Welcome to the 'Castle': forging community at boarding school

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

On a recent stormy afternoon, two new teachers took a first step toward settling into their job for the year: they moved into the "Castle."

As thunder rumbled overhead, "old timers" familiar with the imposing stone structure at Noble and Greenough School in Dedham, Mass., ticked off things for their new neighbors to remember: Lightning is a problem - TVs and VCRs have a short life. When the air is thick and wet, as it often is in these late days of summer, bats have been spotted circling in the spiral staircase. And in winter, a tremendous clanging often stirs slumberers before dawn - but it's just the pipes.

Dawud Brown and Micah Myers laugh nervously when they hear about the early- morning noise. Sleep will be precious during their first year as teachers at the private school. But the inconveniences that accompany living in a place heavy on "character" may well be outweighed by the camaraderie inspired by this vast home for teachers, boarding students, and the occasional bat.

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"We're about building a boarding community," Latin teacher Mark Harrington says of living in the grand stone mansion. "We're really not a Holiday Inn. We want to make sure that the people who live here know what is expected of them."

Which means resident faculty will take turns with dormitory duties: overseeing study halls, inviting boarders to their apartments for snacks, and answering late-night knocks on the door from a student seeking care or homework help.

The Castle is a commanding presence on campus, with impressive peaked roofs and stone balconies rising over the athletic field. The mansion was designed for a millionaire in 1883 by the students of H.H. Richardson, the architect of Boston's Trinity Church. Noble and Greenough acquired it in 1921 when the school moved from Boston to the Dedham estate.

Since then, the Castle has been an integral part of the 500-plus student school - currently housing nine teachers, 18 male boarders, and the campus dining room.

The Castle community, like other residential spaces on campus, helps set a standard for how students and teachers should relate to one another. Honesty and respect are at the core of the school's code of conduct. Diversity and support for the individual also have special emphasis. The Castle entrance, in fact, is undergoing a minor face-lift to accommodate a new wheelchair ramp.

Math teacher Nick Marinaro has lived in the Castle for 14 years, raising two daughters as a single dad. "What I'll most remember ... is my daughters being small and telling their friends at school that they lived in a castle. We have led the world in sleepovers," Mr. Marinaro says.

Mr. Harrington and his wife, Tilesy, a teacher in the math department, have lived in the mansion on and off for 20 years with their three children.

The Harringtons and Marinaro are good neighbors and friends, often interrupting one another to deliver a punch line or finish sentences.

"He's like our long-lost brother," says Mrs. Harrington of Marinaro, patting his shoulder.

"It's kind of like being in a dining club in a way," Mark adds. "We all hang out together for meals."

The Harringtons' apartment seems as large as a suburban house, with two spacious floors and a fireplace in each room. It's easy to forget that a line of student rooms is just down the hall. But that doesn't mean that snores or music can't be heard through shared walls.

"I can be folding clothes at the dryer and I'll go, 'Oh Mark, you need to go tell them to turn off their stereo,' " Tilesy says.

Joanna and Joe Swayze, both art teachers, were attempting to wrestle a bamboo couch up to their room under the eaves. They'll be spending a few nights a week here to reduce their commute.

"What's the vertical climb in this building?" Mr. Swayze asks as he pauses to rest on one of the wide oak landings. "We counted 77 steps. It's great. It's like being in 'A Tale of Two Cities.' "

For some teachers, moving into the Castle is a homecoming. The Swayzes first lived here 25 years ago when they began teaching at Noble and Greenough. Dawud Brown, who graduated from the school not too long ago and is now a communications teacher, says it will be an adjustment to live above the dining hall and hear students calling him "Mr. Brown."

And that creaking sound welcoming them back? That's just the Castle, settling in for another school year.

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