Friday, January 12, 2018

We were right; today's teens aren't completely screwed up...

There are days that coming into work are easy.

Today was one of those days.

Not only was I excited to see the progress that Richard Balzano, the newest member of our team was making in integrating himself into our unique little school, but I received an email which, frankly, made dealing with the normal frustrations of school life just a bit more bearable. 

As faithful readers of the school’s blog, you are well aware of the variety of way I try to describe what life is like up here on our little hill in rural Maine; sometime to great effect, other times not.

Today I am going to try something different - I am going to be quiet and let someone else speak for the School and me; for those of you who know me you know what a leap this really is!

All joking aside, I feel this email I received from Sam Paul (’17) does more to describe what we are than anything I can conjure up:

Dear Bar,

I hope you are well and that you had a good holiday break. It is hard to believe that it was just a year ago that I was just starting at Deck House.  A lot has happened.
So far I really like (name withheld) Academy. I was co-captain of the boy’s varsity soccer team this fall and selected to play in the (regional) All-star game at the end of the season. I was also selected to play in an elite club soccer team for this winter and spring. This term, I will be going to Chilé for a study abroad opportunity that I am very excited about. 
My classes are going well and I am interested in most of them. I worked hard this fall and got the grades I needed.
I applied ED to the school of my choice this fall and heard back from them this past week accepting me. I could not be happier and credit Deck House for my transformation after (previous school). I would not be here if it weren't for you and the Deck House staff. I decided to write my Common App essay on Deck House. I thought you might be interested in seeing it, and here it is: 

It was still early on a freezing January morning as my Mom and I headed up the unfamiliar Maine coast. We finally arrived at the mile-long twisting dirt driveway that leads to The Deck House School. I had never lived away from home, and I was most anxious about fitting in. I felt nearly sick with nervousness thinking about this peculiar school in the middle-of-nowhere Maine that I was being forced to attend.

Seven weeks earlier, I had withdrawn from (previous) School after being caught using marijuana. I was devastated and in shock as my parents made arrangements for me to finish my senior year at Deck House. I thought my life was over as I left behind years of friends, soccer, strong relationships I had with my teachers, my two dogs, and my family, all due to my irresponsible, unthinking decisions. I could not have guessed at the time the impact that Deck House would have on helping me clarify my values and develop my self awareness.  

With five dogs running around and only eight other guys my age, Deck House was not an ordinary boarding school. Its open, unstructured and interdependent family atmosphere emphasized its core values of honesty, respect, acceptance and accountability. Each of us was there for a second chance, and we each brought behavioral, disciplinary or academic issues. I was there to get my head on straight.

Quincy Browne and Sam Paul ('17) in one of our classrooms...
I didn’t buy into the culture at first. “This is stupid” I thought. “I don’t belong here.” It wasn’t until I saw the way the teachers interacted with the students with utmost care, respect, and patience that I started to turn my attitude around. I watched one day as Jason (my English teacher) worked patiently to calm Max down in his hyper-energetic stage to begin discussing the reading, even though they were already twenty minutes in. Again and again, I saw the staff display so much care as they reached out to each student, listening, quietly coaching and supporting us in our challenges and capabilities no matter how much time and tolerance it took.

Gradually I started to see how similar I was to the other boys.  We all felt vulnerable; we all shared a deep need to be heard, accepted, and believed in. I began to feel a degree of responsibility for the other students there and I realized they were starting to look up to me, ask my advice, and follow my lead. Stepping up to the chores of cleaning, cooking, laundry and homework was easy for me.  The choices I made were influencing others and so I became more thoughtful and responsible about my actions including managing my time independently, studying, owning up to my mistakes, and being tolerant and understanding of the others. I made time to build ski jumps with Max, play video games with Josh, and go on walks with Jimmy, but this was also how I could listen and be supportive of them. In those five months at Deck House I became much more aware of what I truly value and how that can guide my actions and decisions. I learned how transformational it can be to simply accept, listen, and believe in someone’s potential. I now try to bring this to relationships on the field, in the dorm or classroom. I learned independence and accountability, not just for my own but for the benefit of the community. I learned to appreciate the lessons in a rare second chance.

I know I still have more to do in defining my personal values and in living up to them consistently. I will probably face situations that test me to act according to my values. I will probably have experiences where I rethink or challenge them. However I feel confident that I am now making choices more thoughtfully and am holding myself accountable in the next stage of my education and my life.

Thank you for doing the good work that you do at Deck House and being a mentor to me when I was there. The belief that you and the faculty have in each student is what changes lives.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Exciting Changes at The Deck House School

The Deck House School is excited to announce the hiring of Richard Balzano as full-time English and History teacher.

After receiving his BA in History from Syracuse University (Utica College) in 2003, Richard worked as an outdoor educator and treatment coordinator at a residential academy for at-risk teenage boys in New York’s Adirondack Mountains. His role there included facilitating adventure based climbing and mountaineering opportunities, daily physical education and providing transitionary assistance for students and families. Additionally, Richard has been a NAPPI trainer for Washington County Mental Health Services of Vermont, while running the agency’s housing coordination office. Most recently, Richard worked for the State of Maine doing casework for long term care and children’s Katie Beckett programs and held a special education role at Margaret Murphy Schools in Maine before finding the Deck House School.

In addition to his duties as a full time teacher, Richard will also work with the students in the community service, life skills and co-curricular programs,

“I’m ecstatic for the opportunity to join the Deck House School! The powerful western views of the Sheepscot River and the serene mountaintop location are sincerely inspiring. Taking in the views, and seeing photos on the walls of past experiences and the transformation of the school over 38 years, my first impression was that I was joining not just a school, but a legacy. I'm excited to work with our students and our program to create exceptional experiences in this beautiful part of Maine!”

Richard is a professional comedian, a surfer, a skier, and an accomplished climber and mountaineer.

Located in Edgecomb, The Deck House School is a small residential secondary school for boys who have struggled in the academic mainstream. Students and staff work together to create a community that builds positive relationships and encourages social, emotional, and academic growth.

For more information about the School, visit the school’s website or call Bar Clarke, Headmaster at 207.808.0060

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Maybe today's teens aren't all that screwed up...

Recently I got sucked into one of those TV infomercials trying to sell music from the 50’s. I was amused as the overly botoxed hosts told me that this music defined a generation. Come on, defined a generation? This is the stuff my parents listened to; therefore it can’t be that good. Smug I agree, but that’s what was going through my mind. I mean really, how could Pat Boone and The Everly Brothers define a generation? 

After skimming through the channels some more, and almost buying a Mr. T Flavor Wave Oven (that’s a story for another day) I got to thinking; it’s hard for someone of my generation to believe, but yes, at one point Elvis was banned from television (well at least from the waist down) because of his pelvic gyrations and that there were many people who found him, Rock and Roll (when was Roll dropped anyway?) and this new concept of teenagers to be very scary stuff. Many adults of that time felt that this was going to be the downfall of America as they knew it, and that we as a society were doomed. Of course we all know we did make it through that time, and now we all look back at those concerns as, well, quaint really. 

When I hear adults these days talk about all teens today are disrespectful, or their music has no soul, or things were different when they were kids, I have a hard time. Today most teens in America are exhibiting their natural rebellion; just as their parents and generations before them did against their parents, and, just like our parents didn’t get us, we don’t get them. Rebellion is a normal, and I would argue necessary, aspect of growing up. Where I feel parents get into trouble is when they don’t counter this rebellion with natural consequences, and as a result I feel many parents find themselves in a position where they can’t differentiate between normal behavior and accepted behavior.

One of the things we work very hard at here at The Deck House School is the idea of natural consequences.  We don't have a thick rule book, and we don't have a list of "do's and don'ts"  - instead we have a community.  A community which embraces, adapts and learns from itself.  Yes the way we do it is a bit messier, but we feel strongly that our methods, developed by our founder  Ned Hall over 38 years ago, are still relevant and appropriate today.  
Admittedly,  the issues facing families today are different than generations before, yes. But I’d argue that is true of every generation, and we’re doing our teens today a disservice if we either underplay or overplay these events or factors and don’t do our job as parents, stewards and guardians of the next generation of adults. Just remember these famous words said recently, 

The children now love luxury; they have bad manners, contempt forauthority; they show disrespect for elders and love chatter in placeof exercise Children are now tyrants, not the servants of theirhouseholds. They no longer rise when elders enter the room. Theycontradict their parents, chatter before company, gobble up daintiesat the table, cross their legs, and tyrannize their teachers."

Ok, not that recently, as those words are attributed to the Greek philosopher Socrates, but you get the idea. This issue of how to handle or deal with adolescents has perplexed adults for literally thousands of years, and will continue for thousands more. Someday our children will look back on the good old days of the 10’s as fondly as other generations look back on the 50’s 70 or the 80’s and wonder what’s wrong with their children. Until then, however, it is our job to guide them, educate them, discipline them and love them until they're old enough to actually have that epiphany. 

Thursday, January 26, 2017

The Deck House School; controlled chaos...

I know, it looks like chaos.

On Wednesdays we have vehicles full of students heading on and off the hill at all hours.  More so than usual, there is a constant flow of boys and vehicles headed up and down the hill. At lunch the kitchen, which usually has a hive of hungry boys circling for food, is quiet.  Additionally, the classrooms are quiet; now that I think about it, the whole school is quiet. Pleasantly, the only thing interrupting the silence is the occasional dog barking as another car comes back from its trip off the hill.  It’s not a normal day, but it’s a good one for us.

You see, one of the many things I love about The Deck House is its flexibility.  Now for those of you who knew Ned you know that flexibility may not have been exactly his strong suit, but as someone who worked with him I can tell you he was indeed very flexible when it came to offering his boys more things to do.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m pretty sure that Ned is rolling is his grave with the way we have our Wednesdays structured, but I’m sure that once I was able to get the literal fireworks to stop coming out of his pipe, I could get him to see the wisdom of our ways.

Wednesdays are an opportunity for our students to focus more directly on our community service and co-curricular programs.  Community service is a hallmark of the School, dating back to the early 1980’s when we started helping set up and break down the tables at the local Red Cross Blood Drive (which we still do, by the way, and they may be serving the same cookies!) Similarly, Co-curricular programming has been a part of the school for decades, dating back to since the mid 1990’s.  We feel very strongly that these programs help us educating the entire student.  Knowing that many of the lessons taught at Deck House have nothing to do with the classroom, we have expanded these programs to help foster a sense community; community here on the hill, on the peninsula and, hopefully, beyond.

On any given Wednesday we have students preparing and serving food at the Bath Area Kitchen Table, additionally our guys spend time at the Boothbay Community Center assisting locals with computer and other tech issues.  In the spring we may have the boys help locals with spring cleaning of their yards, or head off to Morris Farm for light grounds keeping help.  These are not one off visits, these are weekly commitments we make to these non-profits, which not only help the other organizations, they also help our young men understand the symbiotic nature of relationships.

Additionally, in our co-curricular program we are doing work with Bigelow, learning Tai Chi, playing piano, developing computer skills, building hockey rinks, welding go carts, and mapping trails to name just a few activities. The goal is not only for the boys to learn about their chosen art, but also about themselves.  Most of these programs are taught by locals, not our staff, so needless to say there is a constant flow of people visiting us on Wednesdays. Cars coming and going, students on and off the hill at odd times, no-one sitting down at lunch, and no academic classes.


Some seriously engaging and powerful chaos, and we wouldn’t have it any other way.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Consider helping The Deck House School...

“We have produced, in our schools, a race of students who are brighter, more competitive and more ambitious than we were at the same age.  They expect – though they don’t always admit it  - a good deal of us, and if they don’t find it they will seek other standards.  We must be vibrant and exciting enough to reclaim their allegiance if we have lost it; we must be generous enough to give what we most prize; and we must be sensitive enough to sympathize without condescending.  We must also be strong enough to stand firm at the risk of being disagreed with.”

Edward T. Hall, Keepers of the House

Dear Friends,

Ned Hall was truly passionate about few things.  Three things which spring to mind are backgammon, politics and, of course, his beloved Deck House.  While I was rarely able to beat him at backgammon, and we certainly differed in our political views, I was always willing to listen to Ned and learn from him about Deck House and what he was trying to do here.

A bit of history: I often joke that the one formal role I haven’t filled during my 27 year history with the school is the one which I actually fulfill every day - that of student.  Since 1989 I have been Housemaster, Assistant Headmaster, teacher, board member, and Headmaster (twice).  Coming through our doors I have seen dozens of teachers, countless dogs and hundreds of Deck House boys.  Since joining the school I have seen four Presidents, four Governors, and three Red Sox World Series championships.  I watched the Berlin Wall fall, and I lived through Y2K; in short, it’s been a long time.  Through all of these transitions, however, I have held firm to those beliefs and values Ned taught me all those years ago.

Ned believed Deck House was family and this belief shone through all aspects of the school’s routine and structure.  Family meals, chores, and a sense of community all were, and still are, integral aspects of how the school day was structured.  This routine, coupled with his passion to make sure that every boy who came here felt both special and a part of something, was admirable. It’s hard to argue with the success he enjoyed.  While some of the School’s early traditions now seem quaint, I would argue that the core of these principles remains strong.

What’s most amazing about the quotation used to open this letter is that Ned wrote and delivered this speech to a National Association of Independent Schools gathering 50 years ago, 13 years before he even opened the Deck House.  Once he opened this school, Ned finally had a place where young men could simultaneously question and respect

authority, where they could find their voice, and where they could both gain independence and learn dependence.

Societally, many things have changed since then, but here at The Deck House most things have stayed the same.  We still cook our own meals, we still have morning chores, and we still gather as a family around the dinner table every night.  Also, as the letter below sent to us from a recent Alum shows, we still have the same sense of connection and community Ned so felt so strongly about all those years ago. 

“I feel it's overdue to explain a lot of my situation. I left my older school, scared of what was next, angry and emotionally unstable. I believe I was mistreated, and labeled as a problem from the start. Nobody there ever stood by me. They looked down on me, and I was pulled into the office almost every other day all due to rumors I was selling drugs. I wasn't.

The atmosphere of peace and serenity at Deck House along with the love you guys poured out in supporting me helped me to recover significantly and learn acceptance of myself. You wanted me to graduate, you wanted me to see college and pursue my dreams. You were my friends. You cared.”

We do care.

The Deck House School has run for nearly 40 years now, and just like when Ned ran the school, the challenges of running a small school in in a highly competitive market continue.  Since 1979 the school has defied the financial experts by being both single gender and running at a capacity of 12.  To be blunt, however, we are only able to do that because we so strongly depend on you, our friends, to help make ends meet.  Without your continued donations to the school, we would not be able to develop the programming, retain the caring and competent staff, and be the mentors all Deck House students deserve. Ned’s speech was entitled Keepers of the House; by donating to the school, you can continue to be keepers of our house and be the reason we can help this latest generation of  “Ned’s Boys.”

Donations to the school can either be made by going to and clicking the donate button, or by sending a check to:

The Deck House School
PO Box 367
Edgecomb, ME 04556

Thank you,

Bar Clarke
Head of School