August 1, 2018
Over the course of the last two decades, St. Andrew's has developed a unique and successful approach to the problem of boarding school alcohol/drug use. Many of you have asked me how we built such a culture, especially at a time when use at both day and boarding schools continues to escalate.
Essentially, we made two important recognitions that made all the difference in the way St. Andrew's approached the issue. First, we realized that the power and momentum of the School each year emerge from our invitation to the student body to create the spirit and ethos that they themselves desire.
Our students decided that rather than spending time, energy, and effort engaging in pretense, deceit, and illegal use of substances, they preferred to build a culture that honored the trust and honesty that defines our School at its best. Instead of accosting them with adult distrust, suspicion, and threats of zero tolerance, we presented them with the opportunity to build and honor a new culture in the American boarding tradition.
Year after year, St. Andrew's graduates meet students from other boarding schools in their freshman years at college, and when our alumni describe our community ethic of trust and rejection of the alcohol/drug chaos, they see and hear absolute amazement and disbelief from these students. Yes, it is possible for students in a school to affirm that they do not need alcohol to have fun together and develop lifelong friendships. They can unite in an expression of respect for laws and an assertion of the value of meeting challenges and anxiety with strength and resilience. Each year, our seniors make this commitment a major part of their stewardship of St. Andrew's.
Secondly, we realized that students at St. Andrew's ultimately want to honor the trust and support they feel each day from their teachers, coaches, advisors, and mentors. They are more than willing to honor these sacred relationships, even in the face of the allure of the world of intoxication. The true promise of the small all-residential school is the potential for the full adult and student community to reach an elevated consensus on how we live and work together. We have celebrated our student-faculty trust and collaboration by weakening the one school problem that literally tears the heart out of a community.
Once we established the power of student ownership and responsibility for our culture, and once we celebrated the full teacher-student apprenticeship model at St. Andrew's, we found that we could indeed expose the emptiness and desolation of violations of such sacred norms.
Of course, it has always been the case that the alcohol/drug industry continues to target youth. The latest innovation is juuling, a way to ingest nicotine or marijuana in a dangerously intensive way without the risk of creating a suspicious odor. We will specifically ban the juul device as drug paraphernalia, and we will talk to students about the danger of this new fad that promises a perfect way to trick parents and teachers. But most of all, I will ask the students if they want to create a culture of distrust; I will ask them to take responsibility for making sure we do not lose our cultural commitment to respect and responsibility.
You, as parents, will find yourselves honoring our culture as you supervise your sons and daughters in the summer, on vacations, or on weekends. You may hear that the use of alcohol or drugs is absolutely fine as long as the students are not driving or are in a home or apartment. You may see remarkable examples of parents looking the other way. But I ask you all to be strong, consistent, and united in protecting the health, vitality, and promise of our students. The evidence is clear: students who refrain from such use in their teens dramatically reduce the chances that they will develop addictions that will plague them throughout their adult lives.
Our culture and approach aren't perfect, but I remain inspired by a tradition that gives us all hope and the expectation that we stand together in this important, increasingly countercultural work.
Daniel T. Roach, Jr.
Merrill M. Stenbeck Head of School