Happy birthday, Exeter Summer! How does it feel to be 100 years old?

As you walk down through the different quads through campus and engage in heated Harkness discussions, have you ever wondered how this program came to be? Rewind 100 years. In 1919, Exeter Summer welcomed its first group of students, consisting of 65 boys from the 13 states and Mexico. The initial intention of the summer program was to keep the school “alive” during the dormant summer months as it used the facilities it would in the regular school year.

Additionally, students were given the opportunity to get ahead of their classmates and continue to exercise their learning as it was common for them to forget their material, vacationing away at an exotic island or the labyrinth of streets in Europe. The program lasted for the entire summer, unlike the 5-week program it is now.

At first, the program only accepted regular-session students but eventually opened its doors to students from other schools — those with a burning passion to expand their learning. Writer John Knowles says, “It was that summer that I realized I had fallen in love with Exeter.” Knowles revealed that his summer spent at Exeter in 1943 was what inspired him to pursue his love for literature and write the well-known book, A Separate Peace.

With the assistance of Don Dunbar, the director of the Exeter Summer program from 1966 to 1969, an outreach program was established in hopes of recruitin 50 students and 10 teachers from the major cities of the U.S. Mr. Dunbar’s leadership “broke the mold” of traditional teaching, as the program started to offer more diverse courses, such as the arts.

Through his recruitment program, the Exeter summer program student body doubled in size. The courses offered at the Exeter summer program evolved from basic and compulsory courses taught during the regular school year to innovative and diverse programs. Many courses taught during the summer program at Exeter were classes that weren’t available during the school year, such as the in-depth study of Hitler and the dark sides of leadership.

Another significance of the Exeter summer program was its availability to girls. The Exeter summer program admitted girls in 1961, nearly a decade before the regular program did. The current Director, Elena Gosalvez-Blanco, praises the summer program as “a kind of academic incubator for the Academy”, as it pioneered innovative courses such as design and challenged the norm of education.

Through the academic studies at Exeter, students experience the student-facilitated learning style called Harkness. This learning method helps students better activate their thinking as they engage in discussions that allow for different perspectives. Not only did the summer program allow a better platform for students to learn, but also the students are exposed to varied cultures and have the opportunity to interact with people of different background.

In 1920, there were 152 boys from 22 states, the Dominican Republic, and Canada, and just last year there were 762 students enrolled, from 41 states and 53 countries. The wide diversity allows for students to experience different cultures and traditions. Families like the Cigarroas of Laredo have been attending the Exeter summer program for almost 50 years, as they appreciate the culture and knowledge enrichment they gain from this program. More than two dozen family members have attended since Patricia Cigarroa came east in the early 1970s.

100 years later, Exeter Summer is still a program with the hope of educating students and assisting them to strive better in their academic life. As the program continues to grow, Ms. Gosalvez says, “the program has done a good job of adapting to what the teenagers want and we hope to keep doing that in the future.”