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A sign for Girls Preparatory School is seen on Wednesday, May 15, 2019, in Chattanooga, Tenn.

Girls Preparatory School might soon join the ranks of Baylor School and McCallie School in offering residential options for students.

The school recently sent a survey to its alumnae and parents seeking feedback on a possible residential program. Founded in 1906, of Chattanooga's three legacy private schools, GPS has never had boarders.

If the school launches a residential program, it will consist of a small cohort of 15-25 girls who would live on campus with house parents in a "thoughtfully designed home-like experience," according to an email signed by Head of School Autumn Graves and Board of Trustees Chair Holly Lynch Harwell to alumnae.

"GPS is exploring the potential for a small residential program with the primary purpose of serving GPS alums who live outside of our area. For many years GPS alumnae have expressed interest in this type of program for their daughters; therefore, we are further vetting their interest through a survey," said Bilda Small, director of strategic communications and marketing for the school, in a statement.

"No final decision has been made, and more analysis is needed. We want to ensure any new program we consider will benefit our students while aligning with the mission and vision of GPS."

During previous Head of School Randy Tucker's tenure from 1987-2013, the school's board briefly considered the benefits of starting an Upper School residential program. It is again in consideration under the board's current 2017-2022 strategic plan.

The influx of students, both domestic and international, would result in a "richer learning experience," according to the email. "It would also increase the reach of their personal networks, opening up more opportunities for future career growth and making the GPS sisterhood stronger and more geographically diverse."

Small added that the school believes its approach to preparing girls for college has increased value.

"We want to extend the reach of GPS's strong liberal arts program specifically designed for girls. A residential program may be the way to serve a wider breadth of young women," she added.

International students are an increasing population at many private schools across the country. Of McCallie's 248 boarding students in grades 9-12, 18% are international students, said Jay Mayfield, director of marketing and communications at McCallie.

Those students represent nine countries: the Bahamas, China, Finland, Jamaica, Mexico, New Zealand, Saudi Arabia, South Africa and Vietnam.

Overall, boarding students make up 37% of the population, but plans are underway to expand one of the school's dormitories — Hutcheson Hall — and increase the boarding population to 50% of students, Mayfield said.

Since McCallie is an all-boys school, a residential program at GPS would not add competition for it, but a program at GPS could affect enrollment at Baylor.

At Baylor, 200 students of the 1,080 currently enrolled are boarders — 95 girls and 105 boys. Most are domestic students, but 30.5% are international students.

For the 2019-2020 school year, Baylor's boarding students will pay $51,810 compared to $54,490 per year at McCallie (or $58,590 for international students).

Several faculty members also live on campus at Baylor and McCallie.

"The adults who live on campus with their families are a huge part of a successful boarding program," said Barbara Kennedy, director of external affairs at Baylor.

There are only four boarding schools in Tennessee, according to The Association of Boarding Schools: Baylor School, McCallie School, St. Andrew's-Sewanee School and The Webb School.

According to the email, the school will hold a series of workshops with alumnae and their daughters to further discuss a residential program after survey results are collected.

Contact staff writer Meghan Mangrum at mmangrum@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6592. Follow her on Twitter @memangrum.

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