Guiding Student Change as Milton Hershey School Houseparents
By David and Beverly-Ann Fraser, Senior Division Houseparents
As students transition from Middle to Senior Division, the anticipation of enjoying new freedoms like the use of cell phones and other electronics with fewer restrictions and possible dating opportunities comes face-to-face with higher expectations, responsibilities, and accountability. This is a big period of student change.
For some, there is a feeling of coming of age, having arrived, and being entitled to make their own decisions. Others experience fear and anxiety as thoughts of higher learning with less dependency become real. There are others who appear to have a ‘whatever’ attitude.
While students move through this pivotal transition, we take steps to make the change of a new home, housemates, and houseparents a positive experience.
Welcome and Acceptance
During the first few weeks, we are intentional about getting our new students to relinquish all misconceptions or apprehensions about high school or their new student home. With input from trusted sophomores and juniors, we teach and demonstrate care, patience, and understanding by listening and responding to their concerns, feelings, and ideas whether implicit or expressed.
More importantly, we welcome each student with open arms and reassurance that they will be safe and comfortable in our home as we support them in their journey. We let them know that we would not judge or evaluate them based on their past or mistakes.
Very soon, we begin to focus on the idea of family and sisterhood through conversations that show honesty and vulnerability. Asking and answering questions, interactive games and outdoor activities and strategic room placement all help new students feel more comfortable in this new environment.
We teach, model, and encourage the young ladies and give them the opportunity to show off their individual talents and abilities as they feel comfortable and ready.
We also have age-appropriate conversations about growing up and relationships that help the girls to open up, learn, grow, and become comfortable among peers and Houseparents. As their house father, I share with them “if you want to date my daughter” stories that create interest, leading to questions and opportunities for guidance and possible father/daughter interaction.
As the student begins to get comfortable with change, we talk about guidelines and expectations beginning with respect for self, Authority, and peers. Rewards, as well as logical and natural consequences, are discussed, and our Sacred Values are reinforced and identified as they are lived out by and among students.
We give new students the opportunity to volunteer for various student home tasks or activities where their potential could be recognized and developed and even motivate others. Incentives, Praise statements, and more opportunities for growth are provided.
We also do in-house beauty and fashion activities and photo shoots to encourage a positive self-image.
While MHS is a unique environment, the experiences and feelings children have as they encounter major change can be overwhelming and difficult for them to navigate on their own. Whether you are a parent, family member, coach, or mentor, you can make a positive impact in a child’s life by communicating openly and providing a safe environment for them to feel comfortable in.