Stories and updates from around campus

Williston Student Presents $2,750 Donation to Riverside Industries

Nisa Zalta and Char Gentes of Riverside Industries address a student assembly
Nisa Zalta and Char Gentes of Riverside Industries address a school-wide assembly

At an assembly on November 29, student council president Natalie Aquadro ’17 presented a donation of $2,750 to two representatives of Riverside Industries. Students then got to hear about an organization based near the school’s campus in Easthampton that for 48 years has been working for adults with developmental disabilities.

Char Gentes, president and CEO, and Nisa Zalta, director of community relations, projected a series of photographs of clients at their jobs, and enjoying programming including music, art, farming, and yoga. They spoke to students about how adults of all abilities have the right to work, volunteer, learn, and play.

“When each of us can be ourselves, we all live a more rich and full life,” Zalta said.

The donation represented 5 percent of the proceeds earned at the student café, the StuBop, in the 2015-16 school year. Each year, the student council votes to donate those proceeds to a charity, and last year, the council chose Riverside.

The organization provides individualized services combining life-skills development, rehabilitation, and employment options for more than 230 adults living with developmental disabilities from 33 towns in Hampshire, Hampden, and Franklin counties.

As she introduced Gentes and Zalta and handed them a check, Aquadro, who is from Northampton, said, “Thank you for all the great work you are doing in our region.”

Williston has had a working relationship with Riverside for many years. At various times, the school has employed clients for housekeeping, dining services, and grounds positions. Recently, Riverside held a Windows of Opportunity Campaign and Williston contributed $15,000 over a three-year period.

“The work Riverside Industries is doing benefits the community on multiple levels,” said Head of School Robert W. Hill III. “Williston is delighted to support this organization.”

Service Club Finds Ways to Give Back to Community

Members of the Community Service Club prepare food at Kate's Kitchen, which serves neighbors in need.
Members of the Community Service Club prepare food at Kate’s Kitchen, which serves neighbors in need.

When eight members of the Williston Community Service Club recently volunteered to prepare and serve meals for those in need at Kate’s Kitchen in Holyoke, one student learned something deeper about what it means to lack resources. Emily Yeager ’17 has been a member of the club since her freshman year and co-president since her sophomore year. “At Kate’s Kitchen, they are busiest at the end of the month,” she said. “People are typically paid early in the month and don’t come into the kitchen until the end of the month when the remainder of their paycheck can’t provide for them.”

As the day progressed and the simmering began, she also learned, “Sugar is a good addition to tomato sauce!”

Kate’s Kitchen is branch of Providence Ministries Network, whose mission is to feed, clothe, and house the poor of the Holyoke community. Its volunteers have served approximately one million meals since it was founded in 1980. Holyoke’s citizens face poverty at nearly three times the rate as those in the rest of the Commonwealth.

Kathleen M. Burke, director of community development, described Williston’s students as a “kind, selfless, energetic crew,” adding that they represented their school with flying colors.

Along with Emily, these students volunteered: Rachel Goodman ’20, Sahnet Ramirez ’20, Keyu Lu ’20, Jake Goodman ’19, Simon Kim ’19, Sarah Markey ’22, and Grace Quisenberry ’17.

Checking on the sauce
Checking on the sauce

The Community Service Club has more activities planned for the remainder of the year, according to Yeager. Between Thanksgiving and winter vacations, it will host its third annual food drive to benefit the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts. It will be running the food drive as a competition among grades, and the winning team will receive a dress-down day, a coveted prize at Williston.

“Once we return from winter break, the Community Service Club will volunteer in the local community,” Yeager said. “Typical volunteer trips are to the Ronald McDonald House in Springfield, Riverside Industries in Easthampton, Habitat for Humanity, and the Easthampton Community Center.”

In the spring it will be running its second blood drive on the heels of a recent drive that drew 40 donors, enough to save 120 lives. “We are hoping to bring more opportunities to give back to the Williston community this year,” Yeager said.

Two Students Receive Inaugural Williston Working Artist Award

Williston is fortunate to have many student artists who are deeply engaged in, and passionate about, the visual and performing arts. In a recent assembly, members of the arts faculty presented a new honor, the Williston Working Artist Award, to two students who pushed themselves beyond their teachers’ expectations to develop unique artistic voices. The first recipients are Rio Oshima ’19 in dance, and Kevin O’Sullivan ’18 in theater.

Natania Hume, visual and performing arts department head, described the students’ commitment. “Their passion has led them to express their own visions and perspectives through their art,” she said. “With hard work, imagination, and extraordinary effort they have made significant creative contributions, which strengthen our artistic and school communities. They are leaders and collaborators who excel in their art and are deeply invested in creative communication.”

Rio Oshima '19 brought down the house at a recent Fall Family Weekend assembly.
Rio Oshima ’19 brought down the house at a recent Fall Family Weekend assembly.

Oshima, according to dance teacher Debra Vega, “practices hip-hop every single day. He arrives early to rehearsal and stays late. Sometimes I have to remind him to go eat dinner.” She added that when he has free time, he practices dance moves in the hallway of Reed on a little carpeted area. “Perhaps you have seen him?” she asked. Most on campus would say, yes, we’ve seen him in a roughly three-foot by three-foot space, out of the foot-traffic flow, making subtle shifts in his body, dancing to an internal soundtrack.

“And what you might not know,” Vega continued, “is that Rio, on his own time, travels to New York City to participate in hip-hop dance battle competitions, competing with some of the best hip-hop dancers in the world. I think this is a very brave thing to do for a sophomore in high school and a student who has only been dancing for two years.”

Kevin O'Sullivan '18 on the slide whistle during a dress rehearsal of "The Comedy of Errors"
Kevin O’Sullivan ’18 on the slide whistle during a dress rehearsal of “The Comedy of Errors”

In introducing O’Sullivan, Director of the Williston Theatre Emily Ditkovski began by talking about collaboration. “Collaboration is at the heart of what we do as theater people. In improvisation, this idea is called ‘yes, and….’” The fall production, The Comedy of Errors, required an extraordinary amount of saying “yes, and…,” Ditkovski said, and described O’Sullivan as being “relentlessly collaborative.”

“Using the tools at his disposal: a tambourine, slide whistle, even a washboard, he provided a new layer of humor, depth, and magic to our show. He watched each scene over and over, experimenting with sound effects until they were perfect. He loved getting ideas from his fellow actors and took time to teach his collaborators the ins and outs of how to do the effects just right. Whatever crazy note I gave him, he took. ‘We need a sound there. Fix that other sound, it’s not working. Learn the ukulele.’ With a zest and joi de vivre all his own, he didn’t just say ‘yes,’ he said ‘yes, and….’”

Congratulations to Rio Oshima and Kevin O’Sullivan!

Steve Bloom Talks Hollywood, Drama in Third Writers’ Workshop Presentation

Screenwriter-turned-novelist Steve Bloom discusses films and dramatic structure.
Screenwriter-turned-novelist Steve Bloom discusses films and dramatic structure.

Steve Bloom, screenwriter-turned-novelist, talked about his days writing for Hollywood studios, fighting to get credit for a film (“You live and die by your credits.”), working with actors (“They’re all maniacs! They want to be in every scene.”) and his transition to writing his first novel, the young adult book, The Stand-In. He was the third of four presenters in the 2016-17 Writers’ Workshop Series.

Bloom said he got the idea for The Stand-In 10 years ago at a soccer game, when the father of one of his daughters’ friends lamented that the girl was stood up for a prom date after she had already bought her fancy dress.

Bloom worked the idea into a script about a cash-strapped high school senior who needs money for tutoring to raise his SAT scores so he can get into the college of his dreams, Columbia University. The character ends up hiring himself out to wealthy parents whose daughters need dates for social events.

After shopping the script around to studios and getting no nibbles, Bloom decided to turn the screenplay into a book. Ironically, once he found a publisher, a studio came knocking, and he was hired to transform his novel into a screenplay. He found that, in the act of writing the novel, he got to know his characters more deeply, making for a more robust screenplay than he had at the outset.

Students in Lori Pelliccia’s honors-level Writers’ Workshop class and in Andrew Shelffo’s English class attended the public forum, and asked questions about Bloom’s writing process and his stint in film school at the University of Southern California. He quit law school to follow his dream, but never saw it as an artistic imperative, he said, more like a way to make a living. “I hated law school. And I knew the vocabulary of film,” he said, describing a particular love for classic movies of the 1930s. This was the 1970s, after all, when films like The Godfather, Star Wars, and Five Easy Pieces were just starting to turn filmmakers into household names.

Bloom’s first hit was 1985’s The Sure Thing, a “John-Hughes-esque” road movie about a young man, played by John Cusack, who travels across the country for a romantic hook up, only to be trapped with a former crush that he eventually falls for. Bloom said the set up provided a “unity of opposites,” an ideal environment for drama, which is composed of conflict, to thrive. He went on to write scripts for Tall Tales, Jack Frost, and James and The Giant Peach.

He told students today’s opportunities for screenwriters are in television, where fully developed characters and story arcs outclass the mainstream Hollywood blockbusters coming out of major studios.

Bloom followed the presentation with a master class for students in the Writers’ Workshop class. The final Writers’ Workshop presenter will be Random House editor Andy Ward, whose booklist includes the bestsellers When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi and Lena Dunham’s Not That Kind of Girl.


Williston Students Vote in Mock Election

Mr. Teller and Ellie Wolfe ’19 hand out ballots in Birch Dining Commons.

On November 3, the Williston community participated in a mock election called Voting Opportunities for Teens in Every State, or V.O.T.E.S. This student election has successfully predicted the outcome in the general election in six of the last seven presidential contests.

At Williston, the election went to Hillary Clinton, who received 70% of the vote to Donald Trump’s 23%. Mr. Teller, Mr. Syfu, and Mr. Gunn were the faculty advisors to the project, which is led by students Ellie Wolfe ’19 and Josh Calianos ’18. Members of the cast of the play The Comedy of Errors helped count ballots. “We really want to get people in the habit of voting, so when they turn 18 and their votes really matter, they’ll have experience,” said Wolfe, who has been involved with local Democratic politics during the campaign.

The results for the V.O.T.E.S. program overall—in which nearly 75,000 votes were cast in 135 public and private high schools across the country—were closer: 48% for Clinton and 34% for Trump, with Clinton amassing 332 electoral votes and Trump garnering 206. While this election correctly predicted the outcome of the popular vote, it did not foresee a future president-elect Donald Trump.

The bottom line? Students practiced their civic duty last Thursday—and some seniors and PGs actually did cast votes in Tuesday’s election.

Stories and updates from around campus