Kate and Adam Hernandez

“Goodness is part of what it means to belong. We always have to think about growing, learning and being with, and for, each other.”

One night a week, Science Instructor and dorm head Kate Hernandez settles into a comfortable chair in the common room of Bancroft Hall, a list of names in hand. Owen, her family’s corgi, and Ham, her puggle, are usually wandering around or relaxing nearby. As students check in for the evening, some pausing to pet or snuggle with the dogs, Kate asks them about their day. It’s an important touchpoint for her as well as the students. “I’m really attentive to the emotional affect of a student and I get a feel for how they’re doing, beyond what they say,” she says. “I look at what their body tells me about their day and the stress they’re carrying.” The information helps her better counsel the 47 girls — and 11 affiliate day students — living in the dorm, one of Exeter’s largest.

Campus life is a family affair for Kate, a biology instructor, and her husband, Adam, Exeter’s director of athletic training. The couple, who live in Bancroft with their children Max, 6, and Maddie, 4, interact with students on multiple levels, from teaching and advising to supporting athletic endeavors and driving key school initiatives. Adam backs up Kate on dorm duty when necessary and their shared knowledge forges stronger bonds with students. “Working as a couple is hugely enriching to my work in class and in the dorm,” Kate says. “Adam will often know what the kids are going through when they’re coming back to the dorm. So, we each have a connection.” Other Bancroft faculty — residents Math Instructor Aviva Halani and Religion Instructor Kaitlyn Martin Fox and affiliates English Instructor Brooks Moriarty, English Instructor Mercy Carbonell and History Instructor Meg Foley — also provide valuable support.

A lot of learning happens in Exeter’s dorms, which are single gender and mostly house students across all four grades. It’s where students bond over dorm events like hiking or ice skating and connect with teachers and staff. It’s also where students learn how to live in community with one another. The notion of goodness is an important part of the discussion and one that the Hernandezes take to heart. “It’s important for me to be part of the development of goodness (in our students),” says Adam. “Goodness is part of what it means to belong. We always have to think about growing, learning and being with, and for, each other.”

Kate and Adam met at Tabor Academy in Marian, Massachusetts. Kate, who received a bachelor’s degree from Mount Holyoke College and her master’s degree in education from Harvard University, was a biology and chemistry instructor. Adam, who received a bachelor’s degree in kinesiology from the University of New Hampshire and his master’s degree in athletic training from Indiana State University, was director of sports medicine (prior to working in independent schools, he served as the athletic trainer for USA Luge). The couple moved to Exeter in 2015 when Adam was named director of athletic training.

It wasn’t long before the couple became involved in all aspects of campus life. In addition to teaching and being a dorm head, Kate is an academic adviser and participates on the faculty agenda and curriculum committees. Adam, who identifies as Latinx, is committed to Exeter’s anti-oppression work. “It’s important for me to serve in capacities for students of color in our community, beyond my clinical work,” he says. Adam co-advises the Young Brothers Society for Black and Latino male students and facilitates conversations as part of Exeter’s ongoing Core Values Project, student-led initiatives furthering the school’s anti-oppression work. He makes a point to host the CVP discussions in Bancroft’s common room. “It’s a cool way to bring our classroom and community work together organically,” he says. “The conversation doesn’t feel forced. Students think ‘of course we’d talk about this in the dorm and in the common room’.”

The Hernandezes embrace living as a family in the dorm. They moved into Bancroft last summer after living in Gould House for two years. And now their children, Max and Maddie, are around the students more, whether it’s in the dorm or through ESSO swimming or soccer activities. “We have a baby gate separating our apartment from the dorm space,” says Kate. “The kids always run to the gate during check in. They’re excited to see the high schoolers, who offer a real gift back to them with caring and kindness. It’s a lovely point of connection.”

Connection, after all, is the point. “What I love about my students’ willingness to engage in conversations with adults and each other is the sense of community and collaboration they bring to those moments,” Kate says. “We (my fellow dorm heads and teachers) really work intentionally to create spaces in the dorms and classroom where we’re beholden to each other in a wonderful way. That willingness to engage is a powerful tool whether you’re in agreement in a biology class or in talking across difference in the dorm community.”

When a student seeks Kate or Adam out after leaving Exeter, asking how they’re doing, it makes their work worth it, says Adam. “I’ve had opportunities to work in high levels of health care and athletics,” he says. “That was rewarding for different reasons. Nothing replaces the feeling you have when you get to be part of a young person’s life, to help them form their own identity, connections and knowledge.”