Dorm Plans Take Shape for Fall 2015

In the many weeks that have passed since my announcement, I’ve been heartened to see our kids begin to adjust to and even rally around this dorm configuration project. They’ve invested in it, kept an open mind and offered their ideas.  I’ve met with advisory groups for each grade now, and many students have stopped by for more informal conversations during my Wednesday afternoon “dorm configuration” office hours.  All of this feedback and guidance have been invaluable.  I’m pleased now to offer you an update on our progress, much of which has been informed by your children!

Revised Dorm Map Spring 2015

On February 4th, I shared the new dorm layout with students at school meeting, and you’ll find highlights here in The Link Newsletter. We’ve arranged the dorms in this particular way to balance the following important priorities:

  • Mirrors and quads:  As you’ve known since the first introduction of this initiative, girls and boys dorms will mirror one another with a quad in between to foster connections within each grade.
  • Exposure/opportunities across grades:  Connections within each class are a clear goal, and we want to ensure that students are meeting and building relationships with members of other classes, too. Interspersing dorms for older and younger students across the full campus will allow boys and girls to meet up with one another, even as a simple outgrowth of their daily routines.
  • 9th/10th grade connections:  Many students lamented the loss of connections between 9th graders and sophomores.  Those are important mentoring relationships. By housing many 9th graders and sophomores in adjacent dorms, we know these connections will continue. We’re also considering the creating of “mentor halls”, whereby 9th grade and 10th grade halls would be paired. Students have also requested that social events and activities take place in the Johnson/Doubleday/John Louis/Louis Marx quad.
  • Variety:  Wherever possible, we’d like to offer each cohort a variety of options: old and new, large and small, across all parts of campus.
  • Junior/Senior boy doubles:  Rising older boys were upset to lose the doubles and triples Johnson and Doubleday offered.  In this new arrangement, we sought to offer as many as we could to that cohort.
  • Equal distribution of open common rooms across campus and cohorts:  Open common rooms provide perfect opportunities for boys and girls to spend time together casually and comfortably.  All grades should benefit from their presence.
  • “Flips”:  The process of switching dorms from one gender or grade to another from one school- year to the next is, by nature, discombobulating, but we want to avoid any unnecessary disruption. Our plan has only two dorms flipping gender (i.e., Bewkes, Johnson, Scaife), while quite a few dorms will be flipping between upper grades (junior/senior) and lower (9th/sophomore).
  • Enrollment targets:  We are not changing the size of the school or of any grade. These dorm changes are merely the reassignment of cohorts to existing dorms on campus in a coherent effort to build community within and among grades on campus.

This new arrangement is our best effort to balance all of those important priorities. Here is a link to the campus dorm map for reference:

  • 9th grade girls: Johnson
  • 9th grade boys: Doubleday
  • Sophomore girls: Harold Smith, John Louis, Mather
  • Sophomore boys:  John Williams, Louis Marx, Scaife
  • Junior/senior girls: McAlister, Pocumtuck, Rosenwald/Shumway
  • Junior/senior boys:  Barton, Bewkes, Dewey, DeNunzio, Field, New Dorm

When the new layout was released just before Long Winter Weekend, there were again supporters and detractors. That’s to be expected throughout the course of this project. The feedback I got from older boys and younger students was favorable. Older girls, however, were upset not to have a new-ish dorm. I reached out to that group specifically and explained the many benefits this arrangement could offer them, namely that large dorms can offer the best opportunity to sustain existing relationships while also offering the prospect of new connections.

Ultimately, I have found the most important factor in this process (and almost all facets of my work in the Deans Office!) is maintaining consistent, effective two-way communication with students. In several cases, the individual exchanges I’ve had with them have spurred them to engage more deeply with specific components of this initiative: Five students have begun to work on changes and new wording for our parietals policy; Others are collaborating with me to increase the number of open common rooms on campus; A rising junior girl has prompted an adjustment to our housing form. When that process gets underway in May, students will be able to list those of the opposite gender near whom they’d like to live.  Previous years’ forms have not offered this explicitly.  A few rising juniors suggested that students be permitted to sign up with two housing partners rather than one.  We recently approved that request for all students.

Distilling feedback from the broader advisory committees, I recently submitted a “wish list” to Mr. Chuck Williams, Director of our Physical Plant. It included new furniture in common rooms, new kitchen spaces, swings, Adirondack chairs in quads, fire pits, stick ball backboards, lawn Jenga and lawn chess.  We’re even considering the removal of some sidewalks so that students have open, grassy areas for downtime and play.  In those spaces, we envision class feeds and brother/sister dorm activities. I’ve asked those student advisory committees to weigh in on Connect4, our residential curriculum, as well. We ‘d like to update the program with a more informal, organic style.

Though students won’t return to the new dorm layout until next fall, important parts of the process will begin this spring: The Admission Office has worked dutifully and enthusiastically this winter to bring great kids to campus next year, and those prospective Deerfield boys and girls will hear about the initiative on their Revisit Days. All future 9th graders will submit roommate questionnaires, the first of their kind for Deerfield! In April, the proctor selection process gets underway. Candidates were asked to note a preference for living with 9th graders or sophomores. Once named, those proctors and other named leaders will engage in leadership training sessions, some of which will be dedicated to the new dorm layout. I’m working closely now with the Dean of Faculty to ensure that residents are paired thoughtfully with their cohorts. As you know from the experiences of your own children, faculty residents are an integral part of life on each hall. On May 11th, 12th and 13th, students will pick tiles in their housing “draw”. As that date approaches, I’ll be sure to share details of the full process with you.

It’s an exciting time here on campus, and I know the spring will bring with it new energy and enthusiasm! I’m even looking forward to the start of our next school year. New students will arrive to take their places in our new and invigorated residential configuration, and, as returners walk campus, they will notice right away that their ideas and contributions have become a reality!

Next Campus Renovations Priorities: Boyden Library and Athletics | Capital on Tour

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