Why I Chose Exeter: The Harkness Method

My favorite F. Scott Fitzgerald quote says this: “The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind and still retain the ability to function.”
Before move in day of my lower year (keep in mind I was a new lower), I had never seen Exeter’s campus. Everything I knew about the school was based off the website and the admissions pamphlet. There had never been a student from my town at Exeter, and very few from my home state of Louisiana. At home, boarding schools were where the bad kids went, or rather, where bad kids were shipped off to by disgruntled parents. I found Exeter, and a few other schools, on the Internet and figured an application wouldn’t hurt anyone… but then I got in. Faced with a tough choice, my parents and I figured “why not?” so we packed all my stuff and made our way up to a strange prep school in New Hampshire. I knew a bit about the Harkness method, but not much. A bunch of kids sit around a table and talk… seemed pretty simple, right? Moral of the story is: Harkness wasn’t the reason I chose Exeter, I don’t even know why I chose to go here (luck maybe), but Harkness is one of the biggest reasons why I love Exeter.
In 1930, Edward Harkness made a sizable donation, $5.8 million to be exact, to our very own Phillips Exeter Academy. However, with this gift came some restrictions. Classes would be limited to 12 students, and all would share a common table with the teacher, the “Harkness Table.” He envisioned a new, revolutionary style of teaching where each student was both a teacher and a student to “his” peers. (Exeter was still an all boys school at the time of the Harkness gift.) Today, every classroom has a Harkness table and uses the Harkness Method, even math and science. Schools across the world have mimicked this rather strange method of teaching.
Everyone sits around the table, usually having done a reading the night before, and waits for class to begin. My favorite way for a teacher to start class is simply by saying, “Where do you all want to begin?” From there, the discussion takes off. Students will be making points, asking questions, building off of each other, agreeing, disagreeing, and sometimes sitting in silence while they take a moment to process. A good Harkness discussion is a beautiful thing. It is truly amazing to watch it flow, and turn, and change. Students come alive at the table. Harkness improves skills in history by completely immersing students in the information. In math, everyone works through the problems together, offering alternative ideas and solutions. Science brings the students together at the table and lab benches alike for a genuine hands on experience. English provides students with the opportunity to completely dive into the text and “flesh out” every possible route. It provides students with viewpoints different from their own in an effort to see the complete picture. The Harkness Method is an incredible thing that I am so lucky to be a part of.
Harkness has benefitted me in more ways than academics. I have learned to speak up and hold true to my opinion when appropriate, but I have also learned how to understand when I am wrong and acknowledge my mistakes. Harkness teaches you to hold yourself accountable. Harkness teaches you to listen. The common rule at Exeter is speak once, listen three times, and I use this even outside of the classroom. Harkness teaches eye contact. When a peer is speaking, look up so they know you are listening. Harkness teaches responsibility. If you are wrong, recognize it and move on. No one will hold it against you. Harkness teaches confidence. This, above all is my favorite attribute of the oval tables. The Harkness Method has taught me to be confident in every way, whether it in the classroom, with my friends, or when talking to adults. Harkness prepares you for life. It instills in its students character, responsibility, fortitude, and courage. I am confident that without Harkness, I would not be the person that I am today.
So, I highly recommend that you give the weird oval table a try.

Congratulations to all the newly accepted students! Welcome to Phillips Exeter Academy!

Feel free to ask me any questions about the Harkness Method or just the school in general! You can reach me at: lfidelak@exeter.edu

Why I Chose Exeter

Hey Everyone!

I still remember the day that I found out I was accepted. I woke up to my Mom screaming downstairs.I leaped out of bed and ran downstairs- thinking the worst. She was standing in front of our computer looking at an email. I leaned over her shoulder and the words “Congratulations Jennifer” were spelt out in bold across the page. I did it. All of my hard work had paid off- I had been accepted into my dream school. For me, it came down between Exeter and our rival school Andover. My older brother had attended Exeter, so I had grown up attending his hockey and lacrosse games- it had always felt so comfortable. It did not take me long to decide where I wanted to go. Going to Exeter has been one of the best experiences of my life. I have leaned so much about me- things that I never thought I would. I have changed so much both as a person, an athlete, a student and a friend. Are there sometimes where the work seems too hard? Of course. Exeter is a hard school academically- it pushes you and I would be lying if sometimes the work gets to you. But all of you were accepted to Exeter because of your academic strength-the admission officers believe you will not only survive but THRIVE and add to the community.

Jenn 2

My friends back home ask me all the time- “Why did youchoose Exeter?” I could say its the academics, or the reputation of being one of the best high schools in the world, or the great athletics, but that would not encompass why I came here. There is not one tangible reason why I came. Things I love about Exeter are the way the trees bloom in the spring, or how even in the dead of winter people are still happy to be here. Or maybe when I am on break, I actively count the days until I can return home. There it is- I don’t refer to Exeter as my school- it’s truly become my home. I catch myself referring it to as such without even realizing it.

Jenn 1

A Saturday Night at Abbott Casino

I am sure all of you reading this have been accepted to great schools. You really cannot go wrong. As you go through the revisit process, pick where you see yourself not only attending classes, but living, and hanging out and making life long friends. When my brothers were deciding on colleges, my dad had them take a “Broken Leg Test.” Both of them were Division 1 lacrosse players. He wanted them to go somewhere where even if they broke their leg and couldn’t play lacrosse, that they would still love the school. Try to keep that in mind as you go through this process. Make sure you love the school you choose. (I hope that it’s Exeter!) I hope to see you on the path in September.

Good Luck,


Why I Chose Exeter

Hey everyone!


Out to dinner in town with friends

We are already a couple days into spring break, and so that means sunny spring term is just around the corner! Exciting! But more exciting is the fact that Exeter just sent out acceptance letters to future Exonians all around the world. I remember being elated when I got “that email” on the morning of March 10th (and of course, later that day, the big packet with lots of information). I also remember the period following March 10th, when I had to make the tough decision of choosing to attend one of three boarding schools or to remain at home and attend a day school.

Heading into the revisit days, I really had no clue what I wanted to do; I loved my school at home, and I loved being home, but the idea of attending a boarding school really excited me. Even if I decided to go to a boarding school, I had the additional problem of deciding which one was right for me.

But after going to the revisit days for each school, my dad (who accompanied me on the three revisit days) and I whole heartedly agreed that Exeter was my best option.

Yes, Harkness sounded amazing, the courses of instruction list was diverse and in depth, the facilities and faculty were impressive, and there were more than 100 clubs to take part in– those were, are, and always will be true, and although I believe these qualities are particularly true for Exeter, most great boarding schools have these attributes (aside from Harkness).

For me, what set Exeter apart was the people. At each school I had plenty of chances to hang out with students, faculty and staff, and at Exeter, everyone seemed so genuine, so interested, so different, and so cool. Exeter was the only school where the students and faculty seemed to have such diverse backgrounds and interests– you might ask, why is that important? Well, because it makes everything so much more fun and interesting. With different backgrounds and interests comes more meaningful, deep discussions at the Harkness table, more diverse ways of thinking for tackling problems, more captivating conversations among friends, and overall a better atmosphere.


Now that I have been here for almost three years, I can definitely say that is true. I have friends who are coding geniuses and piano prodigies; I have friends who love politics or are avid sports followers; I have friends who hail from Korea and Chile. These people not only introduce me to new cultures, but they also get me to try things that I would never do otherwise. One friend and I put together a drone, flew it over campus, and took photos (which you can see in this post), another friend and I built a website off of an idea of mine (he’s the coding genius), and another one introduced me to the sport of squash, which is now one of my favorite activities. So many of the activities I have begun or interests I have acquired are because of my friends. And at Exeter, where the activities to begin and interests to acquire run in abundance, there is no better place to grow as a student, athlete, person, and friend.


Studying with friends


Lessons from “East” Germany

Hands-on visit to the basement prison used by East German officials

Hands-on visit to the basement prison used by East German officials

Last weekend my host family and I went into the Harz Mountains, the tallest mountain range in Northern Germany. While the Brothers-Grimm-esque scenery was stunning, what caught my attention was a road sign: “Germany and Europe were divided here until the 21st of December 1989 at 8 AM.” I’ve taken modern European history both in Exeter and elsewhere and only now have I begun to understand World War II’s legacy on the modern German conscience. I’ve been learning history “hands-on” here. Our history teacher took us to an Inner-Border Museum several weeks ago.  During the hour trip there and back, he told us about how he often crossed the border to visit family members stuck in the East. He explained how they’d smuggle bananas, quality coffee, blue jeans, and other western goods into the country. When we pulled up to the museum, formerly a vehicular border-crossing, he commented on how the building seemed friendlier when East German guards weren’t swarming the place. 

The museum told not only the story of Germany, but the story of separation. The first room we entered was a short film on walls that are still exist, or, “walls still to fall.” If you broaden the idea of “walls” to include divisions such as cultural misunderstandings or various phobias, it’s interesting to then analyze the German approach to the events surrounding Charlie Hebdo and the so-called “Islamization of Europe.” It’s not an easy topic but, as an Exonian, I prefer the harder discussions. The talk lately has centered on PEGIDA, a German anti-Islamic organization. Most Germans disapprove of PEGIDA. They view a multicultural society as stronger and more successful. 

Not just another strip of land.  This used to be dotted with a razor-wire electric fence, watch towers, and mines.  Now, it's a nature reserve.
Not just another strip of land. This used to be dotted with a razor-wire electric fence, watch towers, and mines. Now, it’s a nature reserve.

For me, it’s a lesson in learning from the past. The Germany I’ve been living in is not the Germany my grandparents and great-uncles fought against. As much as I’ve been able to understand the history of German, I’ve been able to learn more about  the current views of German and they give me hope that the past won’t be repeated. 

Exoplanets, RC Planes, and Manhunt

Hey Guys!

It’s been a cold winter — but that won’t make any of us slow down! Exeter has been as busy as ever.


For Astronomy Class, we’ve been analyzing 246 different stars through the Kepler I Mission to see how many of those stars have habitable exoplanets such as our own Earth. Kepler, a space-based telescope launched in 2009, has found 4200+ exoplanets to date. We are analyzing periodicity graphs to learn of the different ways the luminosity of stars can vary, either by intrinsic forces or by a planet transiting across our field of view. Here’s a photo of Killian ’16 and Mr. Blackwell helping us analyze our data.

analyzing dataMy team and I have been hard at work building this RC Plane — we intend to finish by the end of this term and fly it by Spring when it stops snowing! We’ve just finished the fuselage and are now working on the motors for propulsion and the servos for constructing our control surfaces. Thanks to Owen ’16 and Megan ’16 for their hard work!

RC plane

Yesterday’s assembly was also great — we had professors from Stanford come over to teach us about design. They emphasized that a hollistic approach to every discipline IS the process of design, that there are aesthetics in everything we choose to do. They are wonderful, prominent architects, who had established a Stanford-Exeter summer study program last year and who intend to participate with our school this coming summer for another architectural/design venture with current students. Here’s a  picture of John Barton ’78 and Amy Larimer, who came to our school yesterday.

Stanford professors

To end a wonderful week, our dorm decided to play manhunt in the gym this past weekend. 60 people were split into two teams,one of which was allowed to hide anywhere in the gym and the other to chase and bring them back to a designated “jail”. Our dorm had lots of fun — here’s a picture of our entire dorm together!

manhunt group

There is so much to do, and so much more to accomplish in the following weeks. What has always amazed me is that, no matter the weather, Exonians never slow down in what they do. Whether it be sports, or clubs, or school in general, we are always on our feet. Here’s to a winter filled with fun and work, in light of Spring Break to come!

Greetings from Germany

Hallo aus Deutschland!

front door of an old town hall

One of my favorite things about Exeter are the opportunities for immersive, global learning experiences.  One of the requirements for Exeter students is to take a foreign language through the third year level.  While some stop after that point, many, like myself, continue.  What lures many of us to continue to the fourth year level and above are the many abroad opportunities where you can experience the language, and its culture, first-hand.

stained glass window telling the history of Göttingen

I’m writing this post from my room in Göttingen, Germany.  From my desk, I can see woods, the crazy-environmentally friendly German houses, and, Continue reading

The Usual Life: Astro, Robotics, and Math

These past few weeks have flown by! We’ve gotten our first taste of snow at Exeter, with surely much more to come around in the following months.

We celebrated the end of last term with a bang; Math class was surely one of my more fun — and more memorable — classes. Math classes at Exeter are a bit different than from to other schools: our textbooks are not split into chapters, but rather mixed together so they build from one another. Every problem is a real-world problem, which gives you a special insight to revisualize everything you see. Everything seems so different when math teaches you how to think rather than how to punch numbers into a calculator; it teaches you to see every problem as a math equation. Here’s our math class celebrating on the last day by ordering Dominos. Shoutout to Mr. Mallinson for the pizza!

Math Pizza

Fortunately, life after school never gets boring. Exeter offers over 100+ extracurricular clubs. Every Friday night we make an effort to make the long trek behind the school, far away from any bright lights and cars and distant enough to actually hear absolute silence, to reach Grainger Observatory. Behind our stadium Exeter has a 3 dome observatory with all the instruments you could possibly imagine: spectrographs and all the state-of-the-art telescopes you could imagine. Away from the city lights, Exeter has some of the clearest skies. Astronomy has always been one of my passions — ever since I was a kid I’d dreamt of delving into the deep skies and ponder over the true size and depth of the Universe. I’m glad that I can finally get to do that at such a wonderful school. Here’s a picture of Astronomy Club, a 10 second time exposure in the middle of the night of all of us in front of Chart House, the classroom and library in front of the domes.

Astro Exposure

A friend and I decided to conduct a little project this year. Both of us are avid Robotics fans who have been passionately devoted to mechanical engineering since we were little. This year, we decided to enter a competition I used to do during middle school. It’s called SeaPerch, and it seeks to excite high schoolers about marine engineering and STEM careers. We are just about finished with the building of our underwater submersibles; we plan to solder and wire them in the next few days and test them out in two weeks. Here is my friend Graham ’16 who gladly let me take his picture of our robot during assembly!

Graham Robo

This past term has passed so quickly! Keep yourself busy at Exeter – there is never nothing to do. As Christmas break approaches, I’m looking forward to Science Bowls, Model UN conferences, Robotics Competitions and Astronomy trivia competitions in the weeks to come. Happy Holidays Everyone!

Art 444

Fall term came to a close only two weeks ago. Students hurried packed suitcases
which they hauled to buses and cars, beginning the short, or long, journey home. On
the bus to Boston Logan, I realized that fall 2014 was my last fall at Exeter. On one hand,
its bittersweet as I’m one term closer to graduation; on the other, I’ve become
even closer to my friends at PEA and taken one of my favorite courses at Exeter so far:
Art 444.


Art 444 is an intensive and advance student art class. Students who qualify for
Art 444 have extensive experience in a medium: ceramics, painting, photography,
drawing, fashion, etc. In a short ten weeks, students propose and create a project
where they get to explore their medium. At the end of the term, the 444 kids put on a
show in the gallery. It’s supposed to mimic the gallery openings in Boston or NYC. All
of our hard work, of hours laboring in the student, stressing over perfecting our art,
comes down to this one night: the Show.


I have to say, as nervous as I was, I really enjoyed the 444 show. I got to share
my art with the wider Exeter community. I’m a drawer and ceramicist by trade. So for
my project, I created a set of plates and carved fairy-tales into them. I loved being able
to incorporate my passion for art with my passion for language and literature. What the
experience all the better, was I stood by my exhibit during the show. I got to interact
with peers, parents, and faculty and share my art with them. I explained my concept to
them and they commented on it. It was Harkness on a smaller scale as we talked about
craftsmanship, illustration, and storytelling.


Of all the little things that made the show memorable, the infamous Art 444
survey took the most effort. Each artist fills one out and hangs it next to their artwork.
The survey asks supposedly simple questions: favorite color, purple; favorite artists,
Winsor McCay, the grandfather of cartons; place you’ll live in thirty years, Berlin or
Moscow. After spending upwards of twelve hours a week in a studio, I never thought
the most frustrating part of the course would be trying to capture myself on paper.