Category Archives: Safety

Big Match at a Small School

My daughter’s college search came down to a final four of 2 very large state universities and 2 small liberal arts colleges.  Since before she started elementary school she had talked about going to a big school, and her top 2 seemed to be obvious winners:  our state’s flagship university (of which I am a proud alum) and an even larger public school in a neighboring state (where she had played volleyball tournaments over 6 Memorial Day weekends).

But last summer we mixed in visits to a couple of smaller schools and she started re-envisioning college life.  In the fall, several small liberal arts colleges found their way onto her application list.  Her two smaller finalists included her mother’s alma mater (a small liberal arts college 3 hours from our home) and a liberal arts college over 6 hours away that we had never visited–but which she loved from her college guides and online research.

The Big Visit

Over spring break my daughter and I visited that final school for the first time.  Walking around in some of the heaviest rain I have ever seen, she was clearly on the campus she wanted to call home.  Halfway through our visit she asked, “Can we stop by the bookstore before it closes?”  I slowly replied, “Does that mean…?” and she confirmed:  “This is the one.”  At the bookstore she bought a sweatshirt and a lanyard, and then we finished exploring campus.

So WHY did she pick the smallest school on her list?  Here are a few advantages my daughter sees:

  • Value for humanities.  Tour after tour of big schools last summer focused on science and engineering.  But liberal arts colleges talked about their writing programs, humanities majors, etc.  And she sees herself as an English or government major.
  • Drama.  My daughter loved her high school theatre experience, but she does not intend to major in drama.  When she asked reps at the bigger schools, they told her theater majors had priority in casting.  Reps at the smaller schools openly encouraged non-majors to audition.
  • Sense of belonging.  My wife attended a school of around 2,000.  My school was closer to 35,000.  She goes to reunions.  I do not.  She can tell you the names of everyone who joined the class after freshman year or who left before graduation.  Impossible at my alma mater.  If my wife runs into someone wearing a shirt from her school, it becomes a conversation.  When I run into someone with a shirt from my school, it is more likely that it represents basketball or football fandom rather than a shared history.  My daughter has chosen the small school community.
  • Safety.  Obviously, there are dangers on any college campus.  But the smaller schools tend to be in small towns or–in the case of my daughter’s new school–in rural settings.  Her campus literally borders a river, and the nearest intersection with so much as a gas station is a 5 minute drive.  The nearest small town with a few stores is a 15 minute drive (or shuttle).

So how do her mother and I feel about our daughter’s choice?  Surprised.  But also peacefully happy for her.  It is clear that she found her match….in a place where she almost never looked.


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Filed under College, Safety, School, Transitions

The Great College Search–Part Two: The Road Trip

I seldom offer a caveat at the beginning of a post, but please consider:  All of the impressions below were OURS.  The aspects of each campus that we considered positive might not impress you or your student, and our concerns might be strengths to someone else.  But the intent of this post is not so much to ‘rate’ these schools as to share my experience accompanying my daughter on this once-in-a-lifetime journey.  So here we go….

This time next year, our oldest child will be living on a college campus somewhere, leading her own life with a new level of autonomy, freedom, and responsibility.  But the question is where?

So this summer, my daughter & I set out on a 3-part road trip.  We considered making this a family journey since her sister is only 2 school years behind and 5th grade brother is always up for going just about anywhere.  But in the end, her mom & I agreed that this trip needed to be one parent-one rising senior, and we decided I would go.

My Alma Mater

We live less than an hour from the University of Maryland, and our first tour was of my old campus in College Park.  First, we sat through a brief introduction and a pretty inspiring promotional video, available here:   University of Maryland Impact

Then we started walking, touring dorms, classrooms, the library, and the student union–all of the usual college tour landmarks.  Two resources that stood out along the way were the grammar hotline (Call from your dorm for help sorting out the wording of a paper?!) and the Math Success Program (free walk-in support with anything related to math).

Why I will be glad if my daughter becomes a Terp:  Maryland is a BIG school, a top-tier public university with world-class facilities, a wide range of entertainment options, easy access to opportunities in the nation’s capital, and as many majors as you can find anywhere.  The size of the school offers options, enough options to allow any student to redefine him/herself several times over during a 4 year undergraduate experience.

McKeldin Mall–University of Maryland

Bonus & Disclosure:  I am a two-time Maryland grad, and I bleed red, white, black, and gold–a Terp For Life.

Something to consider:  College Park is a quasi-urban campus, just 15 minutes from Washington, DC.  As a one-time commuter school that is transitioning into more and more of a residential school, Maryland experiences a constant ebb and flow of car and foot traffic with the neighboring community.  Although safety is a concern ANYWHERE, I would worry more about my daughter more at UMCP than at some other schools–at least until I know she has routines in place to protect herself.

Farther From Home

A few days later we drove 3 hours or so to State College, PA.  We stayed in a hotel the night before to ensure we would be on time for Spend a Summer Day at Penn State.   To begin the day, we parked in the football stadium lot, then caught a designated shuttle bus across campus.  We climbed out of the bus, walked through two lines of applauding students, high-fived the Nittany Lion, then walked into the largest lecture hall I’ve ever seen (even as a Maryland grad) for the welcome presentation.  Then we started walking, taking the obligatory tour of campus.  Two highlights were the writing center (the student gets help with the paper; the professor receives notice that the student took the time to seek help to do well) and the 6-tier dining plan (with options ranging from a light meal or two per day for students living off campus to what our guide called “the linebacker plan”).

Why I will be glad if my daughter becomes a Nittany Lion:  Penn State offers similar advantages to Maryland as another large, well-respected, public university.  But what sets Penn State apart from other schools is the universal sense of identity and loyalty.   The ‘summer day’ event was staffed by scores of volunteers who all appeared to be students and alumni, literally ranging in age from their teens to their eighties.  University Park is also a more ‘enclosed’ campus than College Park; although the school neighbors a college town, there was little evidence of non-university traffic on campus.


Old Main–Penn State University

Bonus & Disclosure:  We were familiar with Penn State because my daughter had stayed and played on campus for a Memorial Day weekend volleyball tournament 6 of the last 7 years.  We both had stayed in dorms, eaten in dining halls, and walked the campus through those experiences.

Something to consider:  The dorms at Penn State, at least the older dorms that are most likely to house freshmen, are not particularly comfortable.  Small, dark, lacking air conditioning–not posh.  But a greater concern is that while freshmen are required to live on campus, housing is not guaranteed for all 4 years.  The university has built relationships with local realtors and apartment complexes, but the possibility of needing to pursue this may be noteworthy for some students and their families.

To be continued….In my next Dad Knows Better post:  traveling south, some smaller schools, and why this trip matters in our big picture.

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Filed under Appreciation, College, Safety, School, Uncategorized

High School Dances–It’s not 1984 Anymore

With apologies to the immortal Wang Chung, a few things have changed since those Dance Hall Days.  Not that I’m naive enough to confuse the 1980s with the days of Jane Austen, but the world of teens has changed–both for better and for worse.

Let’s Dance.  In my high school daughters’ world, homecoming dances are no longer primarily “date” activities.  Even upperclassmen often go to the annual dance with a group of friends.  These groups, usually including more girls than boys, gather beforehand for a pot-luck dinner at someone’s house (skipping the expense of the traditional dinner out) and for pictures as a herd instead of for portraits as pairs, and it seems the kids who are heading to the dance with dates are almost the exception rather than the rule.

Maybe that is a healthy change.  Once upon a time, a couple breaking up probably meant at least one of the two stayed home from the dance.  But my daughters and most of their friends are rejecting the two-by-two conditioning that used to be the norm in schools, opting instead for more independence–and, more importantly, for more efficacy.  No need to put on their red shoes and dance the blues.  They are already learning that their options in life are not dependent upon whether they have (or even want to have) a date, boyfriend, husband, etc.  I also choose to believe that girls arriving and leaving as a group are likely to look out for one another.  Anything that helps kids stay safe is an upgrade.  Feel free to insert your own Safety Dance joke here–no hats required.

As I do from time to time, I questioned my 16 year old daughter’s choice in shoes:  5 inch heels.  I reminded her that manufacturers would make more comfortable shoes for women if women refused to buy into the style of high-heels and pointed toes and insisted on comfortable designs.  She agreed, but style outweighs comfort in her world.  She also explained that as soon as they arrive at the dance the girls check their shoes anyway.  They may be voluntary victims of style, but these girls understand that dancing in heels is crazy.  When it’s time to get Footloose, they get shoe-loose.

Dress code is another issue.  After her first two months as a Catholic school student, my younger daughter came in from her freshman homecoming with word that the nuns had “shawled” girls whose dresses were too revealing.  An overly self-revealing young lady would have two choices:  add coverage with the shawl, or exit the event.  As a dad and as an educator I thought this was a terrific idea.  Being Pretty in Pink is a fine goal, but–regardless of whether the student or her parents share the school’s standards of decency–a dance is a school event and should not be confused with a club or bar.  Dresses that are loose enough and that cover enough are a reasonable expectation in order for a young lady to have the privilege of attending the dance; and similar criteria must apply to young men.  Dress codes are about R-E-S-P-E-C-T:  for self, for others, and for setting.  My older daughter’s public high school has a somewhat looser dress code, but she knows she still needs to meet her parents’ higher expectations.  We give her free reign to buy whatever dress she wants–usually online–but with the caveat that we hold the final say on whether she gets to leave the house wearing it once we see her in it; so far she has shown consistently good judgment, if anything leaning slightly more conservatively than we would have accepted.  I want all of my kids to have clean, safe fun, as well as to understand that how someone dresses often affects how others treat him or her.

Dirty Dancing.  Peer groups, shoes, and clothing are not nearly so contraversial, however, as the actual conduct at a dance.  Much has been written over the last few years about the physical types of dancing teens are engaging in at school events.  A quick search of Youtube or Google will reveal troubling videos of girls–someone’s daughters-bent forward, and boys–even a series of boys taking turns–grinding against them from behind.  Many schools have instituted explicit “face to face and leave some space” policies to deter this.

Regardless of school policy, my guiding wisdom (or fascist directive, depending upon your point of view) for my kids remains the same as always:  Don’t You Forget About Me.  Assume I’m walking in.  If you’re comfortable with me seeing what you and your friends are doing at the moment if I happen to walk in–and I just might–then all is well.  Now, if only more parents would take a similar stance….As Corey Hart once told my generation, we can Never Surrender.


Filed under Activities & Sports, Safety, School