In this time of unbelievable uncertainty, the decisions, the big decisions can be hard to make. Do you make the move or not make the move? Education for a child is one of those big ones, particularly if you are considering investing in a new community. The tuition and room and board fees? Those are big numbers. How do you know if the school is going to be right, if it’s all going to click? If the faculty are going to understand your child, if the peer group is going to be right, if the whole thing is going to take? For those of us who may be a little ahead of you on the journey, perhaps there is some wisdom to share.
Walking campus yesterday in the late afternoon, the emptiness was overwhelming. The parking lot by the gym - I have never seen this before - did not have a single car in it. Not one. Entering buildings I could hear the hiss of the HVAC systems, every building breathing and sighing with a different personality.
In the last week the Covid-19 news has blown in on a variety of fronts - CDC, WHO, the New York Times, Johns Hopkins, BBC, NPR, NAIS - and sorting through the facts and their ramifications is a daunting task. The sources and webinars are ever burgeoning. The news shifts, the facts evolve. Cruise ships are stranded, cities are quarantined, face masks are hard to come by, hand sanitizer disappears in stores, the stock market whipsaws. China, Italy and Iran are distant landscapes, but the Upper Valley and Hanover are close. Emotions run high and life’s metronome seems to be ticktocking at a crazy and erratic beat. And while all of this is still happening “out there”, the shifting and the planning for “what ifs” has a significant impact on all of us.
How to retain perspective and not succumb to “tilt”?
As an independent high school offering experiential learning both on and off campus, by necessity Proctor is unavoidably in the business of managing risk. Mostly we are comfortable with that. Knowing that students are going to be riding out gales in the Atlantic on Ocean Classroom, clattering through a slalom course at the Proctor Ski Area, navigating solos on Mountain Classroom, learning how to use plasma cutters in the metal shop is all in our comfort zone. It’s what we do in so many arenas at Proctor. And our students find the landscape of challenge rich with life growth opportunities. We take managing this risk seriously. We recognize, however, that in the midst of these daily risks, there are moments when our risk profile amplifies. It is during these moments when we must remain agile, shift course if necessary, and remain vigilant to the external factors impacting our internal offerings.
Proctor is not one of those schools that can afford to swagger. We don’t have hundreds of millions of dollars in an endowment; we have about twenty-nine. We don’t have fifty applicants for every opening in admissions; we have about six. We have had to hustle as a school for a long time, and we will have to hustle for years to come. I hope we never lose the hustle. Even if the endowment does become as large as some of our peer schools and we have as many applicants as some of our southern neighbors, we can’t lose it. Hustling keeps you humble, It keeps you competitive. It keeps you evolving. It keeps you from slipping into hubris.
This week I’ve been thinking about classrooms, both intentional and unintentional, and about how the process plays out. Yes the Congressional impeachment process, but more about how it contrasts to the way we come to consensus and decisions at Proctor, the way we wrestle with changes and our differences. And I have to admit, I like the local model where we work with smaller groups, work towards consensus even when the work is messy, sometimes heated, and sometimes divisive. We disagree with each other, sometimes fiercely, but we try to do so with respect. We collaborate. We remind ourselves that we are colleagues, partners in this school endeavor, knowing that sometimes our differences create the friction necessary for the community to evolve into a better school.
It’s hard to imagine a school that’s more dialed into the outdoors. It’s not just the land, the nearly three-thousand acres that we use for academics, sports, and recreation. It’s not just about the 50 year tradition (next fall) of Wilderness Orientation, the off-campus programs of Ocean Classroom and Mountain Classroom. I believe our students spend more days in the outdoors, in total, than any year-round school I know of save for NOLS or Outward Bound.