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Two boarding schools in same Pittsylvania County town share secrets to longevity

By Justin Ward, jward@wdbj7.com
Published On: Sep 17 2013 06:22:58 PM EDT
Updated On: Sep 17 2013 08:23:04 PM EDT

A small town in Pittsylvania County is holding true to an educational tradition that's been around for more than 100 years. It's uncommon for two boarding schools to be in one town, but as WDBJ7's Justin Ward explains, both are as popular now as ever.

PITTSYLVANIA CO., Va. -

If you've been in Chatham, the county seat of Pittsylvania County, then you know it's a small town.

But every year about 250 more people join its population. Students come to the town from around the world for an education, not at a college, but at one of two boarding schools.

"You really become bonded together through shared experiences," said Retired US Brigadier General Don Broome, president of Hargrave Military Academy, which sits on the west side of town.

It enrolls about 100 young men, grades seventh through 12th enforcing discipline and structure since 1909.

"It's really about the young man in both academic, athletic, the spiritual basis, as well as a strong character development program," Broome said.

The cadets are from all over the country, coming from both home and public schooling and go to college, though not all graduates seek a career in the military.

Less than a mile from Hargrave is another boarding school on the east side of town. This one is only for girls. It's Chatham Hall and was founded in 1894.

The students are from around the world and it's competitive to get in, which gives leaders reassurance boarding schools aren't a dying breed.

"You use their products daily, you see their paintings and their sculptures, I think that this is what I can become, this is the kind of powerful life as a female leader I can have, and I think that's kept us going," said Gary Fountain, president of Chatham Hall.

This makes Chatham unique. Two boarding schools for both sexes in small towns is common in the north, but not too common. Having a military centered boys school and an all girls school in one small town is virtually unheard of in Virginia.

The schools cost parents between 30 and 40 thousand dollars a year, but students say it's worth the money.

"I still remember seventh grade year, and at the time although there were hardships, being away from home at such a young age, it's still, there's nothing like Hargrave," said Sean Oliver, a senior at Hargrave.

Leaders at both schools say it's tradition, the quality of education and friendships that keep bringing students back, and has been for more than 100 years, in this small town.