“We're also here to help guide, support, and teach students, and help them understand why some of these rules or policies exist, and why communication is important.”
Associate Dean of Students Coleman Weibley hopes students view the Office of Student Life
as a safe place where they feel supported and receive guidance, whether it's about school or
life in general.
"A lot of people want to associate Jo (Wrzesinsky) and me as the dean and associate dean as being the disciplinarians of the school, and yes, behavior follow-up and consequences are a lot of what we do," Weibley says. "We're also here to help guide, support, and teach students, and help them understand why some of these rules or policies exist, and why communication is important–how to live amongst peers, so that everyone's feeling comfortable and accepted in the same space. Those are all kinds of things we talk about and do on a daily basis."
Weibley says there are obvious benchmarks his office can use, such as the number of behavior reports received, or students who meet certain behavior thresholds. "But I think our work
actually goes above and beyond that," and can be measured by "significant improvement and growth in students."
A 9th grader might not handle situations as responsibly as a 10th or 11th grader, and that's to be expected. "Finding and noticing different ways students grow and mature along their journey here is probably the best way of measuring success," Weibley says, noting that success should not be measured in a lack of behavior reports, but in seeing negative behaviors decrease with time and increased maturity. "The way some students' brains are wired, they may not be able to control impulses as well as others, so they may always get some sort of behavior reports, and that's OK. It is what they do moving forward that can really show meaningful outcomes."
As he builds relationships with students, his goal is to change how they perceive the Office of Student Life.
"I hope we will continue to build relationships and be a place where students feel they can come for anything and to not just assume we're here because of discipline and behaviors. Oftentimes, tour guides will come through and say, 'This is the Office of Student Life. If you get in trouble, this is where you go.' That's hard to hear because we want it to be, and we are, so much more than that. We are a place where students can come, hang out, and find support for any of their needs. I think we've made some great progress in the last two or three years. We're getting the students to want to work with us to find solutions for rules they don't think are fair."
When asked about his approach to working with students, Weibley mentions the lyrics of Kenny Chesney's song, "Never Wanted Nothing More": "I live to love and laugh a lot, and that's all I need." He says the song speaks to his work in education and learning because if a student feels like they belong and are having fun, they will get the most out of their experience. "This also teaches students to be kind to each other and to enjoy life. Fun is going to look different depending on the class or the situation, but doing what you can to make the most of the experience for the student is important."
While leading Mercersburg's Summer Programs earlier in his time at the school,
Weibley told counselors that his priorities in programming were that 1) kids were safe, 2) they were having fun, and 3) they felt welcomed. It's the same now.
"We're here to support the student. It's not just behaviors; it's their experience. It's their residential life. It's the meals. It's helping them with their connections with adults and to help them navigate life at Mercersburg, but also to be able to navigate what it's like living in the world as a teenager today. It is always an honor to be able to do that and to feel the fulfillment of helping these young people achieve their goals and to navigate life in a positive way."