“Papa!” we chorused with the familiar endeaarance of years of knowing each other. In reality we were seven members of South Hall greeting our cabin parent, Acting Head of School Peter Sniffen, who we had known for approximately one week. On our first night in the cabin, Peter, a complete stranger until only hours before, came by to check us in, his arms laden with the firewood that would heat our cabin (hopefully) until we woke up the next morning. The scene seemed so Little House on the Prairie-esque that we joked it seemed fitting to address our cabin parents as mama and papa, (emphasis on the last syllable), an insider joke that helped our cabin bond during the first few days of awkwardness and has become a fitting term to describe the people who bring significance to the “parent” in cabin parent.
There is a unique level of mutual respect between teachers and students at Chewonki that is remarkable. I felt uncomfortable, at first, referring to my teachers by their given names, wondering why their first names were printed in a large font on their name tags while their last names were a subtitle underneath. In only a week’s time I surprised myself with the ease with which their names rolled of my tongue, forgetting how odd it was for me to refer to my natural history teacher not as Ms. Abuza but as Becca.
Check in’s are one of the myriad of opportunities students have to engage with their teachers beyond the academic setting. Every night a faculty member comes to check students in their cabins for the night. What I assumed would be a quick head count is instead an anticipated visit ranging from five to 45 minutes. Conversation topics range from score updates of a certain football game that continued past our check in time to the teacher’s perspective of a story when he forgot his house was a location on a weekend scavenger hunt and woke up to see students hovering over him asking for nachos. Or just your average, “How was your day?” What makes Chewonki teachers so special is their dedication and passion not only to the subjects they teach but to learning itself. This manifests itself in their willingness to continue a discussion even if it is not completely connected to the literature if students are engaged and excited. Recently, after having a class discussing Ta-Nehisi Coate’s article “The Case for Reparations” my teacher recommended an essay for me to read based on the comments I had made in class. I was floored by how much the piece she recommended (“Why we Should All be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie ) resonated with me and how thoughtful and spot on her recommendation was, especially since she had only known me for a week and a half. While there is the normal groaning about homework that is to be expected of high school students, there’s also the late night cabin discussions of assigned reading that we can’t wait until tomorrow’s class to talk about. Chewonki cultivates a culture where students seek their teachers out, feel comfortable, and enjoy having conversations. The faculty here will teach you about calculus and also be there 3:00am when your cabin-mate gets sick in the middle of the night.
Annie, The Thacher School, New Jersey