Community With Meaning

Mountain Connection, February 13th, 2023

Although the winter months can often seem long and dreary, SMS goes well out of its way to keep morale high and student life joyous. Recently, I had the chance to catch up with Eben, our illustrious Dean of Students, for his take on student activities around school, the sort of occurrences often dubbed ‘extra curricular’ since they take place outside of the classroom, but that we recognize as critical to students’ overall edification. For example, the ongoing ‘Winter Wonderment’ is a series of weekend events that engage students with adventure off campus, whether ice climbing in Ouray, skiing in Jackson Hole, or taking a cultural immersion trip to Denver. Designed in part to punctuate the length of time between Winter Break in December and Blues Break in February, which can get somewhat monotonous during the darkest days of the season, the Wonderment trips stem from the school’s core values of facilitating students’ inward exploration of the self and outward exploration of the larger world. As Eben states, “These weekend trips have been instrumental to the SMS student experience because they serve as a way for our students and faculty to better connect to each other and to the beautiful parts of the country we are fortunate to live in.” The name of the series is certainly no accident, therefore, as the trips reinvigorate students’ sense of awe within new and captivating experiences.

         While what Eben calls the ‘production value’ of Wonderment trips is quite high, there are also plenty of events on campus per week that deserve spotlight. Faculty and students work together to arrange and pull off a panacea of fun happenings that lighten the winter weeks. Wherever you look you’ll find campus activities of all sorts: birthday celebrations in the dorms, spirit week costumes, weekly club meetings, elective offerings, and faculty vs. student basketball games. Eben states, “My favorite student activity that is coming up next month is the Winter Olympics. Our student prefects organize afternoons with various fun-spirited competitions like sledding races, tug ‘o war, and donut-on-a-string. The day ends in an all-school community dinner that marks the last time our whole community will be together until the end of Intersession and GS in May. I love that the event is student-initiated and also that it provides our community a chance to convene before our two divergent programs begin.” Importantly, too, SMS is always especially considerate in making sure our boarders feel the comfort of their second home. As they return to their dorms after classes and POPs have subsided each day, we strive to update the traditional mode of ‘in loco parentis’ with an assurance of family care. Eben states, “Joanie, Margi, Kaiti, Cody, and our entire residential faculty work incredibly hard to make the dorms feel like students’ homes, places they’re comfortable developing friendships, holding responsibilities, and being cared for. And, by also welcoming day students into these spaces, we create a deeper sense of community and belonging for everyone.” 

         Certainly, Eben appreciates the positive impact his role as Dean of Students has on the entire campus. Well beyond the purview of enforcing discipline, he understands how the Dean sets the tone for the community’s shared perspective. He states, “To say the path to adulthood is arduous would be an understatement, and it is my mission to create a culture that provides support and nurturing to our students. The tone I seek to set is one of trust, playfulness, and engagement. I strive to make students feel seen and respected as individuals, to celebrate with them in their successes, and work with them in their failures.” And while the SMS student calendar can vary widely for different students, whether day, boarding, skier or GS, our collective experience bonds us and characterizes our broader understanding. From working alongside each other every morning in chores to sharing vulnerability in a campfire talk, our students find support within a tight-knit community that understands them on an individual-level and fully believes in their potential.

The Connection