Cardigan Mountain School A boarding and day school for boys in grades 6 through 9

Educational Benefits of Risk and Reward

Boys in casts

Every Cardigan boy challenges himself to reach his full potential, and as these students demonstrate, pushing boundaries comes with risk.

Each year a number of Cardigan boys take on an entirely unfamiliar sport. This fall I watched with pleasure as several students donned football equipment for the first time and played admirably on the gridiron for the Cougars. Some boys became skippers and crew members of our sailing team, plying the clear waters of Canaan Street Lake; others chalked their hands to take advantage of the world- renowned rock climbing that is available in our mountainous New Hampshire location. Cardigan faculty do their most valuable work when they invite students to step outside comfortable ways and spaces; new experiences are part of the fabric of everything we do. We ask students to make their beds, interpret and analyze poetry, wash dishes after meals, express their creativity with watercolors, use a wood lathe, sit quietly in Chapel to consider unanswerable questions, consult their advisors about things that aren’t going well, play chess during free time, complete their work for the next day, and stand in as big brothers to faculty kids who share their dorms. How many middle-school boys stretch themselves like this...all in a single day?

Boys on crutches

Dick Wilby ’65 and Ed Stulb ’66 recover from injuries received during the School’s ski holiday at Stratton Mountain.

Our boys are hungry to try new things, and they give 110% effort to these experiences. One of my favorite parts of campus life is the joyful exuberance that constantly churns and bubbles under the surface of our student body. Our professional experience (along with good research on the developing brain of the middle school boy) tells us that students’ efforts won’t always lead to polished finished products. The woodshop produces lots of scraps and great ideas never realized, just as team sports produce some losses, bumps, and bruises. These failures are what promote the growth in our lads. Of course, we must support and advise students through the process of taking risks. We adults, having learned our limitations, don’t jump off of ten-foot walls. In their enthusiasm, however, middle school boys sometimes do. Our job is to teach students how to take chances in healthy ways (and yes, sometimes sprained ankles and broken wrists can be healthy!). We create lots of opportunities for boys to take calculated risks with supervision and support, and for a purpose. Sometimes a boy will discover his limits, but more often he’ll surprise himself with newfound abilities. 

That is at the heart of Cardigan’s philosophy: we all must take risks if we want to grow. Risks don’t have to be reckless. Preparation allows us to make a leap from the strongest foundation possible.Christopher D. Day P’12,’13 

That is at the heart of Cardigan’s philosophy: we all must take risks if we want to grow. Risks don’t have to be reckless. Preparation allows us to make a leap from the strongest foundation possible. Coaches give our athletes safety equipment, practice plays, and teach them to stretch and cool down. Teachers prepare students for intellectual risk-taking by building a foundation of traditional—and essential—skills. These create a platform for creative thinking, helping boys realize that planning is an integral part of any ambitious idea or project. And as each boy develops his independence, judgement, and empathy, he prepares to leave Cardigan as a young man who can lead others in ways he never imagined when he first arrived. 

Nobody in the Cardigan community should be content to rest on their laurels. One of our strengths is that we are never content with being “good enough.” Just as we push the boys to grow into the outer limits of their potential, so too do we continually look for ways to progress as an institution. The urge to improve Cardigan is as old as the School itself, and each year we are able to do more for our boys because we build on such strong foundations. The steel trusses rising up from the site of Wallach this fall are an emblem of the creative academic possibilities that are coming—and a reminder that Cardigan’s solid core of traditional teaching and learning is what will allow these new ideas to soar. 

Len Angelli, our athletic trainer, sends a daily email to the faculty listing any injured boys and explaining what we can do to support the boys’ recovery plans. Each message reflects the care that our adults take with students, and also proves one of the truisms of caring for middle-school boys: sometimes they push themselves a little too far and get hurt. It’s hard for me to see any boy wearing a cast on the sidelines of his new sport, but if we’re true to our mission, casts and crutches will inevitably be part of the landscape on The Point. Like the crumpled canvas on the art-room floor, the essay draft flecked with the red ink of critical feedback, and the quiet conversation between advisor and advisee, these “failures” surely point to a boy’s eventual success—and along the way, no matter what, he will return at the end of the day to a made bed. 

That’s the Cardigan Way

Christopher D. Day P’12,’13 
Head of School

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Cardigan Chronicle, Fall 2021 Issue

Read the latest issue of the Cardigan Chronicle! Published twice each year, featuring articles, updates on academic programs, campus projects, photographs from events, and much more.