Promoting a Healthy Community Culture
Updated August 2018 and revised May 2019
Mercersburg Academy Summary of Current Practices
Mercersburg Academy is committed to the safety and well-being of our students and all community members. We believe in creating a positive, respectful, and nurturing culture where adult presence and mentorship frame and support positive peer interactions promoting a healthy and safe environment for our students to learn and grow. In the architecture of Mercersburg’s day, students are surrounded by faculty and staff who are trained to notice changes in routine and look for signs, both physical and emotional, to ensure students are doing well in health and spirit while also encouraging independent growth and development appropriate for their age-level. We are proud of the program we’ve set forth and will continue to do our best to meet the needs of our students and community in an ever-changing and complex world.
The following outlines school policies and procedures which represent a snapshot of our current practices designed to support a healthy community culture. We review our practices annually and amend as necessary. If you wish to learn more about an area, please email the Student Life Office at firstname.lastname@example.org
Faculty & Staff
Mercersburg Academy employs approximately 250 faculty and staff. Our current hiring process is rigorous, and all employees undergo annual reviews and training. Our goal is to meet or exceed best practices in all areas of adult hiring and training, especially as it relates to our direct interaction with students.
- Thorough interview and reference-checking process
- Criminal background check requirements
- PA State Criminal Record
- PA Child Abuse Registry
- FBI Criminal History Record
- PA Act 168 (requires employers to verify current and previous employment if the applicant has worked with minors under age 18)
This community handbook is distributed to all students and their parents/guardians, as well as faculty and staff at the beginning of the school year. The Blue Book contains community guidelines to support a healthy school culture and provides clear expectations to students and community members of appropriate behavior and where to seek help. The handbook is reviewed every year and amended as necessary. As an example in 2017, with outside consultants, the school reviewed and updated its policies on hazing and sexual misconduct. The Blue Book is also posted on the school’s website.
The Employee Handbook
is updated each year and provides guidance and expectations for faculty in all of their roles such as teacher, adviser, and coach/director. In addition to training, the Employee Handbook
includes information in the “Community and Well-Being” section about bullying and harassment, hazing, sexual harassment, and sexual assault or abuse.
The faculty’s first responsibility to our students begins in the classroom, but it never ends there. Our faculty take on other important roles, such as adviser, coach, dorm faculty, and concerned adult. To better understand, encourage, and support our students, faculty and staff participate in trainings, sessions, and hear speakers throughout the year.
- New faculty orientation includes information on the following:
- How and when to report suspected abuse
- Confidentiality and privacy
- Safety and security of students and community
- Presentations regarding safety and security of students and the community
- Residential life topics and training (i.e. bullying, social media, sleep)
- Immediate topics of concern to community (i.e. emergency response, student alcohol/drug use, respectful behavior, boundaries)
- Annual meetings to examine topics related to safety and security of students (i.e. FCD/ Freedom from Chemical Dependency, faculty/staff and student meetings at opening of school)
- Employee Handbook distributed to each faculty member electronically and updated each year.
- Ongoing faculty and staff training includes:
- Mandated Reporter Training: Under PA Act 126 and 31, all school employees are considered mandated reporters and are required to complete training that consists of a three-hour webinar. This training is updated every five years.
- Boundary training
- Suicide prevention training
- Emergency response procedures
- Concussion prevention and awareness
- Recognizing stress, anxiety, and other emotional “red flags”
- Faculty training sessions and workshops on campus relating to issues of safety, security, emotional well-being, and more.
- A list of campus speakers from the past four years is located here. Many of the speakers offer topics that help to expand faculty and staff training. Recent speakers include:
- 2018-19 Gregory Boyle; author (Tattoos on the Heart), Catholic priest, founder of Homeboy Industries (the world’s largest gang-rehabilitation program)
- 2018-19 Hakeem Rahim; mental-health speaker, educator, and advocate
- 2017-18 Angie Thomas; best-selling author, The Hate U Give
- 2017-18 Robert Sapolsky; science/nature writer, MacArthur “Genius” Fellow, author of books on stress/biology/depression/religion
- 2016-15 Matthew Vines; author/expert on homosexuality and Christian tradition
- 2014-13 Paul Tough; How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity and the Hidden Power of Character
- 2013-12 Jonathan Haidt; author, social psychologist, expert on happiness and building healthy communities
- 2010-11 Josh Shipp; Teen expert, TV personality, author; inspires teens to make good choices and understand ramifications of their actions and behavior
- 2009-10 Jonah Lehrer; bestselling author (How We Decide), psychologist, contributing editor at Wired magazine
- Jessica Lahey; author of The Gift of Failure
- Derrick Gay; internationally recognized consultant on issues of diversity, inclusion, and global citizenship
- Peggy Orenstein; author, Girls and Sex
- Laurence Steinberg; author of Age of Opportunity and one of the world’s leading experts on adolescence
- Dr. Christian Jernstedt; professor of psychological and brain sciences at Dartmouth
- Rosalind Wiseman; author, Queen Bees and Wannabes
- Dr. Ken Stefano; clinical psychologist and author, Taking Control of ADHD
- Dr. Kristen Swanson; author, Learning in the Digital Age
- Dr. Russel Barkley; clinical psychologist and clinical professor of psychiatry at Medical University of South Carolina
- Richard Gerver; author, Change and Creating Tomorrow’s Schools Today
- Dr. Scott Barry Kaufman; psychologist and author, Wired to Create and Ungifted: Intelligence Redefined
- Dr. David Yeager; expert in grit and growth mindset, professor of development psychology at University of Texas, Austin
- Dr. Chris Thurber; psychologist, educator and author
- Stanley H. King Counseling Institute
- Lesley Morgan Steiner; author and thought leader on overcoming adversity and surviving violence against women
- JoAnn Deak; author and psychologist, expert on the neuroscience of the adolescent brain
- John Medina; author and scientist, expert on brain science and the learning process
- Grant Wiggins; author and educational expert
- Alfie Kohn, author and educational expert, research on the effectiveness of assessments and homework
- Michael Thompson; author and psychologist
- Robert Brooks; author and psychologist, expert on resilienc
- Ron Taffel; author and psychologist
Our students are not alone or on their own while at Mercersburg Academy. The school, faculty, and staff have put into place numerous programs, policies, and procedures for students to seek help and support.
Health & Wellness
Rutherford Health and Wellness Center
The newly renovated center operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week during the academic year and when summer programs are in session. The center provides acute medical care and guidance with student matters ranging from counseling services to nutrition and overall wellness and support.
Rahauser Counseling Center
The counseling department is staffed with full-time counselors and offers referral resources. Located in the Rutherford Health and Wellness Center counselors are available to assist students with matters such as homesickness, anxiety/stress management, grief and loss, and relationship and family issues.
Adhering to Best Practices Regarding Sexual Misconduct
When concerns are brought to the school from a community member or from outside of the school, there is a deliberate and thorough process of response as demonstrated in the current process surrounding the past sexual misconduct investigation which was initiated in summer 2017. Additionally, the National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS) recently has published a Prevention and Response paper with recommendations for Independent School Leaders. The school is carefully reviewing the recommendations from the NAIS task force on educator sexual misconduct to align our practices with the recommendations where needed.
Performance Group Activities (PGA)
Each afternoon, students are required to participate in athletics, dance, theatre, community engagement, outdoor education, or another approved activity under the guidance of faculty members. In addition to health benefits, these activities provide yet another healthy and meaningful point of contact with adults and peers in the community.
Irvine Memorial Chapel
The school’s chapel offers many services to faculty, staff, and students. Led by Reverend Will Whitmore, the chapel is the spiritual base for the school and supports all community members of all faith traditions. The chapel also serves as a frequent gathering place for the Chapel Speaker series -- a lecture series that features student speakers and guests from different professions and religious backgrounds. A Protestant Christian service is held in the chapel every Sunday while school is in session and transportation to St. Luke’s is offered for those who want to attend a Roman Catholic service.
Programs and Speakers
Deliberate programming in school meetings on Fridays often includes instruction on use of social media, technology, and healthy relationships (including sexuality).
All students must successfully complete all human development and health programs as required by school. Each year, an educator from FCD (Freedom from Chemical Dependency) is on campus for a week to meet with all 10th-grade students and the faculty, and is available to all students.
During the opening community week, students are instructed in safety and wellness through school meetings, adviser meetings, dormitory meetings, and gatherings with other groups such as their fall afternoon activity.
Student clubs and organizations often promote discussions of safety and wellness. For instance, the Women’s Activist Club was responsible for sponsoring two speakers during the 2016-2017 school year specifically relating to matters of sexuality and sexual misconduct and abuse. The Conservative Club has promoted the importance of hearing all views on campus and have pointed out the need for more diverse speakers at school meetings. The Rainbow Alliance promotes support for LGBTQ+ community members.
Each January, there are programs for each class on an entire day, normally with an outside group regarding student health and safety issues. For example, in recent years, Campus Outreach Services has met with each class on topics of safety, sexuality, and sexual misconduct through promoting healthy relationships.
Each May, there is a “class day” for the ninth, 10th, and 11th grades which continues to build class and student unity, develop leadership skills, and address community values and topics of importance to a given year.
Peer Group Program
Seniors who are selected and carefully trained by experienced faculty advisers meet weekly with all ninth-grade students (boarding and day) in mixed groups from the opening of school through January.
Peer Group Leaders also have weekly training and check-in meetings with their faculty advisers.
The program curriculum addresses topics of safety and well-being as well as serving as a check-in point for how the ninth graders are doing and adapting to life at Mercersburg.
Beginning in the 2019-2020 school year, the peer group program will expand to include a term-long program for tenth graders new to the school, also addressing topics of safety and well-being.
Conversations of Courage
A theme in programming during the 2017-2018 school year was to promote civil discourse. Head of School Katie Titus introduced Courageous Conversations in 2017 to help guide the campus dialogue about race, gender, politics, and other cultural touchstones. One part of Courageous Conversations was a day-long program designed to maintain a healthy community and to encourage our students and faculty to ask questions regarding some of today’s tough topics, like health care, the opioid crisis, gender issues, freedom of speech, and more.
The school works hard to bring a variety of speakers on campus that will interest all students,including speakers from the music and arts, social activists, historians, veterans, educators, and even an astrophysicist. A list of campus speakers from the past four years can be found here
Each student has an adviser who is associated with the student’s dorm. There are no more than eight advisees per group.
Adviser meetings take place throughout the year including a review of the Blue Book section regarding healthy relationships and where to go for help if something is wrong.
There are advisee group lunches in the dining hall once a week.
Advisers are associated with their advisees’ dormitories and see advisees on a regular basis throughout the week both in the dorm and around campus.
The Student Life Office trains and leads faculty advisers who then work with their advisees in at least four residential sessions each year relating to topics of well-being in many areas.
On weekdays, students and faculty eat lunch together every day and eat dinner together one to three times a week at assigned tables with one to two faculty members and a table proctor present at each table.
New Student Orientation
The week before school officially starts, all students new to Mercersburg participate in “Inbound,” a 40-year tradition. This two-day orientation is designed to help students get acclimated to the campus, get to know each other, learn about the traditions and routines, and meet the faculty and staff that will be supporting them throughout their school year.
The safety of our faculty, staff, and students is of utmost importance to the school and surrounding community. Mercersburg Academy has many safety measures in place to keep everyone safe and is constantly re-evaluating procedures, changing things as needed, and communicating those changes to everyone on campus.
Campus Safety Department
- This office deals with problems arising from individuals from outside the school community and handles anything of a criminal nature which occurs on campus. This department is not an arm of the faculty or the Dean assigned to enforce school rules. All matters reported to campus safety are turned over to multiple school offices.
- The Campus Safety Department is open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Students, faculty, and staff can call at any time (ext. 1111 or 717-328-1111).
- For safety, all vehicles, motorized vehicles, and bicycles are registered with the Campus Safety Department.
Enterprise Risk Management
Security and safety procedures are in constant review. Specifically, a group of approximately 20 staff and faculty meets regularly to monitor current risks and recommend or implement changes in our practices, procedures, or policies. This group recently (as of March 2018) decided to lock all exterior doors on campus at all times, requiring a key fob to enter. The Enterprise Risk Management group reports to the Risk and Audit Committee of the Board of Regents.
The school stresses to faculty and staff that we are all risk managers. The Associate Head of School for Finance and Operations works closely with the school’s insurance company and others to take advantage of best practices for safety as well as training opportunities provided by the school’s insurance company. For instance, the school voluntarily examined its practices in the area of student life during the 2016-2017 school year. The school has also worked carefully with the insurance company to provide safety measures and protections for students and faculty/staff who are travelling.
Parents and Families
Parents and families play an integral role in the success of their child while at the school and it’s important to keep them up-to-date on everything happening on campus. The school offers several ways for parents to be more connected to their child while away.
The school’s parent volunteer organization is called the White Key. This group is dedicated to supporting families of current students. They attend school fairs and other events where they speak to prospective families. Volunteers organize mid-term treats for students, and encourage attendance at regional events. This group leads many programs and events, while also volunteering, at the annual Family and Alumni Weekend.
Family and Alumni Weekend
This fun-filled, packed weekend is a special time for parents. It’s a time for students to show off their school and all they’ve done in their first few weeks. The entire school invites parents to “be a student” for a few days. The weekend includes visiting classes, Q&A with faculty, College Counseling sessions, meeting advisers, attending athletic and art events, singing Step Songs, and much more.
Every Wednesday, the weekly Parent News e-newsletter is sent to parents to give them a snapshot into what students are doing each week. This e-newsletter includes interviews with faculty, staff, and students, important date reminders, and updates on changes in policies and procedures.
A yearly publication of White Key, the White Book serves as a resource for parents. Topics are written from a parents point-of-view and include items such as, tips for moving-in day, what to pack, what to expect when communicating with your child, visiting your child, Mercersburg Academy traditions to know, and a list of local “extras,” like where the mall, movie theaters, and houses of worship are located. The book also include ways in which parents can help their child integrate emotionally into boarding-school life. The book is reviewed and updated annually.