Bridging the Divide: The OES Backyard Exchange Program

By Peter Bloch

Did you know that each year, every OES student has the opportunity to stay up to two weeks in the dormitories as a part of their tuition?

One of the lesser-known initiatives that OES has been slowly building throughout the years is the “Backyard Exchange Program.” It seeks to offer opportunities for day students to see and experience OES life from the eyes of a dorm student, and foster relationships between the dorm and day communities to bridge the divide.

In my time at OES, I’ve been a part of the Backyard Exchange Program without even knowing I was formally in it. During my freshman year, I stayed a week in the dorms when my family was out of town, and it gave me the opportunity to participate in school, Lacrosse, and in after-hours study halls.

However, does a bed and a couple of meals really make the program live up to its full potential? We have an entire army of world-class national and international minds living in our midst, and it seems to be our most untapped resource. Unfortunately, most people at OES, both dorm and day alike, would say it really doesn’t live up to its potential. Luckily for us, Sarah Grenert-Funk, Director of Residential Life, agrees, and wants to change that. “We have a real opportunity that’s so far been lost in our current program,” Sarah mentioned in an interview earlier this month. “It has the potential to be both super easy to develop and very rich for our students.”

From my interview with Sarah, it seems like this is a quite high priority right now, and the program is on its way to reform. Right now, Sarah has spent a few months planning and meeting with directors from similar boarding schools across the U.S. to discuss ways on how to create a more vibrant school life outside of the classroom.

But the most important piece to grasp is that the dorm community in our school is by no means broken, merely isolated from the rest of the student body. One of my personal favorite school events is ROF, the OES “Retreat-of-Fun.” It’s an afternoon party, hosted by the dorm community at the end of the year, and in many ways, it’s the prime example of the kind of camaraderie and friendship our community can really foster. “It’s one of my favorite events in the dorms” said Sarah. “Seeing people who have been in the community, like those who hang out after school in the lounges, and those with friends outside their living community, really makes visible the connections between day and dorm. ROF is a celebration of those relationships.” If you want an invite, you can either participate in the Backyard Exchange program by living with, or host a fellow boarding student, or lastly get an exclusive invite from one of our resident scholars.

From where we stand, it looks like things are only looking up from here, and we need every aardvark on board with this initiative. The dorms are another part of our “Always Open” campus, and now it’s our turn to share the love.

If you have any questions about this program or want to get involved, I would email Sarah Grenert-Funk (I promise she’s super nice).