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

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Unique lessons taught at The Deck House School

I seriously didn’t think it would mesh that perfectly.  Yes I knew Prize Day was going to be a powerful day; it always is.  And of course Peter was going to be a great speaker; he always is.  But the power and the passion that went into that day was different and something I have rarely experienced.

I suppose I owe you some history here.

As loyal readers of our blog know, the School is on the road to recovery.  We have spent the last 6 months successfully reintroducing ourselves simultaneously to the Educational Consultant, wilderness therapy and boarding school worlds.  We have attended conferences, and have launched a very successful marketing campaign.  We have built up our summer semester, and have many students lining up for that and the traditional school year.  We, of course, knew that there was a place in the educational landscape for our unique school when it stayed true the original mission that Ned set out all those years ago, we just needed to get the word out.  We knew that we needed to do a Ray Kinsella and, well, build it so they would come. 

What I also knew was Peter’s story.  Rev. Peter Panagore is a close friend whom I have known for nearly 20 years.  Our friendship has encompassed so many aspects of both of our lives.  We have laughed and cried together in so many places; ski slopes, coffee shops, the back bay of Portland, and during long bike rides to name just a few. We can talk over each other trying to make jokes and tell stories,  and we can relish in the silence which only people very comfortable with their friendship can appreciate.  So when I invited Peter to speak at Prize Day earlier this month, I knew it would be good; what I didn’t know was just how beautiful it would be.

It was in the middle of listening to Peter’s speech when it dawned on me; he truly gets it, he gets these boys.  He understands their beliefs and passions, he feels their pain and he empathizes with their struggles.  As I watched the families of our graduates, I could see heads nodding and tears flowing.  They got it too.  The saw a part of their son in Peter and they knew they were heading in the right direction. 

I have sat through many commencements; as a parent, a sibling, an uncle, a friend and, of course, as a graduate.  And, to be fair, I have heard some amazing commencement addresses.  But there was something about this year’s Prize Day address which was different. 

The school was on display through Peter that day.  All the work we do with these boys was up there, warts and all.  I have always said it would be a lot easier to run a school, which had a system of demerits and checks in a book, but it wouldn’t be real.  We teach life lessons here, we cook together, we clean together, we laugh, and yes, we cry.  We teach the whole student about life, and that what was on display that sunny morning; life.  Raw, real and beautiful. 

Peter summed it up perfectly in his closing;

“Look here, I don’t know what your particular problem is, but let me tell you this, you are smart and capable young men and don’t let anybody tell you otherwise, most of all yourself. You owe a great deal, just as I do, to those who love you, who stand by you, and support you, your parents, families, friends, a custodian, and especially your teachers.

After every failure I get back up and fight again and strive everyday for improvement while hunting always for new compensation skills and tools. I let my passion drive me. You say I am a failure? I will prove you wrong. I fight to succeed where others succeed with ease. I daily turn my disability into my advantage.

You can too,
You will too,
Your will to
Means everything.”

Those of us who have been involved with The Deck House School long term have been told many times that it's a failure, that we should just shut our doors.  But, like Peter, we fight on, we turn our disability into our advantage and we fight to succeed.  This passion is real and tangible, and it was on display that early June morning; by Peter, the students and the entire school family - and for having the opportunity to play a small part in that I will be eternally grateful.    

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Staying True to the Mission at Deck House, or, Size Matters...

The Deck House School’s maximum enrollment is 12; always has been, always will be.   Not 12 per class, not 12 per grade, but 12 in the school.  This unique fact gets a lot of attention when people first learn about us.  For many it’s hard to imagine a residential high school operating on the scale of a large family offering so many of the trappings of a larger school.
For us, it is simply a way to continue the vision of our founder Ned Hall.  Ned always envisioned Deck House operating simultaneously both as family and as school. He literally opened his home to those first boys, and he saw a future for the school where teachers were more like mentors than pure educators, and where, most importantly to him, the school gathered as a family around the dinner table each evening.  
Certainly, operating a school the size of this place has its challenges. Not having the capacity to hire cooking or cleaning staff means you will find our entire community as part of the weekly rotation for meals and cleaning. These times where staff and students are working together towards a common goal are some of the most powerful teaching moments we have. We all know that in a school of hundreds it is possible for students to hide without having a significant impact on the functioning of the community; quite often students at these larger schools feel lost or unheard. In our school when one person, staff or student alike, doesn’t do their job the entire community feels it. This is a powerful lesson for many of our boys.
Often times one of the biggest concerns of a student joining us is related to its size. With only a dozen classmates, our potential students worry: Will anyone like me? Will I be able to find a friend? Of course in a large school finding a friend is often a matter of finding a similar group; sports guys find the sports guys, theater guys find the arts crowd. Unfortunately, those without strong group affiliation -often Deck House type students - feel lost. In a school of our size there really is only one group: the school. Our boys learn that they can be themselves and not only survive, but thrive.
Is The Deck House School for everyone? Certainly not, but for the young man who has become lost in a larger, less supportive setting we offer an alternative in which they can find their way. Just like Ned used to do, every night we sit together at the dining room for dinner.  It's around that table, without realizing it, that these guys are carrying on the informal mission of the School; that this is a family, and in the Deck House family everyone matters.

Friday, April 29, 2016

The Deck House School; Doing Things a Little Differently

One of the many lessons I have learned during my 27 year relationship with The Deck House School is that lessons and those moments we all remember rarely come from the scripted times. Don't get me wrong, some great moments come from the hours spent in the classroom.  Also, yes I (somewhat reluctantly) agree that it’s important and necessary to have NEASC accreditation and reports, annual overview of our mission, and the quarterly Board of Director meetings; these all serve very necessary and important functions in the running of the school.  All that being said, I feel that it is very important for all of us, staff and students alike, to remember that more often than not it’s the little, unscripted things which stick with us.

In the spirit of painting the full picture, allow me some latitude here.  

Like many schools, we feel community service is an important part of what we do.  Let’s be blunt: a lot of programs have community service programs which look good on a website, a grant application, or, frankly, when speaking to parents.  I’m not saying there is anything wrong with these programs, I know first hand a great deal of very good work comes out of them. That being said, here at Deck House, we (shockingly) do things a little differently.  Rather than explaining our community service program, let me just tell you about yesterday.

Thursdays have become our community service day.  Keir and I have reconfigured the schedule to allow the guys to have a block of time in the mornings when we can focus on our local projects.  Yesterday, Keir went to Boothbay Harbor to work with one of the guys at the local community center, and I went to Wiscasset to give a few hours to a local Co-op farm.  Now I don’t know if you’ve ever had to wrangle 6 teenage boys out of their cozy beds to go work outside on a, shall we say, crisp April morning, but it’s not easy.

Unfortunately because of a scheduling error, the local farm had no work for us.  So off we went, back to the school.  Now this could have turned into an unmitigated disaster.  No community service, no classes scheduled, and 6 grumpy teenagers. 

So when we got back, I spoke with them.  I explained the situation to them and we decided we’d get classes going early, and instead of the farm, we’d spend an hour outside working on our own gardens.  I was steeled for the bevy of excuses and cries of, “That’s not fair.” But instead I got a whole bunch of guys saying, “Ok, sounds good.”

So there they were, from 2:00 until (almost) 3:00 busily, and I dare say happily, working on our flower gardens.   They could have easily shut down or blown it off but they didn’t.  They saw that this was important and needed so they stepped up. 

To me, that is community service, and that is what The Deck House is all about. 

Another great lesson.