(This article has been updated in April 2021. The original post was written in June 2014.)
An educational consultant’s visit to a top boarding school in America
Upon first impressions, Phillips Exeter Academy shares some similarities with a university campus environment, compared to other boarding schools in America. With a little less than 1,100 students, all in grades 9-12, it is one of the larger boarding schools. The school is in a rural setting, about an hour drive from Boston and has a vast amount of resources and opportunities for students, such as over 400 courses and 100 student organizations to choose from. It is also home to the largest secondary school library in the world.
The Harkness table at Phillips Exeter Academy
Exeter is academically rigorous and is known to send many graduates to top colleges and universities around the world. One of the unique things about the school is that all classes are taught with the Harkness philosophy, which originated at Exeter. Classrooms are designed with all of the students and the teacher sitting at a round table. Through this teaching method, used in many American boarding schools, learning is done collaboratively through active discussion and collaboration.
After observing just one of the classes, the benefits of this learning style and environment were clear. With classes typically having less than 12 students, the classes are designed for interaction and discussion. By explaining their problem-solving rationale and assisting each other, students demonstrated teamwork, problem-solving, and communication skills through open discussions.