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A Remedy to the Crisis of Loneliness: A Connected Community

Scott Allenby

The longer we are involved in the Proctor community, the more convinced we become of the positive impact of living and learning alongside students and colleagues. Everything we do becomes rooted in how we can help make the community a better place for our students, for our families, for our colleagues, and for those yet to know Proctor. Our workplace becomes more than a workplace, it becomes an extended family, a web of connections that buoys us through heartache, allows us to share joy, and celebrate the little victories that sit at the heart of life as an educator. 

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This sense of connection we experience at Proctor is far from ubiquitous around the country, however. Gen Z is touted as the most unconnected generation ever in terms of relationships with others. It is not just the isolation created by smartphones and social media, but genuine loneliness triggered by larger societal trends we are experiencing. Take for instance the following community building statistics:

  • In 1974, 33% of Americans spent time socially with their neighbors several times a week. Now, only 19% do.
  • Families are becoming smaller, and the percentage of children raised by a single parent or no parent has doubled, from 15% to 31%.
  • Monthly church attendance fell from the early 1970s to the present, with 50% to 57% attending in the past compared with 42% to 44% now.
  • Nearly half of Americans report sometimes or always feeling alone or left out and 20% state they have "no one to talk to". 
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We see headlines and read articles like THIS op ed in the New York Times by Surgeon General Dr. Vivek H. Murthy in which very real challenges facing individuals around the country are articulated through a crisis lens. As Dr. Murthy notes, “At any moment, about one out of every two Americans is experiencing measurable levels of loneliness. This includes introverts and extroverts, rich and poor, and younger and older Americans.” 

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In 1995, Doug Heath wrote a book titled Schools of Hope in which he shared the secret to Proctor’s educational model being “that it values the maturation of character and self as highly as the maturation of the mind...The keys are its close, family-like faculty-student relationships and its activity-based experiential activities, which offered its students ways to discover strengths not usually educed in traditional didactic classrooms.” Proctor’s antidote to loneliness  and disconnect is not a single program or wellness initiative, but rather an educational model grounded in community building where: 

  • 100% of students take part in Wilderness Orientation with seven other students and two faculty members.
  • 100% of boarding students live in dorms of 18 or less residents alongside faculty families.  
  • 100% of students take part in an afternoon activity or compete on an athletic team every day.
  • 100% of 9th and 10th graders take part in a health and wellness seminar class. 
  • 80% of students study off-campus in small, tight-knit groups.
  • Multi-aged advisories, dormitories, and classes connect students across social landscapes.
  • Faculty and staff work across departments to lead Wilderness Orientation, Project Periods, Earth Day and Martin Luther King, Jr. Day workshops as colleagues deepen their appreciation for varying skill sets and responsibilities.
  • Low turnover among faculty and staff (more than 20% of Proctor employees have spent more than 20 years at Proctor).
  • Half of all full-time employees have had or currently have children at Proctor as students, and have a deep appreciation for their child’s experience here.
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When we build and steward an intentional community that values individuals and their connection to each other, we reverse the societal trends of loneliness and disconnection. Dr. Murthy suggests a similar approach to the national crisis of loneliness, “We have to take steps in our personal lives to rebuild our connection to one another — and small steps can make a big difference. This is medicine hiding in plain sight: Evidence shows that connection is linked to better heart health, brain health and immunity. It could be spending 15 minutes each day to reach out to people we care about, introducing ourselves to our neighbors, checking on co-workers who may be having a hard time, sitting down with people with different views to get to know and understand them, and seeking opportunities to serve others recognizing that helping people is one of the most powerful antidotes to loneliness. Every generation is called to take on challenges that threaten the underpinnings of society. Addressing the crisis of loneliness and isolation is one of our generation’s greatest challenges.” 

May we embrace this generational challenge by living out an example of a connected community each day here at Proctor. 

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