Warts and All: A Boarding School’s Web Presence Catches Up with Its Purpose

Are you surfing the web researching the best places for your child’s prep school education?

Want to know the truth about boarding school life?

Hyde Schools, private prep schools in Bath, Maine and Woodstock, Connecticut has announced the re-launch of its web site, Hyde.edu, and the site has a considerable change in intention. Why is it newsworthy?

Hyde Schools have been a forerunner in character education for over forty years. Its success rate in turning around headstrong adolescent attitudes through its renowned “10 Priorities” philosophy and a strong family program has garnered it prime-time features on ’60 Minutes’, ’20/20′, and PBS.

Yet, when the Internet offered a new opportunity to create a web presence in the world, Hyde did as any other private school: put its best face forward, showed beautiful photos of its pristine campus, and raised up its impressive character education shield.

However, that is not Hyde’s purpose — and not Hyde’s sole experience.

“The purpose of Hyde Schools, of character education,” says Malcolm Gauld, President, “is to help kids become their authentic selves as adults — defined not only by grades and external achievements, but by WHO THEY ARE and what they believe in. At Hyde, theirs is a meaningful journey of triumphs and failures, learning from mistakes, and turning obstacles into opportunities.”

Hyde Schools decided to let that journey be shown.

This week’s re-launch of their web site — which some call “bold,” “risky,” and “forward-thinking” — demonstrates a new content-driven focus that takes the risk of presenting an authentic glimpse of boarding school life.

“We’re all about taking risks to improve, as students and families,” says Laura Gauld, wife of Malcolm, and the Executive Director of the Hyde boarding schools. “Yet that wasn’t coming across on the web. Every community has its strengths and warts, and people looking for a boarding school deserve to know as much as they can about the real experience of Hyde before they make a commitment to visit a campus. ”

The “real experience” was manifest in an offbeat approach created by web designer Steve Coy.

“Hyde wanted to create an online community where visitors would experience the real-life spirit and substance of the schools. We did this by providing various media options through which visitors can read, watch, listen, and contribute by commenting on news, images, social media sites, and blogs, before even setting foot on the campuses,” says Coy. “No one else in the world of traditional boarding schools seems to be doing this.”

Although the new site is aligned accurately with the organizational goals, the unveiling of the website’s slightly subversive design also raised a few eyebrows among some of the organization’s leaders. Some critics were fearful that the approach taken with design and content veers too far from the majority of traditional boarding school websites in its “relaxed” presentation of content.

Lavoe Davis, Executive Director of Development for Hyde, and the mom of a Hyde grad, urged administration to “be ever mindful” of the impression the school makes “to the outside world.”

“What feels right to us who know the value of this institution,” says Davis, “may not feel right to those who have no idea about us. We need to maintain an outside perspective at all times that we are, yes, portraying Hyde accurately and, let’s not forget, in the appealing light that it deserves.”

While Malcolm Gauld agrees with that premise, he does not share the fear.

“Why would we try to blend and mimic the other prep schools?” he asks.
“What Hyde offers is unique, and we need to be authentic in our communication and sharing of that. I believe we’ve now captured the essence of the Hyde experience on this site. We owe that much to anyone who invests the time to look us up on the web. That alone is appealing.”