A Community vs Crime

By Ms. Miller’s Journalism Class Fall ’17

Wyoming Seminary Upper School’s disciplinary system has been a topic of ardent criticism in recent times. However, this criticism is largely a result of a misunderstanding. Opponents of the disciplinary system criticize its subjectivity, yet this subjectivity is the basis of an effective and personalized discipline system focused on individual growth. The Student Handbook clearly describes the policy as “a case-by-case basis with due regard for both specific circumstances and the welfare of the entire school community.” A community based on trust between teachers and students creates an environment in which students can develop and prosper.

Some cite inconsistency between punishments as a rationale for their criticism of the disciplinary system. However, according to Mrs. Catie Kersey, dean for Wyoming Seminary’s Class of 2019, “we emphasize the process more than the outcome.” This complements the Student Handbook, which vividly states “we [administration] do care about them [students] as maturing members of this community.” Sem’s process-oriented discipline system allows students to grow as a member of a community. While there may be inconsistency between outcomes, the process remains the same. When asked whether a student’s familial background is taken into account during the disciplinary process, Kersey replied “never.” Instead, the disciplinary process takes into account the student’s career at Sem and the circumstances of the offense. “Some students come to the disciplinary process with baggage, such as a past disciplinary history” Kersey notes, “but we weigh all pieces when making decisions”.

Wyoming Seminary isn’t alone in its unique disciplinary process: Phillips Exeter Academy, the number one private high school in America according to Niche, reaffirms the value of a unique, process-oriented system: “The Academy is a private school and, as such, its disciplinary system may differ from public school or official government processes.” Similar to Wyoming Seminary’s disciplinary board, they have a “disciplinary committee” that may lead to different outcomes for varying transgressions.

The alternative objective system would lead to a system that focuses on the punishment, rather than the person. “Wyoming Seminary’s policy focuses on”, Kersey explained, “the full picture.” Sem rejects a one strike policy, choosing instead to look at the whole student and allow them to learn from mistakes. In the words of Nick Ganter ‘19, “we’re given second chances when dealing with mistakes.” Teachers at Wyoming Seminary know that, as Kersey states, “we’re dealing with teenagers who will make mistakes”. A subjective policy can most effectively allow students to learn from transgressions and grow as people. As opposed to an adversarial process, Wyoming Seminary’s process is centered on students and teachers working together to create an outcome that works for each student.

 

To Prevent or To Punish

By Ms. Miller’s Journalism Class Fall ’17

In the spring of 2017, two high school students were caught drinking alcohol in the dorms at Wyoming Seminary Upper School in Northeastern Pennsylvania.  Although the two students experienced the same disciplinary procedure, only one student was expelled. Although they both violated the same rule, the punishment was severely biased.  The current disciplinary system evaluates the student instead of the case, as we can see has happened in the past.  It seems as if the punishment is fit to the student instead of the case.  While this does allow the administration to consider special circumstances, the current disciplinary system creates a bias that is clear to the student body.

Administrators do not seem to realize the effect that their unfair decisions have on the student population.  Mrs. Catherine Kersey, dean of the 2019 class, says, “Perhaps the biggest challenge is to repair relationships after the disciplinary process.”  But the damage has already been done.  Relationships are broken only because the students see it as unfair, noticing the lenient punishment that other students have received. Kersey also noted that “There is a set process, but not a set outcome.”

It’s clear in the Wyoming Seminary handbook, which all students have access to, that it is “in all likelihood” that the noted punishment will be enforced, leaving the administration wiggle-room for “Sem’s poster-children”.  Other elite prep schools denote specific punishment instead of a “likelihood”.

There is no question that the frequency of drinking incidents at Wyoming Seminary and in fact all schools has risen profusely. According to a CDC study conducted in 2015, 1 in every 3 students had admitted consuming alcohol during the 30 days prior to the study.  Because of the increasingly common nature of this problem, cases should be treated impartially.

Unfair decisions from the disciplinary board send the message that certain individuals of the student population have more value than others.  Mr. Jay Harvey ’80, dean of the Upper School, acknowledged that the punishment is “personalized” to the individual student. The administration of this school needs to focus on making objective decisions instead of selective punishments.  What could be lost because of this bias?  The trust of every student and faculty member at Wyoming Seminary.  Without their trust the entire system of discipline crumbles.

New Schedule Test Run Leaves Many Hopeful

By Duncan Lumia

The ever-asked first bell question is in peril of extinction: “what kind of day is it today?” Of course, the possible answers flow through the mind with such ease, the letters having been pressed into the Sem student’s mind like the days of the week. But strange to think that, next year, the rising freshman class will spend their entire Sem careers alien to the letters T, L, E, or A-60 (to which many veterans might call “nap time”). The anticipated 2017-2018 schedule change is set to be a drastic change in school culture, but for better or worse? A winter test run of the 7-day alternating schedule sought to answer some of the many questions students and faculty had: “Will I really have more free time?” “What about lunch?” “Is change really all that necessary?”

Leading up to the test run, many students were apprehensive of what was to come. Many students enjoyed their routine. Afterall, they created it anyway. Fear grew that the new schedule would limit students’ opportunities to personalize their schedule. Some enjoyed setting aside time in the middle of the day knowing they could have a longer lunch. Others personalized their schedule to sleep in. On the other end, some students took 8th bell free to end the day early. This direct personal involvement in one’s own schedule was set to disappear with the new rotating schedule. Fundamentally, it was the lack of predictability that spurred many students to a fear of change. Sure, the new schedule might offer a student more free time in the morning on a certain, random time. But no longer can that student individualize their schedule to consistency.

These and other fears in mind, students prepared themselves for the great wave of change. However, very quickly, these apprehensions seemed to melt away. It was almost as if a set of shackles had been released from the ankles of those who took the same path to the same class at the same time, every day. Students like senior Gabe Pascal praised the “increase in variability” of the rotating schedule, a welcomed variety opposed to the military style of the old way. Many others like junior Eli Idec agreed, welcoming the change in class times as a “refreshment.”  

Students around campus were eager to applaud the new schedule, especially for the free time it generates for social interaction and completing homework. Junior Olivia Meuser asserted that “I was so much less stressed than I usually was because I felt I had so much time to do stuff at school.” A great majority shared her belief, like sophomore Lucas Barnak who had “more time to unwind.” The longer lunch bell, too, alots more essential time for students to take a break from the rigorous academics throughout the day. Although, many students and faculty dreaded the idea of an all-school lunch period. On paper, it seemed to resemble a bell-5 lunch on steroids, but in testing it, a lot of community members found it agreeable. Meuser feared the lunch lines would be “terrible and chaotic,” but because there was so much time, she was able to “do homework and like, stuff.”

The schedule culture at Sem, to close, likens itself to Plato’s famous Allegory of the Cave. Knowing nothing other than the old schedule, students accepted it simply because it was there. However, after being exposed to a new reality during the test run period, the aforementioned shackles disintegrated. With it, the one-way mindset of the community vanished. Now, as students begin to marvel at the great positivity of this switch, in an area thought unchangeable until recently, what great dogma of the school may next be challenged next? The floodgates are open. There now exists a tremendous student awareness that there is possibility to change unfavorable aspects of the school. With something so very establishment such as the schedule now uprooted, what other ancient tenets of Wyoming Seminary are subject to scrutiny, and perhaps, dare it be said, change.