Residential Life: A Transformative Living Experience at Solebury
On a crisp September evening, Ruby Burns ’23 sat with her dormmates and friends in the Performing Arts Center. The boarders had all just finished dinner and were gathering for Boarders Bonding, a Wednesday night ritual for residential students to play games, engage in discussions, and participate in bonding activities. On this night, Ruby and her friends were engaged in a discussion about mental health led by the Solebury School counselors. “Julie (Liang) and Brian (Wiley) were helping think about how we take care of ourselves and how we take care of others,” Ruby explains. “My favorite boarder bondings are the times we come together and play all-campus games, but this talk was good too. It brings us together as a community. Being part of the boarding program and working to make it better for the future of the school is the most rewarding part of my time spent here.”
Solebury’s residential life program offers a holistic approach to ensure that students not only pursue rigorous academics but learn lifelong skills while building strong bonds with peers and adults within our community. We believe our students can flourish with a balance of structure and flexibility that allows them to learn essential life skills, try new things, and develop a stronger sense of self. Students are equipped with a solid set of guidelines and support around how to plan outings, communicate plans, manage time, complete schoolwork, etc.—and we also talk with them about their decisions and plans. Clear expectations are set about their personal responsibility, and adjustments are made according to their ability to meet these expectations. This structure allows students to develop autonomy and accountability while still in the care of adults and a structured program.
“Honestly, what I love most about the boarding community is how much genuine care the adults have for us on campus,” says Ruby. “They really take us in and care for us as if we were their own children. When they make us dinner or even just sit down and ask how you are doing and actually care about the answer, those are my favorite moments.”
The Weekday Schedule and Activities
Leah Hall-Hansen, Dean of Residence Life, understands that in any residential program, the students are the heartbeat of the community. She joined Solebury last year, and after immersing herself in the boarding community and taking the time to carefully and thoughtfully listen to the needs of boarders, Leah reimagined the experience and introduced new components to Solebury’s residential life program. “Being at a new school, in a new position, and coming off a pandemic was no easy feat,” shared Leah. “Creating spaces for students to be their true authentic selves and to be able to see that growth over the past year within them has been a privilege that I don't take lightly.”
The boarding program schedule allows time to develop life experiences, healthy living habits, and discipline for long-term success. Weekday schedules are structured with nightly study halls and preset lights-out times to ensure our students get a good night's sleep. Preparation for life beyond Solebury is continuous––our students learn independent living skills so that washing clothes, cooking safety, and space organization allow them to gain greater independence. Some parents have commented about the behavior transformation when their students return home after a trimester of boarding––no longer depending on them for everything.
Newly added this year is a speaker series for the entire boarding community. Outside speakers and members of the Solebury community have been invited to provide insight to students on various topics that do not fall into the traditional curriculum. There are intentional conversations around vaping, mental health, relationships, and what it means to be a part of the Solebury community. These discussions provide learning opportunities that might otherwise be missed in a high school atmosphere and allow boarders to bond with their fellow students.
Below is an example of the topics that boarding students engage in during the 2022-23 school year:
The impact vaping has on your body
Targeted marketing toward youth
Rules regarding vaping at Solebury
Relationships & Boundaries
Healthy vs. unhealthy relationships
Establishing healthy boundaries
Organization of belongings and space
Balancing work vs. fun
Mental Health, Self Care & Support
Positive coping strategies to maintain and enhance mental health
Knowing your support within Solebury and those outside of Solebury
“I am a firm believer that we have to educate our students in all facets for them to handle situations and challenges that come their way, especially during their adolescent years,” explained Leah. “Being a boarding student is a unique opportunity, and with that comes responsibility. That responsibility is to themselves to ensure they are prioritizing their physical and mental health and a responsibility to the community to be a reflection of what you want your community to be.”
Student Leadership Opportunities
Residential life has its advantages when it comes to student leadership opportunities, such as dorm proctors. Proctors gain experience making decisions that benefit the whole boarding community and learn how to mentor their peers. They are student leaders who focus on creating a welcoming environment, assisting in developing positive peer relationships, and encouraging others to make good choices. They also assist dorm parents with support in the evenings by leading activities, overseeing dorm jobs, conducting room inspections, and completing a night of duty.
“I remember my own dorm proctors freshman year, and I’m trying to follow in their footsteps,” said Cory Gregson ’23. “It was a big jump coming from a day school to a boarding school, so they helped me settle in. They checked on me and were big role models to me. I check on my kids the same way now.”
“Being a proctor and getting to be the type of person that I really looked up to in my first couple of years as a young student is awesome,” says Ruby. “I really looked up to the way they acted and how they treated people and our community.”
Weekend Living at Solebury
If you pictured weekends with students locked away in their rooms or spending countless hours gaming, you have not visited our campus. Weekend choices are so robust that deciding which activity to participate in can be tough. With activities like goat yoga, evening bonfires, apple picking, laser tag, visiting New York City, and much more. There is something for everyone to enjoy.
While the planned weekend activities are incredible and so much fun, I will always have a special place in my heart for the spur-of-the-moment adventures with people you wouldn't normally find yourself hanging out with, shared Ruby. “Some of my favorite memories have been doing the most random things with the duty team and friends. Anything from riding a mall carousel with my advisor to driving around looking at holiday lights with a math teacher I didn't even have.
An exciting weekend change for our community this year is one that not only benefits our boarders, but includes our day students as well. Community Weekend, previously a weekend only for boarders will now include any day students that want to participate. "We have created community-wide events on a monthly basis for both our boarding and day students to come together to celebrate their community," said Leah. "Whether it's a school dance, an athletic event, or a performance, everyone is welcome. We want everyone to be heard, feel seen, and have some fun while doing it!"
The residential life program provides a transformational experience that students will cherish forever. Most form lifelong friendships and life skills to help them transition beyond Solebury. When you combine an environment that prioritizes wellness and advocacy with a personalized curriculum and a supportive community––the result is a well-rounded student ready to achieve their goals.
“Boarding at Solebury is an experience of a lifetime, the people you will meet, and the opportunities you are presented with are unlike anything else you can get at any other school,” Ruby says with a smile. “If you just want to go to school and go home, you might want to keep looking, if you want to join a loving, welcoming community with a world of opportunities, this is the place for you.”
To learn more about residential life at Solebury, visit solebury.org/residential-life.