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The Privileges of Living on Campus

It is probably true that anyone who is attended any of my workshops or coaching sessions knows the story of my daughter crying on the way out of a grocery store during our first few months after departing full-time on-campus boarding school life. When we made the radical shift to leave campus behind and move home to the Cape, we knew that we were forfeiting some tremendous parenting privileges. I saw it firsthand when our extroverted 3-year-old said “Hi, big kid” to every teenager we crossed paths with at the grocery store. A few smiled meekly. Maybe one said hello. But certainly, none greeted her with an enthusiastic smile and a “hey, Finny!” She had become accustomed to being known around town.

Well, when your town is about 50 adults and 200 kids, it's pretty easy to be known. Out here in the real world, she quickly came to learn that most teenagers were not going to speak to her by name, sneak her a cookie before dinner, or enthusiastically join a spontaneous foot race across the campus quad. This came as a great surprise.

The fact is, living on a boarding school campus, whether as a student, adult, or faculty kid, is an incredible and unique privilege. That is not to say there are no drawbacks, but I might argue the privileges outweigh the frustrations. Dog walkers on hand for free? You bet. A colleague hustling across campus at the start of a free period to take over for you at home while your sick infant sleeps so that you can get to an essential meeting? Absolutely.

As a faculty member, I have lived on three different campuses and, even though the schools themselves were vastly different from one another, some similarities border on a universal truth: when a fire alarm rings, a minimum of three teachers and administrators who were not on duty will show up to check it out. We don't have to be on duty to care about what's going on. Maybe that doesn't seem like much but it always brought me a tremendous sense of peace knowing that I lived in neighborhoods where my neighbors cared genuinely about my well-being and the well-being of those around me.

On campus, you will come to know other people's pets, children, spouses, and even visiting parents and friends better than any neighbors you've ever had. For better or for worse, people's personal habits, likes and dislikes, parenting styles, and so on are, in many ways, community knowledge. While this can at times be frustrating, to be in a place where the people you work with are also the people with whom you share a neighborhood means being known and knowing others well beyond polite formalities.

In the best boarding school cultures, this translates to a place of compassion, empathy, and understanding. When I think of the privileges of living and working in boarding schools, I don't think so much about the housing, the free food, the incredible landscaping, or the free gym. Those are perks. (Okay, some of those are taxable benefits too!)

But when I think about privilege, I think about community. I think about people - the students, administrators, educators, faculty, and beyond. I think a neighborhood that pulls together to support a family while a child is undergoing a medical crisis. I think about colleagues who will help without being asked and neighbors who will check in on you without needing a reason. And, of course, I think about an intentionally diverse community of adolescents who, for the most part, you know and trust so deeply that you can hand your toddler off to them in the dining hall so she can learn to eat her broccoli from her favorite hockey girls instead of from mom or dad.


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