What are you doing at 9:30 on a Thursday evening? Eating dinner? Streaming Netflix? Climbing into bed for the night? If you happen to be a boarder living in Grey Lodge dorm at Dana Hall School, you will be wedging yourself into a seat on one of the snug living room sofas, as we all settle into our weekly dorm snack and meeting.
As the longtime House Director of Grey Lodge, I know this weekly slice of time on Thursday nights is crucial to the development of our dorm community. On such a recent snowy Thursday evening, the girls chat with one another while waiting for me to bring out the dorm snack. I usually get standard questions at this moment, such as, “What’s for snack tonight?” or “Do you need any help, Diane?” My girls have left their devices in their rooms before coming down to the meeting, as is our dorm rule, so that we can all be a bit more present to one another for this short time. Dorm snack tonight is “Cowboy Cookies,” a dairy-free recipe of oatmeal chocolate chip cookies, and a new favorite among my girls. As I set out the snack, one of the girls squeals, “This just made my day!” I have learned to never underestimate the power of a homemade snack for my dorm; a little effort can go a very long way in setting a positive mood for our time together, and vastly improving someone’s week.
On this particular night, dorm meeting is centered on a question posed to the girls: “If you could travel by time machine to any place in any point in time, where would you go?” One would travel to the Galapagos Islands before Charles Darwin, so that a woman of color could be the first person to develop the theory of evolution. Another would travel several years beyond the present, just to check in on how her future self is doing. The answers are varied and creative; some elicit laughter, some are thoughtful, and as a collection these answers bring each girl’s unique voice into the conversation. On other evenings, our meetings include a simple check-in: “On a scale of one to ten, how are you feeling tonight?” Girls may choose to share a number, “four…two…nine and a half…eleven!” The numbers tell the story of how their week is going: how many class assessments they’ve had so far…whether their swim team won the meet…how close Dana is to a school vacation…if they’ve finished their college essay…or perhaps if family will visit this weekend. The numbers shed light for one another on whether things are going great, or someone could use an extra few minutes of check-in time. These short activities also enhance my own understanding of what my girls’ needs might be in that moment, and inform the ways that I’ll continue to check in with them.
By 10 p.m. we are tidying up our common space and saying good night. The girls head upstairs to finish homework, call family and friends (both near and very far away), and begin getting ready for bed. As they start to scatter, some call out, “Good night! Thank you, Diane!” Others are giggling and chasing each other up the stairs. Our weekly slice of time is at an end, but just this short while together has fed our dorm community—allowing our connections to go a little deeper and our dorm family to grow a little closer. It’s been a good night.