Parent Newsletter from Franny Shuker-Haines
Dear Buxton Families,
Hello from Williamstown! I’m afraid my “weekly” parent newsletters are happening bi-weekly at best. I guess this is a testament to how engaging and immersive Buxton life can be: once the year begins, we are a fast train running!
We are already deep into classes and activities, there have been more soccer games than I can remember, and we have already had . . . . MOUNTAIN DAY!
This is an annual tradition. It is always run by seniors and it is always a secret until the day itself. Classes “start” (for about a minute!) and then the seniors run around yelling, “Mountain day,” and telling everyone to assemble for an all-school meeting. After the meeting, everyone packed a bag lunch, loaded up their water bottles, changed into appropriate footwear, and off they went! This year, midpoint was at the beautiful Petersburg Pass, where wild blueberries grow in abundance and the views are spectacular. The mood around Mountain Day this year was wonderful, and even kids who weren’t feeling well wanted to participate by driving up in a van to midpoint to help set up extra food and drinks and treats.
After everyone walked back to school, the seniors cooked an excellent dinner and then we all had shared in the first Open Mic of the year. This is an opportunity for anyone to perform anything: songs, spoken word, stand-up, you name it. Plenty of new kids performed, which is such a heartening and good sign about the year.
Speaking of the year so far, on the one hand we have only been here one short month; on the other, we have been here ONE WHOLE MONTH! We had our first all-school meeting last week, and a running theme of the kids’ comments was how great all the new students are and, maybe ironically, how quickly they have stopped seeming new. We’re at the point where we have all come to know each other pretty well, and kids are mixing and matching and re-mixing and remaking their friendship groups, their grade identities, and their sense of the school.
And that sense of cohesion is coming just in time for one of the signature features of Buxton: room change. We are the only boarding school that I know of that does this. (When I went to Concord Academy many moons ago, they also had room change and it was great. I was disappointed to learn that they have stopped doing it.) Room change is one of the best and smartest things Buxton does. To be honest, I don’t know if this practice was part of the school from the very beginning, but it’s been happening as long as anyone can remember. And whoever thought of it was brilliant!
To remind you: the students have four rooming setups over the course of the year. The first rooms of the year are determined by the faculty before the students get here. We try to make sure that each new student has at least one returning student in their room; and, if we can, we try to put every senior with at least one new student. We do not have a crystal ball, alas, but armed with what we do know about our new students, we try to make match-ups that will work. Sometimes we do that well; sometimes we don’t.
Which is why it is so wonderful that there is room change just a month-and-a-half into the school year! From this point on, students get to submit requests for rooms and roommates. We talk about room change with the kids ahead of time, encouraging students to branch out and reach out, to use rooming as yet another way of making connections, finding common ground, and making that spider-web of relationships that characterizes what’s best about Buxton.
We also ask kids to be flexible—a promise they sometimes find it very hard to keep! We try as hard as we can to honor everyone’s requests, but as you can imagine, sometimes we can’t make the math work: too many kids want doubles or triples; no one wants to be in the Gatehouse or everyone wants to be in the Gatehouse. But the girls’-dorm faculty and the boys’-dorm faculty sequester themselves after lunch on the Thursday before room change and do our best to do it right.
Side Note: There’s a funny—what’s the right word? tradition? habit? practice? Not sure, but I’m saying that this happens almost every time!—of the boys’-dorm faculty doing this very quickly and easily and the girls’-dorm faculty taking forever to get rooming figured out. I have only ever been with the (mostly) female faculty as we try to sort out who is rooming with whom and where, but you can’t imagine how careful and (overly?) sensitive we are during this process. We remember the tiniest details of who has lived with whom, who once had a touchy conversation about what, who has or hasn’t lived in which room, etc. I’m not sure the male faculty burden themselves with this level of minutiae, and I’m not sure our outcome is any better than theirs . . . but I can almost guarantee that it will be just as it always is come Thursday!
In any case, know that we are doing our best, and encourage your child to be inclusive and flexible in their rooming choices. And remind them, when you hear from a miffed teenager on Friday night that he did not get the room he wanted, that there will be another room change soon! In the meantime, our hope (and our lesson) is that kids will work to find common ground with everyone, that they will strive to appreciate even the roommate they didn’t expect, and that they will take advantage of a new perspective and a new challenge.
More soon. Enjoy these beautiful fall days!
All the best,