Band-Aids and Shaved Heads

Thanks to the intrepid volunteerism of Williston faculty members Ms. Kim Evelti and Mr. Peter Gunn, and a large group of student volunteers, the school hosted its semiannual Red Cross Blood Drive just before Thanksgiving recess. Being a regular donor, I had the chance to experience a Williston blood drive from various perspectives, including lying on one of the portable beds. Given that time to observe, reflect, and speak to some of the Red Cross personnel, I learned that Williston students answer the call to give in unusual numbers, and they do so with a cheerfulness that I’ve not seen before. First time givers always had one or two friends standing by them while veteran teenage donors (I did not realize that such a group exists) thought nothing of strolling in to their appointment alone.

Over 125 students, faculty and staff members, and community members donated blood that day, yielding over 90 pints. That’s a new record for our fall blood drive and, more importantly, it means that we made a difference in the lives of over 270 people.

And then there was the group of boys from our wrestling team with shaved heads. What I thought might have been a team ritual turned out to be a sign of solidarity for a classmate who is battling cancer. Williston students give of themselves all the time—if our teenagers are the future, then we have much to be hopeful about.

Singing, Dancing, and Signing

Just this past week, I was treated to a number of events that profoundly reflected the character and talents of the students we have at Williston.

The Fall Choral Concert, capped by a fabulous rendition of “Jai Ho” (from Slumdog Millionaire), revealed our singers thoroughly enjoying themselves as they entertained an audience of faculty, parents, and students.

The dance concert “Rhythmic Shock” featured our students’ creativity and talent as they choreographed and performed a variety of pieces set to classical and contemporary music.

Finally, the Athletic Department hosted a gathering to honor senior Kay Samples-Smart, who signed a Division I National Letter of Intent to play women’s basketball next year at Bethune-Cookman University.

What these various events had in common, and what was so memorable, was the support the students gave one another. The packed house at the dance concert sounded like a March Madness basketball tournament, and the standing room only crowd for our featured senior athlete showed that our students vote with their feet by showing up at their friend’s meaningful events. Remarkable.

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Open and Packed House

With a gorgeous late fall day on November 11, Williston’s Admission Office hosted the annual Open House to a capacity crowd of visitors. Aside from an occasional log jam as one tour bumped up against another, visitors to the school were given the same uninhibited access that so distinguishes our admissions process. From panels devoted to our unique Ninth Grade Program to a presentation by the College Counseling Office on the work they do to shepherd students through the intricacies of that rite of passage, Williston faculty members opened themselves up to our guests.

There was a definite buzz in the air as parents and their children learned about the exciting opportunities available through the Williston+ Program and our associations with the Five Colleges. If the upbeat conversations between teachers and visitors are an indication of the days’ success, then I hope we will see many of these faces on campus again next fall!

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Three Cups of Tea and Barrels of Wisdom

Storytelling often gets lost in education, said Greg Mortenson, whose compelling presence held over five hundred listeners spellbound at Williston yesterday. Demonstrating the importance of stories in his own life and in the work he does around the world, Mortenson offered a snapshot of his life through slides and memorable vignettes of those whose lives he has touched and who in turn have touched him.

The climber turned humanitarian and bestselling author of Three Cups of Tea spent time with Williston students before and after his lecture, moving comfortably among tables of students from both the Middle and Upper Schools during lunch. Our students could not help but be affected by his message of spreading world peace through education, one child at a time.

Following the presentation, Williston students worked throughout the community doing service projects ranging from helping at local church thrift shop to making toys for a childrens’ hospital. Greg Mortenson’s presence was a powerful and moving testament to the effect an individual can have on a global stage, begging the question: Which of our students will achieve similar success?

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Family Weekend Reflections

Those parents able to attend Williston’s Fall Family Weekend were not only treated to the marvelous work of our theater program—they also witnessed the return of the Francis-Kinne Cup to Williston as our teams bested Suffield Academy by a margin of 9 wins to 5 losses. As I watched the varsity football game with my Suffield counterpart, Charlie Cahn, I quipped that it was a nice way for me, as a new head of school, to be introduced to the good-natured rivalry that our two schools share in this annual event (for those who do not know, our two schools meet head-to-head in every sports contest during Fall Family Weekend, and the school with the greatest number of wins claims the cup).

But the highlight of the weekend for parents as well as faculty were the individual teacher meetings that hearken back to an earlier time in schools. Not only do parents have the chance to sit in with their children on any class in their child’s schedule, but Williston students sign up in advance of the weekend so that their parents have dedicated time with each teacher with whom they may wish to connect. If building communities in an age of social media and networking depends upon face-to-face interactions, then our Fall Family Weekend serves a pivotal function. Despite the fast pace and full schedule of the weekend, teachers enjoy hearing directly from parents about their children’s backgrounds and aspirations; our college counselors meet with the parents of seniors; and advisors complete the cycle by visiting with the parents of their advisees. How does this all happen? Well, to acknowledge the dedicated faculty with whom I work, I witnessed more than one conversation taking place on the sidelines of a game, or late into the afternoon, or even after dinner. Clearly, the value of building connections and relationships is alive and well at Williston.

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