For twenty-one years, beginning in 1975, Williston Northampton culture was partially defined by the Winter Session, later called Intersession, program. It was modeled on the January Term programs then popular in many colleges. The “statement of purpose” in the prospectus for the first year read,
“During most of the academic year, the Williston Northampton School is primarily concerned with the very important task of giving its students the best in college preparatory academics. This should and must be our primary task, but often this leaves little or no time for experimentation with new programs and different approaches to learning. Thus, during the school year 1974-75, Williston Northampton has lengthened its overall school year and set aside 25 days in January during which the whole school community will concentrate on programs which tend to be extra-curricular during the bulk of the school year.”
“The emphasis during the Winter Session is on learning by doing. The student will not just read about the Navajo Indians but he will actually go and live among them. He will not just speak French in class but will speak it with and among Frenchmen in Cannes. He will perform in a play; or sing in a chorus; or build a table; or learn to type; or serve senior citizens in the community; or work each day with mental patients; or observe criminal court proceedings; or … the list goes on and on. Student and teacher will be active and involved. The student will not be graded but will be expected to evaluate his own accomplishments at the end of the session, which evaluation together with a verbal evaluation of his work by the teacher will be placed in his permanent file.”
One observes, alas, the use of gender-specific pronouns to describe a program at a school then in its fourth year of full coeducation. But let us overlook that, for the moment; it is symptomatic of a cultural issue endemic to the school for more than a decade after the merger with Northampton School. This has been discussed elsewhere. (See the last part of “Northampton School for Girls – and After.”) Better we should consider the ambitious nature of this fledgling program which, remarkably, achieved most of its goals and established a high standard in that very first year.
Over the next few years the program would grow and evolve. The range of some of the offerings is hinted at in excerpts from the annual catalog, reproduced at the bottom of this article. Students were encouraged to try new things, new approaches to learning — and by the second decade, students were teaching some of the courses. Faculty frequently taught their avocations, rather than their academic specialties: some of the offerings over the years included fine cooking with Alan Shaler (English), carpentry and toymaking from Bob Bagley (Math), wood carving with Ann Vanderburg (Math), home renovation with Stephen Seybolt (English) and Bob Couch (Math and Photography), music and architectural appreciation from Elizabeth Esler (Librarian), “Developing a Comic Character” with Stan Samuelson (Math), investment from Robert Blanchette (French), figure skating with Harriet Tatro (Science). Continue reading