Holly and Sara Marquardt are like most high school students. Except they attend school in Wisconsin, and their parents live in Lodi.
"They receive a wonderful Christian education there and have excelled academically and in extracurriculars," said their father, Guy Marquardt. He is pastor of Christ Lutheran Evangelical Church in Lodi.
The interest in boarding schools has grown with icon Oprah Winfrey opening her own in Africa five years ago. It graduated its first class last month. But boarding schools have been around for hundreds of years, with roots in Europe.
In America, there are military and religious-affiliated boarding schools, boarding schools for troubled teens and those that focus on one subject such as the arts.
"By sending our kids away to school, we've learned as parents to give our kids the benefit of the doubt when it comes to making choices for themselves," Marquardt said. "We still offer advice and encouragement, but we can't have the same level of interference in their lives that we might have had otherwise."
Home away from home
The Marquardt girls are not the first of their family to attend Luther Preparatory School, a private Lutheran high school in Wisconsin. It is a boarding school operated by Christ Lutheran Evangelical Churches and the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod for young people considering a career in preaching or teaching ministries.
David Marquardt graduated from Luther Prep and now attends Martin Luther College in Minnesota, where he is studying to be a pastor like his father. The transition from high school to college was nearly non-existent, since he attended boarding school all four years of high school.
"Living in a dorm felt normal by the time I got to college, so I didn't have to make that adjustment at a time that might have been a little more stressful than the beginning of high school," he said.
If he had not attended Luther Preparatory, the younger Marquardt would have gone to school in Brazil, where his family was living at the time. If he had attended high school in Lodi, his parents would know all of his friends and see him interact with peers his own age, he pointed out.
"As it is, they don't really know too many of the people that I talk to on a regular basis. That is one of the biggest drawbacks to attending boarding school," David Marquardt said. "It would have been nice if my parents could have been there to see me grow in my relationships with others as well."
The children come home for summer, spring break and Christmas, but typically spend Thanksgiving and other long weekends with extended family in Wisconsin.
Since Guy Marquardt has been called to serve places far from family, one of the reasons he and his wife, Linda, decided to send their children to Luther Preparatory was that their children would be able to spend much more time with their grandparents, uncles, aunts and cousins, he said.
Still, he said it's hard to be away from them for so long.
"I've heard parents say they can't wait for summer break to be over so because their kids were driving them crazy. But every minute we have with our kids is precious, and we try to make the most of the time we have together," he said.
Using an iPod Touch with a built-in camera allows the girls to talk to their parents every weekend. They also snap pictures of their rooms and friends to share.
After attending his freshman year at Lodi High, Stefan Fuller transferred to St. Michael's University School in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada. Attendance there is a family tradition; Fuller's mother, Carolyn, had relatives attend the boarding school.
"He is a very bright young man," said Robert Fuller, Stefan's dad. "I miss my son in a huge way, but he really wanted to go. For me, growing up in Lodi and being a blue collar kind of a guy, seeing my own son with his navy blazer with a crest and wool slacks seems weird. We love him, and he seems truly happy up there."
Like the Marquardts, the Fullers use technology to keep in touch. "We text him nearly daily, Skype him weekly, and then he comes home on all the major holidays," Robert Fuller said.
Dorms, uniforms and spit-shined oxfords
There was no such technology in 1962 when Shara Guerrette headed off to an all-girls boarding school in Portland, Maine, as a self-described "very immature 14-year-old."
She was living in her hometown of Caribou, Maine, when she wanted to follow in her aunt's footsteps and attend the school — 300 miles away.
"Mostly, I needed to get away from an unhappy home situation," said Guerrette, who now lives in Lodi. "But then you go through one bad situation and experience another, and wonder which is worse."
Guerrette went from having her own room at home to living in a dormitory with approximately 10 other girls, with only a curtain surrounding her bed and dresser for privacy.
"My boarding school experience entailed uniforms, spit-shined brown oxfords, schoolmates with unusual, often non-traditional home lives, and strict rules enforced without mercy from the nuns," Guerrette said, adding that her boarding school experience was only three months long.
"I would constantly get into trouble for reading with a flashlight under the covers at night after the lights went out," she said.
She said it was not a good experience, but helped her grow up and meet those different than herself.
"I had led a sheltered life up until that point, so it was good for me," she said.
Although she has no children, Guerrette said she probably would have been against them attending a board school because she feels in-home parental influence is important.
Lodi musician Bart Vogel, who attended Monterey Bay Academy as a high school student in the mid-1970s, had a good boarding school experience. But when it came time for his children to go to high school, he and his wife at the time wanted a different education opportunity. In fact, they moved to Lodi to enroll them in Lodi Academy, as it is one of the few non-boarding Seventh-day Adventist high schools.
"Boarding school doesn't really reflect reality," Vogel said, adding that he wanted his children nearby.
"The way we raise healthy kids is letting them make decisions in the real world," he said. "We need to raise our kids. It's your responsibility if you're going to have them."
His children are now in their 20s and working toward their careers.
There are two co-ed boarding high schools in Northern California affiliated with the Seventh-day Adventist Church. In addition to Monterey Bay Academy, Rio Lindo Adventist Academy in Healdsburg also serves boarding and day students.
Lisa and Jon Marxmiller of Lockeford are a senior and freshman, respectively, at Rio Lindo. Their dad, Jeff Marxmiller, said it is working out well.
"It tends to give them more independence within a controlled situation," he said. "There are limitations as it is a rather conservative school."
Lisa, 18, plays volleyball and basketball and is being recruited by half a dozen colleges. She might decide to attend San Joaquin Delta College this fall to earn a nursing degree, but she'll start out at home for at least the first semester.
His son is also on the school's basketball and soccer teams. Jeff and their mother, Connie, make the 3 1/2 hour drive to their games and music recitals as often as possible, usually more than once a month.
In the meantime, Jeff Marxmiller keeps tabs on their academics by accessing the siblings' grades online twice a week. "There's still accountability. You have to do that whether they're at home with you or away at school," he said.
The best part of the boarding school is that it teaches his children adult responsibilities at a young age, the father added.
"They're responsible to get themselves to class on time. They have to keep their grades up to stay on their teams," he said.
'The sacrifice is worth it'
Boarding school is not cheap. To live on the campus of Monte Vista Christian School in the Bay Area, for example, costs about $36,000 per year.
Guy Marquardt admits it's a financial struggle, but like any family who values something, they make sacrifices. They receive financial aid from the school and assistance from relatives and congregation members because it's a way to support young people who are preparing for the ministry.
"Last year we almost decided we couldn't do it anymore, with our oldest starting college, but then he received nearly a full scholarship for his good grades and leadership," Guy Marquardt said.
The Marxmillers also make a lot of sacrifices, Jeff Marxmiller said, adding that his wife attended boarding high school at a religious institution in Montana and her parents, too, pinched pennies.
"This is a high priority in my wife and my eyes. We have older cars. We don't wear the nicest clothes, but our kids are going to a good school," he said. "As our kids get older, they'll realize the preparation they got for college."
Stefan Fuller's extended family helps foot the bill — but it's worth it, his father said.
"Having him get one of the best education offerings in the world and being exposed to so many cultures makes the sacrifice worth it," Robert Fuller said.
Contact reporter Jennifer Bonnett at firstname.lastname@example.org.