Credit: Ann Vernon-Grey

“My daughter believes she’s a college student and she’s nine years old,” New College House faculty director Campbell Grey said. “She’s a super super super super senior.”

Isabel Grey, along with her three year old — or as she says, junior — brother Connor Grey, are two of the 15 kids who Cambell Grey estimates currently live in Penn’s college dorms.

“I get to have lots of playmates whenever I want,” Isabel said. “I like the weekends since most people are free and they only have to study for like, two tests or something.”

College freshman Keira Bokreta also lives in New College House, but calls Kings Court English College House her home. Bokreta, who applied to Penn regular decision last spring, decided to attend the university where she was raised.

“I feel really comfortable on campus and I’m happy to be around my family and people I grew up with,” Bokreta said. “It’s funny now being the same age as people, because they’ve always been the big kids.”

Despite having lived her whole life on campus, Bokreta said attending university here is still a “new experience,” since growing up she knew more about where to get ice cream than where to go to class.

“When I was little, I don’t really remember thinking about where I would go to college that much,” Bokreta said. “I really appreciated the strong sense of community at Kings Court English College House and the family that I gained ... I became really close with [the staff] and it was like an extended family living in that building.”

Even now, Bokreta remains only a block away from her father, the house dean of Kings Court English College House and her mother, as well as her brother, who is currently a junior at Drexel University.

Sebi Santiago-Rivas, a student who grew up with Bokreta in Kings Court English College House is now a freshman studying music education at Temple. Santiago-Rivas also stayed in Philadelphia, close to his parents as well as his “extended family.”

“I feel like I have a healthy amount of separation, but I’m close enough that I can go back,” Santiago-Rivas said. “I would not trade [living in Kings Court English College House] for anything in the world, it was by far the best thing that ever happened to me.”

He said growing up in a dorm made him both more “accept[ing]” and “knowledgeable” about the world.

“[Kinds Court English College House] is responsible for a lot of who I am now,” Santiago-Rivas said. “It’s an experience that I wish more people had, because, at least for me, it was very fundamental in creating a very global perspective and understanding of people.”

Grey agreed that the dorm provides a unique environment for a child to grow up in.

“They live in a really diverse community, their world is not just us,” Grey added. “They have an Algerian uncle, a Puerto Rican uncle and aunt and a Caribbean grandfather: they have this sense, I think from day one, that the world is diverse.”

Santiago-Rivas found that while living in Kings Court English College House was positive, it was also quite difficult to explain to his classmates.

“It must have been first or second grade,” Santiago-Rivas said of when he realized that not everyone lives in a dorm. “I did feel a bit isolated when I was growing up ... at the time, of course, I was more concerned about being like everyone else and fitting in.”

With time, though, he said he came to appreciate the opportunities that Kings Court English College House offers.

“My extended family by blood all live in Puerto Rico,” Santiago-Rivas said. “I am not a native English speaker. Both my parents spoke Spanish exclusively to me when I was growing up, and I learned English just from the students.”

Grey hopes his children will also benefit from the opportunities that living in the dorm offers.

“They are really well-socially adjusted kids, they find themselves in a world where they’re stimulated and engaged and, most importantly, taken seriously,” Grey said. “It’s a powerful and enriching experience for all of us.”

It’s an experience that Isabel has certainly appreciated.

“I like Connor’s birthday/playing on the lawn ... and Halloween because kids were handing out candy and I got a lot of candy,” Isabel said when deciding what her favorite part about the dorm was. “And homecoming we have a big party [to see friends who graduated].”

With her recent move to New College House, Isabel’s family and friends expanded and include, what Grey calls, the “neighborhood” of Hill, New College House and Kings Court English College House.

“I can’t tell you whether it’s better or worse than any other kind of experience,” Grey said. “This is our home, we only have this home.”

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