While Joshua Mann, Instructor and Chair in Classics, printed material upstairs, his Latin-600 students frantically crafted a surprise with sheets of paper and a blue plate from Paresky Commons. When Mann returned to the classroom, he was met with the message “Blue Plate Maybe?”
The students had asked Mann to a meal funded by the Blue Plate Special, a new program that aims to enhance student-faculty relations at Andover. The program is a part of Andover Together, an initiative funded by an Abbot Grant and spearheaded by the Student Council and Rajesh Mundra, Associate Dean of Students and Residential Life and Instructor in Biology.
Blue Plate allows for six to eight students to ask a faculty member to host a meal by the end of Winter Term that costs 125 dollars or less. Each student and each faculty member has one opportunity to participate in the program. Besides funding Blue Plate, Andover Together has hosted cluster gatherings and student-faculty meal opportunities in Commons.
During their candidacy, School Co-Presidents Nick Demetroulakos ’19 and Keely Aouga ’19 noticed a disconnect between students and faculty. Students mentioned that they weren’t close to the faculty that they want to be close with, according to Demetroulakos.
Demetroulakos said, “I think that with the Blue Plate Special program specifically, it’s sort of meant to target that feeling of ‘They’re my teacher, but they’re just my teacher.’ And just sort of, ‘What can a teacher—especially in a community where we’re all living together—what can a teacher be beyond a teacher?’”
Mann believes that Blue Plate is especially important in a boarding school setting where students rely heavily on their relationships with adults on campus.
“I think at a school like this, any boarding school, it’s helpful for students to have adults on campus that they can go to, that they would feel comfortable sitting down eating a meal with. That type of relationship is so useful for these places. So I think this particular program is really good about encouraging and hopefully even building that,” said Mann.
According to Mann, having a meal with his class forced everyone to leave their stresses behind and focus on being together in the moment.
“Sometimes when you’re getting to [Paresky] Commons, you’re just shoveling food in your mouth and you’re just trying to get in and get out and get to the next thing. This [program] actually deliberately gets you in a place where you can really just focus on the dinner and the people and the conversation without any of the pressures, hopefully, of school encumbering that moment,” said Mann.
For Aouga, an added benefit to the program is the incorporation of food. The camaraderie of the meal is meant to go beyond the many transient interactions of a normal day.
“I feel like everybody loves food on this campus, so that’s a great way to bring people together, but I think it’s also intimate in a way where you sit and you eat together. It’s not just like a hi-bye, which we have a lot on this campus. You’re walking down the path and you see somebody and you just say hi, but you don’t really get to know who they are,” said Aouga.
Aouga urged participants to take advantage of the chance to build connections with adults beyond the academic environment. Aouga sees this as an opportunity to develop a greater sense of community at Andover.
“Maybe don’t ask your House Counselor or your advisor because these are people that you see all the time. You can ask to get a meal with somebody who you might not be able to get meal with, for example, maybe a teacher that you’ve always heard about but you’ve never actually gone to sit down and have a conversation with them. And I think that’s a way to not only bring together students and faculty but the whole community,” said Aouga.
Eamon Garrity-Rokous ’20, a student in Mann’s Latin-600 class, appreciated the chance to get to know both his classmates and his instructor outside of the classroom.
“It was just a really cool experience being able to talk with our whole Latin class over dinner, especially with Mr. Mann, and get to hear some of the stories that he mentioned. It was just a really cool experience. It was good food too… I think [the program is] a great idea. I think it’s a fabulous idea in order to bring students and faculty together,” said Garrity-Rokous.
Echoing this sentiment, Serena Liu ’19 saw the change of venue as a way to expand the scope of her in-class relationships. According to Liu, the fellowship of the meal did just that.
“I think it was really fun because we’ve all gotten to know each other in the classroom, but it was nice to sit down around a meal with each other. We haven’t really gotten to do that at all. And I think meals are always what brings out the best in people, so we really got to talk about things that we wouldn’t necessarily talk about in the classroom, and we all had each other there,” said Liu.