What is Residential Education

I received some questions about my recent post on the history of Residential Education in America (April 2) so here I’ll clarify more about the subject “What is Residential Education”. Residential education is the term for educational settings where students live and study outside of their family homes. Residential education programs have been providing disadvantaged youth with a ‘second home’ and quality education in the U.S. since before the nation’s founding.

Today, residential education includes:

  • Boarding Schools
  • Preparatory Schools and Academies
  • Orphanages
  • Children’s and Youth Villages
  • Children’s Homes
  • and most recently, Residential Charter Schools

Though varied in size, student demographics, setting, and funding sources, all residential education programs seek to create a feeling of safety and community and have done so over the past centuries. The programs provide social, academic, vocational, recreational, and sometimes spiritual components otherwise unavailable to these young people. Enrollment/ referral to these programs are most often made by parents but are also made by school counselors, judges, social workers, clergy, and neighbors. Often, these schools played a crucial role in leadership in education. 

Safety, Education, Community, Self-Esteem, Structure

  • Students are kept safe, both physically and emotionally.
  • Students receive a quality education, usually in smaller classes.
  • Students can take advantage of sports teams, computer clubs, art, leadership programs, community service, and more.
  • Students learn social skills such as conflict resolution, have positive adult role models and gain a positive sense of what they can be.
  • Students learn consistent values and lessons, which are reinforced 24 hours a day.

Why Residential Education Now

Across the country, communities, school boards, social service agencies, religious groups, corporations, and individual citizens are opening or starting to plan new residential schools and children’s homes. The approximately 30 existing programs are looking for ways to improve their effectiveness.

While residential education programs are not inexpensive, they are extremely cost-effective compared to the alternatives – juvenile justice lockup facilities, residential treatment centers, and the results of a lack of quality foster care homes.

  • Residential education is approximately half to a fifth of the cost of residential treatment centers, where many of these children will remain, inappropriately, because less intensive and significantly less expensive residential education programs are unavailable.
  • Without prevention-focused programs like residential education, many children end up in juvenile justice lockup facilities, which are twice as expensive, punitive in nature, and do not usually focus on education. Some Residential education programs divert some youth who would otherwise be placed in juvenile lockup facilities.
  • Since the mid-1980s, the number of foster care families has declined, while the number of children requiring out-of-home care has escalated sharply. There simply aren’t enough places, especially for children over the age of 9. Many children go through 7 – 25 foster home placements before they ‘age out’ of the foster care system.