fbpx PEA builds community with new orientation programming | Phillips Exeter Academy

Building community proactively

A generous new fund helps Exeter enrich its orientation programming.

Melanie Nelson
September 11, 2017
Preps enjoy a new orientation program at the Browne Center.

As part of a new orientation program, preps enjoy team building at the Browne Center for Innovative Learning.

On a crystal clear Sunday morning in early September, four long First Student school buses rolled in to the Browne Center for Innovative Learning, a gorgeous wooded property abutting the Great Bay Estuary in Durham, New Hampshire. As the lever-operated doors creaked open, 203 students, all members of the class of 2021, streamed out and were quickly divided into groups of 12 by the center’s purple-clad staff. They had made the journey to Browne, an experiential learning site affiliated with the University of New Hampshire, to participate in an enhanced orientation program meant to foster community and collaboration before the fall semester was officially under way.

Back at campus and over at Rye Beach Harbor, lowers, uppers and seniors engaged in their own class-specific team-building activities. The programming, new and welcome at Exeter, was made possible by the Class of 2018 Exonians Connect and Explore Fund.

Interspersed among the preps at Browne were Exeter instructors and a handful of alumni from the class of 1971. The latter, inspired and organized by classmates Bill Rawson and Sam Perkins, have joined forces with the class of 2021 to pilot a symbiotic partnership intended to build over the next four years as the class of ’71 prepares to celebrate its 50th reunion in the same year that the class of ’21 graduates.

With a chorus of crickets as background music and little plumes of “Deep Woods OFF!” perfuming the air, the daylong program commenced. Through a series of fun and thought-provoking games that varied depending upon the group and facilitator, initial trepidation soon gave way to sharing and laughter.

“We always begin with activities that are choice-based, high-engagement and low-consequence,” explains the Browne Center’s Youth Programs Coordinator Jeff Frigon. “It gives the kids a chance to get moving and be silly before we delve into more complex programming.”

The class of 2021 is getting to know each other a little better today. #iamExeter

A post shared by Phillips Exeter (@phillipsexeter) on

Frigon and his colleagues speak from experience. Now 40 years old, the Browne Center is considered an international leader in hands-on, innovative learning.

Adds Frigon, “The science is just catching up to what we have seen realized in our work here, which is that physical movement, laughter and appropriate contact all release healthy brain chemicals that reduce anxiety and increase learning and connection.”

Indeed, in each group, the preps’ experiences seemed to bear this out. Tossing a hacky sack to learn names or offering up what they’d contribute to the group during the day (“… an open mind and bright ideas …” “… listening …”) students relaxed, gaining confidence and trust that they would need for the ropes course portion of the programming later in the day.

For Ozzy Gomez-Santana, a prep from Delaware, the Browne Center activities were “great” for these reasons and one other important one: “You get to know new people you haven’t met yet in your dorms or classes.”