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Cyber Smarts: Dr. Hinduja Speaks at Williston Northampton

6915358678 fb0d6e1aee oWe all need to be learners in the virtual classroom.  Dr. Sameer Hinduja educated Williston students on Tuesday (and a gathering of parents the evening before) about the clear and present dangers of teenage use of social media. 

An expert in his field, Dr. Hindjua’s deceptively youthful appearance gained him quick credibility with our students—a hip college professor connects well with those in middle and upper school.  One aspect of his message was not especially new: Electronic postings last a lifetime even if “taken down” from original sites. Yet the advice he gave students was newly framed for them.  

Since everything a student posts is permanent—subject to searches by everyone from would-be employers to creepy people—students need to treat their social media presence as part of their very identity. What they post online should be something to be thoughtfully considered, guarded, and treated with utmost care.

Dr. Hinduja also focused as well on the world of cyberbullying, interspersing his lecture with YouTube videos made by teens who have suffered from the humiliating effects of campaigns waged against them. 

It’s not that our students would use smart phones or laptops to wage a Lord of the Flies-like power struggle. Even so, they need to hear from pros like Dr. Hinduja that the old saw, “sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me,” don’t always apply when those words are streaming through millions of social media accounts.

Social media guidelines for educational institutions have not been widely defined, yet are just as clearly needed. With that in mind, Williston Northampton is working on a set of social media guidelines that we hope will offer students, faculty, and staff helpful, practical advice for navigating social media.

Since these efforts to develop community resources are always ongoing, we welcome your suggestions. What do you keep in mind when you’re online?

Practice Makes Perfect in Williston Classrooms

6872577908 a6d001bf67 oI have been thinking a lot in recent years about innovative teaching ideas and am always on the lookout for them. 

Williston teachers, in particular, reflect current educational thinking about how to maintain a vibrant and relevant learning environment.  Williston emphasizes five Cs across our program: character, critical thinking, communication, collaboration, and creativity. 

In the English department at the end of the term, all members of the class of 2015 participated in “a paper of many parts” as they studied Romeo and Juliet.  The portfolio included assignments that emphasized the five Cs; students wrote a monologue in the voice of a minor character, a sonnet in iambic pentameter, a critical analysis of a passage, and interviewed someone who had read the play but was not a ninth grade student. 

While portfolio assessment is certainly nothing new, the approach to this particular assignment is part of a holistic and thoughtful methodology.

Our students learned skills they will need to be successful for Century 21.5 (as I like to call that future time when the class of 2015 will have become mature professionals).

We hear a lot about preparing students for the 21st century, but it’s also worth remembering that we are into our second decade already.

So the real point is that Williston’s curriculum—as with our ninth grade program, which encourages the collaboration and empathy (intrinsic to working with those who do not necessarily share the same background or perspectives)—is constantly evolving as we look toward the future. 

Do you agree? Have your own experience to share? Let me know in the comments section below!

Fun and Games at Muji Tournament

IMG 0217I have to admit that my antenna was up as March began. In the week before spring break, the trimester assessment period ended and third trimester’s classes began. I was curious to see how this transition would work.

Fortunately, the 10th annual Muji basketball tournament—sandwiched between intramural dodgeball and volleyball—answered my concerns. 

Watching Williston students and teachers in action, you could see that there was a lot of good-natured, all-school participation. We have a lot of fun with one another! 

At the tournament, there was the typical assortment of motley dress—one group of students donned orange astronaut jump suits purchased online—and what I took away was the spirit and just plain fun that teachers and students had together. 

Watch clips from the Muji tournament here.

We work hard at Williston, there’s no doubt about that, but we are also a community that knows how to have fun—that’s particularly evident in the games. Tournaments like Muji are now solidly part of our modern tradition.

The Phantom Tollbooth: A Perfect Synergy

6774726154 7640c6e4de oThe Phantom Tollbooth celebrated its 50th anniversary this year—a celebration that has brought high praise for Amherst author Norton Juster.
Last week’s Williston children’s theater production also honored the classic work in an authentic way.  In what has become an annual tradition, Williston’s highly regarded theater program opened its doors to Easthampton children during their school break.
What a perfect synergy when Williston students can both express their passion for drama and serve as role models to wide-eyed children. Theactors spent time with them after the show to answer their questions and even autograph their programs.
The program opened the eyes of young people to the imaginative possibilities of stage, set, and character—all the things that go into the transformative powers of drama.
With a week’s worth of performances, Williston students united passion with civic purpose. They gave something of themselves to the community and, in the process, made us all the better for it.

Straight Talk from Author of “Curveball”

What a treat it was to hear from Mount Holyoke College professor, Dr. Martha Ackmann, a nationally recognized journalist and author. Ackmann was the lead off speaker for Williston’s 10th Annual Diversity Day on Feb. 16.
With the entire student body arrayed before her, Dr. Ackmann told the mesmerizing story of Toni Stone—perhaps the least known famous name in all of baseball. Stone was an African American woman who made her way in the Negro League in the pre-Civil Rights era.
Stone’s name was not widely known until Dr. Ackmann’s passion for uncovering lost voices brought her to rightful prominence. The story Dr. Ackmann told was unforgettable. (I suspect “Curveball: The Remarkable Story of Toni Stone the First Woman to Play Professional Baseball in the Negro League” is an equally engrossing read.)
So, at a day where Williston paused to reflect on identity, difference, the power of words and voice, our keynote speaker set the tone and topics for a remarkable day.
Schools never like to disrupt the academic day. When they do, it reveals what is most important to their community and institutional culture. For Williston, what strikes at the core of our mission is also the essence of what it means to live in a diverse and respectful community.