In the town in the Rocky Mountains where I spend a few weeks every summer with my family there is an outdoor advocacy group that organizes “trail days” and invites volunteers to spend twenty-four hours working on various trails in the valley. They build and maintain miles of trail through this practice, but I have noticed a side benefit of these events that is not entirely obvious in their promotional materials. Their “barn-raising” style events literally bring people together and forge new friendships and relationships through the bonding that takes place over the course of those twenty-four hours. People new to the town even comment about how these events help them to connect to their new community.
Paul Lehmann, Dublin School’s founder, understood the power of coming together to complete important tasks for a community in the same manner that I witnessed this past summer in Colorado. Mr. Lehmann scheduled “Work Gangs” to literally help build the Dublin School campus on the rocky slopes of Beech Hill. Students used axes and saws to cut one of the finest alpine ski areas in southern New Hampshire, they built cabins, ran the maple sugaring operation and chopped multiple cords of wood to stoke the fires that heated all the buildings on campus. When the 1938 Hurricane devastated the Monadnock Region the students went to work cleaning up the campus and the properties of our neighbors. Students learned how to wield tools, prevent erosion, fix plumbing, and most importantly, they learned how to be productive and contributing members of a group. Our alumni often remark that they learned some of their most important life skills; things like finishing a job that you have started, working with others, the importance of getting exercise in the out-of-doors, researching how to do things yourself, through their experiences with Work Gang.
Today at Dublin School, Work Gang is a cornerstone of our residential life curriculum, that curriculum that covers many of the skills, behaviors and mindsets that we work to nurture in our students through living and working together on our campus. On Saturday we conducted an all school Work Gang to tackle a number of important projects. We sent almost fifty students out to the Nordic Center to work on our newly designed mountain bike race trail. I told our students that our goal was to help build one of the finest race trails in the country using our own labor. The students and faculty built stone bridges over obstacles, cut roots in the path, and built water bars to prevent erosion. They took great pride in their work and some had to be reminded that it was time for lunch when the Work Gang was over. I noticed that the students were introducing themselves to one another, working together, and problem solving as they figured out the best way to design and complete their section of trail. In just two hours of work they saved our Buildings and Grounds staff days of work while contributing something of importance to the community. The look on the faces of our mountain bike team and their coaches was priceless as they watched other students and teachers coming together to help them with their trail.
Other Work Gangs on Saturday cleaned out storm drains, weeded invasive species from the campus, repaired our miles of stone walls, spread hay over new ski trails, helped residents of a town that suffered from a microburst that blew down their trees, helped put away all of the gear from our camping trips, cut and delivered wood, cleaned up the maple sugaring equipment for the new season, and worked on the school garden. You can see more pictures of our Work Gang and other campus events by clicking on this link to our SmugMug account: https://dublinschoolnh.smugmug.com/. We will continue these Work Gangs throughout the year and it is our hope that our students will learn both practical and interpersonal skills that will be transferable as they build meaningful lives.