Stories and updates from around campus

Sandy Hook Initiative Founder to Present at Williston

Michele Gay will talk to faculty about school safety and security
Courtesy of

An advocate for school safety and security will share her story of an intensely personal tragedy during Williston Northampton School’s faculty orientation on September 3.

Michele Gay lost her daughter, Josephine Grace, during the Newtown, CT shooting in 2012. She later became one of the founders of “Safe and Sound: A Sandy Hook Initiative,” a nonpartisan group that works with communities and schools across the country to improve safety through discussion, collaboration, and shared resources.

“We all felt safe in our peaceful town and in our high ranking schools,” the group notes on its website. “We learned, too painfully, that we were not […] The measures, plans, and procedures we relied upon failed us, tragically.”

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New Faculty Already Hard at Work

Williston welcomes eight new faces to campus

What do new teachers do before school starts? If they’re among the nine who will be coming to Williston Northampton this fall, then odds are they’re busy attending school themselves.

“A lot of them are spending a lot of their summers getting prepared,” said Dean of Faculty Peter Valine, who noted that two of the new faculty members are attending institutes to prepare them for their AP courses, one is doing a writing seminar at Bard College, and three are going to a teacher seminar at Pomfret School.

That these newcomers are already invested in professional development doesn’t come as a surprise to Mr. Valine, who expects the latest additions to transition quickly into life in the dorms and classrooms, starting with an orientation session on August 31.

The nine faculty members will have help along the way. As part of the process of integrating them into boarding school life, the newcomers will be paired with experienced Williston faculty, who will show them the ropes around campus.

One such mentor is Sarah Sawyer, director of the Writing Center and an English teacher at Williston. Ms. Sawyer noted that she has been a mentor many times and always enjoys “the process of introducing new people to the Williston community.”

“My favorite mentor role, though, is to help brand new teachers with the start of their careers,” she wrote in an email. “The first year of teaching is always difficult, but Williston is an incredibly supportive environment in which to learn about the complexities of this profession.”

“My only advice is to seek advice!” she added. “Everyone is happy to help, because everyone remembers vividly what it is like to be a brand-new teacher; I know I feel like a brand-new teacher every fall.”

As well as mentors, Mr. Valine noted that there will also be more of a veteran presence at the school. Beatrice Cody and her family, Karen Ram and her family, and Adrienne Mantegna and her husband are all moving into campus housing this summer.

“It’s really exciting to have these veteran faculty members want to come onto campus and become part of the residential program,” Mr. Valine said. “That’s a neat change and I’m exited to meet those families and welcome them to the community.”

New Faculty 2015-16

John Chiavaroli (History, Sports Information Director)
Mr. Chiavaroli joins Williston from Choate Rosemary Hall where he taught history and Italian, and coached varsity soccer and tennis. Mr. Chiavaroli graduated from Kenyon College with a BA in music. In addition to his role as SID, Mr. Chiavaroli will teach history and be the head coach of the varsity boys soccer, and also coach squash and tennis. Mr. Chiavaroli lives in Northampton.

Will Eberle (Latin)
Mr. Eberle graduated from North Yarmouth Academy and was a classics major at The University of Puget Sound, where he earned a BA. Mr. Eberle was a teaching intern at the Park School, and then worked for the last three years at Rumsey Hall teaching Latin. Mr. Eberle lives on campus and will coach skiing and soccer.

Alex Tancrell-Fontaine (English)
Ms. Tancrell-Fontaine graduated from Union College this spring with a double major in English and anthropology. She also played Division 1 ice hockey at Union. Ms. Tancrell-Fontaine lives on campus and will assist in both varsity field hockey and varsity girls ice hockey.

Catherine McGraw P’19, ’21 (Associate Director of College Counseling)
Ms. McGraw earned her B.A. from Emory University and her M.A. from Vanderbilt University, and during the last two decades she has worked in career development and residential life positions at Carnegie Mellon, Agnes Scott, and Emory, though more recently she’s been working as an Associate Director of Admission just across the river at Mount Holyoke College.  She will formally join the college staff in late August.

Jarrett Moyer (Physics)
Mr. Moyer comes to Williston after completing post-doctoral work at the University of Illinois Champaign-Urbana. He earned his PH.D. in applied physics at Yale University. Prior to his work at Yale, he earned a BA in math and physics at Colgate University. Mr. Moyer will coach the volleyball program and one other sport. Mr. Moyer and his family live in South Hadley.

Jacob Rivers (English)
Mr. Rivers is a teaching intern in the English Department. Mr. Rivers graduated from Trinity College this spring where is earned a BA in English and played on the Trinity football team. Mr. Rivers lives on campus and will coach varsity football, basketball, and track and field.

Amber Rodgers (Psychology)
Ms. Rodgers is a St. Lawrence University graduate who recently finished her masters in social work at the University of Denver. Ms. Rodgers’ coaching responsibilities will include the head coach varsity girls basketball and she will also coach softball. Ms. Rodgers lives on campus.

Dan Roe (Visual Arts)
Mr. Roe worked as a pottery instructor in Connecticut and a teacher at the Putney Summer School. He graduated from the Hartford Art School, University of Hartford with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree and with minors in illustration and art history. In addition to teaching, Mr. Roe will coach two seasons and live on campus.

Debra Vega (Performing Arts)
Ms. Vega joins the Williston faculty as the school’s Instructor of Dance. Ms. Vega assisted with the Williston dance program in 2010 and has been a guest artist with the Williston dancers ever since. She also worked as a choreographer for several Williston Theatre productions, including Pippin, Fiddler On The Roof, Urinetown, and As You Like It. Ms. Vega has a BA in Dance Performance from Ball State University and has worked as a professional dancer and choreographer, including being a former Radio City Rockette! She is also a yoga instructor, owning her own studio, VegaYoga & Movement Arts. She lives with her family in Holyoke.

Defining Identity

Williston Northampton's 2015 Diversity Symposium Tackled Difficult Questions
Photo by Braden Chattman

How do you define yourself?

That was the simple—and surprisingly complex—question at the heart of the 2015 Diversity Symposium.

Keynote speaker and advocate Thomas Smith viewed the issue as a matter of triumph through adversity, while University of Massachusetts faculty member Dr. Kerrita Mayfield saw it as a problem of integrity.

In their student addresses, which began a day of workshops, Maranie Harris-Kuiper ’15, Verdi Degbey ’16, and Cameron Stanley ’16 strove to answer the question through the multifaceted lenses of race, culture, sexual orientation, and religion.

Mr. Degbey offered his response in the form of a spoken word performance, entitled “Self Reclamation,” in which he urged his fellow students to discard labels and “know yourself, then be yourself.”

“If we tried to copy you through a machine,” he said. “It’d read error because there are just too many levels to what makes you an individual.”

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Renovations Turn Chapel Into Space That Welcomes All

Photo by Matthew Cavanaugh
Photo by Matthew Cavanaugh

Before Thomas Smith began his address in Phillips Stevens Chapel— before he had even said a single word—the assembled Williston Northampton students and faculty gave him a rousing ovation.

What had the audience found so moving? Mr. Smith’s simple act of ascending to the stage, which he accomplished by bypassing the stairs and rising on the chapel’s brand new wheelchair lift.

That Mr. Smith, the Diversity Symposium keynote speaker and a quadriplegic, could access the stage smoothly and easily was worth applauding.

The new lift, part of an extensive, year-long chapel renovation project, was the final piece in a retrofit puzzle that made Phillips Stevens Chapel completely accessible for the first time since it was constructed in 1965.

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Relaunched Homepage Offers More Stories, Content

Screenshot 2015-07-10 14.41.40
The new homepage has a stronger focus on content.

At the Williston Northampton School, we never stop looking for ways to improve.

We in the Communications Office were very excited in the spring of 2014 to unveil a brand new website. 2.0 featured a fantastic new look and a content management system, with a new section called “I Will” and mashup pages that aggregated all of our great content.

But our faculty and students are always writing tons of interesting pieces, posting gorgeous photos, and creating funny and fascinating videos—having them tucked into mashup pages didn’t seem the best way to showcase that content.

We decided to find a better way to highlight what they do.

That was why, starting earlier this spring, we began building a new version of the homepage. All the content—and those helpful functions—remained. What was new was the amount of interactive features.

Screenshot 2015-07-10 14.42.26
“What’s New” features stories in brief, a calendar, and links to social media content.

Earlier this month, we quietly launched our newest project. The design was the same, but sections of the site now rotate, drop down, and pop open. This version of the homepage features a banner slideshow, to highlight our top stories; a space for photos of campus; and a box with our latest, greatest videos. There’s also dropdown page called “What’s New” with more stories, as well as links to Williston’s Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram pages.

Our alumni section has also moved to the top menu bar, to make it easier to find, while our Middle School section went under Academics, giving it the scholarly heft we felt it deserved.

The new homepage design is a lively and interactive one—inviting visitors to dig deeper. While the new features showcase our amazing content, all of the user-friendly features on the website remain the same.

We’re always learning—it’s kind of what we’re best at around here—and we’d love to hear from you. What features do you like best? And what would you like to see more of in the future? As always, please drop us a note or add your comments in the section below.

Stories and updates from around campus