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California Boarding School Culture/Honor Code/Motto

8minutemile8minutemile 13 replies3 threads Junior Member
I started this conversation on another thread about one specific boarding school in the LA area, but now curious to learn more about other California boarding schools too since our family is open to options.

We have noticed that schools each have a motto or honor code that is promoted as somewhat of a guiding force for the campus culture. Please share your experience as to whether you think that the school community is truly held to that standard. For us, school culture is important--we think it is one of the more important qualities of choosing not just a school but a place that will be a home away from home.
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Replies to: California Boarding School Culture/Honor Code/Motto

  • msc3173msc3173 32 replies6 threads Junior Member
    My child will be starting Cate this fall. I won’t go into details publicly but the head of admissions showed so much kindness and caring to my child after an unfortunate incident with our current head of middle school that it cemented my feelings that the right school had been chosen. We are exited to see what next year brings.
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  • CaliMexCaliMex 2025 replies34 threads Senior Member
    Thacher is all about Honor, Fairness, Kindness, and Truth. Weeks before school started, the dorm head wrote to the incoming freshmen asking them to ponder those values (Honor, Fairness, Kindness, and Truth) and what they might mean in the context of living in a dorm with 29 other girls. It was the subject of one of their very first group discussions upon arrival.

    Integrity is central. There is strong peer pressure to do the right thing, even when no one is looking.... By the time they are upperclassmen, students are trusted to take their exams unproctored.

    Students also encourage each other to step outside their comfort zones. This starts with the horse program. The vast majority of kids (90%) have never been on a horse. They experience a LOT of failure (and falls!) through the riding program and count on their peers for emotional support and horse care when they themselves are unable to feed, water, or care for their horse due to some other commitment. They really learn to support and help each other.
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  • CaliMexCaliMex 2025 replies34 threads Senior Member
    PS: The head of admissions at Cate is really awesome.
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  • Hopeful0304Hopeful0304 84 replies1 threads Junior Member
    Stevenson is known to have a culture of relaxed kindness, and I would agree that both students and teachers conform to this ideal. It is not a high pressure environment, and the administration in the last few years has made a huge effort (successfully) to reduce the amount of homework, increase the hours of sleep, and emphasize student health and happiness.
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  • CaliMexCaliMex 2025 replies34 threads Senior Member
    Also: Humility is a key trait at Thacher. It is why the mascot is a humble Toad.
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  • westcoastmom987westcoastmom987 44 replies4 threads Junior Member
    Our family’s experience at Stevenson is similar to what @Hopeful0304 described above. Stevenson’s motto is “Where You Belong” and they are very sincere about meeting each kid where they are and growing together as a community. The head of school at Stevenson is fantastic.
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  • CateCAParentCateCAParent 386 replies5 threads Member
    A couple of musings about Cate.

    The motto is "Servons" -- to serve. There is a lot of opportunity to do public service, but it really shows in the emphasis on everyone contributing to the Cate community. It is reinforced from move-in day to assembly to all of the clubs to all of the jobs. Everywhere. Small example, at the brunch at\t fall parents' weekend, our freshman son brought over some of his senior boys to meet us. One of them saw that we were done with our plates, and without comment just cleaned up the table for us. We didn't ask, they just did it. 17 year old boys.

    The informal motto is "The spirit of this place" -- which refers to not just the peaceful ambiance/learning environment, but also the kindness and community that comes from it. Hard to define, but it is real. It is probably the nicest place I have ever been.

    The educational philosophy is "Inquiry". Every class is designed around an analytical process, that applies equally to Humanities as it does to math. Every year there is a new theme -- this year was "change". It is woven through the book that everyone was assigned over the summer, through the classes, through talks by the Headmaster, everything.

    Cate is thoughtful and purposeful about everything they do.
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  • 8minutemile8minutemile 13 replies3 threads Junior Member
    Thanks @msc3173, @CaliMex, @Hopeful0304, @westcostmom987, and @CateCAParent! Sounds like you've had positive experiences! Glad to hear these schools are mission-driven and instilling a sense of kindness, humility and service and that the administrators/staff seems to value building a positive school community.
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  • CaliMexCaliMex 2025 replies34 threads Senior Member
    Also: Having to shovel horse manure every morning freshman year helps weed out any kids or families who are overly entitled or think they are above manual labor... (Sophomores, juniors, and seniors have other morning assignments like sweeping classroom floors, etc.)
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  • CaliMexCaliMex 2025 replies34 threads Senior Member
    This should give you an idea of the school’s values and why families choose Thacher: https://youtu.be/-MYRrja-4YA
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  • 8minutemile8minutemile 13 replies3 threads Junior Member
    Thanks @CaliMex for the link. I've been gaining more insights about California boarding schools and Thacher along with a few other ones (Cate, Webb, Stevenson) have solid academics and some do place a strong emphasis on building a cohesive and shared values community. I was impressed that the honor code is a central focus of Thacher. What surprised me is that I recently learned that Doug Hodge, one of Thacher's trustee, was tangled up with the recent Operation Varsity Blues college bribing scandal.. Here is a link: https://www.ojaivalleynews.com/?view=article&id=15108:thacher-trustee-douglas-hodge-arrested-in-college-admissions-fraud&catid=856

    He's no longer affiliated with Thacher.

    Also, there's also this article:

    https://citywireusa.com/professional-buyer/news/former-pimco-ceo-pleads-not-guilty-in-college-admissions-scandal/a1222181

    This one mentions that he has been accused of paying bribes for two of his kids to get into college. Not sure if Thacher students were involved in the scandal, but it must have been tough on the school all around to have a trustee involved. How did Thacher deal with this issue in terms of providing information to parents and students? I'm sure all schools have difficult situations to address from time to time. How those challenges are handled can be revealing.
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  • CaliMexCaliMex 2025 replies34 threads Senior Member
    We got a letter from the head of school very early on telling us that the board of directors had asked Hodge to resign, which he did. I haven't seen a single allegation of Thacher being involved in any way.

    BTW: The college counseling function is very strong at Thacher. Colleges are very familiar with the school and know that the horse and outdoor programs challenge kids and build their character in ways that are quite unique to the school. (Yes, horses and outdoor activities are available at other schools... but they aren't mandatory, even when you don't feel like engaging in them, which is where the character-building part comes in!)
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  • CateCAParentCateCAParent 386 replies5 threads Member
    Curious -- did Hodge and/or his kids go to Thacher? Either he was a Trustee without his kids going there (weird), or he felt the need to get outside help for his kids college applications (also weird).

    Makes sense that Thacher has nothing to do with Singer because their college counseling is so strong and entirely in house. But something doesn't make sense about Hodge being a Trustee but his kids going to an outside consultant. Feels like there is a lot more to the story.
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  • gardenstategalgardenstategal 6310 replies10 threads Senior Member
    I would not spend time worrying about a Trustee. They are usually selected for their ability to donate big $ or for the special skills they bring to the Board. An issue like this, especially one that only became public after years of secrecy, isn't a reflection on the school. Now, if they brought Singer onto the Board the today, you'd be right to worry!

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  • CaliMexCaliMex 2025 replies34 threads Senior Member
    Most of the top boarding and day schools have strong college counseling offices, with 25-50 kids per counselor instead of the 300-600 counselor caseload that is common in public schools... and yet, many wealthy people decide they need extra help or a leg up from independent consultants. Those who are looking to buy their way into prestigious colleges are probably a very small percentage. But knowing the Thacher culture of integrity and transparency (and knowing the college counseling staff), I'm pretty certain no one would dare ask them for help in bribing one's way into a highly-ranked school! There will always be wealthy people who see themselves as "above" the rules and who prefer throwing money at life's challenges than enduring situations (like college admissions) that they can't control.
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  • 8minutemile8minutemile 13 replies3 threads Junior Member
    Thank you @CaliMex for your response. Sounds to me like Thacher handled it swiftly and informed the school community openly, which bodes well. Transparency and communication is important. I agree with @CateCAParent that there is likely more to the Hodge story. For school boards, members usually have a connection to the school in some capacity other than just being a wealthy benefactor.

    On another note, while some trustees might have deep pockets, schools in general should be expected to bring on board members that do more than bring in money. In general, schools tend to tout that their trustees are also there to advance the school's mission and provide guidance. Trustees are also representatives of the schools. In Thacher's case, it's unfortunate that their trustee was involved in the nation's largest college bribery scandal, but it looks like they asked for his resignation immediately.

    With that said, all schools no doubt have a hard task. There are many members to take into consideration at any school and school admins can't completely predict what any member of the community (trustee, student, faculty, staff, etc.) may do that could reflect poorly. Hopefully though, Thacher, and other schools do spend a good amount of time vetting trustees carefully and choose people with shared values who are truly committed to building a strong educational institution. To circle back to the original topic of discussion, many schools spend a considerable amount of time highlighting their motto, honor code, or school culture. Because of this, schools should do more than just court the big fishes with big money. Let's be honest, many schools with the need for large endowments are apt to do this; that's the reality for many schools. But what the incident with Thacher's trustee demonstrates is that the character and integrity of board members are also important.

    I agree too @CaliMex that there are always people who see themselves as above the rules and will try to solve problems by throwing money at it. Sadly though, despite having enough money to get a top-notch education and a multitude of resources, some people will still try to gain access through a back door. It's all so bizarre.
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  • CaliMexCaliMex 2025 replies34 threads Senior Member
    Not sure if a more thorough vetting process would have even helped. They seemed like a nice family that used its wealth for good. https://www.ocregister.com/2016/05/18/how-a-froyo-shop-in-france-is-helping-girls-overcome-the-odds-in-santa-ana-africa-and-asia/

    Fraudulent activity is usually well hidden.
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  • Happytimes2001Happytimes2001 1825 replies13 threads Senior Member
    One more criteria for potential parents to look at is the trustees at any given institution. Does the school have a broad based age range, is everyone male? Are there young and old trustees? Do they have a real connection to the school? Are they in only a handful of fields ( finance) or do they represent a broad spectrum of careers( like teaching and the arts).
    Many parents at many schools. including Thacher and others-- use high level consultants. Even though BS kids have more access to excellent guidance counselors, many want one-on-one consulting. And many parents do things on the side ( using the consultant to gather ideas and then going back to the guidance counselor with these ideas). It's no surprise that so many got caught up in that scandal.
    As I've said before, there is no school where everyone is doing the right thing. And parents need to look closely at the BS their children will attend. It's sad when parents believe a school and the school breaks their trust. It happens, at many schools. The thing is, does the school fix it with honesty and courage or do they sweep it under the rug?
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  • CaliMexCaliMex 2025 replies34 threads Senior Member
    edited July 2019
    @Happytimes2001 I don't think Thacher did anything wrong in this case. Do you?

    Also, FWIW, the Thacher board of trustees is half men, half women and includes a well-known author, alum, and sociology PhD who is an expert on happiness and joy!
    edited July 2019
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  • Happytimes2001Happytimes2001 1825 replies13 threads Senior Member
    @CaliMex No idea if they did anything wrong or not. Haven't followed it. My general thinking is that every school has people who are good, bad, ambitious, ethical, unethical and all the rest. One school hasn't cornered the market on what is good and just. And no school has a whole group of negativity either. You get all kinds at all places.
    I like the idea that every board is made up of a broad segment of society. That isn't the case at every school. At others, it's great. Some schools have obviously cultivated alumni/ae to be on the board. Some have great stories of the individual progress of their members. Others not so much. I do like to look at the board or meet someone. Tells me something about what the school is about.
    The motto is one thing, what transpires is another. One hopes as a parent and student that they mirror each other. Doesn't always happen but that's the goal.
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