Examining Andover’s Off-Campus Programs: PA Students Take Own Initiative

Phillips Academy students who wish to spend a school year studying off campus have two school-sponsored options: School Year Abroad and the Oxbow School. Students seeking alternative programs must consult Andover’s administration to take a yearlong leave of absence, a process that is not always easy. Anneke Heher ’10 is currently on a yearlong leave of absence to attend off-campus programs that Andover does not sponsor—the Maine Coast Semester program in the fall and the Island School in the spring. Heher said that the process of applying for a yearlong leave was “a lot of stress” and she “had to spend a lot of time figuring out courses.” Heher first talked to her advisor, and then organized meetings with Paul Murphy, Dean of Students, and John Rogers, Dean of Studies, to discuss diploma requirements and course credits. “I had to work out my courses and ensure that I was getting enough credit to graduate on time,” she said. “I think it’s kind of weird that Andover doesn’t really allow off-campus study options. I think they should make [the process] easier and make it more accessible, especially because I think most of the programs do match up with the Andover curriculum,” added Heher. But Taylor Kniffin, an eleventh grader at Deerfield Academy, said that leaving Deerfield to attend the Maine Coast Semester was “relatively easy.” “Because we are a member school [of Maine Coast Semester], Deerfield is accustomed to having students leave for a term,” said Kniffin. Ravonne Nevels, an eleventh grader at Deerfield Academy, also said that it was “easy to leave campus” to study at the Milton Mountain School. “[Deerfield] handled a lot of the paperwork, financial stuff and my living situations when I returned. They were supportive, and my classmates were supportive,” said Nevels. Heher said that although her off-campus experience has been worth the effort, she wishes that Andover would allow more freedom for students seeking to study off campus. At the Maine Coast Semester, Heher took “normal classes,” such as United States history and environmental science, while she worked on a farm with 40 students from public and private schools. “These programs are pretty challenging academically…especially because I’m taking honors classes, which I feel match up to Andover standards,” said Heher. Andover students who take a yearlong leave of absence must also go through an informal readmission process, which includes writing a letter to Murphy. When Heher returns for Senior year, she must take a partial History 300 course, as well as music and theater courses. Heher also plans to enroll in advanced courses beyond the diploma requirement. “My Senior year is going to be different from everyone else’s. I have to take six classes for two terms. But I don’t think it will be a bad transition,” Heher said. She said, “I do have more freedom [off-campus]. I’m not locked up in the library or in the dormitory during study hours and it’s not as stressful as Andover.” Sam Weiss ’09 took a yearlong absence during his Upper year to study in Spain with a friend’s family. Weiss chose not to study in Spain with the School Year Abroad program. “I don’t really believe in the School Year Abroad program,” said Weiss. “Honestly, the learning experience I was looking for couldn’t have come from going to a foreign country with a group of other American kids. It was very much about being on my own and going to school in a whole different way.” He continued, “A lot of classes at School Year Abroad [are] in English and [kids talk to their classmates] in English. I was the only American in my school. That made the experience for me.” Weiss said that Andover “needs to be more supportive” for students’ choices to attend off-campus school year programs. He said, “[The school] should create a protocol for what leaving at certain times means as far as academic requirements.” He also suggested a “specific term-by-term basis so that people can pursue specific endeavors outside of Andover.” Weiss is currently taking History 300 and other Math and English courses that he was unable to take while studying in Spain. When Weiss returned to campus this year as a Senior, he was initially concerned about his transition back to Andover. “[The transition] was definitely something I was worried about just because I had been away for a year. I felt like people would’ve forgotten about me. The cool thing about this community is that people value experience,” said Weiss. “For the most part, people really cared and wanted to know about it. People here are so thoughtful and open, and it actually didn’t end up being much of a struggle at all,” he continued. But Cordelia Kenney, an eleventh grader at Phillips Exeter Academy who attended the Island School, described her transition back to Exeter as “a little rough.” “The ways of life [at the Island School and Exeter] are so different, and the entire ethos of both schools are so different,” said Kenney. She continued, “Most of my teachers have been pretty understanding, and over a month back in, academics are starting to smooth out. But I feel different with my friends now, and that has been kind of weird.” Kenney said that he had taken math over the summer in order to not fall behind when he returned to school. He also had to review French during both summer and winter vacations.