“They can experience this other way of learning … . They always tell us how much it has changed them.”
To Elena Gosalvez-Blanco, the director of Exeter Summer, the words “summer school” ring of opportunity and promise. “A summer changed my life,” she explains, “so I love being director of a summer program that changes so many teenagers’ lives by exposing them to a new way of learning in the most diverse environment.”
Begun in 1919, Exeter’s summer school is the oldest in the country and according to Gosalvez-Blanco, it is the biggest, with almost 800 students attending the five-week program. It is also a diverse population: This past summer, students from 47 countries and nearly all 50 states attended.
Gosalvez-Blanco, who is also a member of the Modern Languages Department, started working in the summer school as a dorm head. “I really loved it,” she says. “The summer kids are often students who would never come to a boarding school.”
In addition to offering a variety of unique enrichment opportunities, the school also exposes students around the world to the Harkness teaching method. “They can experience this other way of learning and take it back home with them,” Gosalvez-Blanco says. “They always tell us how much it has changed them.”
Gosalvez-Blanco, who began her tenure in the summer of 2015, is looking forward to adding more programs to the school. “It’s a great program. I want to keep making it stronger,” she says. She explains that Exeter Summer has always been a place for experimenting. This year, for instance, Exeter Summer expanded its programming to include two additional clusters in Access Exeter, bringing the number of middle school students enrolled in the program to more than 300. Four Syrian students who are residing in the U.S. also attended this past summer. “We worked with [the Karam Foundation] to help them apply,” she says. “We’re always looking for ways to open up opportunities …”
Gosalvez-Blanco didn’t start her career in the classroom. Born in Spain, she spent 10 years as an executive book editor in Barcelona and Madrid before heading back to the United States with her husband. The two originally met while she was getting her master’s degree in writing from Emerson College in Boston. They lived in Arizona for a couple of years, where she did literary translation from home while focusing on raising their two daughters. She also taught Spanish literature at Arizona State University.
That background informs her teaching at Exeter today. “The department believed in the value of someone who hadn’t taught that much but had worked with the authors I teach,” she says.
Gosalvez-Blanco’s outside life as a playwright and writer adds another layer to her teaching. She doesn’t just talk about the craft of writing; she practices it.
Her grandfather owned several theaters in Madrid, where she grew up. “The theater was my babysitter,” she says, “when my parents were working.”
Recently Gosalvez-Blanco has been exploring micro theater — short plays under 12 minutes in length. “Instead of one long play, you can see two, three, four short plays,” she says, noting that her short play, “Cubata,” about a couple that loses its dog, had its debut in Madrid.
She also brought her playwriting talents to campus last year in a new performance of Blood Wedding. The Spanish dramatist Frederico Garcia Lorca wrote the original play, but Gosalvez-Blanco and her colleague, English teacher and poet Todd Hearon, wanted to do a translation that was closer to the original than existing translations. “So we decided last summer to translate it together,” she says. “I explained to him the flamenco rhythms present in the Spanish and he gave it poetic language in English. We worked hard to make it true to the original intent.”
She has many more ideas for writing but is realistic, given the number of activities pulling her in multiple directions. “This micro theater,” Gosalvez-Blanco says, “is more compatible with my life right now.”