Life Lessons

Life Lessons
Elizabeth Baker McClain

An interview with Bret Barnett, Assistant Head of School for Campus Affairs, January 2020

Q - How does Toad Hall fit into Brewster's residential life program?

Toad Hall is home to our ninth grade girls. It is so much more than simply a place for students to sleep. It is a purpose-built dormitory, designed with Brewster's mission in mind: to prepare diverse thinkers for lives of purpose. The programming and approach to student life within the dormitory reflects the same student-centered mindset and celebration of diversity you will find throughout Brewster's academic and co-curricular programming. Nearly two years after cutting the ribbon, Toad Hall's purposeful design makes it one of the best dorms on campus. 

Q - What are some of the design features of Toad Hall?

Each space was developed with specific programming in mind. First, the large common room areas were intended to serve as communal spaces. Residents spend time and collaborate in these spaces all the time. Students are using these spaces as secondary study areas, they are gathering together to listen to music at the end of a busy day, they are meeting as a group to talk about important issues. Having a place large enough for 23 students to engage face-to-face for dorm meetings has made a difference in the delivery of our dorm curriculum. 

Maeve's Outlook has become the center of south campus. Toad' Hall's close proximity to other lower school dorms has allowed this area to become a gathering place and has helped build the lower school community. Activity flows out of the dorms onto the central terrace, giving students a place to hang out and get to know their surrounding neighbors. 

The kitchen was built with students and their safety and development in mind. The induction cooktop requires special pans ensuring that the kitchen is only used at appropriate times and with the permission of an adult. In addition to helping residents learn valuable skills related to cooking, it gives the space a homey feel and challenges the girls to work together to share the space and keep it clean. 

Q - You mentioned that Toad Hall was purpose-built to support our student-centered programming. Can you share more?

When we set out to build the dorm we were mindful of the various student profiles we would be housing. Brewster has always been a leader in creating a student-centered educational model, but this "ground up" build gave us the opportunity to figure out the perfect mix of the doubles and singles so that we can better serve the students in our care. One room in Toad Hall has a private bathroom in order to serve students with specific medical needs. We also designed a single-use community bathroom so that co-ed visitors to the dorm have access to facilities. The layout created small clusters of 6-8 students per hallways, creating a more home-like feel within the 24 student dorm. 

Q - Do day students spend time in Toad Hall?

The dorm has been particularly important for the day student experience. Ninth grade female day students have benefited from access to Toad Hall. The large common area, the study room, the equipment storage area, overnight space and the lobby bathroom have made it possible for our day student population to engage in the life of the dorm like never before. They feel that they have their own space in the dorm to which they are connected.

Q - Where does the community life parent live in Toad Hall?

Toad Hall has four faculty apartments attached, two apartments on each end of the facility. By increasing the number of adult connections, students have more opportunities to develop bonds with faculty members. The addition of four new faculty apartments has also been important for faculty morale, allowing us to make shifts across campus to better serve individuals and families. 

Q - Why was the newest dorm on campus assigned to ninth graders?

We believe that ninth grade students benefit exponentially from the positive presence of as many adults as possible. With four faculty residences to 24 girls, the adult to student ratios in Toad Hall are unprecedented, perhaps at any boarding school. The faculty help the ninth graders acclimate to life at Brewster and serve as a support network as they adjust to living away from home. We seek to make the experience as joyful and supportive as possible.