Michael McDonald is a five-time Grammy Award winner, world renowned songwriter, vocalist, musician, and producer, with a solo career and involvement with The Doobie Brothers and Steely Dan.
Don Cook is one of Nashville’s premier songwriters and producers, former chief creative director for Sony Music Publishing Nashville, with more than 30 years of experience working with the likes of Brooks & Dunn, Alabama, and The Mavericks.
Why – with a world full of schools to choose from – did these two fathers select a school whose primary focus is not achievement?
“Character,” McDonald sums up in a word .
In a culture that is struggling with the violence of bullying, and teen issues including drug use, depression, anxiety, family troubles, and the pressure to achieve at all costs, our nation’s leaders are only beginning to catch up to the underlying needs of young people.
But some educational organizations are catching up. Alternative approaches to education are seen more and more, where students can talk openly about the social challenges they face and learn some skills to cope with them.
The McDonalds and Cooks searched for such a school, one that would offset the challenges they saw their teenage children rubbing up against in their community near Nashville. Their search took them to a small coastal town in Maine to Hyde School, a small prep school known for its approach to developing character and leadership skills.
The Hyde schools are part of a forty-five-year-old organization comprised of prep and charter schools and programs that claim to “help students reveal their character and develop the confidence and skills they need to prosper and grow in this challenging world.” While a Hyde education is equipped with college prep and AP courses to prepare students for college, its unique character-building approach is what seems to be hitting home with families such as the McDonalds and Cooks.
“Character is inspired, not imparted,” says Malcolm Gauld, parenting expert and president of Hyde. “We cannot pour it into our kids or our families. It must be earned. And when kids develop their character, they build self-esteem – real, authentic, self-esteem – that cannot be taken away…and they need it now more than ever.”
Malcolm is the co-author of the parenting book ‘The Biggest Job We’ll Ever Have,’ along with his wife Laura Gauld, Head of School at Hyde in Woodstock.
According to the Gaulds, we live in an increasingly achievement-oriented culture that judges kids based on their grades, test scores and awards. Hyde supports success, but regards these as external achievements that say little about the teen as a person.
“In a character culture, achievement is valued, but principles are valued more,” explains Laura. “That is, what a kid stands for is more important than merely how he stacks up against others.”
“We are interested in what kids are actually experiencing and feeling as students and as family members,” says Malcolm. We are interested in the whole child, and helping students to become the best people they can become.”
For the Gaulds that begins with the family .
“This isn’t a place where parents ‘drop off’ their children and get updates on progress now and then,” says Laura. “This is a place where parental participation is essential to inspiring character growth in students.”
The Hyde family programs have provided what the Gaulds say is a unique form of guidance and support to families around the globe, including the McDonalds and the Cooks. Helping parents understand their job as parents is a big part of what they consider their mission, with a residual benefit being strengthening family bonds.
“As parents, when we have a problem with our kids, we have a tendency to want to appear to outsiders as though our family is very happy, and we always have it together,” says McDonald. “But I was able to relate to my teenager honestly for the first time, to let go of the role playing, and to offer something of myself that was really helpful to my son.”
For McDonald and Cook, who readily admit they spent a good deal of their parenting years focused more on achievement than on taking steps to ensure they were “modeling what it would take to raise strong families of character,” the family component they experienced with their children at their school was enough to “right’ their parenting priorities.
“We’re a different family today than we were before we got involved at Hyde,” says Cook. “We have a more impressive set of skills to face the obstacles that naturally get in the way as a family, resolve them, and come out stronger on the other side.”
“We best inspire our teens when we share our struggles, reach for our best, and model daily character,” says Laura. “We all need help as parents, and knowing when to ask for it can make all of the difference in our lives.”