DA’s Residential Experience Gets Even Better with “Connect4”

By Tina Moghadam, P’ 14; San Francisco, CA
Building on the foundation of dorm life at Deerfield, this fall the Dean of Student’s Office is inaugurating Connect4, a residential curriculum program for 9th and 10th graders. This program, which will expand to include juniors and seniors next year, will “take advantage of the more intimate, familial atmosphere in the dorms to interact with students and impart critical life skills” according to Head of School, Dr. Margarita Curtis.

The board, faculty and administration all recognize that “very important learning takes place outside the classroom” says Board Member Diana Strandberg, and Deerfield wants to be more intentional with respect to that learning experience.

The corridor-based program will consist of monthly gatherings where students, proctors and resident faculty take time to come together to explore topics related to a yearly theme. “Connection” is the theme for the upcoming year, and students will investigate issues regarding how they fit into the school community. “I don’t see this as a ‘kum bay ya’ experience,” says Dean Toby Emerson, “but as a way for students to learn about themselves and develop empathy for one another.” Dr. Curtis emphasizes that, “in our closely interconnected world, where contact with difference is no longer a matter of choice, but a matter of fact, it is critical to teach our students to interact meaningfully with people of different backgrounds.”

Gatherings will be organized in conjunction with a “feed” or an activity, so that students see them, not as another commitment, but as a fun and fulfilling part of their Deerfield day. To facilitate Day student participation in the program, some sessions will be held earlier in the evening and Day students will be welcomed into the dorm for sleepovers on Connect4 nights.

Assistant Dean of Students, Amie Creagh, has devoted the last year to the development of Connect4. To come up with the structure and yearly themes for the program, surveys were sent out to all students and faculty. In addition, a residential curriculum committee (RCC) met ten or twelve times over the course of the year. The RCC was made up of a boy and a girl from each class; representatives from the teaching, coaching, and dorm faculty; and members of the Health Center’s counseling staff. “Counselors Stuart Bicknell and Sheila Fritz were invaluable as we considered adolescent development and the issues most salient to it” comments Creagh.

The themes that will follow “Connection” in future years will be “Identity” and then “Leadership” and “Legacy” for the junior and senior classes. Creagh notes that “it was important to us that Connect4 offer one single, unified theme for each year to make the curriculum coherent and resonant.” To achieve additional curricular consistency, English teacher Mike Schloat and History teacher Becca Melvoin will serve as Residential Heads for the 9th and 10th grade. In addition to supporting and training residential faculty and proctors, Schloat and Melvoin will run the initial meetings. By mid-year, Emerson says, corridor resident faculty and proctors will take over and run the program on their own. Proctors will also receive training during their orientation in September. Tim McVaugh from the Student Activities Office and Science and Health Issues teacher Kristin Loftus will serve as Residential Heads for the junior and senior classes next year when the program expands to include those grades.

Connect4 will ultimately provide a reliable and consistent structure for dialogue within and across the school community. Its impact, according to Dr. Curtis, will be “to enhance the quality of our conversations about our community values…and to sustain our strong community spirit.” As Strandberg points out, “one of the things that sets Deerfield apart is the concept of community, and we want to be building community 24/7.”

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