AN EXPANSIVE EDUCATION
“We employ a dynamic, creative and persistent approach to identify uniquely talented students,” says Jim Ventre, Dean of Admission and Financial Aid at Phillips Academy, better known as “Andover”, for the historic Massachusetts town where the school is located. “The diversity of talent and personality among Andover students originates with our ambitious recruitment strategy.”
Andover, 25 miles north of Boston, is a co-educational university-preparatory school for boarding and day students. It is the oldest incorporated boarding school in America, founded in 1778 at the height of the Revolutionary War. Today it teaches students from 49 countries and 46 US states and territories. “We are grounded in tradition, but are innovating all the time,” says Head of School John Palfrey, who came to Andover in 2012 from Harvard Law School, where he was a professor and Vice Dean.
Andover’s founding constitution requires the academy to educate “youth from every quarter”. Since 2008 a need-blind admission policy has admitted children on merit, without regard to their financial circumstances. About 47 per cent of students receive financial aid. The socioeconomic and cultural diversity of the student body helps define the character of the school. “Our applicants have strengths that benefit all students: optimism, intellectual curiosity and an adventurous spirit,” says Ventre.
A COMPREHENSIVE education
The 842 boarders and 300 day students enjoy a wide-ranging liberal arts programme of more than 300 courses and 150 electives, working in classes of around 13 students, with a five-to-one student to faculty ratio. “It is a T-shaped curriculum,” says Palfrey, referring to the broad platform of subjects open to students, which leads on to more in-depth areas of study. “We ensure that students study core subjects including English, maths, science, world languages and the arts. For example, they all compose a piece of music and perform in a drama production. Then they can choose to go deep into a subject such as economics.”
Unique to the way Andover advances its own teaching and learning is the presence on campus of the Tang Institute. “I would describe it as a research-and-development institute,” says Palfrey. “It engages both our students and our faculty. The best ideas from anywhere in the world work their way into the curriculum through the institute. Students might put on a conference of TEDx talks or conduct an independent research project, presenting their findings back to faculty.”
In tandem with the nurturing of individual student talent there is huge investment in the professional development of the faculty. “We offer a combination of year-long sabbaticals, as well as ‘staybatticals’ working at the Tang Institute that allow faculty to look into areas that they have wondered about but never had
time to pursue,” says Palfrey. “It is rewarding for faculty, and their inventive, creative work feeds back into teaching.”
From Andover to the world
Students from Andover gain places at some of the world’s most selective institutions, yet, as Sean Logan, Dean of College Counselling, explains: “We emphasise personal goals and fit over school ranking or perceived prestige,” he says. “Our aim is to help students select the path that is exactly
right for who they are and the studies they want to pursue.”
The founding fathers of the Phillips Academy might not recognise the observatory, the Addison Gallery of American Art, the Peabody Institute of Archaeology, the science centre or sports facilities. The dedication of the faculty, the curiosity of the student body and the strong sense of collaboration between both in the pursuit of learning would, however, be instantly familiar.