When Trustee Warner Babcock ‘70 and his wife Trisha hosted a Williston Northampton gathering at the Greenwich Country Club on October 20, area parents and alumni representing Northampton School for Girls, Williston Academy, and The Williston Northampton School converged for a delightful reception. Current parents, whose children have been keeping them up-to-date on school happenings, and alumni and past parents eager to catch up on the many exciting things afoot found much in common to talk about.
As head of school attending my first such event, I was thrilled by the energy in the room, both for the place fondly remembered and the school as it stands now. More than that, I was struck by the powerful and positive memories that were shared of teachers and their transformative influence, and of friendships that have stood the test of time. I was more than happy to answer questions posed about future plans and current initiatives, and I am confident that those in attendance are a barometer of the good feelings and ongoing support for Williston that exist at large. Thanks again to the Babcocks for being such gracious hosts.
Attending my first Williston theater production with my family on the second night of the run made for a memorable evening. Williston has long enjoyed a reputation for having one of the very best drama programs among its peer schools, and seeing what our students achieved in The Importance of Being Earnest affirmed everything that has been said about this storied program. From the various technical elements and behind the scenes work to our students’ acting ability that was on full display, the performance was first-rate!
Having seen any number of high school plays (and, for that matter, professional productions) over the years, I have a fairly solid context upon which to base comparisons, and what I saw our students and faculty accomplish together was simply outstanding. On a micro level, the arts are alive and well at Williston. On a macro level, working in theater represents precisely the kind of collaborative learning that will best serve our students as they progress in their educational journey and enter the 21st century workforce.
Saturday’s athletic contests were a good chance for me to observe Williston fan loyalty when I took to the road and followed the varsity field hockey team to their match against longtime rival Westminster School. Both teams hold top records in the league and so the game promised to be a close one. Though the Wildcats outshot the home team Martlets, the game ended in an overtime loss in the sudden death format recently adopted by field hockey. With at least as many Williston parents at this away game as their home team rivals, our girls enjoyed great support.
The 45-minute ride back to Easthampton on the scenic college highway gave me a chance to reflect upon this strength of our school. From involvement in the Parents’ Association and Parents’ Fund, to the post-game snacks they bring for their children’s teams, to their attendance at the entire range of student performances at Williston, parents here are committed to the collaborative enterprise of helping teenagers realize their full potential.
Later in that same evening, with the girls soccer team playing at home under the lights to a draw against Westminster, I saw another throng of our parents cheering on their children, only this time their voices were drowned out by the cheers of our own students in the stands. We have a spirited school to be sure, and I look forward to supporting another team this week—our thespians—in their production of The Importance of Being Earnest.
Raising her African American daughter as a single mother in an all white town in Texas was the topic of Debra Monroe’s captivating talk as the second author in this year’s Writers’ Workshop Series. Monroe, who came to Williston at the invitation of professor Maddie Blaise of the University of Massachusetts and author Elinor Lipman, immediately set the tone for the talk that followed by telling the audience that she expected them to laugh at her stories. Without need of that encouragement, the audience responded to both her readings from On the Outskirts of Normal and her spontaneous asides. But beneath the humor lay a deeply moving and provocative story as Ms. Monroe was at the vanguard of inter-racial single parent adoption in this country.
Once again, Williston students spent dedicated time following the public portion of the evening in the Writer’s Workshop, and by all accounts, Ms. Monroe demonstrated her prowess in that setting as a professor accustomed to working with young people on the craft of writing. Particularly exciting, and a testimony to the level of interest our trustees have in the school, a number of members of the board were in attendance at Ms. Monroe’s reading as well as the dinner that preceded it.
What happens when a group of faculty members attends dinner with the board of trustees? Well, in the case of our recent board of trustees’ weekend here at Williston, a convivial dinner on Friday evening ended with a presentation by faculty member Ben Demerath about the two weeks he spent in Ghana last summer through the auspices of the Williston+ Program. For those who know Mr. Demerath as our music director and the driving force of our students’ singing at Fenway Park, you might not know of his academic interest in ethnomusicology and how music can provide an ideal means for globalizing our students’ educations.
Always an inspirational teacher, Mr. Demerath tested his prowess by asking members of the board to participate in a performance on the instruments with which he returned this summer. While one intrepid volunteer played the axatse (a-HAT-say), a shaker made from a gourd covered with beads, another accompanied on the gatingo, a two-toned iron bell. Fittingly, Mr. Demerath played the lead drum, the boba, remarkable not just for its sound but also for its intricate carvings and craftsmanship. Finally, I was on the kagan, which is the highest-pitched of the drums we now have in our collection. In all, Williston owns three of each type of drum, including the kagan, the kidi (a mid-sized drum), and the sogo (the lower pitched drum). We also have five of the bells and eight of the gourd shakers.
It should be fascinating to hear what Mr. Demerath accomplishes this year with his students—it will no doubt top the efforts of the impromptu adult group!