The school year began differently this year for the boarding boys of Neville, Moser and Summerbell houses. After only a day to get moved in, meet old and new friends, and adjust to life in a dorm, we all took to buses and headed up to nearby Camp Sydney Dew for a Sunday of fun and games. This was a scheduled retreat day for the houses, but for the first time all three boys' houses spent the day together with a specific goal in mind to begin our new Boys' Life program.
The idea of the Boys' Life program was conceived many years ago as I began my teaching career. I noticed some glaring issues in my first school and it continued throughout the last 24 years. In my opinion, schools were missing a valuable opportunity to educate young men both socially and emotionally. As I moved from a new teacher to one with more experience, I started to look at issues that boys faced in the world. Research shows that young men face an uphill climb in schools. Detention and discipline rates, dropout rates, and adolescent crime rates all point to a society that isn’t addressing the needs of young men in the early part of their education.
I have always had the good fortune of teaching at schools where most of those statistics really were not a part of our daily life. At schools like Darlington, success is measured differently. However, even in the private school setting, I still found discrepancies. For example, educational research also shows that boys more likely to fail a subject in school than girls, and girls are more likely to get A’s. Now, one could argue that they are better students or just try harder to please teachers. But, when you look those statistics with others that focus on behavior the picture becomes clearer. One report I found quoted the National Center for Education and said that young men account for up to 70% of all discipline and suspensions in schools. Of course, there are many factors that go into these kinds of statistics. But in my experience, these are the kind of things that I have noticed.
Boys' Life isn’t a reaction to these statistics. Well, not entirely. Early on, I was motivated because at my previous school I had a small office space that was right next to the assistant principal. Each day, I watched as many more boys were brought to the office for a talk. After many years and spending much of my career focused on boys, I want to do something that educates and reaches out to boys before these things happen.
As I thought about this initiative last spring, I put down on paper a Boys' Life motto that speaks to this idea. We want to build a community of young men that are committed to understanding, confidence, leadership and purpose.
The chief goal of the program is to serve the young men of Darlington with an emphasis on, but not exclusive to, the boarding community. This program will provide social, educational and service opportunities with hopes of creating a brotherly atmosphere in the boy’s houses and beyond.
Working closely with the other heads of house, Doug Hamil and Randy Smith, and other faculty members, the approach we are taking is a three-part plan. Each month, we will start by having a fun night. We will invite day students and sometimes even invite middle school boys. Faculty, coaches, administrators are all invited to join in as we just get together to play, eat and share in our own way. My hope here is that these events will help to break down social structures and open up avenues for communication and bonding.
Later on in each month, we will have a more formal discussion on one of the topics that we have outlined in our monthly units of discovery. These topics include ideas like organization, integrity, self-authorship, empathy and understanding, cultural diversity, sexism, and men’s health. We might do this in small group setting, invite guest speakers or maybe find other more unique ways to present the information. As I told the boys at our first meeting, these nights are designed to get them to start thinking deeper and reflecting on themselves and their relationships.
Finally, these large group meetings will be followed up in the houses with smaller activities to emphasize the topics and give the boys a chance to help and learn from each other. Boys' Life will also offer many special sign-up activities throughout the year. With the help of community leaders, we our hoping to offer activities like camping trips, rafting, or social events like a trip to a Hawks game.
Finally, many years ago at my previous school I was lucky enough to go through training with the Michael Gurian Institute that focused on single-gender education. Gurian is the author of notable books such as "The Good Son," "Wonder Boys," and "Boys and Girls Learn Differently." I would like to leave you with this quote from "The Good Son:"
"The boy and the man must be raised to see the possibility of self worth, then meet a few others who provide the vision of a road toward it, then spend a lifetime pursing that worth through action and relationship. One of the great tragedies in human life is to be born a male and not be guided toward the value of a man.”