What I Learn From Living in a Diverse Community

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.
Kiski is one of the most diverse schools I know.  We have boys from 19 states and 15 different countries. Kiski’s Financial Aid program allows us to enroll qualified, interesting boys regardless of their families’ ability to afford our tuition.  There is a richness that makes Kiski special. But no matter how different we are in so many ways, what bonds us as a “band of brothers” is that we are more the same than we are different.  That simple sentence really crystalized itself to me on my recent recruiting trip to the other side of the globe.
I just returned from a 19 day, seven country admission trip. The trips main objective was to screen and recruit the best boys we can find from all over Asia. I had the opportunity to meet with hundreds of students and their parents, as well as experience many different cities and customs.  But the highlight of the trip this year and every year is my meetings and dinners with some of our current parents.  They tell me of the great impact that Kiski is making on their sons’ lives and I update them about the new and exciting happenings that are occurring at Kiski.  Typically, the families gather at a restaurant and welcome me to their city with a traditional meal.  Many of these parents do not speak English nearly as well as their sons, but regardless of their relative speaking ability; we are able to communicate.  
I am a seasoned traveler that is well equipped to taste the traditional cuisine of the places I visit.  I have as a result of my travels with Kiski become quite adept with chop sticks!  The meals in China are held in private dining rooms with a huge lazy-susan in the middle of the table full of dozens of dishes that are rotated around the table. You retrieve your portion with chop sticks and put it on your plate before it passes by.  The food can be spicy and trial and error is the rule of the day. And just when you think the meal is about to wind down, the wait staff reenters the dining room and brings dozens more dishes.  This proved to be the case in Thailand and Korea as well, sans the lazy-susan. 
In each city with current students, I bring a candid photo I have taken of each boy in a special Kiski frame as a gift.  The parents are thrilled to get this and they pass the picture around for each to see, all the while laughing and beaming with pride.  I also present a PowerPoint slide show, updating everyone on what is happening on campus and what we are planning for the year.  This year the emphasis was on our new athletic center currently being constructed.  I always make sure there are plenty of pictures of Kiski students.  I especially ensure the slide show contains pictures of their sons.  No matter how spectacular the plans for our new building projects are nothing is more pleasing to them than the sight of their son appearing on the screen, playing a sport, eating a meal or laughing with a friend.  I know it is difficult for our current parents to let any of their good boys go off on some adventure at boarding school.  But when you visit families whose sons are 6,000 miles away and whose contact with them is so limited, this glimpse of the campus and the anticipation of seeing their boy at Kiski is spellbinding.  They worry about their son’s disposition, who his friends are and if he is happy.  They shudder at the thought of him doing laundry competently or if he is getting enough to eat or if when he is sick that someone will take care of him the way his mama would. The interesting thing is that this is no different from the experience I have when I visit families in Florida, California, or Pittsburgh.  Each parent, regardless of culture or location, wants the absolute best for their children, and at Kiski we strive to make that possible.
I met and interviewed dozens of candidates for admission. They were all very excited about the idea of coming to America not only for their high school experience, but to pursue higher education at an American institution.  Because Kiski is an established boarding school, we are very popular in Asia.  Part of that is that we have the facilities to meet the students’ needs 24 hours a day, seven days a week.  And so the answers to their basic questions are good ones.  We have a modest international population of about 20 percent, and offer strong college placements, excellent facilities, strong extra-curricular opportunities and much, much more.
The prospective boys were telling me all about their schools, what they are interested in, and what they want to do at Kiski. They told me there are typically about 50 students in a class in their current schools and they are just amazed that we average 10 students in a class. They told me about memorizing hundreds of facts each night and never getting to discuss and debate issues.  They love math, science and sports.  They want to build robots and bows and arrows.  They want to design and build bridges and roast marshmallows. They want to sing in choirs and perform on stages.  They want to be recognized and listened to.  They love challenges and solving problems and getting the right answer the fastest.  They want to go on adventures with their best friends and they love to hear their teachers say, “I am proud of you.”  In so many ways, they are just like our boys at Kiski.  They even laugh at my corny jokes, just like the boys at Kiski!
And in many ways the international parents are very similar to the parents of our American students. They ask questions like, “Will you make sure my boy is happy?”  “Will you take care of him when he is sick?” “Will you be there supporting him if he struggles?” “Will you challenge him academically?” “Will you make sure he separates his colors from his whites and insist that he changes his sheets every two weeks whether he wants to or not?”  The answer to all of these questions…”Yes.”
All of this reminds me and my colleagues how important our work is.  It reminds me how important our attention to the smallest detail is; and how important it is that we take good care of the boys who are at our school.  And, how important it is that we communicate early and often with the parents whether they are ten miles away in Eastern Standard Time or in Asia with a 12 hour time difference.  As richly diverse as we are here, what is important to acknowledge is that we are really not that different.  We may eat different food, speak different languages and wear different style clothes. Regardless of the background of our community members, at the core, we all want the best for the each of our boys.
If you really want to see something special, come visit and see for yourself and hear from our students why the boarding school life is so great.
1888 Brett Lane, Saltsburg, PA 15681   |   (877) 547-5448
Established in 1888, The Kiski School is one of the oldest, independent, all-boys, college preparatory boarding schools in Pennsylvania and the United States.  Home to 200 boys, Kiski offers an academically rigorous curriculum that includes Advanced and Honors courses, 12 varsity sports, and a community that allows boys to thrive through project-based learning and self-discovery. Kiski's beautiful, 350-acre campus is located in Saltsburg, Pennsylvania, 30 miles east of Pittsburgh, PA.

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