Keeping TABS on SEM’s Residential Program

Three SEM faculty members attend The Association of Boarding Schools (TABS) national leadership conference



The weekend of February 1 through 3, Natalie Stothart, Sarah Wooten, and Alison Wright attended a conference organized by The Association of Boarding Schools in Boca Raton, Florida.  Some 29 boarding schools of various sizes from all over the United States were present but SEM was the only single sex school in attendance.  The overall goal of the conference as described by Ms. Wright was to shape a residential program.

Sarah Wooten and Natalie Stothart

The conference was composed of scheduled talks and “unconferences.”  “There were set presentations by the two hosts of the conference.  The first presentation was on the purpose of boarding schools,” said Ms. Wooten, who works in the residential program but is not a house director.

Other presentation topics included liability, diversity, historic trends in student populations, and ways to resolve political tension.  While the talks were informative, both Ms. Wooten and Ms. Wright found the unconferences to be most helpful.  Unconferences are loosely structured meetings within the larger conference.  The attendees voted on the topics they wished to discuss, such as wellness and residential activities, then split into groups.  Some unconference topics included duty schedules and residential activities.  “It was useful because I was talking to other people who work at residential schools. You could see what other schools are doing the same and differently,” said Ms. Wright, an English teacher and house director.

Alison Wright

The TABS conference was a learning experience for the group.  “I was surprised to hear about the different ways that other boarding schools operate.  I’ve never met anyone who’s been to boarding school.  I thought everyone was closer to SEM,” said Ms. Wooten.  They also found some topics to be of little relevance to SEM’s residential program.  “I realized that lots of other boarding schools have issues with vaping,” Ms. Wright said.  “That never occurred to me.”

While the trio enjoyed Florida’s warm weather, the trip was not a vacation.  The conference began at 9:00 AM and ended at 5:00 PM.  However, their work continued late into the night.  “On Thursday night we went out to dinner together and worked all night,” said Ms. Wright.  “It was a really productive conference.  We have very different personalities and backgrounds.  In some ways our differences made us work well together.”

I think residential life is a really important piece of SEM because it adds a lot of the diversity that SEM talks about and it adds to the sense of community.  We’re not just a Buffalo community.”

— Ms. Wooten

In going to the conference, SEM was presented with the question of where to go next.  “We talked a lot about the SEM community which is an important part of the experience.  I think our future oriented plans are focused on maintaining the community in some ways and expanding on it,” Ms. Wooten said.

While plans for further action are not yet set in stone, all those involved agree that the conference was a worthwhile opportunity for SEM.

Ms. Wright described the group as containing the “right ingredients” to improve the residential program.  Each has different ideas, but have the same end goal she explained.  “All three of us are committed to the program.”