State Champ We the People Team Heads to D.C.

The We the People team on the floor of the Edward M. Kennedy Institute in Boston

Williston’s We the People team members for the second year in a row out-maneuvered their competition with their superior knowledge and application of civics concepts, securing the state championship. They will head to the national competition in the Washington, D.C., area this April to face teams from across the country.

The team studied and practiced doggedly this trimester, and the hard work paid off when the group met with success in Boston on January 28. Their advisor, AP US Government teacher Peter Gunn, praised the cohesiveness of the team, likening it to a troupe of actors who bond as they practice for a play, or a sports team. “It’s a formidable challenge, both intellectually and interpersonally,” he said. Continue reading

AP French Students Explore ‘Charlie Archive’ in Boston

AP French students explore Harvard University’s ‘Charlie Archive’ in Boston.

Susan Michalski’s AP French class took a field trip Friday to the exposition of Harvard University’s “Charlie Archive” at the French Cultural Center in Boston. Students spent the day immersed entirely in French.

The exposition contained 50+ framed artworks inspired by the January 2015 attacks of the Charlie Hebdo newspaper office in Paris. In addition, there was a collection of iPads each filled with thousands of digital images of “Je suis Charlie” tributes of all kind, from social media to poetry to street art from around the world. Historians, French and American, spoke on video of the larger importance of the Charlie Hebdo attacks. Continue reading

Classics Day Immerses Wildcats in Ancient Cultures

Rob Champigny '18 with another great leader, Augustus
Rob Champigny ’18 with another great leader, Augustus

Classics Day brings together students of Latin from around the Pioneer Valley who, for one day, immerse themselves in the cultures of ancient Greece and Rome. The annual event is organized and hosted by the Pioneer Valley Classics Association and held at Mount Holyoke College in nearby South Hadley, Massachusetts.

On January 20, Williston students were among 341 attendees at the event. Classics Day spurred student imaginations and inspired Wildcats to spend hours working on projects that were rewarded with 10 prizes. A remarkable example: One student, Gabe Moon ’18, taught himself metal working so he could create a prize-winning replica of a Roman helmet. Continue reading

Williston Wildcat Robotics Team Battles to Victory

Williston Wildcat Robotics Club battle to victory.
Williston Wildcat Robotics battled to victory.

Nine members of the robotics club journeyed to Boston University Academy recently to participate in a VEX Competition Qualifier for the Southern New England Regional Tournament. They returned with a trophy, sharing the win with an allied team.

The tournament is played on a 12-foot by 12-foot field. Two alliances — one red and one blue — composed of two teams each, compete in matches consisting of a 15-second autonomous period followed by one minute and 45 seconds of driver-controlled play. The object of the game is to attain a higher score than the opposing alliance by placing game pieces in your zones and by hanging robots on your hanging bar. Continue reading

Split Decisions in Three Eighth-Grade Mock Trails

Deliberating in the Middle School
Deliberating in the Middle School

Three eighth-grade juries came to different verdicts in mock trials that centered around a case where a customer was burned by coffee served by a fictitious coffee shop, and sued for damages. After hearing from witnesses in the case, the juries had to decide who was at fault, the plaintiff (Lee Cavanaugh, the coffee drinker) or the defendant (Cup of Joe, the business who sold the beverage).

According to Middle School History and Global Studies Teacher Andrew Syfu, jurors were tasked with deciding if the defendant was negligent from a legal perspective, and if the shop was strictly liable for the injuries sustained by Mr. Cavanaugh. Continue reading

Three Faculty Members Inducted into Cum Laude Society

Cum Laude inductees Beatrice Cody, Thomas Johnson, and Sarah Sawyer
Cum Laude inductees Beatrice Cody, Thomas Johnson, and Sarah Sawyer

Three faculty members were inducted into the Cum Laude Society during a recent ceremony at Williston. They are Beatrice Cody, head of the Language Department; Thomas Johnson, history and global studies teacher; and Sarah Sawyer, head of the English Department.

Dean of Faculty Peter Valine welcomed the three into the society and gave the following speech: “The Cum Laude Society is a fellowship of scholars whose purpose is to recognize excellence in academic work. We appreciate and applaud your efforts in inspiring students and striving for excellence in the craft of teaching. For your contributions to scholarship and learning in our community the Cum Laude Committee has selected you for induction into the Williston Northampton Chapter of the Cum Laude Society. As members of this society we look forward to your support of both students and peers in their quests for growth and knowledge.”

Advice for Seniors: Exercise the Mind to Prepare for College

Students react to Mr. Sarat’s engaging talk.

“To prepare for college, you need move beyond just spitting out what you’ve memorized or read,” Amherst College professor Austin Sarat told seniors the morning of October 14 in Assembly. “You need to actually think. And then you need to take it one step farther and think against your idea.” Sarat, who is the William Nelson Cromwell professor of Jurisprudence and Political Science, described this process as a form of resistance training that is essential for reasoning and thinking independently in college. “When your teachers here question what you are writing or saying, they are the equivalent of your strength and training coaches,” he said.

Sarat asked the audience of seniors and a panel, which included Head of School Robert W. Hill, Theater Director Emily Ditkovski, and Math Teacher Carey Baldwin, to come up with arguments and counter-arguments for a number of hypothetical scenarios. For example, if a student steals a book from the library, but minutes later learns it was “Take any book you like from the library day,” should the student be punished for his actions? Was a rule actually broken?

As various answers were debated, Sarat reinforced the importance of listening carefully, actively thinking versus waiting for a classmate or teacher to reveal “the answer,” and cultivating these habits now to prepare for the rigors of college classes.

Sarat similarly urged thoroughness when offering seniors a collection of his rules for reading and writing in college. “Reading is mental exercise. Some of it will be easy and fun. Some of it will be hard and no fun. The harder the reading, the more valuable it is to your intellectual development,” he said. “Reading something once and fast is merely ‘horizontal eye exercise,’” he added, asking students to think of reading the way they think of fitness, acting, or other pursuits. “You don’t just practice your lines for the play once, right?” he said. “The same is true of reading well.”

Sarat closed by reminding seniors of the importance of daily practice. “Writing, reading, thinking…practice these habits every day here at Williston,” he said. “Don’t skip a day. They will prepare you for college.”




Three Williston Faculty Awarded Chairs

Ed. note: Dean of Faculty Peter Valine presented four instructorships during Convocation on September 16. Here is the text of his remarks:

The Henry M. Zachs and Judith Zachs Faculty Chair was established in 1999 by Henry M. Zach, Class of 1952 and Judith Zachs.

The Zach’s Chair recipient is starting her 16th year at Williston and during this time she has made a significant contribution to the academic life of the school. Perhaps the most important of these many contributions has been her innovative and energetic efforts to advance the craft of writing in our school community. Her commitment to the goal of developing Williston students as effective writers has been forwarded along three fronts: the classroom, her leadership of Janus, and the creation of the Williston Writing Center.

Sarah Sawyer
Sarah Sawyer receiving the Zach’s Chair

In the classroom she understands that relationship building is the first step to creating the atmosphere of trust between a teacher and her students. Her enjoyment of teenagers is evident—she loves their sophomoric nature and she possesses the knack to get them to open their hearts and souls in both conversation and prose. She has discovered the secret of how to get her students to recognize the importance and seriousness of their study while not stifling the pure, unbridled joy of reading and learning with others. Her student feedback often references the richness of her class discussions as the key to unlocking the deeper meanings of a piece of literature. In this regard the students praise her ability to ask just the right probing questions that challenge them to reassess their understandings and to appreciate other perspectives. When asked on the student feedback form what are the three words that best describe this class, one of her students wrote: Makes Me Think.

The Zach’s Chair recipient also served for many years as the faculty advisor to Janus Williston’s literary magazine. In this role she has encouraged our students to submit and share their written and artistic expressions. She has recruited these writers and artists to be risk-takers and to air their work in public as a way gaining feedback and of building confidence and a sense of pride in their work. This past summer she had an opportunity to hone her own craft when she was invited to join a session at an Arkansas Writer’s Colony.

Perhaps her most visible role on campus is serving as the Director of Williston’s Writing Center which opened in 2005. From its inception she has effectively designed, staffed, and marketed this academic resource and it has become an integral part of the support services that Williston offers its students. The opportunity to learn from one-on-one instruction for enhancing basic writing skills has filled a significant need for students as judged by the number of visits that seem to be exponentially increasing each year. A recent Williston graduate recently mentioned in a school blog that she got in the habit of using the writing center at Williston and that habit assisted a smooth transition to utilizing the Writing Center at her college which has been a boon to her studies.

This year we are eager to watch her apply her energy, creativity, and collegiality in her new role as English Department Head.

I am pleased to announce that the Henry and Judith Zachs Faculty Chair is awarded to Sarah Sawyer.

The Prigmore Faculty Chair is given by G. Daniel Prigmore, Class of 1961 and Kristin J. Prigmore, Class of 1988 in memory of his parents and her grandparents William H. Prigmore and Dr. Mildred J. Hausmann. This Chair is to be given to a member of the History Department selected by the Head of School who is considered most able to teach history with a perspective that encourages students to seek out all the contributors leading up to the events history has recorded.  

The new recipient of the Prigmore Chair joined the Williston faculty in 2012 and has quickly become a stalwart in the History and Global Studies department. His dedication to the art of teaching is evident in his careful and deliberate lesson planning, his thoughtful and strongly held beliefs on how students learn best, and his rich collaboration with colleagues in the department.

Michael Doubleday receiving the Prigmore Chair

His effectiveness as a teacher starts with his clearly articulated expectations of his students. He takes the time to explain his rationale for class protocols and he invites the students to partner with him in the exploration of historical themes and events. He is extremely well organized as he presents his students with an agenda with learning goals for each day and he excels in keeping his eyes on the prize and staying true to his priorities.

His students enjoy their experiences in his classroom for several reasons. First, his passion for the subject is unquestioned. He is an avid reader, and he continues to push himself as an historian by frequently participating in professional development opportunities. This summer, for example, he traveled to Texas after his acceptance into a selective program for history teachers hosted by the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History. He clearly has a hungry heart for history. Second, he devotes the necessary time to support his students. He possesses the discipline to provide timely and substantive feedback on formative assessments which guide students toward richer understandings. His students know that he is always willing to help. “He never turns you down,” one student recently wrote.

Like most successful teachers he varies his teaching methods. While he does use lectures to introduce new material, he enlivens the class through the use of video clips, historical songs, and group discussions. His students quickly become more adept at analyzing primary source documents and contextualizing historical movements and events. They appreciate his openness to their questions and his acceptance of new interpretations. One of the favorite activities of his students is the debate format. They note that he always challenges our understandings by making us explain our points.

I think a student summed up the case for the Prigmore Chair selection best when he or she wrote on the feedback survey last spring that “Mr. Doubleday is one of the teachers who is most invested in our education and who really wants us to learn.”

I am happy to announce that The Prigmore Faculty Chair is awarded to Michael Doubleday.

The David H. ’35 and Edward J. Goodman ’37 Science Chair was established in 2001 by a bequest of David Goodman to honor a member of the Science Department.

The Goodman Science Chair recipient joined the Williston faculty in 2011 bringing with him a wealth of boarding school experience in all areas of school life. He is being recognized not only as a master teacher, but as an academic leader who has both supported his colleagues and facilitated a significant curricular reform in the Science Department.

Bill Berghoff received the
Bill Berghoff receiving the Goodman Science Chair

In the classroom he is a dynamic instructor who delivers even the most complex concepts in advanced Chemistry in a clear and concise manner. His complete mastery of the material allows him to devote much of his time to experimenting with the best teaching methods to promote student learning. Though his students often struggle as they wrestle with the advanced concepts, they appreciate his ever supportive and encouraging attitude. While he provides frequent extra help sessions and is patient and thorough in answering their questions, he believes that learning is deepest when it springs from the student. By empowering his students to embrace the learning process and to develop their critical thinking through problem-solving exercises-he teaches them the values of perseverance and resilience. His students also gain reinforcement from his well-constructed labs that complement their study and bring the chemistry concepts to life.

The last five years have been incredibly busy years as he has led the Science Department through a curriculum review, contributed to the emergence of Williston’s Strategic Plan, assisted with the Science Department segment of the NEASC Reaccreditation process, and provided important input for the design and construction of the new science building. The curriculum review process led to a complete revision of the science curriculum with the adoption of a Physics First philosophy in the Upper School science program. He also shepherded the launch of the Williston Scholars Science program and used his networks at the Five Colleges to connect our budding scientists with experts in the field of their research.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly he has served as a passionate role model for our students and a dedicated mentor to the members of the Science Department over the past five years.

I am pleased to announce that the Goodman Science Chair is awarded to Bill Berghoff. 

Four Williston Teachers Awarded Instructorships

Ed. note: Dean of Faculty Peter Valine presented four instructorships during an all-school assembly on September 16. Here is the text of his remarks:

The Emily N. McFadon Vincent ’49 and Bob E. Vincent Instructorship was established in 2007 by Emily N. McFadon Vincent, Class of 1949 and her husband Bob to recognize a young faculty member’s initiatives in and out of the classroom.

The recipient of the Vincent Instructorship joined the Williston community in 2014 and has quickly earned the respect of his students and colleagues. His chemistry students appreciate his depth and breadth of knowledge in the content area. His affinity for science is not surprising given he inherited a dominant gene for the discipline from his father who was a distinguished science professor in genetics and molecular biology.

Chris Pelliccia with Head of School Robert w. Hill III and Dean of Faculty Peter Valine
Chris Pelliccia with Head of School Robert w. Hill III and Dean of Faculty Peter Valine

His students admire his passion for chemistry and one of his students recently remarked that he “just looks happy to be teaching.” He treats his students with respect and patience, and in return they find him to be fair and consistent in his approach and in his grading. A strength of his teaching is that his pedagogy is varied with an effective balance between lecture, lab, and group work. He encourages his students to ask questions by creating an atmosphere of trust and kindness. He answers the questions they ask with concise responses that are both accurate and accessible. Through the use of creative and helpful examples in his lectures, and by employing learning and review games with Kahoot he keeps his students interested and engaged.

The goal for his students is to not only acquire scientific knowledge, but to apply it. His Williston Scholars students, for example, were excited to have conversations or Skype interviews with scientists from various fields. This summer he modeled his own active approach to scientific study by traveling to Bozeman, Montana, where his studies included a week-long animal biodiversity course in which he traveled throughout Yellowstone National Park observing bison, pronghorn, wolves, and bears as well as examining the geology of the region. He noted that this experience showed him biological processes on a macro scale that are the result of genetic processes he teaches that occur on a very micro scale.

Outside the classroom he is a dorm parent, ski coach, and the head coach of the varsity track and field team. In all these endeavors with students he is enthusiastic, encouraging, and well prepared. His professionalism is always evident, and he is a wonderful role model for our whole community.

The Emily N. McFadon and Bob E. Vincent Instructorship is awarded to Chris Pelliccia.

The Northampton School For Girls Instructorship was established in 1999 by the alumnae of the school to note the importance of that school in their lives and to support the focus on the education of young women that remains a part of the commitment of the merged schools.

The new recipient of the NSFG Instructorship arrived on the Williston campus in 2013 a little differently than most of her peers. She never came to campus for an interview, never met any of her teaching colleagues, and accepted the position relatively sight unseen. Since she was living across the continent in Washington state- she and we took a chance on this virtual match-and we have been thrilled ever since that she decided to join our community.

Carey Baldwin, Head of School Robert W. Hill III, and Dean of Faculty Peter Valine
Carey Baldwin, Head of School Robert W. Hill III, and Dean of Faculty Peter Valine

She is a true scholar with a strong background in teaching both physics and math. Her love of numbers knows no bounds, and she is on a personal quest to make her students love numbers as much as she does. Her enthusiasm, patience, and positive attitude create a classroom environment in which her students feel valued and supported. She is a creative teacher whose classroom is filled with a variety of activities and is richly laced with technology that both engages the students and effectively supports her learning goals.

She is successful in getting her students to view themselves as statisticians. She engages the them by using cleverly constructed, real world examples and she teaches them the jargon of the statistician. They approach the problems as analysts as they learn to organize data webs, understand and identify patterns, and utilize graphs to make data more accessible. The second floor hallway of the Schoolhouse is typically adorned with live stat collections, and it is not uncommon to see her students outside collecting data for a project in which they can demonstrate and apply their understandings of the concepts. When asked on a survey what they learned in the class, one of her students replied, “I learned that friends don’t let friends extrapolate!”

It is perhaps not surprising that our Northampton School for Girls recipient is a life-long learner who is intrinsically motivated to grow in her career. This year she is bringing great energy and new ideas to our community as the Academic Technology Director in supporting her colleagues with the integration of technology in the classroom. She is also currently advancing her own knowledge in the content area by working toward a master’s degree from Colorado State University. Our community is fortunate that her case of numerophilia is not in remission as she continues to live and work by the numbers.

It gives me great pleasure to announce that the Northampton School For Girls Instructorship is awarded to Carey Baldwin.

The George E. and Catherine B. Gregory Instructorship was established in 2007 by Dick Gregory, former faculty member, in honor of his parents. The purpose of this instructorship is to recognize the initiatives of a young faculty member in the Fine Arts-in and out of the classroom.

The Gregory Instructorship recipient is beginning her eighth year at Williston in a tenure that has included teaching both English and performing arts. Her energy, enthusiasm, and expertise has inspired her students and she has continued the tradition of a strong and vibrant theater program at Williston.

Emily Ditkovski with Head of School Robert W. Hill III and Dean of Faculty Peter Valine
Emily Ditkovski with Head of School Robert W. Hill III and Dean of Faculty Peter Valine

One of her mantras is, “If you don’t feel silly, you aren’t doing it right!” She intentionally strives to take students out of their comfort zone and make them stretch themselves to create growth and to build confidence. I learned this first hand when I was observing her class several years ago. When I was participating in the warm-up she prompted me to roar like a lion and then to contort my face as if I were eating a sour lemon. She understands that the skills she is developing in theater class are not only acting skills, but life skills. I saw this trait most recently during senior orientation where she had members of the senior class pair off and have a duel in which they crossed their arms and covered their knees. The goal was to protect your own knees while attempting to touch their rival’s exposed kneecap. This activity stressed the necessity of making yourself vulnerable by taking your hand off your own knee in order to make the touch and win the game.

Her success in the classroom and in the theater is built on her genuine interest in her students and actors, the environment of trust that surrounds these young people, and her constructive and continual feedback that pushes each student to reach for the next level. In one class I observed she was teaching the concept of pace and she told one young man, “By rushing through your lines you are telling the audience that you don’t want to be on stage…but you deserve to be up here, so take the time to annunciate and read your lines well. You can do it.” She is used to working with both novice and experienced actors in the same production and she has learned to differentiate the process in ways that are appropriate for each individual.

This summer she practiced what she preaches by leaving her own comfort zone by playing Lady Macbeth in a summer Shakespeare production. In reflecting on her experience she wrote:

“At each turn….. from having second thoughts at the audition, to the nerves of the read through, to the excitement of opening night I’ve thought of my students—and the bravery required to do what I ask of them.”

The George E. and Catherine B. Gregory Instructorship is awarded to Emily Ditkovski.

The Karin O’Neil Instructorship was established in 2001 by alumni and friends and named for former Associate Head of School Karin O’Neil who, until her departure that year, directed much of the school’s program for over 30 years and enabled the school to achieve great progress and to aspire to the highest levels of scholarship and engagement with student success.

 The O’Neil Instructorship is given this year to a teacher who, like Karin O’Neil, has dedicated her career to sharing her passion and talents with Williston students and peers.

Janine Whipple with Head of School Robert W. Hill III and Dean of Faculty Peter Valine
Janine Whipple with Head of School Robert W. Hill III and Dean of Faculty Peter Valine

In her 25 years at Williston she has taught students of all ages. No matter their age or mathematics level her students know that she will push them, that she will demand their focus and attention, and that she will hold the bar high. No matter their age or mathematics level they also know that she will encourage them, cajole them, pick them up when they fall short, and that she is utterly committed to their success. As one of her students wrote: “Math is hard for me, and if it were not for my teacher I would be completely lost. She explains things very well and she is always willing to work with me until I understand.”

Her teaching is rooted in guiding the students through a process of investigation and discovery. She is a well-organized lesson planner who establishes clear learning objectives and then provides the necessary repetition, feedback, and patience that promotes learning. She introduces the concepts thoroughly, her notes provide a clear map for the students to follow, and she is absolutely selfless in her willingness to provide extra help. She earns high marks from her students for her ability to teach even the most abstract math concepts in ways that are accessible. She understands that students learn differently and encourages students to employ different methods and to uncover different paths to the solution.

This O’Neil recipient has also had a profound influence on many Williston students outside the walls of the math classroom. She is a dedicated advisor, she has served as a dorm parent, and she is a talented coach who brings basketball acumen and a sense of purpose and intensity to the sideline. She is a teacher and motivator who brings out the best in her players, and she strives to have the team be greater than the sum of its individual parts. With energy, enthusiasm, and a keen sense of humor she has inspired her students and athletes to attain the highest levels of scholarship and performance. At the end of a self-evaluation she once wrote, “Whether it is math, basketball, or life lessons I want the students to know that I enjoy passing on my passion and knowledge.”

On this occasion it seems appropriate to award the O’Neil Instructorship to a Williston teacher whose tenure overlapped with Karin O’Neil. I am pleased to present the O’Neil Instructorship to Janine Whipple.