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Schools, Programs, & Visit Reports - Oct, 1992 Issue 

Hampshire Country School
Dr. William "Bill" Dickerman
(603) 899-3325
Director of Admissions
Ringe, New Hampshire
Visit Report by Tom Croke - May 22, 1992
(412) 532-0490

My initial impression of Hampshire Country School was formed not by the physical plant as I drove in, but by extensive telephone dialogue with Bill Dickerman, its Director of Admissions. To use an overworked term correctly, the school is unique in its mission and program. Understanding the makeup of the student body is the key to understanding the school. I found this hard to grasp initially, and I still find it hard to describe. You are encouraged to call with questions. Bill Dickerman, the admissions director, is a top professional who will be of great help to you in evaluating whether or not HCS is right for your student. I will be happy to respond to questions with the “outsider’s” perspective.

HCS is a school for boys and girls from eight to eighteen who will benefit from more personal attention than is customary in traditional schools. It operates with the feel of a summer camp and serves particularly well those children we might expect would do better in a summer camp than in a school. It is a very protective, nurturing, and noncompetitive environment, which separates the younger students from the negative influences we might associate with adolescence, and admits and retains only those adolescents for whom “sex and drugs and rock & roll” and aggressive activity are not primary interests. In fact even minimal interest in drugs would preclude admission.

The older students are usually not younger students grown up. The younger students frequently outgrow HCS after a few years; the older ones are admitted in part because of their need for this kind of sheltering.

HCS screens carefully, but should a student be involved in use of alcohol, drugs, tobacco, physically aggressive behavior, or overt sexual behavior, he/she will be outplaced at once with a strong dose of support and realism about the fact that their acting out may be within normal limits. Such incidents are rare; perhaps once in two years will such a dismissal occur. Peter Pan would have liked it here. While the students I talked with universally like their teachers, there is a strong belief system that Sister Mary Discipline, of parochial school fame, had the right idea.

Most of its students are quite bright, but many are socially out of the mainstream. They may simply be so creative that they need a very rich environment unencumbered by back home peer pressure, to develop their potential. They may be so bright or inquisitive as to be seen as a threat to the average teacher. They may be extremely creative, unusually introverted, attention seeking, or ADHD. Many have ADHD and would need to be medicated in most environments, but function well without medication in this environment. Some are severely ADHD and have never responded well to medication.

HCS is willing to consider boys and girls with histories of behavioral and emotional difficulties who are looking for what the school offers everyone. This is not in any sense a therapeutic school, but HCS has students who want to deal with education and maturation rather than pathology and have chosen HCS as a place they can succeed, just as they are.

As I walked through classrooms, there was a very relaxed atmosphere, but lots of structure, and very little indication that many of these students were ADHD, with no medication. There was a special sensitivity toward the students, and a relaxed atmosphere which seemed curiously at odds with the conservative nature of the place. I was surprised by the bright, cheerful and busy decorations, which seemed like a lot of stimulation for ADHD kids, to me. But it works.

The daily schedule was another reminder of summer camp. Formal schooling was early in the day, and a little into the afternoon. But the schedule gave equal weight to activities periods out of school, such as woodworking, music, dramatics, athletics.

The students clearly know how to conduct themselves in adult company. At lunch they were polite and reserved. In free time they were more relaxed, inquisitive, engaging, surprisingly self-confident, and conscious of their responsibility to be good hosts and hostesses.

There is a powerful emphasis on the fine arts and performing arts. A well equipped theater and woodshop are prominent features on this conservatively built campus. Usually a visitor can hear a musical instrument as almost all of the interscholastic athletic program is popular among the students, but this is not the place for students whose identity is primarily as an athlete.

A private lake front, a classroom building, dormitories were designed for the students they house staffed with very nurturing house parents, are all features of this relatively isolated campus, designed more for function than beauty. Everything communicated excellence.

I like this school a lot. Yes, I sensed a time warp here. The state of Utah, “Back to the Future”, and Hampshire Country School bring back a day when certain values and human warmth freely expressed were not questioned, music was not dominated by percussion instruments, and kids liked it that way. In my life, I have known many who would benefit from HCS. It takes work to understand this school, but it is work well worth doing. I will be making referrals.

Copyright © 1992, Woodbury Reports, Inc. (This article may be reproduced without prior approval if the copyright notice and proper publication and author attribution accompanies the copy.)

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