Boarding Life
McCallie Communications Office
Two students study together in their dorm room


Since the beginning, McCallie has served both day and boarding students. Our boarding program was never an add-on but a way for students from other places to experience, contribute to, and benefit from the impactful community and rigorous learning environment that McCallie provides. As the world has become more interconnected digitally and the economy more globally interdependent, having students from countries around the world has become an important factor in the McCallie school community, becoming more reflective of the communities its students will engage in upon leaving. Our international students, as well as students from other U.S. cities, provide new perspectives and worldviews that deepen McCallie’s learning environment and community. 

As the day student experience is enriched by the students who are not from Chattanooga, McCallie boarders enjoy the in-depth local knowledge, hospitality, and grounding friendship of the day students. This vital symbiosis is one of the reasons that the McCallie Board of Trustees in its 2017 strategic plan reaffirmed as an enduring foundational commitment McCallie’s day-boarding balance. This commitment translates into the strategic imperative of achieving the school’s ideal size of approximately 300 boarding students, bringing the day-to-boarding ratio in the Upper School closer to 50/50. To achieve this goal will require increasing the boarding student population from 250 to 300 students, an initiative dubbed “The Road to 300”.  The board’s strong belief is that McCallie will enjoy the strongest sense of community and brotherhood by reaching this optimal size and increasing the diversity of our students. The recently completed renovation of Hutcheson Dorm along with enhanced and targeted marketing efforts are outgrowths of this strategic initiative.

Students play games in the common area of their dorm

Our students work hard and play hard. A key aspect to boarding life is hanging out with your friends and meeting new ones in places like our common areas in the dorms.

Boarding at McCallie provides students with a remarkable experience and an incredible extra layer of learning. The boarding program at McCallie is an intentional community created with student growth and development at its center. Boarders gain meaningful practice in making good decisions in an environment of structured independence. Boys learn how to care for themselves, manage their responsibilities, and live successfully with others with whom they build indelible memories and lasting relationships. The effects of McCallie’s comprehensive boarding experience provide a firm foundation for a lifetime. Alumni throughout the generations attribute the boarding life to their success in life. “McCallie immersed me into a world of personal responsibility not just for the grades to be earned but primarily for facing a life to be lived in interaction with others” is one alum’s insight that is at once profound and common. Boarding at McCallie assists boys in learning how to open up as individuals, gain confidence in themselves, and form relationships that will last a lifetime — essential skills for navigating the entirety of adulthood. 


“In my four years as a boarder, I learned to succeed in the everyday parts of life like taking care of my room, keeping up with my things, doing laundry, and making sure I get enough sleep. I learned to prioritize, gauge my time, and manage stress. I know how to enter new situations, meet new people, talk to teachers, ask for help, and even give help to others. I am really proud of myself and feel ready for life at college.” – Boarding Student '22


Independence, Responsibility, and Self-Reliance

Living as a boarder at McCallie provides a supportive environment where adults mentor, guide, and partner with students to learn and grow. Boarding students learn and practice important life skills like getting up on time, managing one’s belongings and living space, doing laundry, being responsible for getting their meals and snacks, getting to class and other obligations on time, making their weekend plans, managing stress and sleep properly, and getting along with others, to name a few. Dorm faculty and older boys who serve as residential assistants meet students where they are in terms of their skill development and help them grow and improve from there. Through continued practice, boys develop the social, emotional, and problem-solving skills they need to live productively and independently away from home. The boarding student leaves high school with life skills in addition to academic accomplishments. He knows how to enter new situations and thrive. As one boarding alum explains, “Boarding at McCallie helped me learn to become comfortable being uncomfortable. I learned the value of getting outside of my comfort zone because that is where growth takes place. I also learned to think of myself less so that I could think about others more.” Students who do not attend boarding school must wait until college to achieve similar levels of independence, personal responsibility, and self-reliance. This lack of pragmatic preparation can make transitioning to college a rocky, confusing situation for students new to living away from home.

Older students serve as mentors for younger students

A group of seniors serve as resident advisors for each dorm. These older students are mentors for the underclassmen and also help with day-to-day activities such as study groups.

Competence and Confidence

Successfully managing the life of a boarding student at McCallie develops a storehouse of evidence regarding a boy’s skills and overall competence. His handling of the mundane and ordinary tasks of self-management – like waking up on time, doing laundry, or remembering to book a spot on the bus to the airport –  proves to himself, and to others, that he can succeed on his own. He develops a strong sense of self-confidence that allows him to enter into new situations and circumstances with a more relaxed and positive mindset. His knowledge of his own competence leads to his self-confidence, which leads to his engaging in new opportunities to develop more skills and more confidence. It becomes a virtuous cycle of success. Boys develop initiative, self-discipline, and organizational skills. They learn how to study regularly and effectively because of the structure of nightly study hours. A large number of teachers live on campus and are available for extra help as needed. 

New Ideas, People, and Points of View

A boarding student at McCallie lives with boys from other states, countries, cultures, and interests. He learns to be curious about people’s backgrounds and preferences. Living with students from different places creates opportunities to understand that people have different perspectives based on their life history, experiences, and cultural mindsets. Diverse perspectives inform the dialogue in the dorm, in the classroom, and in the dining hall. Having a roommate, often for the first time, puts a young man in the position of having to advocate for himself. He learns what is important to him and how to negotiate for what he wants and needs in his living environment. He learns what he can tolerate, and, perhaps, he learns to be a bit more tolerant. 

Students have dinner in their dorm advisor's apartment

 Dorm parents are essential members of residential life create a comfortable atmosphere for boys, giving them a home-away-from-home experience.

Dorm faculty work to create a strong sense of community in the dorms. They open their apartments and share their families with boarding students. They bake cakes and cookies, celebrate birthdays and accomplishments, and overall cultivate a positive home-away-from-home atmosphere. Boys live, study, and socialize together and compete as dorm teams in intramural competitions throughout the school year. They propel each other to develop the habits of engagement and involvement. They are surrounded by positive relationships among their peer group, advisors, teachers, dorm parents and families, day students and their families, coaches, learning specialists, counselors, staff, and residential assistants.


Recasting Parental Relationships

It seems counterintuitive that leaving home to become a boarding student can make a boy feel closer to and more grateful for home. But, time after time, both students and their parents report a “reset” of their relationship once their son begins to board. When the mother-son relationship is freed from chore reminders, homework battles, and daily stresses of family life, mom and son have the space to acknowledge and appreciate each other anew. All of the points of friction between parent and teenager are absorbed by McCallie dorm and teaching faculty. Parents can focus on supporting and loving their son, witnessing and complementing his growth. McCallie’s boarding program and faculty provide the catalyst for their son to take definitive steps in the practicalities of manhood. It is a partnership between parents and school that is grounded in shared values, expertise, and the success of their son. It is the parents’ letting go that sparks stronger ties than ever – ties that bond, not bind.

“Boarding was a great experience for our son but it was not something easy for me. At 16, he decided to attend McCallie and board. I thought no, I need you here because I am your mom. When I saw the wonderful facilities, met the teachers and everyone else at McCallie who was so friendly, I got it. I understood what he saw and, for the first time, what he needed. I knew that this was his moment.” – Mother of McCallie Boarding Graduate '18

Boarding school is a terrific solution for many particular family situations. Often both parents work and have difficulty managing the logistics of multiple children’s activities and social lives. Other family configurations make it necessary in a boy’s teenage years to secure high-quality and consistent male influences and role models. A boy’s friend group takes on great importance in his teenage years. He wants to be accepted and have a sense of belonging and connection. Parents can find some peace of mind in the fact that success at boarding school takes a certain aptitude and resilience so that boarding students organically become a positively-filtered set who are motivated academically and desire to develop their character as well – a trustworthy friend group. A boy and his family might opt for a boarding experience to take advantage of a greater number of academic course choices, varied after school opportunities, or an intensive athletic training regimen in addition to the life-skills development that living away from home provides. Boarding is a full experience that has a one-stop benefit that de-complicates and de-pressurizes many families’ lives.

Dorm Head Adam Tolar holds a meeting with his advisees on the porch of Burns Dorm

Boarders hear an inspirational and often informational talk from their dorm head right before Fourth Meal, an extra meal at the end of the day to fuel hungry boys.

Transformative Experience

The boarding experience at McCallie is truly a transformative and multidimensional experience. It has been so since McCallie’s founding in 1905 as boarders were among McCallie’s first students. In addition to growing academically, boys who board have the opportunity to manage their affairs, handle conflict and consequences in a productive manner, and build positive relationships with their peers and their teachers. They live in a supportive environment with involved adults who challenge them to be their best selves. The investment and partnership of McCallie teachers, advisors, coaches, and dorm parents truly set these young men on a trajectory of success. They develop a deep sense of confidence in their abilities and readiness to transition to and thrive in college and beyond. And, their success in boarding gives their parents confidence and comfort in their skills, attitude, and overall maturity as well.



Helping Boys RISE

The acronym “RISE”  stands for Responding Intentionally, Seeking Excellence.

RISE is an inspiring program designed to help boys learn better ways to get a great start to their day. Meeting three days each school week, RISE helps boys habituate discipline, the drive for excellence, self-responsibility, and self-management – all foundational values and mindsets that help them take a big step toward successful manhood. The program focuses on helping boys develop the habits of getting up on time, being well-groomed and equipped with everything they need for their day, eating a good breakfast, previewing their daily agenda, and being with other boys in the spirit of camaraderie and support. Boys learn that excellence is never accidental and that success does not pursue the seeker. Guest speakers who share their stories underscore the point that excellence and success require setting an intention, making goals, and achieving incremental progress each day toward fulfilling those goals. Boys also learn that the road to their futures is not a lonely path but a journey with many partners, mentors, guides, and fellow travelers, that they can help each other achieve success together by encouraging each other every day. At the end of the time, boys RISE ready to meet their days.

See RISE in action here.