At first glance, the job of being a house parent for a group of six teen-aged boys and an equal number of teen-aged girls could be a tall order. And as challenging as it is to properly support a dozen students on a daily and nightly basis, imagine a house full of young adults when it comes to being engaged in their own education and living community.
Three of our six house parents recently wrapped up their first trimester in this critical on-campus role. And, not unexpectedly, our administrators again proved to be really good at selecting the best staff members to serve as house parents. We’re also experts at preparing and supporting those house honchos for what the job entails, but some things — as you’ll read below — can only be learned while performing the job itself.
That being said, no one can describe the house parent experience as well as these fresh adult leaders. We’ve asked the three newbies to reflect on what those experiences meant to them personally. But first, a little background on our on-campus Living Village, which is made up of six houses — each designed to accommodate up to 12 students in two separate sleeping areas.
We’re intentional about the use of the term “house” instead of dormitory or residence hall, because housedenotes a warm, friendly, family setting, where a community is fostered and supported. Along those lines, each house features bunk beds, a common room, laundry room and a workroom. In addition to a bed, each student has a study desk, closet area, and a bulletin board for personal photos and posters. House parents reside in apartments that are attached to each of the six houses.
The idea of separate houses — Aspen House, Juniper House, Lodgepole House, Spruce House, Piñon House, and Ponderosa House — is to create a family atmosphere where students can feel safe, emotionally comfortable, and a part of something bigger than themselves but smaller than the entirety of the on-campus Eagle Rock community. This atmosphere is enhanced by students performing a number of things together as a team, including house chores, preparing occasional meals at their house parents’ residence, and participating in house meetings and intramural sports. As a result, trusting friendships develop through hours of conversation with roommates, peers and house parents.
Today, we are focusing on the reflections of first-time house parents Christi Kelston (Lodgepole House); Josán Perales (Piñon House); and Courthney Russell Jr., MD (Aspen House).
Note: If you’re a prospective Eagle Rock School student — perhaps you’re interested in applying for September 2019 admissions — while the information below isn’t necessarily meant to prepare new students for campus life, you can gain a lot of valuable information about the resident life experience here at Eagle Rock by reading the following information!
Christi Kelston, Director of Public Allies at Eagle Rock and Lodgepole House Parent
Christi began working at Eagle Rock in May of 2015 and was the Public Allies Fellow in Curriculum in 2008/’09. Here are a few of her thoughts about being a house parent, along with her partner Annie and new baby Tallulah, in no particular order:
- The house is a family — but we aren’t students’ parents. We play a very different role. We can’t be all the support they need; we need to encourage a different kind of independence and know that we’re not here to spoon-feed them.
- House parents have to rely on their house team. You don’t have to — nor can you — do it all. Divide and conquer. You and your students will be better for it, and they will be provided a more comprehensive, holistic support system.
- For students, the house unit is important — but not as important as not being cliquey or exclusive in the community.
- Some of my favorite times of the trimester were when we opened my apartment in the evenings. Students would raid the cabinet, find a spot on the couch and could often be convinced to join in conversation, play a game, cook together or craft. Real conversations would emerge by simply sharing space.
- Sometimes it’s good to have an activity to keep everyone together and encourage conversation — there’s less pressure with a small distraction. Doritos and hot sauce, lemonade powder and cereal can ease an incredible amount of tension
- Informal, unstructured time with students is some of the most important. Folks are often more apt to share struggles, life stories, relationship woes and wins organically. By being willing to shoot the breeze, joke around, and ask random questions (in other words, be real), you’ll be surprised what you learn.
- As house parents, we obviously need to hold students accountable to high expectations and maintain safety in the house, but trust is crucial. Students need to know we’re on their team and not out to get them.
- Wrap around support is ideal. It is important to stay in the loop with instructors, student services, counselor, nurse, and family/sponsors as well as continuously checking in with a student about their experience. I often zoom out and get a fuller picture.
Josán Perales, World Languages Instructional Specialist and Piñon House Parent
Josán, who arrived at Eagle Rock in August of 2016, said his first trimester as house parent was definitely a growth experience for his partner, Shawna, and son, Oliver. Some of his first-trimester reflections include:
- Never underestimate a student’s resiliency.
- Bonding around food — cooking, eating, talking — is universal in building family.
- Students have an incredible potential and ability to resolve conflict together and work for the common good of the house.
- Have difficult conversation and address conflict within 24 hours.
- You are what you do — not what you say you are going to do. Actions always speak louder than words.
- Don’t sweat the small stuff but be proactive about addressing conflict and supporting each other.
Courthney Russell, Jr. MD — Residential Life Program Coordinator and Aspen House Parent
Courthney started work here at Eagle Rock School in May of 2014. He said being the Aspen house parent has been incredibly rewarding, adding he learned so much and still has much to learn. His reflections include:
- Being a houseparent allows a different type of access into students’ lives. It can be welcomed and at times intrusive (from the student perspective). I try not to be too sensitive.
- Success looks different for each student, and students must be held to the same standards consistently or they will be unsuccessful.
- Welcome the conflicts that will inevitably arise but be available to “sit” in it and “grow” as a family.
- Trust the process. Never push a relationship. A manufactured relationship will often lead to frustration and further mistrust.
- Figuring out the culture of your home takes time. Allow it to come organically.
- Most important — have fun. These are some great times. If you enjoy the struggle, so will your housemates.
Have a question about residential life at Eagle Rock? Let us know by leaving a comment below and we’ll be sure you receive a detailed answer.
I am — and always have been — in awe of houseparents at Eagle Rock. They are amazing people and their ability to be present with students — open, accessible, and willing to spend the time it takes to build trust — filled me with admiration when I was at Eagle Rock. The comments by today’s houseparents in the blog just reinforce my feelings about how Eagle Rock founders viewed how students would reside on campus and how houseparents then and now are implanting that vision.