The One-of-a-Kind Lives of Boarding School Families

6 mins read

By Maddie Aitken ’19

When Mike Marich, Director of Athletics, and Kiersten Marich, Director of Leadership Giving and Prefect Advisor, moved into a house on the campus of The Gunnery with their children, Will, now 14, and Caroline, now 13, they “didn’t know a soul.”

“It was right before Halloween, and we didn’t know anyone, but Will and Caroline wanted to trick or treat. We weren’t sure how it all worked, but then Mrs. Low sent an email saying we’re trick or treating tomorrow – we moved in literally the day before Halloween – and that we were welcome to join. We felt that built-in, welcoming community right away.”

Faculty and their children on Halloween this year. Photo courtesy of Mr. Becker

At The Gunnery, as well as at many other boarding schools, most faculty members live on campus. Some live alone in dorm apartments, while others live with their spouses and children in houses around campus. Students are used to seeing faculty children – fac brats, as they’re lovingly nicknamed – across campus, whether they’re running around the Dining Hall or playing on Senior Rock.

Raising children on a boarding school campus, and, by the same token, growing up at a boarding school, is an extremely unique experience, and one that changes the lives of both the parents and the children.

Some teachers who live on campus with their kids were here long before they even thought about having children. For them, it seemed only natural to raise their kids here. Craig Badger, Associate Dean of Students, Boys Varsity Ice Hockey Head Coach and History Teacher, said, “I got here when I was 24, and I wasn’t thinking about having kids. When we did have kids, we never even considered moving off campus…No, I can’t say I came here thinking I would be here 14 years later with three kids, but it’s a great place to raise kids.” Mr. Badger has three daughters, Avery, 5, Maggie, 5, and Brooklyn, 3, with his wife, Jenn Badger, Dean of Faculty and History Teacher.

Similarly, Seth Low, Associate Head of School, College Counselor, Director of Co-Curriculars and Math Teacher, came here with his wife, Anne Low, before they were considering having children. And like the Badgers, they never thought about moving off campus once they did have kids. So David, 10, and Sarah, 9, have lived here their whole lives, just like Avery, Maggie and Brooklyn.

Mr. Low actually has a unique perspective on the idea of living on a boarding school campus with children, because he grew up at a boarding school, and now he is raising his own kids at one. Mr. Low’s parents worked at Blair Academy in Blairstown, New Jersey, where his father was the Assistant Head of School. He believes growing up on a boarding school campus influenced him and the person he is today in many ways: “It made me really comfortable around people of different ages; people that are older than me, younger than me. It gave me appreciation for people that are different from me because I got to meet people from all over the country and all over the world. I also gained an appreciation for education.” Now, The Gunnery community is doing the same for his own children.

Mr. Badger also believes growing up on our campus is giving his daughters unique advantages. They’re young, but living here has allowed them to interact with many people, as well as gain maturity and independence. “They love coming to the Dining Hall, they love running around in the Dining Hall, they love all of that. I think the most obvious thing that they get from living here is the socialization. They are far more socialized than they would be if we lived in a ‘normal’ setting. There are so many different people, and, I mean, they’ve interacted with, in their lifetimes, over a thousand people, just here. Most kids their age don’t get anything close to that.”

Peter Becker, Head of School, has three children with his wife, Amy Julia: Penny, 12, William, 10, and Marilee, 7. Like Mr. Badger, he said the socialization of living at a boarding school has affected his kids. “Marilee’s teacher, who, as it happens, also grew up on a boarding school campus, said Marilee is so comfortable with adults and older kids. She thinks it must have to do with her growing up here.”

The Low kids and the Badger kids have lived here their whole lives, and the Becker kids moved here from another boarding school, but some children move here from a more “normal” environment, like the Mariches.

The Mariches moved onto campus when Will was 10 and Caroline was 9, and both Mr. and Mrs. Marich think moving here was good for them. Mrs. Marich said, “Our kids have always been fairly extroverted, but I think living here has made them not afraid to talk to anyone. They can talk to adults, they can talk to kids that are older than them. I think that has been a byproduct of being in this kind of environment where they’re really forced to talk to a lot of different people.”

Mr. Marich added, “Before we moved here, we lived in Westchester county, which is not exactly socioeconomically diverse or culturally diverse. From a cultural perspective, being here and having students from different countries and different beliefs is great. I just think it’s been an incredible opportunity for our kids to see and meet different people from different places very early in their lives.” Both Mr. and Mrs. Marich believe that being here has allowed their children to grow and mature in many ways, which Mr. Badger said he’s already seeing with his young children.

The children seem to love it just as much as their parents recognize the benefits. The younger kids equate living here to living on one big playground, and the older kids love being with students. Will Marich, who will most likely attend The Gunnery as a freshman next year, said, “It’s fun. Students make it awesome. Living here makes me feel less nervous about being a freshman next year, because I sort of feel like I’m already a part of it. I like it.”

Neely and Harper Gritti and Jack Konik, 6, all love living here. Neely and Harper Gritti moved to The Gunnery from Kent Hill School in Readfield, Maine, when they were 2 and 4, respectively, so they’ve spent their whole lives at boarding schools. Jack Konik, on the other hand, moved here from Hawaii, and this is his first time living at a boarding school. When asked what it’s like being a faculty kid here, they all chorused back with “Fun! Fun! Fun!”.

“If I didn’t live here I don’t think my life would be that much fun because we wouldn’t know be able to be with our friends as much,” said Neely. Jack added, “I would be kind of sad if I didn’t live here because there are a lot of fun games here.”

Mrs. Marich said, “Probably six months after we moved to campus, we asked Caroline and Will what they thought and they said ‘it’s like having 300 siblings’ and I think that’s truly how they viewed it, and how they still view it to some extent, but definitely how they saw it when they were little…It’s always felt like the students here were more like siblings to our kids than strangers, and that’s been really special.”

Faculty members and their children have reached a consensus that living here is great. But would it be different if we were at another boarding school?

Mrs. Marich said, “I think that because of our size, our school is closer knit and our kids are in the fold more than they would be if we were at a really big school.” Mr. Becker agreed that the strong community we have at The Gunnery plays into the way faculty kids are growing up. “I look around at all the families here, and they’re all actively contributing…It’s definitely what goes around comes around.”

The Beckers previously lived at The Lawrenceville School in Lawrenceville, New Jersey, and Mr. Becker said it’s very different living here than living at Lawrenceville: “Architecture and campus layout make all the difference. Lawrenceville is a very dispersed, disaggregated school…There’s still a sense of raising your kids with other families, but much less than here. There’s a way more natural and intentional community among the families here.”

“One of the things that’s awesome about raising your kids here is that you have a built in village to help with everything. We’ve all done a tremendous amount of carpooling, we’re each other’s emergency contacts, that kind of thing. You also have a different kind of relationship with your colleagues because, in a lot of ways, you’re in it together,” said Mrs. Marich.

Many faculty members remarked on the way being a parent here changed their relationships with other faculty. “You form different relationships with faculty members because you know them as friends and parents as well as colleagues,” said Mr. Low. Similarly, Mr. Becker said, “We end up hanging out as parents, not as colleagues. We don’t really talk school shop, we just talk about our kids…I find it a very humanizing experience.”

“Having kids makes you come together in a different way,” said Mrs. Marich of her fellow faculty members. Mr. Badger said, “The Gunnery becomes a better place when you have kids.”

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