Strategic Plan

House, Harkness, Heart

A New Era for Community Wellbeing

Steve Murray

Stephen S. Murray H'54 '55 '63 '65 '16 P'16 '21
The Shelby Cullom Davis '26 Head of School
 

Nothing could be more important for Lawrenceville at this point in time.
December 2023
 
Great schools demonstrate an ongoing commitment to learning and improving – they wither if they stand still. Healthy traditions and enduring values should be respected and maintained, and just as important, the institution must have the courage to evolve forward where necessary.
 
Lawrenceville has long been committed to learning and improving, and this strategic plan, House, Harkness, Heart: A New Era for Community Wellbeing is the latest demonstration of this commitment. As we bring to a close our most recent strategic plan, A Vision for the Future: Lawrenceville 20/20, we consulted with students, faculty, parents, alumni, and trustees to identify the next stretching aspiration to energize our community. In the process, it became abundantly clear that campus wellbeing, with a particular focus on our students, was the right direction.
 
For quite some time, we have been tracking and studying the nation-wide, rising tide of adolescent mental health needs and have worked to understand the implications for our own context. Similarly, we devoted enormous institutional resources to navigate the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, not simply to put it behind us, but to learn from it. Both during and after, we have worked hard to understand the longitudinal impact on adolescent development and community wellbeing and the pandemic’s exacerbating impact on already worrisome trends.
 
In articulating our vision for this next phase of Lawrenceville's history, we will face and take to heart lessons learned in our own context in recent years, we will seek to understand what the latest research is telling us about living healthy, balanced lives, and we will set the bar high in our efforts to achieve that vision.
 
In the ensuing section, members of the School's inaugural Wellness Team offer a public health perspective on the challenges we face and why it is urgent that we devote significantly greater time and energy to the overall health and wellness of our students – who are at the center of our enduring purpose. Following this, we offer a summary of our framework for engaging our community in this planning process, we offer our vision statement for campus wellbeing, and then finally an ambitious and far-reaching set of initiatives aimed at fulfilling that vision. As we develop lifelong learners who will head out into the world equipped to thrive in complex environments and lead through times that may demand elements of the mind, body, and spirit, student success means staying closely attuned to our collective wellbeing. Nothing could be more important for Lawrenceville at this point in time.
 
Stephen S. Murray

Stephen S. Murray H'54 '55 '63 '65 '16 P'16 '21
The Shelby Cullom Davis '26 Head of School

 

 

Letters from Our Wellness Team

 

Rae Chresfield
Rae Chresfield

The digital age has revolutionized the way that adolescents communicate, learn, and socialize. While technology offers positive opportunities for learning and connection, it has also introduced a set of challenges that previous generations did not face. Further, virtual platforms are often seen as being “consequence-free,” making it more difficult, at times, to choose between right and wrong. Equipping students with tools to handle technology wisely, and how to develop and engage in healthy relationships, will serve them beyond their time at Lawrenceville.

While the pursuit of academic excellence remains pivotal, the wellbeing of our students is paramount. As academic pressures increase, we must empower our students to balance ambition with maintaining their mental health.

We aim to emphasize strong social connections, emotional regulation, and goal-oriented behaviors to help our students develop the foundation of their wellbeing. By championing empathy, dialogue, and acceptance, we are shaping a generation of students who can thrive intellectually without compromising their inner peace.

Blake Eldridge
Blake Eldridge

Our current students started to come of age during the pandemic, and the confusing messages and tensions of that period informed their development. Their experiences at that impressionable age were typically family-focused and self-directed but also included fears of resource scarcity, social isolation, over-reliance on digital and social media, having academic grades/performance be the only measure their schools could make of them, and the potential viral dangers of public places. Consciously or not, these same aspects now seem coded into the students' sense of themselves and their experience of community.

House life combats all of those pandemic challenges and can help rewrite that code. And House life is most successful when students’ eagerness for social interaction, their desire to explore different aspects of their identity, and their willingness to balance their own desires with respect for others’ needs all complement each other in a supportive environment. That combination for House life closely mirrors the recipe for personal wellbeing. The discussions and experiences in the Houses, coupled with a general atmosphere of kindness and dignity, can continue to do the essential work of creating individuals prepared for thoughtful, informed decision-making and readiness for post-Lawrenceville independence.

Chris Renjilian
Chris Renjilian

This has always been at the heart of great parenting and great education. There is nothing new or faddish about it. Yet, we live in a world that seems to blare, at the incessant pace of a 24-hour news cycle, that adolescents are constantly in crisis, moving in the wrong direction, broken. It can be easy for anyone to lose sight of who they really are: good inside, growing, and capable of becoming the adults who we need to lead our world tomorrow.

Now is the time to strategically focus on wellbeing, not because we believe our students are broken, but because we know that they are whole. We owe it to them to reaffirm, re-center, and re-animate protective forces in a modern and changing world. The world needs us to do this work because, while prevailing messages suggest we cannot cultivate the elements of wellbeing in teens today, we absolutely can – and in doing so, we chart a path for others to follow.

Vision Statement

Lawrenceville seeks to build an even stronger community to which all members contribute and have the opportunity to grow and thrive physically, emotionally, spiritually, and intellectually. Overall wellbeing is enhanced when students feel safe, supported, and empowered in an environment that promotes kindness, respect, joy, and a measured pace of life.

Our HOUSE system, vital to a sense of belonging at Lawrenceville, is strengthened when House culture, spirit, and values are purposefully developed, when Heads of House, advisors, and prefects have a robust tool kit for the care and nurture of their students and of themselves, and when every student helps make the House a fundamentally friendly and welcoming community.
Essential to HARKNESS teaching is the democracy of voices engaged around a table, where no voice is marginalized, and differing perspectives and independent thinking are encouraged. We support the growth and development of our teachers as we maintain high aspirations for learning and achievement for our students, and we reexamine rigor and the allocation of time to make sure that creativity, reflection, curiosity, and a love of learning are universal aspects of the academic experience.
Throughout the HEART and soul of the entire community, all members are invested in positive systems of compassion, empathy, accountability, and self-advocacy – and this, indeed, is where House and Harkness come together at the core of our strategic plan. We instill hope and optimism as we foster a culture of responsible stewardship of our natural resources and a sincere desire to seek the best for all. Together, these become tangible aspects of the lived experience for all individuals, especially our students, who are central to our enduring purpose to develop caring leaders who will head out into the world to make it a better place.

Key Aspirations

It is clear that community wellbeing is best supported through a collaborative approach that weaves throughout the fabric of each individual’s Lawrenceville experience – a path that is shaped through a multitude of factors and can thus take many forms. Our Key Aspirations are informed by careful listening in small group settings and as a full community, internal surveys and third-party research, and partnerships with leading public health and mental health organizations – all supporting our ability to develop a set of aims that meet the expressed needs of our students, faculty, and staff.

The Lawrenceville School

 

House and Harkness are established elements of our institutional DNA, and the notion of Heart, at the intersection of House and Harkness, is core to our plan and core to our strength as a community. Approaching our work through House, Harkness, and Heart brings us together under the familiar tenets and values of the Lawrenceville experience, while also respecting the unique developmental, social, and academic journey that each individual pursues through the School. Our Key Aspirations include:

House
Vital to a sense of belonging at Lawrenceville, House encompasses purposely developed culture, spirit, and values.

Foster an inclusive and supportive campus environment that honors individuality within a context of belonging and community wellbeing.

Conduct an assessment of school climate and culture to inform areas of need, resource allocation, and future initiatives.
Develop a residential life curriculum that fosters a supportive and inclusive environment and encourages open communication, positive relationships, and a sense of community among students.
Examine the role gender plays in each student’s overall experience, including an evaluation of differences among the Houses and an action plan to foster a sense of belonging in spaces across campus.
Using the proven framework of restorative practice, equip community members with the language and skills to strengthen community bonds, and develop pathways for addressing situations in which community norms have not been met, respected, or upheld.
Develop clear expectations and rules in community handbooks to support a culture of transparency and respect by broadening the scope of our code of conduct to include an exhaustive definition of bullying, implementing a well-defined supervision protocol for students who have been dismissed from the school premises, and establishing an effective and efficient response mechanism to all allegations of potential bullying.
Establish a partnership with a bullying prevention specialist to develop and implement programming that empowers students to advocate for themselves and that educates community members on how to identify and address bullying.
Create opportunities for education and skill-building to encourage positive sleep habits and wind-down activities.
Reimagine student orientation to establish community norms, communicate expectations, and create opportunities for students to engage with their peers and classroom faculty in meaningful ways.
Harkness
Essential to cultivating differing perspectives and independent thinking, Harkness engages student voices through thoughtful inquiry.

Promote a collaborative academic culture that fosters discernment, curiosity, and empathy and provides a foundation for students to lead lives of high purpose.

Re-center Harkness teaching and learning as our defining pedagogy, engaging civil discourse around complex topics and promoting diversity of ideas, people, and perspectives.
Evaluate and define department-specific best practices in Harkness teaching, and provide ongoing professional development to support these efforts.
Provide assistance, training, and leadership for faculty to support students’ various learning styles.
Assess, and revise as needed, curriculum sequencing and graduation requirements in order to facilitate student choice and passions.
Conduct curriculum reviews in core academic areas to accommodate learner needs and provide alignment for various student pathways.
Provide shared, Form-wide academic experiences that extend classroom learning, promote inquiry, reward creativity, and build community.
Continue to explore and document the effects and advantages of machine learning and artificial intelligence for learners and learning.
 

Create a more measured academic pace of life for students that facilitates growth inside and outside of the classroom.

In partnership with Independent School Management, lead a multi-year assessment of the daily schedule that examines all facets of the Lawrenceville experience and takes community needs into account.
Adopt a comprehensive survey that assesses a broad range of wellbeing measures so that our decisions are data driven and our progress forward can be tracked.
Provide targeted training for peer tutors in math, science, and writing, and expand student access to peer-to-peer support.
Increase the resources available to students through Educational Support, which serves students with documented learning differences.
Define and support the role of the academic advisor to help students improve time management, stress management, and executive function.
 
Heart
The soul of our community and the focus of this strategic plan, Heart is achieved when we invest in ourselves, in one another, and in our environment.

Provide engaging opportunities that enhance the awareness and skills of community members, while building our collective capacity to adopt wellbeing measures in a meaningful way.

Continue to stay attuned to the School's dining options to help ensure they are responsive to a wide range of student needs, and create educational resources for promoting healthy eating behaviors.
Partner with mission-aligned organizations to educate students on developing healthy technology habits, with a focus on social media and emerging research on its relation to wellbeing.
Develop common language and vocabulary around wellbeing and related facets of student life to help facilitate open, effective communication and expression of needs.
Provide education regarding on-campus resources to assist with mental health and life concerns, empowering students to access help when needed.
Implement enhanced training programs for faculty and students to foster a shared responsibility toward student wellbeing, including developing skills in resilience, emotional regulation, conflict resolution, and bystander intervention.
Conduct an external review of the services and programs offered through the Counseling and Psychological Services Office with the American College Health Association's Health and Wellness Consulting.
Further develop the student Wellness Council, whose mission is to amplify student voices to facilitate a school atmosphere where mental health is normalized, prioritized, and ultimately curates a safe, welcoming campus.
 

Instill a greater awareness of our immediate surroundings and steward our natural resources in a way that generates hope for a sustainable future and provides the tools to achieve it.

Promote in our students an appreciation for and an understanding of a “sense of place” by expanding curricular and co-curricular opportunities to find joy in outdoor experiences and understand both natural and human history on a local and regional level. These include indigenous American history, the history of slavery and manumission in Lawrence Township, the Frederick Law Olmsted legacy that shapes our surroundings, and regional natural landmarks such as the Delaware River, Appalachians, New Jersey Pine Barrens, and Jersey Shore.
Establish a strategy for the expansion of regenerative farming practices at the Big Red Farm, which will also increase the educational value for students of this valuable asset.
Improve campus waterways by reducing stormwater runoff and continue the existing campus commitment to River-Friendly Certification with the Watershed Institute, and involve students in the long-term oversight and assessment of these measures.
Partner with a consulting engineering firm to develop a strategy to reduce Lawrenceville's carbon footprint by 50% by 2035 and the long-term potential for carbon-neutrality. Include hands-on curricular elements so students are involved with creating solutions.
Improve management of natural areas on campus for wildlife habitat, in partnership with Friends of Hopewell Valley Open Space.
Develop and promote waste reduction by implementing effective programs in a variety of areas such as recycling, thrifting, bike repair, and composting.
Implement a campus tree-planting initiative that teaches students about the impact of Frederick Law Olmsted's legacy on our campus.
 

Wellness Wheel

The Wellness Wheel provides an opportunity for community members to reflect on the seven dimensions of wellness and consider the areas in their lives that are going well. It can also help identify and articulate areas that need attention to improve overall wellbeing. The wheel reinforces a common understanding of what we are working toward as a community.

 

Wellness Wheel

Wellbeing Lexicon

A foundational Wellbeing Lexicon supports our ability to have productive community conversations, and to be better equipped to communicate our needs to one another. By working off of a common vocabulary, we can more effectively identify how we are feeling and how to ask for support. These definitions are gleaned from across the wellbeing landscape, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other sources used by mental health clinicians, including mental health diagnostic guides.

Students with Therapy Dog

 

 

AGE-APPROPRIATE BEHAVIORS refer to people behaving as predicted by a timetable of development which is primarily based on socially agreed-age expectations and age norms.
 
ANXIETY (a mental health disorder diagnosed by a licensed clinician) is associated with concerns for the future and is a medical diagnosis, characterized by excessive apprehension about real or perceived threats that typically result in avoidance.
 
BELONGING is a complex nexus of feelings, experience, and practices that originates when we acknowledge the full humanity of each other. Belonging is anchored in the ability to be fully seen, fully accepted, and fully able to participate in a given community.
 
CLOSE RELATIONSHIPS are supportive, trustworthy, low in conflict, and interdependent.
 
DEPRESSION (a mental health disorder diagnosed by a licensed clinician) is focused on the past and is a medical diagnosis, characterized by persistent sadness, loss of interest in activities that normally are enjoyed, and an inability to carry out activities of daily living.
 
GRIEF is a natural response to the loss of a loved one. For most people, the symptoms of grief begin to decrease over time. However, for a small group of people, the feeling of intense grief persists, and the symptoms are severe enough to cause problems and stop them from continuing with their lives.
 
MENTAL HEALTH refers to cognitive and emotional reserves to effectively cope with life’s challenges, work productively, and make sound decisions.
 
MENTAL HEALTH CRISIS is any situation in which a person's behavior puts them at risk for hurting themselves or someone else OR being unable to function and care for one's self. A crisis requires immediate attention.
 
MENTAL HEALTH DISORDER is characterized by a clinically significant disturbance in an individual's cognition, emotional regulation, or behavior. It is usually associated with distress or impairment in important areas of functioning.
 
SOCIAL CONNECTIONS are ties to the community, family, and organizations.
 
STRESS is a natural, adaptive, built-in response that prepares us for action, both physically and mentally. The stress response is there to temporarily increase our energy and focus — so we can tackle whatever challenge is there in front of us. Learning to take the steps to manage stress can facilitate healthy wellbeing. Stress that becomes chronic has implications on health, concentration, and mental health.
 
SUPPORT acknowledges that you are part of a community of people who care about you, values you, and offers assistance when you need it.
 
TRAUMA is an emotional response to a terrible event like an accident, serious physical harm, or natural disaster. Immediately after the event, shock and denial are typical. Longer term reactions include unpredictable emotions, flashbacks, strained relationships, and even physical symptoms like headaches or nausea. While these feelings are normal, some people have difficulty moving on with their lives.
 
WELLNESS is integrating the physical body and the mind to address how these two systems affect one another.
 
WELLBEING is an active process of becoming aware of and making choices toward a healthy and fulfilling life.
 
WORRY is a form of thinking ahead which can be adaptive and help us plan effectively for challenges and obstacles. Excessive worry focused on unlikely or remote events are related to a mental health diagnosis.
 

Students Cheering at a Hockey Game

Looking Ahead to a Bright Future

House is where our students need to feel a fundamental sense of belonging and support; Harkness is where their minds are nurtured and their academic growth ensured; and Heart is where they intersect, setting our students up with the emotional resilience to thrive, both here at Lawrenceville and beyond.

While our vision for wellbeing will evolve to meet the changing needs of our students, faculty, and staff, our commitment to these tenets of the Lawrenceville experience will remain steadfast. Together, these three pillars are essential for developing a community that prioritizes and is deeply committed to student mental health and wellbeing. We aspire to support the opportunities that students report matter to them most: House connections, friendships, inclusion and belonging, mutual respect, and a strong sense of community.

Wellbeing is not a steady state – it is a growth process and an ongoing journey of self-discovery. We recognize that our community members progress along at different rates, and there are multiple pathways for reaching a positive destination. Our Key Aspirations represent starting points, and it is only through continued campus conversations, building capacities for self-reliance and self-advocacy, and modeling the healthy behaviors and mindsets we hope to cultivate, that we will flourish as a community.

From Our Community

What does a healthy Lawrenceville look like? Students are comfortable completing work individually or collaboratively, and accepting of the fact that it is sometimes difficult or not fun. They can confidently and authentically engage one another socially, and they are maintaining healthy sleep habits.

Doug Piper
Head of Griswold House
A healthy Lawrenceville is an environment in which students are able to achieve a balance between their academic, extracurricular, and social lives. My hope is that as Lawrenceville continues to put an emphasis on wellbeing, students act as leaders to initiate the change they want to see. The best of Lawrenceville emerges when community voices come together to drive change.

Bryce Langdon '24
Student Body President
Students come together in our dining centers for nourishment and community. It is here that we support our students in creating the energy and structures to not only perform at the highest levels but to develop lifelong skills to enhance their wellbeing. Now is the time to optimize this vitally important aspect of the Lawrenceville experience.

Kelly Wise
Associate Director of Athletics
At Lawrenceville, we encourage one another to connect with the various communities we find ourselves in. It is important that we be intentional about improving our mental and physical health, and that we exhibit kindness as we move ahead in our work as a community.

Jason Larson H'03 '19 '20
Head Athletic Trainer
True wellbeing is looking at policies and structures of systems and reworking them to benefit the humans in them. I hope the Wellness Representative will continue to serve as a liaison between the student body and administration, and shine light on issues that might otherwise go unnoticed. I believe that wellbeing work is done best when it is a conversation, and when we ask – rather than assume – what people need.

Cassie Dillard '24
Wellness Representative, Student Council
If our students leave Lawrenceville and find college communities that support and encourage them to be emotionally whole, intellectually inspired, and socially adept lifelong learners, they are positioned exceptionally well for whatever comes next. Lawrenceville’s focus on wellness is one of the wisest investments we can make in developing thoughtful learners and leaders of the future. It is not a passing fad – it is foundational to the entire enterprise of education at both the secondary and post-secondary levels.

Courtney Roach
Associate Director of College Counseling
One of the key things that Aldo Leopold championed is that in order to have a desire to adopt sustainable practices and responsible stewardship of our natural resources, people need to first gain an intellectual and emotional appreciation for the land and environment. Therefore, I think that the closest connection between sustainability and community wellbeing is spending time outside in nature. There are countless studies that show a clear correlation between time spent outdoors and improved mental, physical, and emotional health, and there is also a connection between time spent outdoors and a tendency to preserve the environment.

Sophia Kohmann '24
Sustainability Council
Now more than ever, the success of House and Harkness is dependent on our wellbeing. In order to seek the best for all, we must be willing to look out for one another and engage in our community. This begins at the smallest level – eye contact and pleasantries on pathways, engaging in conversation in common rooms, and connecting during House lunch. What sets us apart should also be what brings us together.

Christi Ding
Assistant Head of Kirby House