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News & Views - Dec, 1994 Issue #31 

HYDE SCHOOL: CHARACTER FIRST
Bath, Maine
Jeff Burroughs, Admissions Director
207-443-5584
by: Anne Lewis 

(Anne Lewis is an Educational Consultant living in 
Santa Barbara, CA 805-969-2186) 

Attention to character formation on a school-wide basis set the tone for my Hyde School visit. My guide, Mary, a former Hyde student currently enrolled at Roanoke College, gave me a firm hand shake, looked me in the eye, and explained that she was back as an intern for Hyde's summer program.

On campus I saw quiet students on work crews. Mary explained this was not a typical day. It followed a "school bust", a school-wide accounting of student transgressions, or as founder Malcolm Gould phrased it, "Draino for the Hyde Soul." 

The purifying started the preceding morning when all 130 students filed into the school's modern, light-filled union and sat in chairs to the right of the center aisle. (Fall enrollment was estimated to be 210 residents and 15 day students.) Kids were asked to reflect upon their past week's behavior. In their own estimation, students who fell short of Hyde's standards of conduct moved from the chairs on the right side of the room to chairs on the left. One by one almost every student moved from the right to the left. 

No wonder. Hyde School standards are comprehensive and tough to sustain: Courage, Integrity, Leadership, Curiosity, Concern, and Brother's Keeper. 

Being your brother's keeper causes the most turmoil. A person's own behavior may be in line with the School's standards, but that isn't enough. If a student is aware of a classmate's failure to live up to the school's commitment to community living, it is the obligation of the student to be his brother's keeper. 

Here's how it works: As his brother's keeper, the student says: "You're not living up to your best and you're keeping the whole school from doing the same. You need to turn yourself in. You are holding yourself back and the school back." 

If the transgressing student refuses, his brother's keeper acts in the best welfare of his peer and turns him or her in. Beyond the Hyde campus this is commonly known as ratting on friends. Hyde calls it being accountable for yourself and requiring others to do the same. 

After a school bust work crews form. The ones I saw had been working since 5:30 that morning. Kids clean the kitchen, dorms, mansion, gym, yard. "Everything." Students literally work their way back into the good graces of the school. They stop only for meals. According to Mary, "Conversation centers on how to deal with the situation in a positive way and issues which initially got students on the crew." 

Mary continued, "Students are expected to push themselves toward a more ethical plane of living. When they've acknowledged their transgressions and are honest with themselves and others, they're welcomed back into the heart of the Hyde community. "We're glad you're back and hope you learned something." 

As Mary and I walked through the gracious Hyde mansion which has been converted to classrooms and offices, in every direction there were signs of Hyde's positive and productive student life. Schedules for hiking, boating, and camping trips, committee assignments, and meetings of students and faculty members crammed the hallway bulletin boards. 

I was struck by this poem composed by a student who posted it in the Dean's area: 

An attitude is a habit. 
A bad attitude is a bad habit. 
It takes a long time to change a bad habit. 
So why not start now? 

The campus tour was highlighted by three new buildings: the student union, dining hall and gymnasium, all tangible results of the commitment of Hyde parents and faculty to the school's mission. More than $200,000 per year beyond tuition costs is contributed to the School by Hyde families and its community of teachers and staff. Jeff Burroughs, Admissions Director, told me that creating a caring community which holds the members to a high standard of living generates this kind of commitment. 

He added that the desire to give generously to the school seems disproportionately high from families of runaways. A high correlation has been shown between alum giving and having had a child run away and return to the school. According to Jeff, the parents make a deep commitment when this happens, "When you face the wall, you come to a decision. Hyde School is a time bomb." 

The new student union contains a modern, sunfilled auditorium, tiered seating for daily all-school meetings, and state of the art audio and video equipment for school performances. It's large enough to accommodate Hyde families and faculty for the school's annual spring theatrical performance. According to Mary, many of the parents never expected to see their sons or daughters get on the stage and successfully address an audience, to say nothing of an audience of their peers and parents. Very few eyes stay dry through the Hyde school parent performances. "

This is where each person in the Hyde community sings a solo each year." Mary pointed to the stage area and continued, "No one laughs at any attempt. You are held to your best and you can't cheese out with something like Jingle Bells. After each song, everyone cheers with enthusiasm." 

It was a short walk to the new dining room with floor to ceiling windows which frame the school's rolling lawn. The dining room is big enough for the entire student body to eat together without being crowded, and yet it exudes warmth with its round oak tables, round-backed oak chairs, massive stone fireplace, and embracing but formidable beams. 

The gym houses two splendid basketball courts with floors worthy of an NCAA game, a large fully equipped wrestling room, and special areas for weight lifting and exercising. 

Mary told me everyone must play a sport at Hyde, even though "a lot of the kids who enroll at Hyde aren't very athletic when they start. In the beginning the sport is presented as just being fun. Then, when expectations rise, the faculty counters the students' doubt in themselves with 'You are capable.' Most of the students are surprised at what they can do. Effort, not ability, is rewarded." 

An ecumenical spiritual center, a small rounded building designed for prayer and meditation had just been completed. Inside, instead of a specific symbol for any religion, a beautiful stone which can fit into any student's belief system was chosen. 

We passed a small and attractive mail building. I asked Mary if it were separate from the other buildings so that incoming mail could be examined before the students received it. "We don't go through the kid's stuff. The school is built on trust. We trust until we have a reason not to. If friends send up drugs, the student is expected to turn them in. If he keeps them, that will hold him back from doing his best. Kids proctor each other." 

In my conversation with Jeff Burroughs, he stressed the difference between Hyde's approach to evidence that kids are using drugs and the more traditional boarding school approach. "Generally, schools wait until there is evidence and then the kids are thrown out. At Hyde, we go after them. We go after the attitude. We are coaches." 

When I started to compare Hyde to the emotional growth schools I know in the West, Jeff jumped in immediately, "We're not an emotional growth school. Hyde is a college prep school for kids who are having problems." And as Mary quipped, "I've never known a kid who didn't have some problems." 

Jeff said, "Most of the kids are 14, 15, or 16 when they come to Hyde. They've had some problems, but most stayed at home and in school until around ninth grade. Then things fell apart. The Hyde program has no set length, but most students are at Hyde about 1 1/2 years." 

I asked Jeff if he had any advice for families based on what he has heard in the Hyde admissions process. He answered, "Kids want structure and they want attention. In a way being a kid is a curse. Kids are born into a situation where they get. Kids must earn what they get. Especially when they are 12 or 13. They must give back to their families. 

"We think we have the way to educate kids. At the end of the admissions interview we say, "Your parents are paying $15,000 and making a time commitment for you to be at Hyde. You'll have a roof over your head, classes and counseling. What is your commitment?" 

"They need to give back to their families and to Hyde School." 

When I got up to leave, Jeff walked me to the door and said, "Hyde School is a community. It's not a boarding school. It's a way of life." 

It's a way of life that puts Character First. 

Copyright 1994, 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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