On Saturday morning, Director of Summer School, Mrs. Elena Gosalvez-Blanco, stopped by for a brief Q&A interview with B format Journalism. Here are highlights of what she had to say, as compiled by Chema Ballesteros:
Q: What has been your most memorable summer here at Exeter?
A: Well every summer is memorable for me because there’s always little things that happen or sometimes there’s bigger thing, but just the daily life of summer school is very meaningful to me. Seeing kids hang out together and seeing them I feel I know them from the application process. When you guys finally get here and I see you making connections in the dorms and in the classrooms is really why I do this job. I wouldn’t point to a big event, just basically the daily life of the summer that makes it meaningful to me.
Q: Where are you from?
A: I’m from Madrid, Spain. Born and raised there, I was there all the way to college, and then I lived in the US for a little bit during graduate school. I was a book editor in Boston for a couple of years before I went back to Spain and was a book editor in Madrid and Barcelona for 10 years and soon moved backed to the States. I was on the west coast for a bit and soon after that I started teaching at Exeter in 2007. I didn’t know Exeter existed because sometimes in Europe we do not know about these schools. During that time I really enjoyed my classes, Harkness, the high expectations. I loved how my students would take whatever I gave them and go with it. I was also dorm head in Hoyt and Marriot, which are girl’s dorms during the regular year. I became the Associate Director of Summer School 4 years ago. Now I live in my own campus house and am affiliated with Lamont during the regular year, which is also a girls dorm. I go to Spain every year and both of my daughters were born in Spain. I feel like I am international.
Q: What do you think Exeter summer school can improve in?
A: You guys come here for diversity. You come from homogenous environments and you are here because you want to meet other people and know how people in other countries live. We always had that kind of melting pot where we just threw you guys together and I’ve been trying to create more opportunities for dialogue because it’s not easy being an international—I understand that as an international living in the US. I would misunderstand a lot of things in the beginning or I would hear people laughing and I would think they were laughing at me or I wouldn’t understand 100% of the language and I know that happens in our community. A lot of you have been making friends from different races, religions, socioeconomic origins, etc. But I know there can be misunderstandings and this is why you’re here. We unfortunately see events in Dallas where we are living a divided world and it’s in places like this where you guys—the future—can change that by getting to know each other. People kill each other because they don’t know each other. This is more important than we think. You guys did the big part by coming here and we all have to help each other navigate situations and misunderstandings.
Q: How has Summer School changed since 2007?
A: It’s always been about academic enrichment, but our students are becoming more serious about their academics. This makes sense—you guys self-selected to be here for five weeks doing academics. You guys are not choosing to be what’s cool on TV, doing nothing, or at other kinds of summer camps. Every year the students are more and more academically oriented and high-achieving through Exonians who are here for academic excellence. We don’t give credits or grades, you are here for the right reason: to learn. There are programs that do give credit, but you chose to be here. That, I think, has been the biggest change. The size is another big change because we are at our max number of students, which is 775 kids—the most this campus can take during the summer.
Q: What is the most stressful part of your daily job?
A: That you guys are okay, I am like your mom. Your safety and that you guys take good care of yourselves. I know that you guys are responsible and know that you will not do crazy things or break the rules, but I am always worried someone is going to be hit by a car or lost or hurt in some way, so that for me is the most stressful motherly aspect of the job.
Q: What is the best part of your job?
A: The stories when you guys leave and write me back saying, “This was the best summer of my life, I came back to my school and now I am the class president” or “I came back to my school and convinced my English teacher to do Harkness” or “My little sister is attending Summer School” or “I’m from Memphis and met this kid from Saudi Arabia who is now helping me with my Islam poetry.” All that you guys tell me about how it transformed you after the summer when you go home is my favorite part of my job.
Q: What is a really touching moment you experienced here at summer school?
A: At the end, the last couple days of the session when you guys are saying goodbye and crying really touches me a lot. A lot of kids come and ask me “Can I stay another week?” “Can I stay for the year?” The kids who were homesick or took a week or a little more to adapt, those are the ones that then really don’t want to go.
Q: What is your job like during the year?
A: We start in September. We are working on the catalog and improving the website. This September we will be very busy because we are having a new website. In October, I start my recruiting process. I reach out to programs to find the best financial aid kids that I can find. In November I start traveling. I go to Memphis, I go to the Navajo nation, I go to Chicago, I go to New York. By Christmas I start reading applications, selecting interns. At that point we are starting to prepare hiring the teachers, it’s a whole year process. By February and March we are very busy reading applications since that’s when we get the bulk of the applications. I start making my financial aid decisions. By April we are organizing the staff. By May housing the students. Then you guys show up. It goes fast.
Q: Considering the many applicants for summer session, what do you base the application process on?
A: So it’s a very complete process it’s almost like applying to college. We look at your grades we look at the essay. The essay is very important because we can’t interview since you guys are so far away so the essay kind of works instead of the interview. We look at the recommendation letters, attendance, the grades are not everything and that I think is also part of the regular session because we want kids who are curious and want to be here for the right reason, and sometimes those kids might not be getting A’s wherever they are because they may be bored or not motivated wherever they are. I think the act of applying and completing all that paperwork is already a selection process. We have a lot of kids who start and never finish, and those are the kids who do not want to be here. All our students were self-selected because they wanted to be here and finished the application on time.
Q: Who was one person you consider a dear and close friend who helps you through this process?
A: I am very very lucky to have a great team. My assistant director Mrs. Gargas has been working in the summer school for a lot of years, so she is my go-to person when I have questions. All the deans, Mr. Ward and Mr. Schneider, are very experienced, so I am very lucky to have them. They have many, many years of experience—way more than me—so they have basically seen it all. I also incorporate some people who work in the regular session who have a lot to offer. My husband Mr. Clark, who usually doesn’t teach but is a history and economics teacher during the regular year, will teach and work in the dorm if I need him. We have been married for 20 years.
Q: What is your advice for all of us after Exeter?
A: That you can look back at Exeter and think of it as an eye-opening experience of all that is out there. My nephew came a couple of summers ago from Spain when he was 16. He had been in Madrid his whole life and that’s what he told me it did for him: open his eyes to a much bigger world. Now he’s a musician. So treat this as an eye-opening experience that you don’t forget. There is a big world out there.