Space, Face, Place: Becoming a Keystone Boarder
Dorm proctors (above) are student representatives in Keystone residences
By Juli James, Director of Residential Life and Global and Service Initiatives
The notion of developing character in young people is a complex, organic process. Keystone’s residential program is so designed to enable and enrich this process. Boarders are immersed into a system of living and working with students from all over China and the world, guided by teachers from diverse cultural backgrounds, and nurtured in a residential setting that encourages cross-cultural understanding and growth. This school year, the residential curriculum is divided into three segments – SPACE, FACE, and PLACE. The first several months of the school year are important in setting the tone for the remainder of the year.
The first phase – Space – helps students transition to boarding life, master procedures, complete dorm chores, and become self-sufficient. Time management and study skills are also a major focus of the first quarter, along with developing the skills of conflict resolution and compromise. The second phase of the residential curriculum – Face – is defined here as relationship building. A wide variety of activities are planned in the second trimester to enable relationships building among and between boarders, from team building at weekly “dorm wars” competitions, parties, late night socials, weekend fun, and dorm proctor-led meetings and activities. Dorm proctors are the student leaders of the residential program appointed annually. The final trimester of the year focuses on Place. This is a time for introspection, where students reflect on questions such as: Where do I fit into the Keystone community? How can I give back, or make an impact on my school, my community and my own character?
Sometimes answers to these questions, lessons on character development, or moments when choices have to be made happen organically, informally, and, at times, in formal lessons. Formal lessons occur at weekly dorm meetings led by dorm heads. Residential faculty assumes the additional responsibility of dorm head or dorm parent. They are part of the multi-layered Keystone advising and supervising structure. Each floor of the dorm has a dorm head. Residential life curricular lessons are often differentiated to meet the specific needs of the students on a particular floor. For instance, the boys on the fifth floor explored the values of honesty and courage in response to a few incidents of dishonesty in the dorm. Conflict resolution skills are modeled in roommate disputes.
In another instance, the older girls on the third floor have launched an “appreciate or apologize” program, replete with an interactive bulletin board to reinforce the values of friendship and compassion. The girls have also attended seminars led by our school counselor on risk taking, teamwork, friendship, and time management. The formal and informal curricular sessions are building bonds amongst the students, developing a sense of community, as seen at times in their demonstration of compassion and empathy when one of their peers falls sick or is injured, or when they offer each other help on a difficult homework or project. Boarders also learn from observing the adults in the residence and student leaders who model leadership, integrity, honor, and compassion to all members through day-to-day interactions, evening programs and dinners, and weekend experiences.
Dorm head and middle and high school Science teacher, Amanda Narkiewicz, narrates her experience: “At the beginning of the year, the 4th floor dorm parents and proctors set the vision for the year. We agreed that as these students were the youngest of the boarders, we would like to help them develop self-sufficiency and independence. They have also been focusing on their organization skills effective study strategies. It may not seem like a challenging task for many people, but taking responsibility for oneself is the foundation for being able to contribute one’s time and energy to the wider community. Now that students have been demonstrating self-sufficiency, they spend less time thinking and doing these tasks and more time with each other and participating in the greater life of the school.” For instance Jenny Small, middle and high school Design and Visual Arts teacher, organized the students on her floor to create an Easter tree. “The idea was to make something collaboratively to help build community on the floor and to give our floor a little personality,” says Ms. Small
In my experience, the greatest impact on a child’s character is when an adult personally engages with a child, and expertly guides him or her through difficult times. Teaching the lessons of moral courage, or dealing with negative peer pressure or dishonesty can be taught directly in a teachable moment through trust-based conversations and self-refection. Some of the most powerful lessons of character have emerged from such intimate exchanges. Drawing from our community’s shared values, our students are asked to reflect on how their actions either exemplify or detract from a particular shared value, such as honesty or compassion. Great progress has been made in this area, and our students who initially found residential life and its structures difficult to follow have shown greater acquisition of the skills and values needed to function in a close knit community through self reliance, independence, effective decision making, honesty, reflection, and more.
The Keystone residential community extends beyond life on campus and the dorms. Residential faculty members plan and organize trips and activities throughout each weekend that inculcate the IB learner values of risk taking and knowledge. More and more of our boarders voluntarily join these activities that include outdoor experiences, cultural awareness trips, service opportunities, and more. In particular, our girls are pushing themselves to be more self-reliant and risk taking. The residential life curriculum is not a sequential program of a series of pre-set lessons; it is an organic program, which reflects differentiation and response to current student needs, interests and pivotal events in the school calendar. It is often tied to the advising curriculum, such as in discussions about peer pressure, goal setting and study skills. It grows and evolves with the Keystone residential community, as we grow with it.
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