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Seven weeks earlier, I had withdrawn from (previous) School after being caught using marijuana.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.

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