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Welcome to the 'Castle': forging community at boarding school

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On a recent stormy afternoon, two new teachers took a first step toward settling into their job for the year: they moved into the "Castle."

As thunder rumbled overhead, "old timers" familiar with the imposing stone structure at Noble and Greenough School in Dedham, Mass., ticked off things for their new neighbors to remember: Lightning is a problem - TVs and VCRs have a short life. When the air is thick and wet, as it often is in these late days of summer, bats have been spotted circling in the spiral staircase. And in winter, a tremendous clanging often stirs slumberers before dawn - but it's just the pipes.

Dawud Brown and Micah Myers laugh nervously when they hear about the early- morning noise. Sleep will be precious during their first year as teachers at the private school. But the inconveniences that accompany living in a place heavy on "character" may well be outweighed by the camaraderie inspired by this vast home for teachers, boarding students, and the occasional bat.

"We're about building a boarding community," Latin teacher Mark Harrington says of living in the grand stone mansion. "We're really not a Holiday Inn. We want to make sure that the people who live here know what is expected of them."

Which means resident faculty will take turns with dormitory duties: overseeing study halls, inviting boarders to their apartments for snacks, and answering late-night knocks on the door from a student seeking care or homework help.

The Castle is a commanding presence on campus, with impressive peaked roofs and stone balconies rising over the athletic field. The mansion was designed for a millionaire in 1883 by the students of H.H. Richardson, the architect of Boston's Trinity Church. Noble and Greenough acquired it in 1921 when the school moved from Boston to the Dedham estate.

Since then, the Castle has been an integral part of the 500-plus student school - currently housing nine teachers, 18 male boarders, and the campus dining room.

The Castle community, like other residential spaces on campus, helps set a standard for how students and teachers should relate to one another. Honesty and respect are at the core of the school's code of conduct. Diversity and support for the individual also have special emphasis. The Castle entrance, in fact, is undergoing a minor face-lift to accommodate a new wheelchair ramp.

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