Head of School Tyler Casertano and the School's consulting psychologist Dr. Michael Reichert present on "The Emotional and Relational Lives of Boys"
On October 19 in Ball Auditorium, Haverford's Head of School Tyler Casertano and the School's consulting psychologist Dr. Michael Reichert presented their Best for Boys talk on "The Emotional and Relational Lives of Boys." The lecture illustrated how The Haverford School develops boys' emotional literacy through supportive relationships.
Casertano began the lecture with an exploration of concepts of masculinity he has encountered personally and culturally. He remembered, as a boy, understanding from his peers that “it was not cool to care.” The focus on achievements in everything from athletics to popularity, instead of the effort exerted or the quality of relationships formed, demonstrated that "it was cool to be good at these things, but it was not cool to be emotionally invested in them." This culture prevents boys from engaging—be it academically or emotionally—leading to stunted growth in both the classroom and their personal relationships. This causes feelings of isolation that contribute to higher rates of suicide and addiction among men. “Men are struggling with their social and emotional health nationwide,” explained Casertano, listing statistics that show this challenging reality and then inviting Dr. Michael Reichert to share his experiences navigating it over his 35 years as the School’s psychologist and as a father and grandfather to boys.
Reichert began with a description of his gregarious young grandson—quick to make connections, leaping into his grandfather’s arms with a captivating smile. “These are remarkable skills, and I realize they’re not exceptional,” Reichert reflected, “Every one of your sons began his life that way—wired, built, equipped with the kinds of skills that he needs to bring people close.” Neuroscience shows that the human brain is “wired to connect” and that the emotional and relational lives of boys are intertwined. Boys rely on relationships to process challenging emotions, but dominating concepts of masculinity inhibit bonding and constrict emotions. Reichert explained, “These relational and emotional dimensions of our existence are, in fact, the very dimensions that are targeted by the boyhood that has evolved in history.” He described troubling trends facing boys, but also shared signs of hope for the younger generations. “I have been inspired by the young men that you send to school here,” he said, while sharing a picture of the School’s peer counseling group, which he founded. He explained the origins of the program: “I realized that I could deploy the boys to care for each other.” This program helps the boys recognize their friends as their support system, encouraging vulnerability and promoting listening skills.
To demonstrate the power of the program, three students who have benefitted from peer counseling joined Casertano and Reichert on stage: Arnav Sardesai, Michael Dean, and Jaiden Shuchman, all Form VI. Sardesai described the freedom he feels to talk to his friends without judgment in peer counseling meetings. As Reichert taught him, “training mental health is like training a muscle.” Sardesai described the peer counseling meetings like a practice, and expressed gratitude for the opportunity and space to build stronger relationships with his peers. As he said, “being able to talk to my peers from Haverford is something I will never take for granted.” Dean then described his path to peer counseling, influenced by a recent graduate and friend on the football team. He quickly found a support system among the participants in peer counseling, all developing the skills of courage, listening, and emotional intelligence together. As he said, “I wouldn’t trade this place for the world. Programs like this make this place special.” Shuchman explained the flexibility of peer counseling, and how his poetry has played a role in his development. He read his college admission essay, joking that more people than his admission officer should have the chance to hear it. The essay explained how, through peer counseling, he gained the strength to show emotion and learned that his peers care about him enough to listen to him.
Casertano returned to the stage to explain ways that Haverford meets the developmental needs of boys. “Here at Haverford,” he said, “we design classrooms where boys can be successful.” He described Haverford’s culture of opting in, where boys participate in opportunities they would not engage with elsewhere. Casertano views the School’s efforts in a triangle that includes relationships, engagement, and community. Each point is equally important in developing young men who feel connected, supported, and resilient. Casertano keeps an eye on the culture by attending reflections, which he calls “ barometers” that measure the School’s cultural health. In these reflections, a community member takes the stage to share their thoughts on a personal experience. As Casertano understands it, the more vulnerability, honesty, and engagement demonstrated in the reflections, the healthier the School’s relationships and community. Guided by adults who work to know them well, Haverford boys “see each other for who they are, not what they do.” Casertano concluded, “I hope Haverford is a place that teaches boys to care—to care about each other, to care about their development more broadly speaking—and, in doing so, prepares them for life.”