Roots and Wings
Beyond the Books
On a rainy autumn evening in October, the freshman and sophomore girls of Scaife Dormitory gather in their common room for their second Connect4 session. Dressed in pajamas, drinking glasses of milk, and munching on animal crackers and pretzels, the girls are comfortable and “at home.” There is a buzz in the air, and not because study hall hour is over—it is rumored there will be skits. Senior proctors Malou Flato and Louisa Schieffelin, accompanied by faculty Residential Head Becca Melvoin, kick off the group discussion by asking every student to share a high and low point from the last few weeks. And then, the role playing begins. Malou and Ms. Melvoin act as two students gossiping about another student down the hall, who overhears their hurtful conversation. “And cut!” Malou says, with a director’s flair. “What was wrong with that, and how could we have handled it differently?” Hands shoot up around the room. This is Connect4 in action.
Talking about a strong moral compass is a lot different from actually having one, which is why Deerfield created a program to deliberately help students live their values. On the surface the dorm activities might appear to be “just” fun and games, but the discussions and activities actually help to cultivate self-awareness, collaboration, and empathy—critical skills in the fast-paced, global culture Deerfield students are faced with every day. Connect4 also helps students cope with the challenges of high school; led by senior proctors, Connect4 provides a venue for both the philosophical and the temporal, such as expressing shared values among the student body, or simply answering questions for those shy underclassmen. Just as students hone their math and writing skills in the classroom, the Connect4 program helps students hone their core values, ethics, and beliefs in the dorm room.
“It can be something as innocuous as a student dropping a candy bar wrapper on the grass, or something as serious as another student harassing somebody,” Residential Head Mike Schloat said. “The students have a choice between just accepting that that’s ‘the way it is,’ or actively taking control of the culture that they’re a part of. Connect4 equips our kids with tools for responding to those difficult moments.”
Assistant Dean of Students Amie Creagh, who developed the program, adds that Connect4 prompts kids to reflect on and practice ethical behavior in a thoughtful way.
“To me, character education is doing your ‘should,’ and that you have a sense of what your ‘should’ is in any given circumstance, and then actually follow through,” Creagh said. “But unless you’ve practiced it, it’s difficult to do. Connect4 is being proactive about how to practice your ‘should’ with any number of high school experiences.”
- Connect4 dorm activities are not “just” fun and games; they instill in students important values.
Connect4 features themes that guide its programming; this year ninth and tenth graders are focusing on “connection.” As the program expands next year to encompass upperclassmen, the themes will also expand to include “identity,” “leadership,” and “legacy.” The themes are geared toward students’ developmental progress and class level/year. For instance, with freshmen and sophomores Connect4 develops students’ sense of self and sense of place; in a student’s junior and senior years, Connect4 hones leadership skills.
“It’s easy to say, ‘I’m a senior, I’m a leader,’” Creagh explained. “But then students need to know what that means and how to practice it. It’s about how they want to be remembered.”
One tenet central to each theme is the idea of foresight—allowing kids to have some breathing room in their busy schedules to think about who they are as people. “We don’t often have the opportunity to look ahead,” Creagh said. “When we look ahead, we think, ‘College.’ We want kids to look ahead and think, ‘What am I going to do in these four years at Deerfield? What is going to be important?’”