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Healthy Risk?
Healthy Risk?
Last week, Time Magazine published the article, "Why the Teen Brain is Drawn to Risk", and as a boarding school that currently enrolls 363 adolescents, we often find ourselves asking this very same question: why do our students seek risk so often and how can we stop them?

The article discusses, among other points, the fact that teenagers are drawn specifically to unknown risks, as teens have a greater tolerance to uncertainty and ambiguity. Interestingly, teens are drawn to known risks comparatively less than adults. Valerie Reyna, a professor of human development and psychology at Cornell University, argues teens have a different style of information processing. They get lost in the details about specific risks and overly focused on possible rewards, all while ignoring the ultimate consequences of a decision.

We know that some of the risks adolescents take are unhealthy risks and we want to minimize these decisions within our community through our support systems and residential life programming that guide teens away from these unhealthy decisions. However, we also recognize that allowing for calculated, healthy risk taking may be the best deterrent of unhealthy decision-making within our population of students.

On September 18th, twenty-two Proctor students, their families and advisors boarded the Harvey Gamage in Gloucester, MA in anticipation of Proctor's Ocean Classroom sendoff. Three weeks later, updates from students aboard the 100 foot vessel affirm both the transformational nature of this program and the positive influence of calculated risk-taking in a structured environment on our students.

In weekly updates from Ocean Classroom, students share their reactions to their first few weeks at sea. This year's student crew aboard the Harvey Gamage is daily engaging in risky behavior as they climb high above the sea to complete their daily chores. They have been charged with the task of keeping their vessel clean, on course, and functioning properly, all while studying marine biology, history, and literature. Perhaps most importantly, however, they are learning just how capable they can be when they are given real responsibilities with real consequences.

Emily wrote the following words after her first week on Ocean Classroom. Her words speak directly to the type of healthy risks we hope every student finds through our programs at Proctor:

In my one week as a sailor aboard the Harvey Gamage, I have learned that the weather can alter my entire perspective of any given day. When it is overcast and air is frigidly cold, I can think of nothing but my desire to be anywhere but here. Everything and everyone makes me angry. I am resentful of the people who wake me for watching the middle of the night and of the educators who assign so much work. But, when the warmth of the sun crawls into my tired bones, the constant state of business on deck is intensely satisfying. We set about our daily work willingly and happily. When the sun shines, we are content to spend the day hauling on lines, checking the boat, scrubbing, washing, studying, and repeating the cycle all over again multiple times. Chores are carried out with alacrity and craftsmanship; we take pride in our beautiful home. It is gorgeous days like this when we look out at the gleaming and wondrous sea and are reminded of our great desire for adventure. I can only speak for myself, but after just one week, the Harvey Gamage and her crew have stolen my heart.
Adolescents take risks...this we know...however, programs like Ocean Classroom provide a structured environment through which students can take healthy risks.
One student-crew member this fall recently wrote, "I gaze into the glowing globe of the compass before me, concentrating on my course. It was imprinted in my mind; course ordered 220."
She continued, "As I clutched the spokes of the helm, my number one priority was to steer the Harvey Gamage safely through the night waters of the Atlantic Ocean."
"My eyes soon climbed up the starboard side of the schooner I have called home for twelve days and fixed upon the mass of lights on the horizon. Our exact distance from civilization I do not know, but it seemed to be about a mile away."
"My body sways side to side with the movement of the boat against the waves and my thigh pressed against a spoke of the wheel. The lights of the buildings and bridges mesmerized me and I had to collect myself to bring my eyes to my work."
How many students have the opportunity to guide a 100 foot vessel through open waters at sunrise as part of their high school curriculum? The 22 students on Ocean Classroom this fall have taken a risk they will never forget, nor regret.