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Boarding School Spotlight: The Orme School and Summer Camp of Arizona

Just an hour north of Arizona's state capital, and well away from the bustle of its city streets, is The Orme School and Summer Camp of Arizona -- a boarding school dedicated to serving students grades K through 12. Thanks in part to its location on a 26,000-acre ranch, the Orme School is able to offer students a boarding school experience that's far from the status quo.

"We're a break from the everyday world," explains Kelly Johnston, the director of marketing, as well as former English teacher and humanities department chair head for the school. "There's a cattle drive twice a year. Frankly, the cows have to go right through the middle of campus."

And yet ranch animals walking through school grounds is nothing compared to the other departures the Orme School has made from scholastic norms. With less than 200 students in attendance, and a graduating class that consists of about 30 seniors, Orme boasts an intimate learning experience -- the typical class size is 14 students.

"It's really about encouraging students to strive, challenge, and learn about themselves," says Johnston. "We're based on the belief of creating opportunities for students out here in the southwest. Students can participate in anything they want to."

Case in point: The Orme School offers a number of different activity programs and sports that, unlike most public schools and athletically-inclined charter schools, allow any student -- not just first- and second-string players -- to participate. The school faculty also embraces creativity and fosters indepependence in students' choice of activities. In what Johnston calls "typical of the spirit [of the school], and extreme in example," two students with a craving for all things related to the game of cricket founded their own team with the help of a faculty member and a few classmates. Their drive even landed them the once-in-a-lifetime chance to play a professional cricket team from abroad.

An international school in its own right, with students from other countries regularly boarding, the Orme School takes its support of students to another level with the help of "Advisee Groups." Comprised of seven to eight students, each Advisee Group is assigned a faculty member for the term and meets with him/her once a week for a group dinner.

Typically taking place in the home of the group leader, Advisee Group meetings are informal events consisting of board games, conversation, even movies. Says Johnston, "We try to create a night that gives them the feeling of a family night. It's just a place where they can relax, where they can feel a family dynamic."

This level of familiarity is carried over to the college guidance program, which has succeeded in getting 100 percent of Orme graduates accepted into institutions of higher education. Taking the time to get to know each student, the college guidance program helps them search and apply to the right college for them.

"We're not just throwing students into a college for the sake of getting them into a college," attests Johnston, explaining, "It's hard to get into Yale; it's even harder to say you don't like Yale."