For dorm parent Martha Englert, the best part of her job is supporting students who think they can’t succeed — and helping them learn how to thrive.
With a background in journalism and non-profit work, Martha Englert didn’t always know she’d find her way into alternative education. Now, Englert is the dorm parent for Clifford, an all-girl house where she and her Oli residents whip up delicious treats in the kitchen and dote on her two dogs. At Oliverian, Englert has had the rare opportunity to really understand what motivates students, what makes each of them unique, and how best to engage them in the school community.
Q: Tell me about your background — how did you come to Oliverian?
A: I’ve spent most of my working life in journalism and for non-profits at a director level. A smart friend who is the college guidance counselor at Tabor Academy, Marion, Massachusetts, had suggested that I would find work at an independent school rewarding and in the summer of 2017 that opportunity arose at Oliverian and I jumped at it.
Q: What’s unique about the culture at Oliverian?
A: The size of the school makes it almost a one-to-one ratio of faculty to students, if all faculty and staff are considered, and this gives the campus a family feel with a great deal of support for students. The faculty come to know a great deal about what motivates students and how to recognize their achievements and help them re-engage when they are struggling. At Oliverian we believe that a student can succeed if we “try, try, and try again” to find their strengths.
Q: What is your role as a dorm parent?
A: Primarily to assure student safety and successful integration into student life. Dorm parents come to know their students thoroughly and learn when they need reassurance and when they need a push. As Head of School Will Laughlin has been known to say, “The obstacle is the path.”
Q: What do you love most about working with young people?
A: Their originality, vulnerability and openness to new ideas. Their flexibility is refreshing and encourages me to try, try, and try again regarding perceived obstacles in my own path, be it dealing with cabin fever in mid-February or tackling the latest young adult fiction book. They keep me from becoming emotionally stodgy.
Q: What’s unique about the living arrangements/dorm life at Oliverian?
A: Clifford, the house where I am dorm parent, has seven bedrooms and my apartment which is attached to the Clifford common room by a door to my kitchen, which is frequently used by students to concoct all sorts of culinary delights. My two very lucky dogs live with us and adore the girls, who show great patience with the amount of dog hair that can accumulate during hugging. Clifford is situated at the top of a large field, backed by forest and we regularly are visited by flocks of wild turkey, deer, an abundance of bird life, and the occasional bear family strolling through.
Q: What kinds of students thrive at Oliverian?
A: Students who haven’t found their place in traditional school settings. Our classes are small, sometimes consisting of just one student, which is great for students who need extra time and support from a teacher. Pedagogically speaking, we meet students where they are and in getting to know them are able to determine what motivates them and what thwarts their belief in themselves. The Oliverian faculty knows how to foster success and self-esteem in struggling students.
Q: What’s your favorite part about your job?
A: My favorite part of my job is supporting students who think they can’t succeed and then discover they can, whether it is preparing an application for college, crafting an essay for humanities, or rising and making it to class in zero-degree weather. The obstacle is the path!