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St. Stephen's dorm parents juggle school, mentoring, business

Katy Ballard

Forty teenagers, two adults. A scenario that sounds daunting to most who understand the polaric shifts of these budding adults. But for Matt Hannon, 28, and Meagan Butler-Hannon, 27, it's comforting.

The couple are dorm parents in residence at St. Stephen's Episcopal School in the hills of West Austin. Although they're not parents themselves, they're naturals at the job, which hardly feels like one as they approach their third year.

"It's kind of like a reality show. They throw everybody together in this dorm, and we try to create bonding activities that cross all cultural lines that everybody can get behind," Matt said. "Over the course of a year, you just end up getting to know the kids pretty well."

It's easy to see why they excel as dorm parents. As we chatted over coffees and an Americano at Caffé Medici , the comfort and trust they convey makes it seem as if you are talking to your best friends.

Although they are authority figures for a fraction of resident high school students — Meagan oversees 28 sophomore girls and Matt 12 junior boys — they share that role with three other dorm parents.

One day a week and one weekend a month, they're on duty. They wake the students in the morning, check on them at dinner and make sure they're in the dorms for study hall from 8 to 10 every weeknight. They also carry a cell phone in case the kids need anything.

Their induction to the private school isn't happenstance. Meagan was a "faculty kid," because her mother has been teaching at St. Stephen's for more than 30 years, and she also attended high school at St. Stephen's. She and Matt, a couple since college, married in 2007.

After the pair graduated from Pepperdine University, Meagan followed in her mother's footsteps in teaching. She became a teacher for Teach for America and was stationed in the Rio Grande Valley. Matt went to graduate school in Los Angeles. He would travel back and forth to see Meagan for about a year, as his correspondence filmmaking studies required him to complete a three- to four-month in-house production program.

Eventually he joined her in the Valley, but the two had their sights set on Austin. Meagan was offered a one-year teaching job at St. Stephen's, which was perfect because she wanted to work for a year before going to graduate school at the University of Texas.

The couple married in June 2007, and that fall, the residency director at St. Stephen's asked them if they were interested in becoming dorm parents. They willingly dove in and started tutoring for extra income, though they exchange rent and utility bills for free room and board.

But being dorm parents is only part of the "juggling phase" they say they're in. Meagan also tutors middle school math, teaches a section of eighth-grade English, works on her master's degree and interns 15 hours a week at an area middle school.

"We're hoping this is sort of the end of our juggling phase," said Matt, who balances tutoring, finishing his master's degree and running his production company, Happiness Digital, which is a one-man show plus whomever he contracts.

To top it off, they self-published a book, "The Smart Parent's Guide to Facebook," which stemmed from their role as dorm parents at St. Stephen's.

"Where it really started is when we became dorm parents, and I think at least half the things that I talk to my kids about has something to do with social media," Matt said. "Conflicts with their parents happened all the time, so that's when we realized it's sort of a big deal. \u2026 We feel like we understand both sides."

Social media doesn't just cause pain for the parents, but also in student-to-student interaction. For instance, the "Honesty Box" application on Facebook, which allows people to anonymously write whatever they think about a person on their "wall," has caused immense drama. Now Matt and Meagan are on a no-drama application crusade with their students.

The book also grew out of Meagan's thesis project, "Online Social Networking and the Impact on Well-Being." The research had been done, and it was Matt's idea to turn it into a book. They chose self-publishing to get the book out quickly because in the world of social media, the only constant is change. Since the book's release in November, Facebook's privacy settings have been modified.

The timing of the book is only fitting for a couple whose life is enveloped by the loom of change. But that's the journey.; 445-3502