Winter is Coming, Autumn is Here: Seasons and Place at White Mountain

This week, the White Mountain community listened to a presentation at morning meeting on TextLess/ Live More – a campaign aimed not only to reduce distracted driving, but also to promote a youth culture with less screen time and more personal, meaningful interaction. This week, we also had our first snow.  We saw, in the past few days, most of our campus’ leaves depart from the wickerwork of the deciduous tree branches that surround school and tumble into the nearby forest, swept outwards by a high country breeze.

There is something distinct about the White Mountain campus – something in the way it seems to engage our students and prod a sense of inquiry in the world around them. To look at the seasons touching their temperatures on the surrounding landscape is a privilege to which every White Mountain member can attest. Our students can use our indoor rock wall every day of the week.  Our students can walk down and fish for largemouth bass – or ice-skate – at the pond depending on the time of year.

Not only does our campus provide opportunities to inquire and engage with the natural world, but it also pushes our students to learn perhaps the most valuable skill our youth can acquire in this chaotic and dynamic 21st century: the ability to effectively communicate, in person, with one another.  Our admissions office actively seeks students that care more about the people around them than the phones in their hands.  We seek students who want to harvest food together on our farm, students who care about being energetic members of our Orientation and Field Course trips.

In a 2015 New York Times article, M.I.T. professor Sherry Turkle discusses the power of the confluence of natural settings and human interaction.  Turkle writes:

“After five days without phones…(during a 2014 study), certain campers were able to read facial emotions and correctly identify the emotions of actors in videotaped scenes significantly better than in a control group. What fostered these new empathic responses? They talked to one another. In conversation, things go best if you pay close attention and learn how to put yourself in someone else’s shoes.  This is easier to do without your phone in hand. Conversation is the most human and humanizing thing that we do.”

As a school, we actively create certain times and spaces like Family Style Dinner, Orientation Trips and Field Courses where our students are made to talk to one another without modern day distractions. On our campus, our students walk forest paths and participate in community events where they engage in each other’s company.

American award winning novelist Jonathan Safran Foer said it best in his2013 graduation speech at Middlebury College about modern day cell phone use:

“We often use technology to save time, but increasingly, it either takes the saved time along with it, or makes the saved time less present, intimate and rich. I worry that the closer the world gets to our fingertips, the further it gets from our hearts.  It’s not an either/or – being “anti-technology” is perhaps the only thing more foolish than being unquestioningly “pro-technology” – but a question of balance that our lives hang upon.”

Here at White Mountain, we seek this balance, and we’ve done a very good job at it. Our students acquire the appropriate skills to enter this technology driven 21st century, but they are also given ample opportunity to explore our grounds, and immerse themselves with the New England scenery. With inquiry in our collective hearts, our students engage and push one another academically, athletically, and of course – conversationally. Each student, every day, has the unique opportunity to walk to sports practice through our forested trails, discussing the seasonal changes they see in the distant, New Hampshire peaks.

By Eliot Taft, Assistant Director of Admission and Communication

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