Category Archives: Academics

Williston Cum Laude Society to Induct 12 New Students

Ann Blair Laupheimer Sonnenfeld ’75, a corporate litigator, will be the keynote speaker at this year’s Cum Laude induction ceremony on Friday, January 6.

Ann (Blair) Laupheimer Sonnenb
Ann Blair Laupheimer Sonnenfeld ’75

Ms. Sonnenfeld attended Williston for two years as a boarding student, earning induction into Cum Laude in her senior year. After graduating from Williston, she earned a BA from Princeton University in 1979, and a JD summa cum laude from University of Pennsylvania Law School in 1984.

Ms. Sonnenfeld has gone on to a distinguished career in corporate and commercial litigation as a partner at Blank Rome LLP in Philadelphia. For the past six years, Ms. Sonnenfeld has been chair of the Board of Trustees of Agnes Irwin School, an all-girls independent school in Rosemont, Pennsylvania. She has served as chair of the Federal Courts Committee of the Philadelphia Bar Association, and was appointed by U.S. Senators Toomey and Casey to serve on the judicial selection committee to fill six vacancies on the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.

The following members of the Class of 2017 will be inducted into Williston Northampton’s Cum Laude Society:

Sima Gandevia of Hadley, MA
Zi Dong Gao of Beijing, China
Jin Young Lee of Seoul, Korea
Soma Mizobuchi of Kobe, Japan
Tomasz Paluchowski of Springfield, MA
Zachary Robbins of Pok Fu Lam, Hong Kong
Jordan Sansone of Hanover, NH
Shengfu Shen of Tianjin, China
Jiaying Tang of Shanghai, China
Anna Wilinsky of Florence, MA
Emily Yeager of Easthampton, MA
Molly Zawacki of Easthampton, MA

Inducted students and their parents will be invited to attend a reception immediately following the 8:30 a.m. assembly at the home of Head of School Bob and Kathryn Hill.

The Cum Laude Society, founded in 1906 and modeled after Phi Beta Kappa, honors scholastic achievement in secondary scholars. The society has over 350 chapters, the majority of which are in independent schools. In 1921, Williston Academy became a member of the society, followed by Northampton School for Girls in 1951. In 1971, a new charter was created for the Williston Northampton School.

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.

Lots to Do at Williston’s Family Weekend

Damp snow Thursday night didn’t keep parents and families away from Fall Family Weekend.

Despite a snowy start, Williston Northampton School’s Family Weekend was a big success, drawing nearly 300 family members from around the corner and across the country. (See photos here.)

During the two-day event, families met with their students’ teachers, listened to a cappella music and watched previews of dance and theater productions in a special all-school assembly, and heard a state-of-the-school update from Head of School Robert W. Hill III and Dean of Students Kathy Noble.

An international family reception was held on a snowy Thursday night at the home of Mr. and Mrs. Hill. On Friday afternoon, around 100 parents and family members joined the Hills for a reception at their home. Families watched a rollicking production of Shakespeare’s The Comedy of Errors on Friday and Saturday nights (read more here).

Parents of international students gathered at the home of Head of School Robert Hill.
Parents of international students gathered at the home of Head of School Robert Hill.

Spectators witnessed Wildcat play in several sporting events on Friday evening and Saturday afternoon (see athletic results here and athletics photos in our Flickr albums). Williston’s Shaler Invitational cross-country race drew 17 teams—more than 550 runners—from around New England. Williston’s boys team came in fourth out of 14 and the girls team came in fifth of 13.

For many parents, attending a panel hosted by the Williston College Counseling Office helped start (or continue) the search for the higher education institution that will be the perfect fit for their child. The panel, introduced by Williston Director of College Counseling Catherine McGraw, included Matt Malatesta, vice president for admissions, financial aid, and enrollment at Union College; Gil J. Villanueva, associate vice president and dean of admission at the University of Richmond; and Michael Geller, the New England regional director of admissions/associate director for regional programs at the George Washington University.

Boys cross-country teams at the starting line up
Boys cross-country teams line up at the Shaler Invitational.

Malatesta taught high school social studies at independent schools in New York and Pennsylvania before taking a turn toward admissions. He was director of financial aid at Hamilton College before returning to work for his alma mater, Union College in Schenectady, N.Y.

“There’s great success to be had out there,” Malatesta told the audience, and encouraged students and their parents to look for “programs, philosophy, and opportunities” that line up with their needs and values.

Before joining the University of Richmond, Villanueva served as dean of admission and chief admission officer at Brandeis University. He previously worked at Bucknell University and Harvey Mudd College.

Matt Malatesta of Union College, Gil J. Villanueva from the University of Richmond and Michael Geller of the George Washington University talked college admissions.

Villanueva talked about the three Rs of the college search process: reflection, research, and resources. He added, when visiting schools, don’t pack too many visits in a single day. Seeing one college or university per day will allow a prospective student to really take in the atmosphere of an institution.

Before George Washington University, Geller worked in the Admissions Office for 16 years at Wheaton College. His message was that admissions officers look beyond grades to what those grades actually mean in context. How rigorous were the classes, how ambitious the schedule? “What we want to see is that students have taken a curriculum that appropriately challenges them,” he said. “Just hearing ‘3.5 GPA’ doesn’t tell the whole story.”

McGraw said she was delighted by the high turnout to the panel, which had to be moved to a larger venue to accommodate everyone who signed up to attend.

“We were so excited by the level of parent engagement in the college-search process,” she said, adding she appreciated both the honesty and the levity expressed by the panelists. “We definitely anticipate holding this event every year,” she said.

Keri Smith Kicks off Writers’ Workshop Series

The Writers’ Workshop Series begins on Oct. 3 with Keri Smith, a bestselling author, illustrator, and thinker.

Her books include Wreck This JournalThis is Not a BookHow to Be an Explorer of the WorldMessFinish This BookThe Pocket ScavengerWreck This Journal EverywhereEverything Is ConnectedThe Imaginary World of… as well as Wreck This App, This is Not an App, and the Pocket Scavenger app, which won Best Nonfiction Adult app at the 2014 Digital Book Awards.

She recently was featured in a TIME magazine article titled, “Meet the Woman Trying to Save Your Kids from Their Screens.”

Smith conducts workshops based on her books and recently taught a class in conceptual illustration at Emily Carr University of Art and Design, in Vancouver, Canada. According to her website, the main focus of her work/research is on creating what the writer Umberto Eco called “Open works,” pieces that are completed by the reader/user. In 2012 she created a public art installation for the exhibition Urban Play, in Copenhagen Denmark entitled The Society for Exploratory Research. In 2013 Keri was invited to be a “Resident Thinker” for the art piece “Nowhere Island” by artist Alex Hartley for the Cultural Olympiad, along with Yoko Ono and several other interesting thinkers.

English Teacher Lori Pelliccia coordinates the series and leads the Writers’ Workshop honors-level English class that examines the work of the visiting presenters.

“Last year, the students in Writers’ Workshop referred back to the advice they received from the visiting authors time and time again,” she said. “I know this year will be no different. Each speaker’s unique experiences and talents will surely inspire our student writers as they explore and develop their craft.” 

This is the 19th year Williston Northampton School has hosted the Writers’ Workshop Series—conceived by authors Madeleine Blais P’00, ’04 and Elinor Lipman P’00—in which writers and creative professionals give a talk during a public forum, then teach a master class to students who have prepared for the visit by studying the presenter’s work. The forum begins at 7 p.m. in Williston’s Whitaker-Bement Center Assembly Room. It is free and open to the public.

Welcoming New and Returning Faculty to Campus

Emily McDowell (right) with a student
Emily McDowell (right) began a new master’s program in teacher leadership.

Few Williston faculty members take the summer off in the true sense. Most delve into professional development at institutions across the country. Lori and Chris Pelliccia are no exceptions.

Lori, who teaches English, this summer completed an M.F.A. in writing for children and young adults at the Vermont College of Fine Arts in Montpelier. She attended her fifth and final 10-day residency at the school, gave a lecture based on a critical paper she wrote, and held a reading of her creative work. She participated in a 12-session workshop group and attended lectures and readings given by faculty members and other graduating students. Lori began the program in 2012 and completed one semester of writing each school year. 

Her husband, Chris, a science teacher, began a Master of Science in science education through Montana State University. This summer, he completed two classes at Montana State in Bozeman, “Animal Biodiversity of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem” and “Project Microbe,” and two classes online, “Environmental Chemistry” and “Current Topics in Science Education.” He will continue taking online classes this school year and then will return to Bozeman in the summer of 2017. The graduate program usually takes 2.5 years to complete.

Lori and Chris weren’t the only faculty members notching accomplishments this summer:

  • Track coach and math teacher Martha McCullagh went to the Olympic Track and Field Trials in Oregon where she volunteered and connected with Gabby Thomas ’15 who was participating in the event. 
  • College counselor Emily McDowell, French teacher Sue Michalski, and history and global studies teacher Andrew Syfu began a master of arts in Teacher Leadership that Williston has developed in a partnership with Mount Holyoke.  See more about the new program here.
  • Kyle Hanford and Jacob Rivers of the English Department participated in a Bard Institute of Writing and Thinking program.
  • Michael Doubleday in the History Department participated in a Gilder Lehrman Institute program in Texas.

New Faculty Arrive on Campus

As the first day of classes approaches, new faculty members are joining returning teachers on campus, and all are setting up classrooms and preparing lesson plans. We’re excited to welcome the following teachers to our team of skilled and committed faculty:

Tom Beaton (College Counseling and Athletics) joins the Williston faculty from Tufts University where he has been coaching football. He is a Bates graduate with a degree in American studies. Tom will be a college counselor and athletics liaison who will work closely with the post-graduates. He is the head football coach as Williston joins the Erickson League this year, and will also coach basketball and baseball. Tom is already familiar with Williston as his brother Pat was a postgraduate last year.

Steven Berlanga (Visual and Performing Arts) joins Williston as the director of choirs and will teach all the choral music classes and advise the Teller Chorus. He is currently a doctoral student at Indiana University and earned a master’s degree in Choral Conducting from the University of Cincinnati and a B.A. in Music from California State Long Beach. He will coach volleyball and supervise arts intensive.

Katy Briedis (Mathematics) joins the Williston faculty from Cushing Academy where she taught math and was a coach and a dorm parent. As a Cushing graduate she knows independent boarding schools. She will coach lacrosse and work in the athletic performance program. Katy has a B.A. in Mathematics from SUNY Potsdam and an M.B.A. from Averett University.

Rachel Currie-Rubin ’01 (Academic Support Coordinator) returns to her alma mater to run the Academic Support program. Rachel has worked as a teacher, researcher, and education specialist. Most recently she worked for an educational research and development organization as a research scientist and instructional designer. Rachel has a B.S. from Ithaca College in teaching students with speech and language disabilities, a master’s in education in language and literacy from the Harvard School of Education, and a Ed.D. degree from Harvard in human development and education. Rachel will also coach ice hockey at Williston.

Erin Davey (Assistant Dean of Students) returns to Williston after working for a year at Pomfret School as an admission officer. In her role as assistant dean of students, Erin’s responsibilities include the director of student activities, the director of inclusion, and 10th grade class dean. She graduated from Connecticut College with a B.A. in sociology and has a master’s degree in sports management from Southern New Hampshire University. Erin will coach ice hockey and softball.

Kara DeMichiel (College Counseling) most recently served as a senior assistant director in the office of admission at St. Lawrence University in Canton, N.Y.  Her travel territory included the New England region and she coordinated the Student Ambassador program as well as enrollment event planning at St. Lawrence.  A graduate of Rochester Institute of Technology, Kara spent her undergraduate years working in the office of admission followed by three more years at RIT on the admissions staff.

Ben Farmer (Admissions) is an admissions officer and will serve as head coach of the boy’s varsity basketball team as well as coaching in the football program. He is a graduate of Marist College with a degree in communications, and recently completed a Master of Education program at the University of Hartford. Before joining Williston, Ben served as an assistant coach at the University of Hartford and Wesleyan University.

Lee Greener ’06 (Director of Financial Aid) is a 2006 graduate of Williston who returns to campus after most recently serving as associate director of admissions at Miss Hall’s School. She earned a B.S. in Business Administration from the University of South Carolina and a M.S. in higher education from Bay Path University. She will work in the afternoon program coaching ultimate frisbee.

Duncan Laird (Director of Psychological Counseling Services) is a clinical social worker who has had a private practice in the Pioneer Valley for more than 20 years. He has been the director of psychological counseling at the Bement School for 16 years and also worked as a psychological and organizational consultant for the Academy at Charlemont. He earned a B.S. in social work from Western Michigan and an M.S.W. from Smith College.

Matt Liebowitz (English) is an experienced English teacher who has taught in several independent schools and who has also worked as a journalist. He graduated from Skidmore College with a B.A. in English and he earned an M.A. in English from Boston University. He will serve as the school’s sports information director, and serve as the faculty advisor to The Willistonian.

Katie Loomis (Language) is headed back to New England after working last year at the Darlington School in Georgia. Katie is an alum of Kingswood-Oxford School and has been on the Williston campus as a competitor in several sports. She graduated from Kenyon College with a B.A in modern languages and literatures, and earned an M.S. in education from the University of Pennsylvania. Prior to her year at Darlington, Katie worked at Culver Academy and St. Pauls School. She will teach Spanish and coach cross country, swimming, and track and field.

Elibet Moore (English) knows independent schools well from growing up on the Lawrence Academy campus. She joins the Williston faculty after three years teaching English at Rumsey Hall School. She also has five years of experience working with adolescents at Wolfeboro in the summer boarding school program. Ellie graduated from Bowdoin College with a B.A. in sociology. She will teach English, coach soccer and lacrosse, and serve as a dorm parent at Williston.

Colleen Norgang (Athletic Training) will be the head athletic trainer at Williston after serving in that role for six years at Kents Hill School in Maine. Colleen’s work at Kents Hill also involved teaching and running a dormitory. She earned a B.S. in athletic training from the University of Maine-Orono. Colleen knows independent schools having graduated from KUA.

Rita Plouffe (Language) will be teaching Chinese at Williston after working most recently at Hawaii Preparatory Academy. In addition to teaching Rita will be involved in the afternoon program. She has a bachelor’s degree in English language and literature from Asia University in Taiwan and a master’s degree in secondary education in Chinese from Brandeis University.

Matthew Porter (Science) joins the Williston faculty as a teaching intern in psychology and as a three season coach. Matt graduated this spring from Trinity College (CT) with a B.S. in psychology. He is familiar with independent boarding schools having completed a post-graduate year at Choate Rosemary Hall. Matt coaches varsity football, track and field, and athletic performance.

Mia Smith (Mathematics) graduated from Williams College this spring with a B.A. in mathematics. She has been very involved in math communities both at Williams and beyond. She was a member of the Math Student Advisory Board at Williams, and her work also included MathCamps, a summer boarding program for exceptional math scholars around the world. At Williston, Mia will teach math, coach cross country and lacrosse, and serve as a dorm parent.

Jill Stern (Advancement) is our new Director of Alumni Engagement. Jill is already well-known to many within the Williston community, as a parent of recent graduate Maddy ’14 and rising 10th grader Caleb ’19. She joins us from the Advancement office of her alma mater, Mount Holyoke College, where she had been since 2008. During her tenure, Jill directed their $10 million Annual Fund, coordinated advancement communications, and worked closely with their alumnae association. She has extensive experience in volunteer management, communications, marketing, and fund-raising. Prior to her work at the College, Jill was the co-founder and executive director of an equine ambulance organization, and has also worked as a freelance writer and editor.

Dave Werner (Advancement) is a new Leadership Gifts Officer. Dave joins us with three decades of experience at the Westminster School, most recently as their Director of Alumni Relations. In addition to a dozen years of alumni relations and major gifts experience in their Advancement Office, he has a depth of experience in school life as a teacher, director of college counseling, varsity coach, dorm parent, and admissions officer. He graduated from Westminster, earned his B.A. from the University of Vermont, and M.A.L.S. from Wesleyan University. In his new role at Williston, Dave will cultivate relationships with alumni and parents around the country to raise major gifts in support of the school.

Welcome, new faculty, and to those returning, welcome back!