Dorm Parent Nick D’Amore prizes the relationships Oliverian forges between students and staff, whether that’s in the classroom or on a hike in New Hampshire’s White Mountains.
For years, Nick D’Amore knew he wanted to work in education. But with a background in English literature and a passion for the outdoors, it wasn’t always clear what that work would look like. Oliverian offers Nick the ideal opportunity to combine his passions, allowing him to educate and mentor students in nature’s classroom. From leading a nature writing course to helping students navigate roommate conflicts, Nick relishes his participation in Oliverian’s community.
We sat down with Nick to learn more about his work as a dorm parent, what outdoor education looks like at Oliverian, and what he loves most about this special community.
Q: What brought you to Oliverian?
A: By design, the school itself brings in a pretty eclectic range of folks so that it can appeal to an eclectic student base. Before Oliverian, I had broad work experience. I worked in outdoor education for a Boston-based nonprofit where I was doing programming for urban students up in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. I have also worked as a barista and a freelance writer and a customer service professional. With my background in English literature, though, my ultimate intention has always been to work in education in some way.
I was looking for a way to have all of my eclectic career interests inform one another, and I found a way to do that at Oliverian. The school does a great job of hiring people with diverse backgrounds and encouraging them to find the way they all fit together.
Q: What role does outdoor education play in daily life at Oliverian?
A: This year, we’re actually implementing a larger adventure and exploration program with one of our former dorm parents taking on the role of outdoor coordinator. We’re really trying to bring outdoor education into the curriculum but also into residential life, and building that on three principles: stewardship, academics, and adventure.
At Oliverian, “adventure” is specific type of course that students take, but we also define it more broadly. Adventure could be a walk in the woods, a fishing trip, or a camping excursion, but we’re also expanding the adventure concept to mean doing things that are unfamiliar and, therefore, push us toward growth. For example, students who are from a rural area might think of adventure as finding their way through a city using public transportation.
Additionally, we have a pretty diverse set of weekend staff who offer a lot of different outings. Those could be hikes, skiing trips, ice skating, or anything really. We design these as staff, but we also ask for a lot of input from students. As we’re building the program, we’re trying to send it in a direction that makes sense for all of us, but that ultimately challenges students to relationally navigate the world. That’s because student life’s mission is really to help students find their people–i.e. successfully navigate relationships with friends, family, colleagues, and others.
We also explore adventure as an intellectual discipline. For example, I use my background in English literature to teach a nature writing course. We want students to think of their academic pursuits as adventures in and of themselves.
Q: What’s it like being a Dorm Parent?
A: We work with the students on a daily basis. We’re there making sure they’re awake at 7:30 in the morning, giving them whatever individual care, mentoring, and support they need, and being there with them through breakfast.
Then, around 2:00 in the afternoon, most Dorm Parents teach a pillar course. For me, it’s often an adventure-based course, but for others it might be art- or music-based. Some dorm parents teach more academically focused courses, and we also have a home ec class.
After that pillar course, we’re on duty with the students throughout the evening. We try to work in as many activity offerings as possible: time in the gym, trips to the movies to see Oscar nominated films, etc. Our goal is to make this place feel as much like home as possible. I went to a public school, so I ask myself, “What did I do after I got home from school?” We want Oliverian students to treat this the same way, and remind them that they can do the same things as anyone at any other school; they just need to communicate with us about where they want to go and what they want to do.
Q: What makes the Oliverian educational experience different from other environments you’ve been in?
A: When it comes to outdoor education, working as I did in the non-profit space really limits the amount of time you get to have with students. You may only have them for a day or a week — in longer programs maybe a month — but at Oliverian we get to be with them for the entire school year. That means that the bonds we form with them aren’t forged from one wilderness experience, but from communal living where the relationships look less “student-teacher” and something more like family. You can have silly, goofy, casual time alongside more serious, structured time, and that’s something that I found lacking in my other outdoor jobs.
Whereas other outdoor education experiences might get compartmentalized as brief moment in your life or a piece of your year, at Oliverian I might take a group of students out on a hike, only to see them the next day for dinner or around campus. It puts those experiences into a larger context since it helps prepare students for the real world. After all, these are activities that you don’t set aside a huge chunk of time for as an adult. You just go do them as part of your daily life.
Q: Are there any shared traits you see among Oliverian students that help them succeed?
A: There’s a number of things that can allow students to do really well here. I think one strength is being able to recognize why you came to Oliverian and to understand how the school could be good for you. That’s to say that when students are willing to engage and take advantage of the resources they have at their disposal here, it works out all the better for us to serve them and for the students to serve themselves.
If a student comes in with trust for the staff and for the community and treats it like a normal high school — which it really is at the end of the day — they don’t run the risk of judgments about where they are and how they got here getting in the way of their progress. It’s a willingness to believe that everyone at Oli is there for them and that they’re here in earnest.
Q: What do you love most about your job and Oliverian?
A: Oliverian brings people in — both students and staff — as much for their personalities as for their resumes. Even during the screening process for students and staff, the admissions folks are always trying to understand what a person is like, what their best qualities are, and what they want to build on. And that’s pretty refreshing — to be invited in as a human being rather than as a list of achievements and accolades that might ordain or predict some kind of “traditional” success. To feel like you’re actually wanted here — that you’re an integral piece — just because of your unique personality traits is really special.
Sometimes I have a hard time reminding myself that this is a job. I was out at a movie last week with some students, and I was driving the van home with them, and I thought to myself, “I’m weirdly getting compensated for this!” I would gladly donate or volunteer this time and have no issue with it. I get to do things that I would do in my personal life as my job, and that’s always been a personal goal of mine, to make life and work more intimately related.
That’s something I try to drive home for students, too. The things you do at Oliverian don’t just happen at Oliverian. Instead, they should be part of an approach to living — a mentality that you can apply throughout the rest of your life.