The Thacher School ~ News Detail
"When new students arrived at Thacher for this year's move-in day, they were greeted by cheers and smiles from the senior class, and signs that welcomed them to the “happiest place on earth.” School spirit mixed with hyperbole can run thick at exciting times like this, but Thacher students have some sound backing for their proud welcome. Not only is Thacher one of the top boarding schools in the country (a fact supported by our 13 percent acceptance rate, 82 percent yield, rigorous curriculum, prestigious college placement, and exceptionally low attrition numbers), but the School has once again proven itself as perhaps the healthiest place in the nation.
Every two years, The Independent School Gender Project (ISGP) conducts a survey of student perceptions of health- and wellness-related issues on boarding school campuses. A cohort of 21 schools, including Thacher, took part in the research this past cycle; among them were: Cate School, Deerfield Academy, St. Paul’s School, The Taft School, and The Webb Schools. Each year, we are gratified to see the positive results roll in, attesting to the safe, nurturing, and healthy lives students lead at Thacher. In the 2009 version of this study, the data showed Thacher as the best of all 23 schools surveyed. When the 2011 numbers came in, the news only got better.
After collecting and collating the data, the ISGP divides the responses into subset categories and grades schools on a scale of A to C. In the 2009 study, Thacher received six As and no Cs. Our most recent transcript reports 18 As and still no Cs. The new reporting system no longer ranks schools individually, but instead places them into quartiles. These latest results not only put Thacher in the top quarter of all schools surveyed, but suggest quite powerfully that we continue to be the healthiest boarding school in the country.
A major highlight from this year’s survey is the news that Thacher ninth graders are having healthier, more positive experiences than their counterparts at our peer schools. The ISGP study summarized this by saying, “ninth graders at Thacher exceeded the norm in every area, indicating that Thacher is an excellent environment for ninth graders to flourish. Ninth grade girls in particular were exceedingly positive. Thacher earned exemplary status for a climate that supports positive experiences for ninth grade girls.” The specific measures here include high levels of comfort on campus, sense of equity, and respect; and low levels of stress and negative pressures.
This comes as no surprise to us, since we bring care and intent to the construction of our freshman experience. Thacher recognizes the unique needs and demands students face when first starting at boarding school (especially one where horses and mountains are among the first teachers!). Our program eases them into this new world with a strategy that includes programmatic innovations such as reducing the ninth-grade course load in the fall trimester by one class, a seminar class run by both the boys’ and girls’ dorm heads, and a prefect system that houses senior leaders in the dorm with freshmen.
It is not often that a school is willing to put statistics around stress, sexual activity, and substance use on the front burner. As Head of School Michael Mulligan says, “Thacher is once again leading the way when it comes to educating healthy kids of character and grit. We are not only willing to explore difficult issues and bring them into the light—we want to understand exactly where we are as a community and then chart our path to the best possible outcomes.”
One of many points of pride for us is that Thacher students receive the highest marks possible when it comes to freedom from pressure—including pressure to experiment with tobacco, alcohol, drugs, sexual activity, cyber bullying, or hazing of any sort. Mulligan points out, “Anyone who works or lives with adolescents will tell you that peer influence plays key role in shaping a teenager’s life, for good or for bad. Even in excellent schools, the pull to do what is “cool” can often lead to damaging results; failure to understand peer culture and then to help mold peer culture in the most positive ways is to allow your school to be controlled by swirling tides of adolescent consciousness.”
For Thacher to earn the highest possible marks in the area of negative peer pressure shows that here, what’s “cool” is also good for you. At this school, being cool means stepping out of your comfort zone to take on new challenges, be it trying out for a new sports team, singing at an Assembly, or leading your classmates up a steep mountain incline. At Thacher being cool means being yourself.
Another area of strength is in relation to perceptions of respect on campus. This includes respectful attitudes about race, sexual orientation, and responses to slurs or harassment. This, combined with the lack of negative peer pressure, leads to a community where students are empowered to try new things. Dean of Students, Sabina McMahon, says “Because students feel such a high level of comfort on our campus, they are more likely to be who they really are and go after what’s interesting to them, without being mired in worry that their peers will criticize them. It’s incredibly freeing.”
By ensuring that student lives at Thacher are as healthy and productive as possible, we are setting our kids up to succeed—giving them the tools and security they need. With these in hand, they are ready to make the most of the broader Thacher experience, and take on the world at large."