A View of Hyde School, Part 1


Don MacMillan has served as a teacher and administrator for Hyde Schools over the past 20 years, including his role as founding head of school at the Hyde Leadership Charter School in Washington DC.  A graduate of Bowdoin College, Don later went on to Harvard University, where he received his master’s degree in Education.  He also earned a master’s degree in Counseling Psychology from Antioch New England Graduate School, with a concentration in substance abuse and addictions counseling.

Hyde School VS Therapeutic Boarding Schools

In recent years there has been exponential growth in the number of therapeutic boarding schools.  The therapeutic schools were founded specifically to help teenagers struggling with academic or behavioral problems.  Promotional materials for such schools typically offer to help students with a range of cognitive, behavioral, and psychological diagnoses, such as ADD, ADHD, substance abuse, depression, anorexia, oppositional defiance disorder (ODD), etc.  They tend to embody a problem-solving paradigm in which diagnosed deficits are remedied.  Rather than remedy deficits, Hyde seeks to build upon strengths.  Hyde offers a holistic approach to personal and family growth that has often proved to coincidentally help many teenagers with issues pertaining to a given diagnosis.

Strengths VS Deficits

As noted previously, Hyde School focuses on one’s strengths and potentials, rather than on one’s deficits and disorders.  In other words, a student who suffers from depression or an anxiety disorder may be appropriate for Hyde; however, the student is not appropriate for Hyde because he or she suffers from depression or an anxiety disorder.  In contrast, a student without a diagnosis would not be appropriate for a therapeutic setting.  The student is appropriate for Hyde only if the student and his or her family are willing to make a commitment to adhere to the principles and expectations that govern the school.

As a result, Hyde enrolls a wide spectrum of families and students.  Some are initially drawn to the family program, some by the traditional triad of academics, athletics, and college placement, and others by the opportunity for their student to be challenged in multiple areas.

Hyde is also not a traditional boarding school.  It requires a different level of commitment from students, families, and faculty – a commitment that can address both issues of character development and academic success.

The fact remains, though, that there are students who seek admission to Hyde School who have been diagnosed with a disorder, and the questions is raised from a clinical point of view, “What types of kids are appropriate for Hyde?”

Strengths Typical of Successful Hyde Students

Self Regulation

Success at Hyde requires the ability to willingly participate in all aspects of the curriculum.  Students are expected to manage their own time and responsibilities or, if necessary, to ask for and accept the help they need to accomplish tasks.  Support and direction is as likely to be provided by other students as it is by a faculty member.  Therefore, a Hyde student must be willing to allow peers to engage with him or her in this way.

Ability and willingness to tolerate ambiguity

Hyde takes three fundamental questions very seriously:

  • Who am I?
  • Where am I going with my life?
  • What do I need to do in order to get there?

Students engage in academics, athletics, performing arts, dorm life, etc., and learn about themselves by doing.  At Hyde, the potential learning and growth from these activities is maximized by adding a reflection piece.  Throughout the co-curricular program students are asked at various intervals to evaluate their attitudes and effort as it relates to the activity.  These reflection opportunities are at times intrapersonal, in the form of journal writing or completing worksheets.  At other times the reflection component is interpersonal, meaning observations on others and observations on oneself are done as a group activity.

Ability and willingness to be physically active

Participation in athletics is mandatory at Hyde School.  For most students, this means competing on three interscholastic teams per year.  As with all aspects of Hyde’s program, students are expected to not only participate in sports, but to test their limits and to actively explore what their best is in the realm of athletics.

Athletics are embedded in a daily and weekly schedule that is challenging and demanding.  The Hyde schedule is similar to other boarding schools, but a significant difference is that at Hyde the students and faculty also engage with each other and themselves in a way that is continually posing questions, such as:

  • Am I working towards my best?
  • What is my best?

Such recurring evaluation, mirroring, and questioning are some of Hyde’s greatest strengths and can be very energizing.  Other times, though, this process is draining on an intellectual, emotional, and physical level.

Ability and willingness to attend college

Hyde is a college preparatory school.  Students who are ultimately successful at Hyde academically have a solid foundation prior to enrolling, and have had at least some academic success in the recent past.  There are students at Hyde who have diagnosed learning disabilities, but the disability is not severe enough to warrant a school specifically designed for learning disabled students.  While Hyde does offer additional support for students with learning disabilities, it still remains primarily the student’s responsibility to stay organized, maintain class work, and pursue help if needed.

Desire to test one’s limits in multiple activities

At Hyde, non-academic activities are considered co-curricular as opposed to extra-curricular.  All activities are mandatory for everyone, specifically academics, interscholastic athletics, performing arts, community service, leadership training, and self-discovery activities.  Students are expected to not only participate but to contribute in a positive way and to put forth effort commensurate with age and experience.  Not every student is comfortable or confident in all of these areas.  Students who do well at Hyde have a sense of self that allows them to be vulnerable while completing these activities.  Hyde does not attempt to lessen the anxiety that accompanies these co-curricular activities and instead believes that the student will learn and grow as a result of achieving.