Off-Campus Programs: It’s Time

The following is an open letter addressed to the Deans’ Council and to the Phillips Academy Board of Trustees, representing the opinions of the Student Council and summarizing my presentation to the Trustees on Thursday, January 29. One year ago, the prospect of a protracted economic downturn forced you, the Deans and Trustees of Phillips Academy, to make difficult budget decisions. You sought to preserve Andover’s diversity and its academic rigor in a grim economic climate. The members of Deans’ Council, in addition to making budget cuts in all departments, suspended students’ participation in off-campus community service projects, language immersion programs and music tours, participation in an international theatre festival, an academic semester in Maine and an internship program in Washington, D.C., in an effort to balance Phillips Academy’s budget. In the 12 months since you made the decision to suspend nearly every off-campus program offered at Phillips Academy, our nation’s fiscal forecast has changed considerably. In the last quarter alone, the economy rebounded with strength unprecedented in the last 20 years. While caution is still the watchword in budgetary matters, the resurgence presents an ideal opportunity to permanently reinstate these programs, which are an integral part of this academy’s philosophy, its history, and its future. This month, more than 650 students signed a petition supporting the programs’ immediate reinstatement, which I present here to you today, with the hope that you will consider the issue with new vision. Our off-campus programs comprise a singular tradition, originating decades ago, of sending students beyond the academic buildings of our campus, to test and to find themselves in the greater world. Thousands of us have benefited in these pursuits of the unfamiliar, as we have extended Andover’s mission out into the spheres of national government, the arts, environmental awareness, language immersion and community service. The Washington Intern Program, the Mountain School Program and the Maine Coast Semester, immersion in foreign cultures and languages around the world, participation in the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, building homes on St. John’s Island during the Alternative Spring Break service trip, and touring with the Cantata Choir and chamber orchestra—these programs have changed the lives of, not a handful, but hundreds and hundreds of Andover students. Phillips Academy’s mission, as expressed in the Statement of Purpose, describes these goals: “… the school seeks to promote a balance of leadership, cooperation and service, together with a deeper awareness of the global community and the natural world… This obligation challenges students in mind, body and spirit, to see beyond themselves and to go beyond the familiar…” Ultimately, the decision to bring back off-campus programs will not depend on finding the necessary money in the Academy’s annual operating budget of approximately $70 million. The return of our off-campus programs will come with the realization that such experiential learning is paramount in Andover’s core philosophy and cannot be quantified. It is time once again for you to ensure the survival of our institution’s academic reputation and the fulfillment of its core values. Student and faculty reflections on a few of Andover’s off-campus programs: St. John’s Island Alternative Spring Break Phillips Academy students and faculty spend ten days during Spring Break working on St. John’s Island in South Carolina, primarily restoring roofs and plumbing in the island’s rural, poor community. Number of students who have participated: approximately 196 over six years. Student Voice April Warren ’04: “While we were accidentally covering ourselves in tar, or slapping together sandwiches for our bag lunches, somewhere between snowy Andover and the sunny rooftops on John’s Island – something in the tears and smiles on familiar faces changed the way I see and feel about my life and the lives entangled with mine. I returned to campus after an emotionally trying Upper winter with a refreshed appreciation for the school, a renewed faith in humanity, and a invigorated eagerness to help people through community service.” Alex Vispoli ’04: “[The St. John’s Island community service trip] is the most important and worthwhile thing I have done at Phillips Academy.” Faculty Voice Chad Green, director, Community Service: “The South Carolina trip is truly a unique setting where students and faculty are given the time and space to get to know each other in a completely different manner than our normal campus interactions. Questions of social justice, faith, existentialism, race, gender, etc. are lived out in practice in a way that is simply not possible in daily interactions in Andover.” Cantata Choir and Chamber Orchestra Tour Number of students who have participated: approximately 1500 students in 26 tours. Student Voice Alex Limpaecher ’04: The Cantata-Orchestra tour was a great achievement we all worked toward… My fondest memory of the tour came from the Hawaii trip. After rehearsing all afternoon at a church, we found that the church members, in their own spirit of non sibi, had cooked us a large dinner, which we all ate together in a vast, improvised dining hall…Not only did they provide us with a wonderful meal, but also a church packed with excited audience members…To be honest, unlike theater and sports, there is little chance to connect directly with other students during Orchestra…I still desperately miss the tours.” Faculty Voice Ada Fan, instructor, English: “In the age we live in, global understanding is critically important. Our off-campus programs affect this understanding perhaps more than anything else we do; we can talk all we want in class, but the discussion remains academic. I’ve chaperoned three Cantata tours… When I look back, I see the Cantata Choir singing to overflowing cathedrals in Italy during Passiontide, and I hear their voices filling the vast spaces… It was great in Hong Kong to have so many Andover alums and families join us in our concerts, giving us a vivid sense of the extended Andover community and our role throughout the world.” Washington Intern Program Founded in 1966 with Phillips Exeter Academy, the Washington Intern Program is available to Uppers and Seniors during the spring term. Each student is assigned to the office of a United States Senator or Representative, or an agency of the federal government. Interns work during the day (9-6, M-F), attend seminars, and observe various government branches in action. Number of students who have participated: approximately 240 students over 37 years. Student Voices Stephen Draheim ’04:“For a high school student – with his Senate or House ID – to be able to walk…where the world’s most powerful nation makes its laws, where the United States has stumbled and triumphed, is a truly unparalleled opportunity. To serve the American people as volunteer, helping constituents with legislative concerns over the phone and in person, is also an important positive aspect. The personal story of an Egyptian American, living in Pennsylvania, and her abducted children, living in Egypt, in particular touched me. I was able to help her exert pressure on the State Department to expedite discussions with Egyptian authorities on getting her children returned to their mother.” Patrick Holkins ’04: “Along with 21 of my peers…I developed a core understanding of what I found to be an effective, thorough legislative system. On the other hand, I was most certainly surprised and, at times, alarmed by what I discovered to be a perpetual clash between equality and exclusion, democracy and elitism in Washington, D.C. Though frustrating, this duality made my experience as a Washington intern the most valuable, unique, and rewarding of my high school career.”