Mercersburg Academy - Review #15
Reflections and Advice:
1.) What do you think makes your school unique relative to other boarding schools?
One of the things I found that is true about Mercersburg is that because it is such a small school (about 440 students), it forces you to know your classmates well, and to have deep and fulfilling social relationships with faculty, staff, and even other students. If I told you two or three names of faculty, and asked them if it was true that I thought of them as great mentors as well as teachers, they would definitely affirm you. Even when students and faculty are at odds, preserving peace and maintaining friendship and respect is the most important duty, and the faculty at Mercersburg are champions of courtesy and respect, and good citizenship.Second, learning at Mercersburg takes place everywhere, not just the classroom. Whether its tinkering with old automobiles, climbing up the wall in the new Masinter Outdoor Center, or having a study break at your AP Chemistry teacher's house, we learn that discovering new things is something that we have to change from an assignment to a habit. Of course class time is important, but its only fifty minutes. Teachers at Mercersburg make student want to spend more time learning with them, and this is their greatest strength. Not only that, but the amount of student input considered by teachers in their lesson plans is a clear indicator that students matter, and they value student opinions as much as their own.Third, life at Mercersburg is tough, and sometimes it is downright exhausting. Students are always busy doing something: organizing club events at a meeting, athletics, rehearsals, trips off campus, projects, taking surveys, you name it. Even when the school day ends around half past three in the afternoon, to Mercersburg students it is merely a time to change out of their classroom clothes and run out the door fifteen minutes later to another activity. Students are also comforted by the fact that the schedule is flexible enough to participate in a lot of activities.Finally, the campus is gorgeous. With plenty of land, and great new facilities among venerated old buildings, Mercersburg offers much of the best. Case in point would be the completion of the new Burgin Center for the Arts, which I had the privilege of touring during an alumni function. The Burgin Center is a world-class visual and performing arts facility which seems almost out of place at a boarding school for adolescents, and right after construction, the faculty and students are making use of all it has to offer. The dorms are more than adequate, and since seniors are required to board, everyone gets the boarding school experience, despite the fact that most students board already.In conclusion, Mercersburg Academy, although somewhat farther than comparable schools to metropolitan areas, has some of the best amenities a school of its size can offer. It is a close-knit community, even for alumni, and I always felt welcome there as a student.
2.) What was the best thing that happened to you in boarding school?
The best thing that happened to me in boarding school is something that comes with enormous pleasure, but also tremendous grief to explain here.When I was a freshman at Mercersburg, my freshman biology instructor was a cheerful, but timid middle-aged man with big glasses and a bow-tie. I am not going to mention his name here, but I will say that despite most people's doubts at first glance, this man showed us all in a short time how incredible a teacher he was. I became very interested in his lessons, and I ended up making a habit of talking to him after class about various topics in biology. He soon started to tell me about his career; he directed a foundation that helped protect the world's endangered rhinoceros. He was an avid conservationist who worked with zoos all around the United States and internationally to help protect endangered species, and often he would travel for months at a time to India and Malaysia for his work. The fact that he told me about so many of his experiences really touched me, and we became pretty good friends. Even after I completed his class being his No. 1 student, we still managed to keep in touch, and he became a great mentor to me, and I guess I became his protegé. It was because of him that I decided, during my sophomore year, that I too wanted to help conserve the world's biodiversity and work to help animals, and I still do to this day in college, where I plan on majoring in ecology and evolutionary biology. Most remarkably, during my senior year my teacher helped my senior project come true by referring me his colleagues at the Smithsonian, so that I could stay on a restricted National Zoo campus for three days to film a video about how zoos help protect and maintain endangered species. My teacher did a great deal to help me pursue an endeavor which I thought I would never be able to do, and as I learned later on, he did it during a time when he was not in the best of health. In the same month that I completed my project, he passed away from an infection he received from overseas, where he doing his job that he loved so much.This teacher is such a great example of how dedicated Mercersburg teachers are to his students. If anything, this man affirmed to me that you must love what you do in order to live a fulfilling life, and that you must never give up at any cost. For him, money was not something he wanted, rather, just to be able to know that Southeast Asia will still be full of wild places in the many future years to come. I share his sentiments entirely, and hope his example will guide me when I choose what I want to do with my life.
3.) What might you have done differently during your boarding school experience?
I do not have much to say about this, as boarding school is not something that you can plan. What happens to you at boarding school just happens, and the only way be successful is to be flexible, and to be tolerant. You can never be completely prepared, and you can never have all of the skills you need, but you have to be willing to build yourself as person, and to use the expertise and wisdom of others to help you do that.
4.) What did you like most about your school?
What I like most about Mercersburg is that each graduating class sticks together more than most, and every member of the class has a space in our collective memory of our experiences there. Somehow, at the end of the four years, the cliques dissolve away, our differences and our disputes boil off, and whats left is a class that honors and respect its legacy, and still cares about the classes below it. Alumni never seem to go away completely, and during alumni weekend Mercersburg students always welcome past classes back, they want to know what you've been up to, and the interest is reciprocal. Mercersburg is a hearkening call to all of its alumni so that they remember how their lives were changed during those very short years.
5.) Do you have any final words of wisdom for visiting or incoming students to your school?
Visiting students should definitely look at the dorms. They are very unique, but unfortunately all freshman are assigned to live either in Fowle (for men) or Tippets (for women). Those are the dorms you really want to see, then see the others if you want to get a preview of next year. Obviously the new Burgin Center for the Arts is a prime attraction that clearly defines the upward direction the school is in at the moment. Also one should see a normal lunch at Ford. It is a unique spectacle I think.
1.) Describe the academics at your school - what did you like most about it?
The academics at Mercersburg are quite solid in all respects. The course offerings may not be as extensive as some larger schools like Hill or Lawrenceville, but the courses it offers are very well taught, and most of them are tested and established programs. AP Courses are growing more and more abundant, but the school is being careful to make sure that not all upper-level courses are AP -affiliated. A good example of this is the Math department, where the school offers many courses above the BC Calculus AP level, including Linear Algebra, Multi-variable Calculus, and in one case a custom course designed for a student who has completed both of those. Mercersburg has very strong history and science departments, offering countless elective courses on a myriad of topics, many of which are chosen because of special expertise in that area. A good example of this is a rotating series of ecology and whole-organism biology courses taught by a faculty member who also works as a muskrat specialist in the Cumberland Valley. The environment is competitive, but its effect is lessened because teachers actively make the classroom about learning, and not about test scores and class-rank (something that the school rarely mentions). Most students are competing more against themselves than others, although some fun competitions take place that are not a big deal in class.Of course, no institution is perfect, and Mercersburg is definitely included. The class day schedule is very congested, and often times classes run into conflict with one another. Break periods, especially for music students, are often erratic. Irvine Hall, the building where classes take place, is very crowded, and there is no space for students to keep their belongings (like lockers). On other notes the Languages department is very short on faculty, and classes are larger than they should be sometimes, but this is not always the case.Overall, most of Mercersburg's academic problems are minimal, and when students are facing academic issues, the school is ready to offer enormous amounts of support, especially from the school's very well run Learning Services Center and Writing Center.
1.) Describe the athletics at your school - what did you like most about it?
As I mentioned earlier, I am not an athlete, but just by looking around campus you can immediately tell that there are plenty of them at Mercersburg. Mercersburg is a very competitive school in most of its sports, most notably swimming, baseball, and wrestling, where they have taken home the MAPL Championship more than a few times, as well as many other honors. The Mercersburg swim team has produced some great Olympians, some are gold-medalists I believe. As for other sports, the tennis center and the new squash facility are fabulous, and the Nolde Gymnasium, although an older building, has kept its facilities in very nice shape, and the fitness center is completely up to date sporting an indoor circuit above the weight machines. The football facilities are adequate, but its reasonable as the program is smaller than most.Students are strongly suggested to participate in at least one sport their freshman year, and most students do not have a problem with this. However, the school does require mandatory gym credits for all four years, and often times in this respect athletics and other activity areas are conflicted.
Art, Music, and Theatre:
1.) Describe the arts program at your school - what did you like most about it?
To tell the truth, as for right now I am really not the best person to be talking about this area, because since the brand new Burgin Center for the Arts was completed immediately following our graduation, I cannot give you the latest in the improvements to the Arts programs. However, I can say that the Head of the Fine Arts department has done an excellent job with making her department one of the proudest boasts of the school, despite not having proper facilities for two years during construction. There is a huge range of music, performing, and visual arts opportunities at Mercersburg, so much so that students often join too many because they are so appealing. The Director of Music expertly accommodates student musicians and vocalists, and everyone gets to participate in music at Mercersburg. There are also small and student-led groups, like the Jazz Band and the a capella groups The Mercersburg Octet (for men) and The Mercersburg Megalia (for women) that are supported by faculty for students who want to go further beyond the basic groups like the Chorale, the Concert Band, and the String Ensemble. There are numerous smaller temporary groups, string and horn quartets, piano and violin duet performances. Students are even given the chance to perform at official recitals, and in other less formal school assemblies for the entire school to hear. Mercersburg produces great musicians and performers, but it also has an outstanding visual art program, with classes in 2D and 3D art, as well as digital art and video. The AP Studio Art students often have their pieces adorn the walls of buildings around campus.With the new Center up and running right now, I'm sure Mercersburg's Arts program is better than ever before.
1.) Describe the extracurriculars offered at your school - what did you like most about it?
Mercersburg has so many student groups that we have to have an a clubs and activities fair on the main quad just so students can see them all. Most clubs are student run, with faculty advisers, and clubs have done many amazing things with ideas suggested by students. Clubs regularly go on trips off campus as well: for example the Japanese Anime Club went to to two conventions in Washington, D.C. and in Pittsburgh, and the Jewish Club, along with theatre students, also traveled to the nation's capital to see a play at the Theatre J at the D.C. Jewish Community Center. One of the greatest things about Mercersburg is the great freedom given to clubs and student groups. Students regularly attend marches and performances in the capital, and on the wilder side, trips to natural areas, especially through the Mercersburg Outdoor Center, or MOE, are common, including a weeklong hike up Mt. Washington in New Hampshire.Mercersburg students are also very active in the community, and many students participate in such programs and the Boys & Girls Club, Head Start, Habitat for Humanity, and Toys for Tots. Students help clean up natural areas, advocate recycling and environmentally friendly practices, and feed the poor. The school is not only there for the students, but it proves it is open to the greater community as well.
1.) Describe the dorm life in your school - what did you like most about it?
Dorm life can be difficult at first, and it takes some time to get adjusted. Room set-ups are regulated to prevent fire hazards, and rules are enforced so that students must keep their rooms clean and orderly. Most dorms have kitchenettes somewhere, so late-night food access is available. Dorms usually have a snack bar run by the student prefects to make money for the dorm for dorm-wide activities (and restocking the snack bar). Prefects are chosen amongst rising seniors to enforce study hall rules for underclassmen, and also to manage chores around the dorm. The room selection lottery is generated by computer, and the selection takes place by means of seniority. Switching between rooms during the year is possible if conflicts occur.All in all, dorm life is fun and a memorable experience. Dorms are also very conducive to study and academic pursuit.
1.) Describe the dining arrangements at your school.
Mercersburg gives you plenty of choices when you sit down at the table, despite the fact that meals are served family style. There is a salad bar, a sandwich bar, and another table for alternative meals (pasta, vegetarian, etc.). Students are appointed to retrieve food and to clear place settings each day on a schedule. Assigned tables are selected at random in Ford Hall, and each table has at least one faculty member seated there. Table proctors, chosen among seniors, arrange the schedule and make sure all jobs are done properly, as well as to report absences from mandatory meals. Mandatory meals are all lunches, and dinners on Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday. Monday night dinner is a special dinner, and all students are required to dress in semi-formal attire (blazer, slacks, shirt & tie for men/ women's semi-formal equivalent for women).As for the quality of the food, it can very tremendously throughout the year. Semi-formal dinners are usually quite good, and most lunches are satisfactory. Off-meals on Fridays, weekends and otherwise can be more irregular. The dining hall has a variety of beverages at the fountain in the kitchen, but the school does not allow soft drinks be served in the dining hall at any time. Most agree that this is a good thing.
Social and Town Life:
1.) Describe the school's town and surrounding area.
As for the town of Mercersburg...it is quaint and small, and there is not much to it. It just got its second traffic light last year, and its major businesses include a Chinese take-out place up the road, the local pizzeria, and some assorted hotels/ B&B's. There is a one-auditorium movie theater where students can see feature films for a cheap price, but most students wait to go to Hagerstown to see a movie. The town is pretty historical (many buildings date back to the 1700s) and there is beautiful scenery of the Tuscarora Mountains. 6 miles away, a ski resort called Whitetail is the destination of many students looking to get their winter sports in for the season, although this area of Pennsylvania is often unseasonably warm.The town is interesting, however, and as a Mercersburg student you will inevitably find a favorite spot in town with townsfolk who will soon know everything about you.
2.) Describe the social life at your school - what did you like most about it?
The social life at Mercersburg can be difficult because the student body is so small. It can be hard to arrange large events because there are simply not enough people interested sometimes. This is often the case for some non-major school dances and other such events. However, the Student Activity Center always manages to pull through and it hosts fabulous activities when there is enough interest.The social hub of campus is the lower floor of Ford Hall, which houses the mail room, the school store, the game tables, and the TV room, which contains a large big-screen TV and about 12 sectional couches. Many students will gather here to watch popular TV shows or just to watch MTV during a break period. The pool tables are always in use, and the ping-pong table is almost always the site of some epic tournament.Life in the dorms is where most people fall, and the dorms host plenty of activities within themselves and between dorms, allowing students to get to know one another much better.
Breakfast at Ford (optional)
1st Class Rotation (changes accord. to schedule)
Lunch at Ford (required)
4th Class Rotation (formerly music period)
Final Rotation Ends, Students are Dismissed
Most Performing Arts Rehearsals/ Athletic Practices begin
Dinner at Ford (mandatory)
Dinner Ends, Evening Rehearsals begin (some music groups)
Study Hall for all Underclassmen until 10:00 PM
Lights Out (varies for each class, Seniors at 12:00 AM unofficially)
Breakfast at Ford (optional)
Lunch at Ford (optional)
Most Fall /Spring Athletic Interscholastic Games (at Home)
Dinner at Ford (optional)
Curfew for Off-Campus Ventures (unless on a supervised excursion)
Curfew for being Outside Dorms
Lights Out (all students)
Alumni Reviews Review School
Mercersburg Academy Alumni #1
Class of 2018
University of Pennsylvania
Class of 2018
University of Pennsylvania
Mercersburg has an incredibly beautiful campus. It is a place for reflection as much as anything else. The gothic chapel is designed by the architect who built Princeton University's chapel, and it carries a rich. . .
Mercersburg Academy Alumni #2
Class of 2018
Class of 2018
Mercersburg has a unique community in that everyone is so connected and there really is a sense of family among the students and teachers. Everyone is incredibly kind, welcoming, ambitious, and curious. the relationships I. . .
Mercersburg Academy Alumni #3
Class of 2017
Class of 2017
Opportunity and Community were the two buzzwords that largely encompass my Mercersburg experience. What lies between these two speaks just as loudly. There is a certain "presence of the present" that exists at Mercersburg that. . .
Show more reviews (17 reviews)
Why Do a Gap or Post-Graduate (PG) Year?
Learn why more and more students are choosing to do a gap or post graduate (PG) year at boarding school.
May 05, 2022Want To Teach In A Boarding School?
Teaching in a boarding school is the same as teaching in a public school, right? Not exactly. Some explanations here.
May 01, 2022Are You Looking At The Wrong Schools?
By "wrong schools", I mean schools that don't fit your needs and requirements. Finding the "right school' implies that the school meets 99% of what you require. More here.