed sheet,

Eton College

Some, like the U.K.’s Eton College, have strict dress codes. Many American boarding schools ask boys to wear jackets and ties to class, while others only require semi-formal attire on special occasions such as weekly seated dinners. Students are also usually required to take part in study hall and check in with the teachers they live with (aka "dorm parents") every night.

Carl Gorman – Boarding Schools

Carl Gorman

As a child, Carl Gorman attended the Rehoboth Mission School in New Mexico. Carl did not like the harsh rules or the way he and other children were treated, so he ran away. His father understood how he felt and did not make him return to Rehoboth. Later, Carl’s family sent him to the Albuquerque Indian School, where he thrived.

Frank Peshlakai, Carl Gorman, and his brother, Wallace Gorman, at the Rehoboth Mission School in New Mexico in 1917

Students stand at attention at the Albuquerque Indian School, about 1910

The Albuquerque Indian School football team in 1928

Charles Chibitty – Boarding Schools

Charles Chibitty

Charles Chibitty began his schooling at the Ft. Sill Indian School in Oklahoma. There he and the other Indian children were punished if they spoke their tribal languages. For high school he attended the Haskell Institute in Lawrence, Kansas. Tribal languages were allowed there, but the education was still very strict and militaristic.



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