Elbow Grease

One of my favorite aspects of the boarding schools at which I worked, one of which I went to myself, was the work program. When my wife and I were considering starting a school of our own, this was one of the key components I wanted. Here’s how it worked and why I liked it.

At both places, students have to put in some physical labor. At Hyde everyone has to work some time in the dining hall. Crews are organized by sports team, so one day you might have the football offense helping with lunch, and girls’ soccer helping with dinner. Jobs include dish room, sweeping, keeping the juice bar stocked, scrubbing pots and pans, etc. No actual food service or cooking; that’s left to the professionals. At NMH it’s a much broader program. Everyone has one job per trimester, which is about 45 minutes a day or a big 4-hour chunk on the weekend. Everyone seems to spend at least one term in the kitchen, but lots of students clean classrooms, work on the farm (yes, there’s a farm attached to campus), vacuum the dorms, and so forth. Many juniors and seniors also have the chance to work in other ways, such as being a band manager, running the computer lab or help desk, working at the pre-school, or being a student leader (more on that another day).

I liked this program even when I was a student. I’m sure I complained about it once in a while, but only in the “now I have to leave my friends and go do work” sort of way. I saw a lot of benefit in the work, and I especially saw benefit in the fact that everyone had to work. This wasn’t college-style work study that was part of a financial aid package. You couldn’t buy your way out. It was good work, it needed to be done, and you could see the positive effects.

Most of my work ethic came from my parents and especially my grandparents, but the rest of it came from a school that demanded both intellectual and physical work. It’s something I’m still proud of to this day.


About Colin Fredericks

By day I help to create online courses at HarvardX. By night I write roleplaying games.

Posted on February 6, 2012, in Uncategorized and tagged . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. The work program is a brilliant idea.

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