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Beyond the Beanbag: Residence Life Programming and Why it Matters

Natalie Mays

Written by Natalie Mays

Resident Counselor at Eagle Hill School

Feb 20, 2017

As the 3:11 bell rings and the last class is dismissed for the day, most students look forward to an activity-filled afternoon with friends, sports, and the moments that will become lifetime memories. What they may not realize, however, is that when the school day ends, programming has been carefully crafted to provide for their continued learning for the remainder of the day.

Residential curriculum encompasses all intentional planning that happens outside of the typical school day—that is, the 3pm–11pm time that is iconic in a boarding school setting. It’s what sets us apart from traditional schooling—that we are able to purposefully engage in dialogue with students in their lives outside of the classroom and help them develop soft skills that are essential for becoming people who are both "good and smart." Residential curriculum, like academic curriculum, is driven by learning objectives and a theoretical framework. In creating this curriculum, we focus on four main areas: 1) Academic Success; 2) Cultural Competency; 3) Effective Community Engagement; and 4) Intrapersonal Development.*

First and foremost, we know that our kids are students and we are here to help them succeed in the academic world. We intentionally plan ways to help them be better organized, to be more self-advocating, to be more independent in study time, and to be more productive in the work they are producing. At EHS we have a gradual release model where our youngest students receive the most support with structured study halls, check-ins with dorm counselors, and support with keeping organized. As the student continues, we gradually give each learner more autonomy as he or she navigates the path to academic success.

Cultural competency has many facets and this area allows us to focus on programming that encourages students to move beyond tolerance to a place of empathy, curiosity, and compassion. Programming in this area highlights the similarities and differences of the learner and others in the school community, the local community, and the global community. We work on engaging students in programs that foster self-awareness and the personal story and how the learner’s story compares and contrasts with others’ stories and experiences. We help students see how their stories and experiences shape their desires, hopes, dreams, biases, and expectations and encourage each learner to grapple with becoming a more enlightened, empowered, culturally competent member of every community with which he or she is associated. EHS focuses on cultural competency in many ways, from taking students abroad to study different cultures and societies, providing enriching clubs such as GSA and International Club that put on a variety of new and unique events, explicitly talking about diversity and inclusion through seminars and classes, and by providing opportunities for students to attend local events such as films, dances, and festivals that focus on different cultures and cultural aspects.  

Effective community engagement begins at the most minute levels and builds to the broadest. We know that students build comfort first with a few close friends, perhaps at a dorm floor event or at a scavenger hunt on campus with their roommate. As these bonds deepen, they feel more attached to campus and are more inclined to audition for plays, try out for sports, or attend clubs and groups. From there, students become more empowered to engage independently with the community, such as by completing an Honors Project or running for student government or taking on other forms of independent leadership. At Eagle Hill, we place a very intentional focus on creating campus programming that serves to help our students attach to the campus and to one another and it’s one of the components alumni speak about most fondly: that EHS is a family and that our campus is their home. As students develop this bond, we ask them to think about what it means to engage with the community on a broader level, such as by helping the local community through coat drives and volunteering at the local animal shelter. Students learn about what it means to be a member of an active, thriving community and use this in their lives beyond Eagle Hill.

Intrapersonal development is perhaps the most crucial piece of residence life. When students come to us as eighth or ninth graders, they are only beginning to realize who they are as people and the individual talents and gifts that they bring to the world. Many students rely on purposeful direction and thoughtful implementation of residential curriculum to enhance the skills they need to develop good relationships and successful emotional intelligence. Much of the soft skill development we do—either by working with students one-on-one or in small group spaces—affords learners with the opportunity to expand their abilities in these areas. Intrapersonal development takes place in the residential curriculum either explicitly through conversations about feelings and emotions, taking responsibility, or knowing one’s strengths, or implicitly through problem solving and conflict resolution—both in the dorms and during activities on campus.

The Student Life Department will continue purposely planning and carefully executing residential curriculum with these components guiding the way. When we work to build programming that is geared toward specific outcomes, the entire community benefits. Together, we can create a student body of confident contributors who are—in all ways—becoming the leaders of tomorrow.

Examples of Campus Events:

Back to School Bash                                                                       Open Mic Night

Campus Photo Scavenger Hunt                                                      Gingerbread House Making

Parade of Dorms                                                                             Ugly Sweater Contest

Staff Talent Show                                                                            Swing Dance Workshop

Senior Rafting Trip                                                                          Winter Carnival

Girls Chemistry Night                                                                      Inked: Temporary Tattoo Program

Halloween Trivia Night                                                                    July in February Pool Party

Karaoke Night                                                                                 Languages of Love

International Thanksgiving                                                              Amazing Race: EHS

 

*Adapted from the University of Miami’s Department of Residence Life.

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