Author Archives: Allison Letourneau

Student Spotlight: Johanna ’20


Johanna Clement ‘20, a four-year senior from Cohoes, NY, had a profound and life-changing immersive learning experience this past summer. She recently sat down with us to share details and her reflections on the experience.

Q: How did you spend your summer and why? 

J: I was fortunate to spend the last week of my summer shadowing a general surgeon, Dr. Anthony Cutry at Saratoga Hospital in Saratoga Springs, NY. Dr. Cutry is a general surgeon and Vice Chair, Department of Surgery Saratoga Hospital Medical Group. I have always been really interested in biological sciences and early on I was specifically interested in neurosurgery and cardiovascular surgery. My goal in pursuing this experience was to be able to potentially hone in on what (at this moment in time) is most compelling to me about the medical field. I thought what better way to determine a potential interest than to pursue a hands-on learning opportunity. 

Q: Can you walk us through a typical day with Dr. Cutry?

J: I have learned that, in the life of a surgeon, no two days are ever the same! During my time shadowing Dr. Cutry, I observed surgeries including hernia repairs, colon polyp removal, thyroidectomy, a lymph node removal, an upper GI endoscopy, and a colostomy reversal. I also (with the permission of his patients) participated in office calls with Dr. Cutry and had the privilege of practicing on DaVinci Robotic Surgery simulator!

Q: What did this experience mean to you?

J:  This experience helped to solidify my belief that being a surgeon is something I want to pursue and that I can’t really see myself doing any other career outside of the medical field. It meant a lot to me that Dr. Cutry spent a good amount of time talking to me about being a surgeon and what is involved in a career where you dedicate yourself to caring for others.

Q: Do you have any advice for your peers? 

J: I would encourage my peers to capitalize on school and summer breaks to seek out hands-on learning opportunities where you can further explore ideas, interests, and passions. I would also encourage my fellow classmates to enter into an immersive learning experience with an open mind; when I began shadowing Dr. Cutry, I was open to the idea that this might reveal to me that surgery isn’t for me (turned out to be the opposite!). I think having an open mindset and being willing to do something that is out of your comfort zone can be more rewarding that you might think and may allow you to find something you truly love.

Q: Is there anything else you’d like to share, Johanna?

J: I am grateful that The White Mountain School has classes such as Anatomy and Physiology, which includes Wilderness First Responder (WFR) certification and activities such as FIRST Robotics which supports STEM education and immersive learning. I think having hands-on STEM opportunities, especially in high schools, really shapes who students will become and how they approach problems.

Campaign Celebration

Parents, alumnae/i, trustees, and friends of The White Mountain School gathered at the Boston Museum of Science on September 19 to celebrate the success of Now is the Time. The Campaign for White Mountain in support of White Mountain’s strategic plan: Our Vision for the Future. Guests shared conversations about the tremendous impact the Campaign has for our community with renovations of classrooms, support for Student-Driven Inquiry and the construction of the new dormitory.  

Deborah Lowham P’18 ’20, Chair of the Board of Trustees, opened the evening, welcoming guests to the celebration. She highlighted the success of the Campaign noting it surpassed the $6.8M goal with a grand total of $7.3M. Deborah introduced John Drew, Head of School.


John remarked on the impact the Campaign has at the school on a daily basis, “The legacy of this campaign is already built into the fabric of the school.  Students benefit every day from a welcoming place for Morning Meeting in the beautiful Lovejoy Chapel, or multiple opportunities to work closely with faculty in the Wing renovations of the Learning Center or the Inquiry, Innovation and Impact Lab.” He continued, “I believe that there is a path coming into focus illuminating how the historic strength of St. Mary’s in the Mountains and The White Mountain School will dovetail with some new ideas to produce the next chapter for our School that will serve students to be successful in a changing world.”

Closing the remarks for the evening, Debby Logan McKenna ‘69, Trustee and Chair of the Advancement Committee, thanked all those who had contributed to the success of the Campaign with a nod to the future sharing this thought, “It is essential that we continue to move forward as a school community and to continue this success.  To that end, I am pleased to announce the theme of this year’s Annual Fund effort is to Carry the Momentum Forward. Together we can continue to achieve great success.”

Colonial Theatre Event

By: Leah Boch, Faculty

On September 13, after our first full week of classes, 27 students loaded onto two busses to make the short trip down the road to the beautiful and historic Colonial Theater in downtown Bethlehem to watch the Women’s Adventure Film Tour which features some of the world’s most inspiring women in adventure through 7 short films which showcase real stories about women from a variety of cultures and sports around the world – from running a marathon across 7 continents to cliff diving.

This was the first official outing of the year hosted by The Backcountry Sisters, our female in the outdoors affinity group. The event was open to the entire community and students of all genders joined us for an evening of inspiring stories. We were welcomed into the theater by our very own Head of School, John Drew, since the White Mountain School was co-sponsor of the event. Our students were surrounded by other outdoor enthusiasts from the local community as we all settled into to enjoy a collection of short, but powerful films. 

Over the course of the evening, we watched as women overcame hardships, connected in new ways with their native lands, and challenged themselves to stretch their limits all while finding joy in the communities they built around the activities they love. When we left the theater, we were greeted by the crispness of the fall air in the White Mountains. As we walked back to the busses, students animatedly chatted about their favorite films of the evenings and the awe-inspiring stories they had witnessed. For me, the story that will stick with me the longest was the group of Maasai women who alongside a small group of American women summited Mt. Kenya. The Maasai culture is deeply patriarchal and many of the women in the film had little to no control over their own lives. As the advisor of Backcountry Sisters, watching that film made me feel extremely grateful to be in a community that thinks thoughtfully about how to best support all of the student’s identities in all facets of their lives at The White Mountain School.


Frost Seminar

The White Mountain School has a longstanding connection with one of the world’s beloved poets, Robert Frost. From his days as a visiting poet on our campus to hosting the annual Frost Place summer programs, his presence and the landscape that inspired his poetry is still very much a part of The White Mountain School.

Since 2011 The White Mountain School has been the host of two Frost Place summer programs. In July, White Mountain hosted the Conference on Poetry and most recently the Frost Place Poetry Seminar from August 4 to August 10. White Mountain is a perfect venue for this intensive poetry camp for the writers in residence who come to campus each summer for workshops, lectures, and readings. Each day begins with faculty readings.  In the afternoon there are workshops and one-on-one sessions with mentors who review and advise the writers’ work. Every evening readings take place in the Henry Holt Barn at the Frost Place. “Listening to poets read their work in the barn, you can almost feel Frost’s presence…”Kyle Potvin, the Hyla Brook Group.

The Frost Place’s mission is to provide a permanent home and museum for poets and poetry while honoring the legacy of Robert Frost and encouraging the creation and appreciation of poems.  Frost Place partners with organizations that have similar goals, and it is their hope that these partnerships will help reach a broader audience for poetry in many diverse communities. Faculty members are nationally recognized poets including directors of small presses, winners of top prizes, and recipients of  Fellowships, including the Guggenheim, among others. In addition to the programs at White Mountain, The Frost Place hosts a conference for teachers called “The Conference on Poetry and Teaching.” Dartmouth College supports a residency program at the Frost Place.

Frost bought the Franconia farm in 1915.  It was at the farm where he wrote some of his most enduring poems, including “The Mending Wall,” “The Road Not Taken,” and “The Gift Outright,” which he read at the inauguration of President John F. Kennedy in 1961. The Town of Franconia created a nature trail on the property to show the inspiration Frost drew from nature. There are plaques along the way featuring Frost’s poetry. This “Poetry Trail” is known to a small community of poetry buffs. Aspiring poets who travel there draw tremendous inspiration.

White Mountain is fortunate to have access and connections to The Frost Place and their programs. Becky Beno, White Mountain faculty member, who serves on the Board of Directors at The Frost Place  comments, “White Mountain has enjoyed a really wonderful relationship with The Frost Place through the years.” Becky helps promote and facilitate programs and volunteer opportunities for White Mountain students at the Frost Place. This past  May, for the first time, The Frost Place sponsored a poetry reading for young poets in area schools. Becky introduced the idea and was instrumental in organizing it. It was called “Early Frost: A Celebration of Young Poets.” Three White Mountain student poets were invited to participate and read their poems during the evening poetry reading in the Holt Barn. This coming year there are plans for a poetry competition for youth who live in  Franconia Notch. Becky and others at White Mountain also promote National Poetry Month at the School. During the month, many Morning Meetings relate to the art of poetry with emphasis on poems read by students. In 2018 and 2019 students also took part in a community poetry reading at the Bethlehem Public Library.

In 1950  Robert Frost spent a week at St. Mary’s in the Mountains, now the White Mountain School,  as poet-in-residence. He had been invited by Ms. Jenks, St. Mary’s fifth head of school from 1944-1959.  She urged him to teach several classes and he sat with her at the Head’s table for meals. With our great heritage, tradition of poetry, and Field Courses like Place-Based Writing: The White Mountains, The White Mountain School remains committed to our legacy of inspiring young writers and writers and poets.



Orientation Trips 2019



Students left White Mountain on  Orientation Trips on Monday, September 1 for three-day adventures all over Northern New Hampshire.  They took to the woods, waterways and rock faces for three days, returning for Sign The Book on the evening of Wednesday, September 4.  All went well on the trips despite the challenging weather.  Their energy was palpable – they returned with stories of triumph through evening thunderstorms, reaching the top of their very first rock climb, or taking on a Class II rapid in a kayak despite their fear of fast-moving water. What a way to begin the year! 

Orientation serves as a way to introduce students to The White Mountain School experience, making new friends in the process. The program  inspires growth, team-building and working towards a common goal within a small community environment. We value the opportunity Orientation Trips provide for students to challenge themselves and each other to reach their goals and create new ones as they approach the first day of classes.

Gabriel Kiritz, who joined the White Mountain staff Summer 2019 as Director of Outdoor Education, shared, “Field expeditions have shown me the power, beauty, and challenges of living thoughtfully and compassionately within a small, intentional community.”  He did a great job organizing the 12 trips including:

Backpacking – Backpacking trips in White Mountain National Forest explored a beautiful section of the Appalachian Trail.  The two groups traveled in opposite directions on a section of trail between the Zealand Trailhead and the Ethan Pond Trailhead. Trip highlights included breathtaking views from Zeacliff Outlook and Zealand Valley and pristine mountain lakes.

Canoeing – Two groups explored Umbagog Lake, a remote body of water straddling the Maine-New Hampshire state line. Three days were spent paddling on the lake, exploring coves and islands hoping to sight moose, otter, great blue herons and bald eagles. The 34 isolated campsites around Umbagog Lake are accessible only by boat. 

Community Service – This group focused on giving back to our local community through various service projects.  They worked on trail maintenance with the Ammonoosuc Conservation Trust while camping in Franconia.  They spent time with the Boys and Girls Club helping with their after school program and staffed a golf  tournament with New England Disabled Sports.

Day Hiking –  Pinkham Notch was one of  three destinations. The base camp offered access to various hiking trails. The other groups explored hiking trails in Franconia Notch and  Waterville Valley including two treeless summits – despite the relatively low elevations – or to one of many waterfalls.

Rock Climbing – Known as the  “Granite State”, New Hampshire has a large number of beautiful, climbable cliffs of all sizes. The White Mountain School is situated in one of the most famous locations for rock climbing in the United States, including the climbing mecca of North Conway and the famous Rumney Rocks and Echo Crag in Franconia Notch.  Even previous non-climbers can learn the basics of knot tying, belaying and climbing in a safe, fun environment. More experienced climbers had the opportunity to challenge themselves. 

Whitewater Kayaking – The Moore Reservoir served as a venue for practicing basic skills before heading to sections of the Androscoggin River, including the Errol rapids.

Mountain Biking –  Riders went to the  Kingdom Trails network in Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom to ride an excellent series of trails that offer a wide variety of mountain biking experiences, from high-speed double track trails to twisted, obstacle-filled single track. Situated on one of the more picturesque hills in Vermont, these trails wind through a wooded and pastoral setting. This system has trails for all levels of abilities, whether it’s the old farm roads and Nordic Trails for beginners; or tight, fast, flowing, singletrack for riders of all abilities.

Spotlight: Interview with James O’Connor

James O’Connor, a former White Mountain student recently contacted the Alumnae/i office to share a wonderful job opportunity for White Mountain alumnae/i. For the past two years, he has been guiding at YMCA Camp Menogyn in Grand Marais, Minnesota. At Menogyn they offer six-day to 50-day wilderness canoeing, backpacking, and rock climbing trips. James tells us it is a phenomenal place to start a career in guiding or outdoor education! He writes that it is an awesome community and he is honored to be a part of it.  It sounds very similar to White Mountain in terms of philosophy, mission, and programs.

James thinks – and we agree –  this is a perfect job opportunity for many alumnae/i who enjoyed the small community of White Mountain and outdoor offerings! Alumnae/i applying for the job need very little experience as training is done on-site.  Room and board is included. The position provides leadership experience in both a front country and backcountry context, experience working with children and youth from diverse backgrounds, group development strategies and conflict resolution techniques, and relevant certifications: CPR, First Aid, Wilderness First Responder Training, Red Cross Life Guarding or Wilderness Water Safety. The trail guide application should open up in October.  There are also summer intern programs for students 16-18.

 James can be reached directly

From the edge of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness in northeastern Minnesota, Menogyn is uniquely situated to provide access to some of the finest wilderness area in North America.  Generations of young lives have been transformed by a Menogryn experience. Through wilderness travel and environmental learning experiences, teens build leadership skills, gain confidence and explore extraordinary places.  MENOGYN (min0-jin) is from Ojibwe, “to grow fully.

The following is from the website:

Camp Menogyn, accredited by the American Camping Association, opened in 1922.  Our mission is simple: To provide transformational experience in a wilderness setting, emphasizing quality, personal growth and relationships.  We specialize in wilderness activities like canoeing, backpacking, rock climbing, dog sledding, cross-country skiing and snowshoeing. Respect is the foundation of all Menogryn sessions and trips.

  • Respect for self:  Respect begins by believing in yourself and your own capabilities.  At Menogyn we stress taking care of yourself and take responsibility for your actions.  
  • Respect for others: We emphasize goal setting, sharing and working together as a group to accomplish more collectively than would be possible individually.  We honor individual differences, believing that diversity presents many opportunities for learning and personal growth.
  • Respect for the environment:  Travel in the wilderness is conducted using “Leave No Trace” ethics and standards.
  • Respect for equipment:  We stress the importance of taking care of tools and equipment we use in the wilderness track.

“During my time at White Mountain, I was given multiple opportunities that are now the core of what my work revolves around – rock climbing, backcountry skiing, whitewater kayaking, and more importantly the risk management that goes these activities. Additionally, the White Mountain outdoor education programs, WFR (Wilderness First Responder) class, leadership opportunities such as Field Course student lead, dorm head, and the many undesignated roles that come with being a part of a small community.”

He also valued time to practice effective communication in small groups. “Numerous classes and extracurricular activities also helped me look at my life through different lenses and gave me space to be vulnerable and search for understanding. This was especially true when entering into discussions about race, gender, sexuality, and class and how those identities change the way we interpret and interact with the world. In working with people from different backgrounds, I have found it essential to form questions before judgment. White Mountain gave me that space to ask questions and look at my mistakes as learning opportunities.”

Any other information you would like to share?

I want to thank the teachers and staff that made my experience at White Mountain a positive and influential one. They make the School what it is by splitting their time between the classes they teach, other professional obligations, coaching after school sports, facilitating trips and activities on the weekend, and personally investing in students. While at White Mountain I saw many of my teachers as mentors. Spending time in and out of the classroom with them helped me to interrogate and form the life I was most passionate about. I left White Mountain a stronger and more empowered person than the version of me that entered and that wouldn’t have been possible without the support and investment of the teachers and staff. Thank you!

How did you get involved with Camp Menogyn?

After White Mountain, I took two NOLS semester courses to further my education in wilderness guiding, outdoor ed, and wilderness medicine. I knew I wanted to start a career in outdoor ed but I had no clue where to start. Luckily two of my instructors told me about YMCA Camp Menogyn, which had been where they started their careers. The following summer I started guiding for them leading intro-level trips for 12-15-year-old boys. Within a few weeks of being at Menogyn, I fell in love with the community and culture and loved watching the boys I brought on trail grow in confidence with the skills they learned and the relationships they formed. Working at Menogyn is an incredibly fulfilling place to work. As a guide and as a person I have grown and learned valuable skills that affect every aspect of my life.


Summer Professional Development at The White Mountain School, and Building a System for Teaching and Learning


What happens when you encourage faculty to explore what they hope students learn and how they hope to teach and assess? What happens when teachers are encouraged to imagine different ways of engaging students in thinking and learning — when those teachers are invited to design a teaching, learning and assessment (and oh yeah, grading) system that meets the needs of each learner. Well, when a group of The White Mountain School faculty opted in to spend an intensive week doing just that, the results were nothing short of extraordinary.

I knew the week had been a success when, in our closing circle, each of the faculty — in taking turns to share appreciation for one another — showed so clearly that they knew one another. This resonated strongly because we began the week with the central guiding question: “How can you be sure that you know your students?” This was our guiding question because regardless of what a teacher does, if they are to be truly successful in reaching their students, they must know them. In the appreciation circle, people spoke of the need for optimism, of acknowledging unearned privileges, of interrogating everything for implicit bias; people laughed and people wept. Why? We teach because we believe in capacity of young people, and when this group of faculty began to imagine the possibilities that exist in a competency-based learning environment — where constraints are loosened and teachers have permission to bring in more relevant and meaningful curricula — they saw the potential for truly transformative teaching and learning.  

Let me explain the tactical outcome of the week. Teachers, working off leading research — including but not limited to reDesign, CompetencyWorks and Marzano Research — built a clear tool for turning competency assessment into grades. Why does that matter? While the radical in me would love to stop giving grades altogether, I know that in order for there to be large-scale transition from traditional grading (where kids receive 0–100 scores that average away any details that would provide the “what next?” in their learning) to competency learning, we must keep grades simply because they will provide security for those who might be a bit more trepidatious. Consider keeping grades a concession, a concession for being able to teach and assess in a new system that truly allows us to be mission-driven. In other words, if keeping grades will allow students, families and colleges to allow us to teach in a competency environment, then so be it.

“I know grades matter, but I hope that in basing your grade more heavily on where you end up, you will be able to focus on what you need to do to get better at the target skills rather than the points you earn for each assignment. I hope you will feel freer to experiment and explore, to get things “wrong” and to discover how you learn, how you get better at something over time.”

So how does it work? Unlike traditional grading — averaging the averages of tests, quizzes, projects, etc to generate a percentage that we then convert into a letter grade — in this model, teachers identify 4–8 school-wide Essential Skills (transferrable and trans-disciplinary skills, such as communication and critical thinking) along with 3–5 disciplinary skills (such a “Tinker, Play and Investigate” for math or “Text selection and usage” for English). Note: while content remains incredibly important, it is a means and not an end; content is the medium through which students develop confidence and competence in the skills. We prioritize skills because they are transferrable and will be relevant to the student regardless of what they do for the rest of their life.

“Our goal is not to produce students who have memorized material but students who are curious and have the academic skills and habits that will allow them to pursue work they genuinely care about.”

Once the skills are identified, teachers create learning experiences in which students must use the skills. In an assessment, a number of the skills are assessed. Instead of averaging them all together, our grading system tracks how the student does in each separate skill separately. At the end of the semester, for example, a teacher will know how well a student does in each of the skills evaluated. Using Blackbaud’s new competency grade book (and we are proud to pilot their beta as early adopters), teachers and students will be able to click on each skill and see their score on that skill and all of the assignments that led to that score. Only at the end of the grading period will all of the scores from the competencies be averaged together.


How are the scores for each competency generated? In full disclosure, we spent hours talking about this together, and likely scores of hours individually thinking and wrestling with which model would be more mission-aligned. Despite there being no perfect model — should we us the overall average, n times, decaying average, recent score? — we opted to use the decaying average, which means that the most recent score accounts for 65% of the score for the competency and 35% comes from the previous score. While holes can be poked in this method (as they can be for each method), we opted for the decaying method because it articulates our belief that students will grow and improve over time, and thus how they are doing at the end of semester should be more heavily weighted.

While building the tool gave us tactical confidence in how we would convert our knowledge of the student into a letter grade, we each recognized that the tactical solution was likely the least important aspect of our work. More important, we — anyone involved in piloting this new grading system — each needed to be able to tell the story of why this matters. Any change requires a compelling reason to move from the safety of a conventional and known system to something new and different. We opted to, as suggested by Eric Hudson from Global Online Academy, have our change-leaders write a public narrative. Why? Writing a public narrative makes the change-process personal. Through the process of writing, one becomes empowered to become the agent of change. Furthermore, through writing, the author develops a deeper understanding of the process and product. Stay tuned for future sharing of the public narratives our faculty wrote. They are profound and compelling. 

Needless to say, I am feeling particularly thrilled to be part of The White Mountain School faculty. What a brave and caring group of educators!


Mike Peller

Assistant Head of School for Teaching and Learning

Student Summer Spotlight: Fatimata Cham ’19

News12 in the Bronx, NY, recently captured the inspiring story of our very own, Fatimata Cham ’19.  Watch the video and read more here.

49c9000e-f200-4d9d-811d-171d971a6a14Fatimata ’19, a four-year student, will leave behind an indelible legacy at The White Mountain School. A founding member of our Girl Up club, an organization founded by the United Nations in support of worldwide gender equity, Fatimata led our community with a sense of urgency and palpable passion when it came to issues of social justice. In acknowledgement of her impressive accomplishments, Fatimata was chosen out of thousands of applicants to be recognized as a Coca-Cola Scholar, earning herself a $20,000 scholarship to be used toward her college education. Fatimata will take that scholarship, along with her strong convictions and humble work ethic, to Lafayette College in the fall where she will begin her college career. Congratulations, Fatimata!

Faculty Summer Spotlight: Leah Boch, World Languages Department Chair

For Leah Boch, summer means two things: the culmination of months of dedicated endurance training and five weeks in Spain. A Spanish teacher at The White Mountain School and an avid endurance athlete, Leah is intentional about carving out time in the summer to embrace experiences that are deeply inspiring, personally gratifying, and a healthy challenge!

Leah closed out the month of June as she has done for the past few years, by competing in the annual White Mountains Triathlon in nearby Franconia, NH. Leah completed the Half Iron(wo)man distance (1.2 mile swim, 56 mile bike, and 13.1 mile run) in an impressive time of 6 hours, 41 minutes. Hours after her race, she jumped on a plane from Boston to Spain where she is spending her summer working with School Year Abroad, a high school study abroad program with over 50 years of experience connecting students to culturally-enriching experiences in China, France, Italy, and Spain. Leah’s work will focus on a five-week program in Zaragoza, Spain, where she will spend her days teaching language classes in the morning and engaging in activities with students in the afternoon.

As a Spanish teacher, Leah is grateful for the experience of living, teaching, and exploring within a culture that is so deeply tied to her teaching opportunities at White Mountain. When not teaching or engaging with students in the local culture, Leah has found time to do the thing she loves most: spending time outside. She writes, “I have been taking advantage of being abroad to connect with friends and to enjoy the mountains of Spain. I have spent time in the Pyrenees, hiking and canyoneering, and most recently I just returned from a weekend in Madrid where I spent time climbing in Cotos”.