So Much More Than Paranoid Parents

Administration explains difficulty in balancing safety and freedom for boarders

One of the challenges the Residence Department must overcome is the need for rules to ensure order while providing a welcoming, homey environment.

“The rules that we have are in place for the safety and security of our students,” Director of Residence Danielle Ferguson said.

Hockaday boarding must overcome two challenges not faced by many other boarding schools around the country. First, Hockaday is an urban boarding school and second, Hockaday is made up of predominantly day students.

The fact that only 15 percent of Upper School students are boarders sets Hockaday boarding apart from many other programs in the nation. And because the majority of boarding schools have most of their student body reside on campus, their regulations pertain to the entire student body and aren’t being compared to those of day students living with their parents.

“Everyone’s living under the same conditions so [the rules] are not highlighted as much in other places as they are here,” said Dean of Student Affairs Meshea Matthews.

Sophomore Eline, new to Hockaday boarding this year, came from Miss Hall’s School in Pittsfield, Mass., a boarding school where 90 percent of the students are residents.

“It was a lot more lenient when it came to restrictions there,” she said. “We had hall moms but they weren’t on duty 24/7,” as Hockaday house directors are.

At schools with larger boarding populations, rules are harder to enforce, inadvertently loosening the restraints. Students at Miss Hall’s were allowed to return to their dorms during the school day. While at Hockaday, returning to the Residence Department is considered the equivalent of allowing a day student to return home, and only seniors are granted that privilege.

While Eline’s previous school only allowed off-campus weekend trips, Hockaday Boarders have the option of going to shopping centers and stores such as Target and Tom Thumb several times a month.

“Pittsfield was a really small town, so basically, our entire life was at school,” Eline said. “There wasn’t much to do in the city, unlike here.”

With weeknight off-campus privileges at Hockaday come more regulations. The Residence Department enforces strict sign-in and out rules when girls leave campus, whether it is with another student or through the school. Failing to comply with these rules repeatedly leads to infractions and detentions.

In the past, students were required to sign out even when going to a different boarding hall or leaving the Residence Department. But these restrictions were removed, and now boarders are only required to sign out when leaving campus.

House Council President senior Michelle, who entered the boarding program in eighth grade, said the Residence Department is “more flexible and less strict this year.”

Seniors, for instance, no longer have a required study time as the rest of the girls do and weekend “lights out” times were abolished.

While these rules have relaxed, curfews and “lights out” times during the week have remained rigid.

Weeknight curfew, meaning girls must be on campus, for all students is 8 p.m. and “lights out” times vary by form. Seniors have the privilege of staying up until 12 a.m. while eighth grade is in the dark starting at 11 p.m. Each student, however, is permitted and hour extension beyond their designated time two nights per week. To accommodate the extra time needed by some girls, internet turns off at 1 a.m. If girls have unfinished
homework, they may wake up no earlier than 6 a.m. to finish.

“We recognize the importance of sleep and we want them to go to bed by a certain time because people need to prepare for school the following day,” said Ferguson.

The three new house directors who joined the Residence Department this year have changed the culture of residence life from previous years, also making it harder for some boarders to acclimate.

“I think these [rules] are necessary because people will find a way around them if they aren’t particular,” Michelle said. “And I’ve never felt the need to stay up past lights out time.”

The stringent curfew times have elicited complaints and discontent from other girls who are unable to finish their homework and are then forced to wake up at 6 a.m. when internet turns back on for the day to finish their assignments. From 8 p.m. to 10 p.m. each weeknight, students have a required study hall period during which their phones are taken away to ensure girls maximize the efficiency of their study time.

“If I’m working on a group project or need homework help from someone, I can’t really call,” said freshman Suzanne.

At the beginning of each year, parents fill out permission forms for their daughters marking “yes,” “no” or “always call” regarding certain activities or privileges their daughters may have. Even if a parent has marked “no,” Ferguson said the Residence Department always calls them in an attempt to help students maximize the opportunities provided to them.

But parents of residents can discuss their child’s care with the infirmary staff. Unless a school nurse or house director deems a boarding student sick, she must attend school that day.

“We try to get kids to push through if at all possible,” Ferguson said. Some students disagree.

“If my mom says I don’t have to go to school because I’m sick, I don’t think I have to regardless of what the school says,” said senior Jane.

Because house directors arrive at school at 3:15 p.m., the girls are not permitted to stay in their rooms during the school day when sick and must stay in a bedroom in the infirmary wing.

Similar instances provoke students to complain about many of the regulations in place as they compare themselves to day students.

“When we are in boarding, boarding is our parents, they make the final decisions. Your parents can’t override those rules,” Suzanne said.

While the Residence Department tries its hardest to establish a homey environment, they cannot “re-create a day student’s home life,” said Matthews. “It’s very difficult when students are comparing themselves to day students in terms of living conditions. But we do our very best in providing a loving environment.”

And Eline agrees, but “Even if there are more day students,” she said, “it still has to feel like a home.”

– Anisha