How to build a twenty-first century education: A conversation with Andrew Menke
(L-R) Auden ’16, Jennifer, Andrew, and Anna ’12
(L-R) Auden ’16, Jennifer, Andrew, and Anna ’12
What should families expect from an independent high school in the twenty-first century?
An education that feels relevant. An education that evolves with the world and responds to it. We talk about this challenge a lot at New Hampton. In fact that’s one of the reasons I was drawn to work here. This is a school that’s willing to think creatively and entrepreneurially about the work it does and the world it lives in. We’re willing to say, ‘We need to evolve.’

You don’t hear a lot of schools talk like that.
No, you don’t. It’s invigorating. It makes a vital campus culture, a dynamic learning environment. When we’re talking to students and families, we can say, "There’s something important happening here, and you can be part of it."

So—what’s happening? How has the school evolved?
We’ve become truly global. If you walk across campus you can hear conversations in ten languages. You can take course work in Mandarin; you can study overseas; and we were the first boarding school in New England with the  International Baccalaureate Diploma Program. You’ll find more and more courses and cultural events and special programs with a strong global component. And, at the same time, we’ve become more involved with our surrounding community. We’ve always had a strong Service Learning program; we’re expanding it. And we’re including the community in our course work. The Lakes Region is a natural laboratory for studying environmental sustainability, civic development, you name it. We’ve embraced that. We even installed solar panels on a dorm in the spring of 2010 and my family residence in 2011 that heat the water in both places. Our students and faculty are constructing a greenhouse. So, across campus, we’re deeply engaged with questions of globalism, sustainability, and the health of human and natural resources. Those are the questions of the twenty-first century.
Those are big changes. Has anything stayed the same?
Absolutely. The heart of our mission—the core of who we are and what we do—hasn’t changed. We have a strong history of educating the whole student. We give our students opportunities to learn in a range of environments—the seminar room, the theater, the residential house, the chemistry lab, the basketball court, the White Mountains. That hasn’t changed. And as a school that has been recognized as an Apple Distinguished School, we believe in innovation and empowering students with technology to become independent learners — see our iPad Program. Still, we’ve always had a campus culture that’s based on relationships, starting with the relationship between student and teacher. We learn from each other, challenge each other, support each other. That’s in our DNA. And we’ve always offered an outstanding preparation for living a meaningful adult life. We teach critical and analytical thinking; we teach the scientific process; we study history and language; we explore creative expression. Every student, in every century, needs these things.
 
Have parents changed? Are they different from previous generations?
I think parents feel an increasing pressure to make sure their kids are successful at everything. And I speak from experience: Our daughter graduated from New Hampton in 2012 and is a sophomore at Princeton, and our son is a sophomore here. But at some point you have to put your kids in an environment where they’re safe to test themselves, to stretch themselves—even if they fall flat on their face. That’s how they learn to dust themselves off, pick themselves up, and get after it. That’s how they grow into smart, confident, independent adults. And I’ll tell you: New Hampton is uncommonly good at creating that environment.
 
What’s the best advice you give to students?
Well, if you’re around me long enough, you’ll hear me say use the Nelson Henderson quote: "We should be planting trees under whose shade we do not expect to sit." I want our students to plant those trees.
 
Is that something you can teach?
It’s an ethic that you live and breathe, day after day: You should make your community better and healthier than when you found it. That’s more than citizenship and the values of respect and responsibility that we stress here. It’s stewardship. It’s in the soil here. It’s our natural resource. And it’s endlessly renewable.
About Andrew Menke
Andrew Menke was named the Head of School in January 2005.
Andrew earned his BA from Towson University and his MA from Dartmouth College. He previously served for six years as the Head of School of the Colorado Rocky Mountain School (Carbondale, Colorado).
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Heads Up
Andrew's regular feature in the Hamptonia.