Making the Dorm a Boy’s Home-Away-From-Home
From the moment a boy sets foot into his dorm room at the beginning of the school year, the dorm head is challenged to make the boy feel at home and to reassure parents that their sons will be well cared for. As a parent with a daughter in college, I understand the fear associated with dropping a child off to live under the care of a stranger. My goal as a head dorm parent is to create an environment where the boys will thrive; academically, emotionally, and socially.
In order for a boy to feel secure and to advance in a boarding school setting, there are four essential cornerstones of dorm life set into place:
In my eight years as a head dormitory parent, I have learned that while most adolescent boys don't realize it, they actually flourish in more structured environments. We strategically establish the following structure in our dorms: standards for hygiene and room organization; study hall conditions (phone placed in the hall→door open→lights on→sitting at the desk); and morning wake up/evening lights out. Altogether, this framework of accountability contributes to a daily routine that has proven to be successful here at the CT boarding school for boys Avon Old Farms, into their college years, and out into the workforce.
Oftentimes, students will complain about the rigidity of the schedule or the rules designed to minimize distractions during study hall. What they don't realize (yet) is that the good habits we're training them to develop will translate to better academic results here and beyond. Countless alumni have claimed that organizing their time in college was easy based on the lessons they learned in our dorms. They watch their roommates struggle with time management, and look back on their time in study hall and see it for the beneficial program that it was/is.
Each year, around 115 new boarding students join the Avon Old Farms private high school community. For many of those boys, this is their first experience away from home in a residential setting. They bring a variety of emotional responses: excitement, a sense of independence, fear, and homesickness. We structure our residential life program to fully incorporate each boy—new or returning—into the shared experience of cohabitation from day one.
We intentionally build the infrastructure for connection into everyday life. For example, the Big Brother mentor program pairs new boys with returning students so that incoming students have a guaranteed opportunity to network with boys who can empathize with what it was like to be in a new place away from home. Additionally, student monitors, upperclassmen, and leaders in the dorms come alongside new students to support their emotional wellbeing and an overall sense of Brotherhood on campus. A key aspect of student success is their relationship with their advisor; therefore, the role between student and advisor is given the space and devoted time it needs to grow into a nurturing and rewarding relationship.
Each boy who attends the New England prep school Avon Old Farms is different; however, there are many similarities between them as well. It's imperative that we get to know each boy from the start of his time here in order to best assist him in his journey into adulthood. Daily interactions with the boys in the dorm and on campus allow the faculty to gain a better understanding of the boys' personalities.
While on dorm duty I make it a point to stop into each room to check in with each boy individually. I'll ask him about his day, sports, homework, social lives, interests, etc.—and then listen—because knowing the whole boy better equips me to guide and mentor him. Attention to every detail provides insight into why a boy is struggling in any area of his life; we understand that if he is experiencing trouble with a relationship, it can lead to a downward trend in academics, stress in the athletic arena, and can easily be carried over to the overarching social pulse in the school. Fortunately, the daily interactions that dorm parents have with the boys cue us into how we can bolster the emotional well-being of each student as he navigates life in a boarding school.
In his dorm, a student will interact with around five different faculty members on the dorm team: each faculty member is there to ensure that the boy will feel supported and equipped to succeed. Even beyond my assigned dorm duties, I like to go around the dorm in the evening to speak with each boy; ask him about his day, and to say goodnight—especially at the beginning of the year. This helps me to learn the boys’ names, and to get to know them. It also shows them that there is an adult presence, someone who cares about them and helps to keep them on the straight and narrow. A boy's sense of confidence can propel him to achieve more in his classes and try new things, such as one of the many clubs on campus or a community outreach event ... knowing he has the solid backbone of adult guidance will help him to feel even more secure in who he is and therefore expand more in the process.
For boarding students, the dormitory is their home away from home. Creating a safe environment where a boy will thrive is an awesome responsibility for a head dorm parent—a trust that we take seriously and intentionally at Avon Old Farms School. From the first day students arrive until the day they cross the stage at commencement, boys need to feel that they belong and that they are a part of the community. After years of living at a boarding school that provides structure, compassion, attention, and the consistent presence of adults, we know the boys are heading out into their next life stage equipped and ready to face new challenges head on.
About the Author
Director of Community Service, Spanish Teacher, Assistant Director of Summer Programs