'You need a village': Preps find their place

The newest Exonians make connections, build community in their adopted home.

Tyler Caldwell
September 16, 2019
Members of the class of 2023 work together to overcome an obstacle during orientation activities at Brown Center

Members of the class of 2023 work together to overcome an obstacle during orientation activities at Browne Center. 

“You need a village, if only for the pleasure of leaving it. Your own village means that you’re not alone, that you know there’s something of you in the people and the plans and the soil, that even when you are not there it waits to welcome you.” — Cesare Pavese

Richard Blanco offers Pavese’s quotation as a prologue to his book, The Prince of los Cocuyos. The excerpt could capture the feelings and emotions many ninth graders experience right now: a desire to retain and hold onto what they remember from home, their childhood, their middle school, and a desire to find and establish a new home or “village” at Exeter. The faculty and returning students have attempted to welcome the class of 2023 in such a fashion; they have offered advice for how students can enter a new community both with an acknowledgement and an appreciation for their past selves and also an awareness of who they hope to become.

Harkness teaching and learning is a central and unique aspect of our school. As such, part of Orientation included a trip to the Browne Center, an experiential learning program affiliated with the University of New Hampshire. The Browne Center offers activities and workshops that encourage community building and collaboration. The program provides students with an opportunity to connect with classmates, to get to know and work with an adult from PEA, and to engage in team-building and problem-solving exercises. Students are asked to generate, discuss, and trial creative solutions as they work together to complete a task. We divided the class into groups of 12 students to anticipate small class sizes. I encouraged the preps to notice overlaps and to make connections between their work at the Browne Center and their work at the Harkness table.

Additionally, we provided our new students two opportunities to observe examples of an effective Harkness discussion. Last Monday, English Instructor Alex Myers facilitated a model discussion of “The Story of an Hour” amongst 12 selected seniors. On Thursday, Math Instructor Jeffrey Ibbotson facilitated a discussion of math problems. Both took place in our new Goel Center for Theater and Dance. In these example classes, the content both felt accessible to our youngest students and also provided multiple interpretations or methods to gain a deeper understanding of the material. 

On Friday, Blanco visited campus to deliver an assembly, to lead writing workshops, and to speak with the ninth grade about this period of transition and of growth. Every prep arrived from a different background and with a different vision with regards to how to make the most of their time here, and so Blanco encouraged them to grow in their understanding of themselves, to be open to change, to develop their passions and interests as they shift over time.

We have a tradition of valuing language and communication at Exeter, and the Harkness table is an unquestionable emblem of that. But we also value writing, how we communicate our vision, our experiences, our identities on the page. And Blanco offered our community a brilliant example of how to communicate identity and a sense of self through writing, whether poetry or prose.

It has been a pleasure to get to know our new ninth graders. I look forward to the year ahead!

English Instructor Tyler Caldwell serves as Exeter's Ninth Grade Program Coordinator.