Life in the Dorms

by Amiee White Beazley

For nine months out of every year, Colorado Rocky Mountain School is alive, filled with students tapping into their exceptional possibilities, working together, planning adventures, and for more than half of the student body – living together.

Boarding is a big part of CRMS life. With seven dorms there are approximately 100 students living on campus.

“There is a vibrant culture on campus,” says Director of Residential Life, BJ Sbarra, who is also a Dorm Parent at the South Dorm for junior boys. “A big part of that is having this shared experience — living and going to school together. A boarding student’s day at CRMS is not over when school’s over.”

Dorm Parents are just what the name implies – adult faculty members living in adjacent housing responsible for the happiness, health, and safety of the approximate 14 students living in their dorm, as well as overseeing a residential program that supports academic achievement and social growth.

“We all do a variety of things at the dorm,” explains Lane Errickson, North Dorm Parent for junior girls. “For me, the dorm is my little family. I’m there for them when they want to bring up their concerns, need extra help with homework, or just have a question and need insight. It’s a very genuine environment for interacting. Some of the biggest teachable moments we have during the day are not for a grade, and not for a paper, they are about living together.”

When Marlin Rhodes is not entrenched in student billing and accounts payable, he is a Dorm Parent in the South Dorm for Junior Boys.

“Dorm parenting is such a gift,” he says. “I get to see the kids away from the classroom and watch them develop different talents they never knew existed or are not demonstrated in the classroom. I see the differing personalities. I seem them having fun with their peers.”

Rhodes, a parent to two adult daughters, has been a staff member at CRMS for 27 years – the last seven years as a Dorm Parent. “It’s nice to have that experience with daughters to know how to really relate when there’s emotion. I can reflect back and remember what my daughters were going through and help them make it a little easier.”

Life in the dorms at CRMS is not like other boarding schools. After a full day of academics, and afternoon “active” programs, which include sports and service crews, then dinner and study hall, students return to the dorms by 7:30 p.m. They then gather in the dorm’s common room for the evening’s Residential Life Program and planned team-building activities. Rhodes describes this as a “check-in,” where he assesses the kids’ demeanor, attitude and have a chance to talk about their days.

Rhodes comes up with short meeting topics to set the night off on a positive note. This time can be spent at the library, collaborating on music, or playing games that Dorm Parents have arranged in advance for the kids to enjoy. Students then have study hours from 7:30 – 9:30 pm Sunday through Thursday evenings where they can meet with teachers, work individually or in small groups.

Afterward, the students gather into groups and perform meaningful work via dorm jobs – caring for the spaces in which they live – cleaning bathrooms, taking out the trash or doing dishes. Every night the kids are also graded on the cleanliness of their rooms. Top achievers are rewarded with pizza parties, or other incentives to keep their rooms clean and organized. At 10:15 kids are encouraged to shower and prepare for lights out at 10:30 p.m. If students stay on campus, weekends are filled with scheduled activities like building bonfires, going skiing and playing flag football – anything, Rhodes says, to make the kids feel at home and enjoy themselves.

Rhodes has been a Dorm Parent to the same boys for two years and expects to follow them through Senior Year – a new approach CRMS has taken to foster the students’ relationships with their Dorm Parents. And yet, Dorm Parents aren’t the only people students can turn to in the dorms. In every dorm, there is an additional student leader called a “Dorm Head.”

Both Morgana Zendejas-Peterson and Pat McComb, seniors at CRMS, are Dorm Heads.

“Dorm heads are a student-version of Dorm Parents,” Zendejas-Peterson says. “We manage everything that’s going on in the dorm and are leaders if there’s a problem, or there is a need for something. I am another person a student can go to go to if there are problems.” “We act as a go-between,” adds McComb.

McComb notes the strong community ties fostered in the CRMS dorms, calling it “Family as One.”

“You grow close to the girls and guys in the boarding community,” says Zendejas-Peterson. “You get to know each other really well. You do grow into a family.”

“We work really hard to provide for our students and give them the care and attention they need to make sure they succeed,” says Sbarra. “Our school’s small size allows us to have this tight-knit community. But beyond that, it gives us the ability to know students really well, and marvel at how we are all in this together. We are able to give individualized attention and a level of care at a boarding school that is rare.”

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