Bill Ellis is the Associate Headmaster for Enrollment and Financial Aid at The Kiski School, appointed in 2008. Educated at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Bill has been in various admissions roles within private education since 1982. He currently sits on the boards of multiple associations, while serving as a counselor, adviser, and community member here at Kiski.
I have been working at boarding schools since 1982. During the first year at my first school, I was asked to be a part of the admission team. Ever since, I have been teaching, coaching, managing dorms, giving college advice, serving as an advisor, supervising dining room tables, but my most important job has been promoting the advantages of a boarding school environment. And now at Kiski, a small, all-boys boarding school, the experience is life-changing. I did not personally attend a school like Kiski but in hindsight, I would give anything to have had that opportunity as a teenager.
One of the unique characteristics of a school like Kiski is that it utilizes all hours of the day to maximize the skills and life experience provided to the boys. Yesterday, on my 6:00 a.m. walk while it was still dark and supposedly, everyone is still asleep, I noticed the lights in our stadium were turned on; I was intrigued. As I approached the stadium, I discovered that about 15 boys were playing lacrosse. They were having a completely voluntary practice organized by the captains for anyone who wanted to get a jumpstart on the spring season while not conflicting with the current season’s afternoon practices. These boys, all of whom I know personally (another boarding school advantage) are current members of our football, soccer, cross country and golf teams. What dedication. But I was thinking how easily this can be organized since all of them live here. It is just a matter of touching base with each other the night before to make it happen. No car pool, no commute, just roll out of bed and get to the field, a two minute walk from any of the dorms.
Of course our academic day is busy as any school would (or should) be and our boys are engaged in activities, discussion, and lecture from the beginning of classes until 3:00 p.m. At that time, school stops, tutoring halts, academics take a break and 100 percent of the students are engaged in some kind of physical activity, typically interscholastic athletic competition. Because we require it, it is co-curricular; we provide age and skill appropriate teams and opportunities for every boy on campus. Everyone participates. And for the truly motivated, they put on a Kiski uniform and represent the School proudly. And because this time is dedicated to athletics, no one has to rush to a teacher for extra help, complete homework immediately, or worry about how practice may cut into their study time. There is a lot of time left in the day!
Dinner in the Dining Hall is at a set and reasonable time; although on this particular night I was treated to authentic Mexican tacos, cooked by several of our boys from the Yucatan Peninsula. They invited themselves over to my house with the promise that they would cook and cleanup if I would let them use my kitchen. There was a lot of cooking, eating and laughing, but the boys were light on the cleaning part to say the least. Nevertheless, I loved having them there, practicing my Spanish with them and the other American boys present.
Dinner is usually followed by a two-hour study hall where homework is completed and a time when boys can schedule a time to meet with their teachers at a variety of places around campus. Because all of the boys live here, almost all teachers live on or near campus. The faculty and their families provide an additional dimension that adds to the communal feel of campus.
Around 7:00 p.m. I took a stroll around campus to the Rogers Fine Arts Center, where I saw the Glee Club practicing. I noticed that one of my advisees, a sophomore who is also on the varsity soccer team, eagerly volunteered to lead a singing exercise. I know boys by now and there is no way that this boy would have led a singing exercise at his previous school. At an all-boys school, the need to impress girls is removed and boys become more expressive and take risks without the fear of making a social mistake.
I then went upstairs to the theater and discovered additional boys performing a reading of the fall play. This year, our Artist in Residence and Kiski graduate, David Conrad’85, is directing the boys in the production. The group was very diverse, in that they are not the typical group of boys you would find in a theater. Again, two of my advisees, one with a known artistic talent and one an absolute first-timer, were among the group; both sophomores. The first-timer, I discovered is the lead! Stepping outside one’s comfort zone to discover oneself is a common occurrence at Kiski.
On my way back to my home, I saw what I thought was something on fire! I discovered the Photography Club was experimenting with long exposure photography by lighting steel wool and twirling it around on a string. Squeals of delight, as the sparks flew in large controlled circles, indicated that the boys were not only interested, but engaged. Enthralled might describe it better. Anything involving fire (or food) is sure to get their attention.
This was a just another day for us at Kiski. I realized having done this for so long that when you have an entire day, with the students and many of the faculty housed on campus, the opportunities to do great things are endless.
If you really want to see something truly special, come for a visit. You will quickly observe and hear from our students why the boarding school life is so great.