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Teaching and Assessing What Matters (Part 1)

by Mike Peller, Assistant Head of School for Teaching and Learning

The world needs healing. The world needs healers. Fires continue to burn throughout the west, and more frequent and dangerous hurricanes hammer the southeast; our country is more politically divided than ever before; the nation is having a long-awaited reckoning on race; and, COVID-19 continues to ravage our country and the world. As an educator, as someone who works with high school students, and as someone who works at the nexus of the present and the future, I feel a need to address these urgent issues. Competency learning creates the space for this important work to happen.

A few weeks ago, I shared with families the why and how of our competency-grading pilot in a webinar. We are currently starting the second year of a pilot program to reimagine teaching, assessment, and grading so that it can become truly mission-aligned. Notice that while we are piloting a grading system, we are, in fact, doing it so that we can align all aspects of the teaching and learning process with our mission: what we teach, how we teach, what feedback we give, and how grades are generated. We are asking important questions. How might a grading system encourage student-driven inquiry and engagement? How might a system of grading inspire students to live lives of curiosity, courage, and compassion? (If you missed the talk, you can view it here). While the presentation got quite granular in exploring the how of competency, the focus was primarily on the why. Why do we care so much about competency learning and the Essential Skills and Habits? 

In terms of the why of competency education, I will share three stories that focus on student learning. This first story illustrates the insidious nature of traditional grading. This is a story about a student named Sam. Sam was my student over ten years ago. She was a hard-working and gritty student. It was nearing the end of the semester. She came to my office hours and said: “Mr. Peller, I have an 89.6%. What can I do to turn this into an A-?” Operating within the system of traditional grading, this is not an atypical question by any means. It is a question Sam had learned to ask in a game of school she had been taught to play. So often, in a case like this, teachers either hide behind the numbers—“Sorry, Sam, the fact is you are 0.4% short of that grade.”—or they create some disconnected extra credit assignment that values compliance over learning. What is so wrong with this?

First, in terms of the 0-100 scale, do we really think humans have the precision to decipher between that many gradations. Just to be clear, a score of 89.6% assumes that humans can distinguish between one thousand gradations in the quality of student work. The research on grading shows vast bias and inconsistency in grading between teachers. Simply put, a score of 89.6% assumes far more accuracy than a human could ever provide. Second, what did Sam’s question about a better grade have to do about learning or improvement? All of the important information about what she needed to improve on was averaged away. 

It was in a collection of moments like the one talking with Sam that I realized the need to confront the grading system. This system is insidious because it sets up the teacher as a gatekeeper or sorter. Sam was not wrong to ask for an arbitrary bump in her grade. She was playing within the system of traditional grading. What I realized then, and what so many educators who truly care about student-driven learning have also realized, is that the system encourages students to act in this way, and thus it is the system that needs to change. Competency learning and competency grading provide an alternative that puts learning front and center and puts the teacher as a mentor versus an evaluator.

Okay, okay. Being student-centered and putting learning first may sound nice, but aren’t we risking something in deviating from how school has always been done? (Imagine asking someone in the tech industry or in marketing or in finance or, for that matter, in any industry other than education: Why are you trying new things? Why change? Just do it how it has always been done). When asked, in the context of diverging from the traditional grading system: “Why do something differently?” I respond: “Because it is best for the students, and best for the world.” Why? Let’s first remember that our educational system is built on an outdated factory model that cares more about efficiency than efficacy, which cares more about sorting kids into buckets of “smartness” than student learning. For too many students, the schools they attend—the very institutions that should foster learning—get in the way of meaningful learning while also stripping away the joy of following one’s curiosity. Why? Almost every school throughout the country is based on a 125-year-old factory model, a model born out of the industrial revolution. Over 125 years have passed since our current version of school was started. New industries have emerged, and the industries that have remained have needed to change and adapt significantly. All except the education sector. All except schools. The impact on kids is rather bleak: rather than flourishing, most students in schools across the country are simply trying to endure school. How devastating!

Instead of enduring, schools must create conditions such that students develop as flexible and creative problem solvers, who find meaning, purpose, and, dare I say, joy in their work. Schools create experiences through which students are actively encouraged to ask the questions: Who am I? What matters to me? How do I make sense of the world around me? Returning to the divided country and world in which we live—with a global pandemic wreaking havoc on our health care and economy, with systemic racism and other forms of oppression that need to be broken, and with such political turmoil that highlights a divided country—we need students to have the intellectual and emotional endurance to solve the truly gnarly problems that are literally right in front of them. Schools need to shift the focus from knowing to doing. Imagine this: Let’s finally see and embrace students for the highly capable thinkers that they are and encourage them to be part of the solution. Therefore, what we teach and what we assess must match the core competencies students need to become the thinkers, leaders, and community members the world so desperately needs. 

That gets into the how. The shift may appear small, though the impact is profound. The competency grading system focuses on skills (critical thinking, research, communication, etc.) versus performance type (tests, homework, projects). Rather than focusing on how a student does on tests, homework, papers, etc., in this pilot, the emphasis is entirely on the skills. For example, the pilot focuses on things such as written and verbal communication, building an argument, or collaborating effectively. Because there is so much choice in our learning and differentiation in the classes, this allows us to differentiate instruction to engage each student in the skill in which they need the most support. Most importantly, these are skills that matter independent of what a student may be doing at White Mountain or beyond, and since measurement is a proxy for values, we must measure what matters.

Let me conclude with the final stories of teaching and learning.

This second story is a story about Dan, a good friend, and former colleague. Dan was a teacher at Nueva, where I worked prior to The White Mountain School. Nearing the end of the semester, I went to visit his class. Students were busy at work. I asked a few kids what they were working on. The first student shared he was creating a podcast to demonstrate “use of evidence.” The next student shared she was writing an essay to demonstrate “argumentation.” I went up to Dan right away. I had never heard students so actively describe what they were doing in the context of what they wanted to show evidence of. Dan said, smiling and humbly: “Each kid is ending the year with different growth areas. They are aware of what skills and competencies—up to this point—they have demonstrated mastery. So they are choosing the skills they’ve yet to master to focus on at the end of the year.” Rather than Sam—the student from the first story—saying, “what can I do to get an A-,” totally removed from learning, these students knew themselves what to do to improve and designed learning experiences to directly provide evidence. That is authentic, self-directed learning! However, if I were to critique this learning experience, it was that it was still quite siloed in terms of disciplinary thinking. We know students will be operating in a highly diverse, highly global, highly connected, and highly interdisciplinary world. What might learning look like that takes that into account?

The third story illustrates an even higher level of self-directed, interdisciplinary learning. For context: to end White Mountain’s school year last year (as we will this year as well), rather than exams, or major projects, we asked students to curate digital portfolios in which students collected artifacts of their learning that demonstrated their development in our Essential Skills and Habits and then ‘defend’ their portfolio in a Presentation of Learning. The third story is about a White Mountain student who, to protect their privacy, we will call Bob. Bob was a junior with aspirations of going to a prestigious university. When I first explained the idea of a digital portfolio, he said: “why don’t we just take exams to show what we know?” He somewhat begrudgingly set forth to build his portfolio. However, when Bob presented his portfolio to a panel of teachers, he quickly saw the value in the experience. To highlight his development in Critical Thinking (one of our Essential Skills), Bob selected his work from an essay he wrote for his English class, in which he answered: What does America mean to me? In addition to the essay, he created a painting (because he is also a talented artist) to illustrate the ways in which he has grappled with understanding the multiple American identities. It was powerful. He then juxtaposed the type of critical thinking he did for this project with critical thinking he did for finding eigenvalues in his linear algebra class. This form of meta-cognition—in which students are thinking about their thinking—and asked to consider the multiple ways across multiple subjects in which they employ our Essential Skills and Habits develops in students a transferable and multi-disciplinary understanding of how one thinks and how one solves problems. Then, during Bob’s Presentation of Learning, faculty asked probing questions about Bob’s work, examined opportunities for growth, and found every opportunity—of which there were many—to celebrate his work.

Bob, like many students, commented afterward that the digital portfolio and presentation of learning was harder than any exam. Why? They had to evaluate what mattered to them; they had to critically examine a body of their own work, and make choices about what they were most proud of; and in doing so, Bob, as well as the other students, were able to name areas where they have excelled as well as areas that they need to improve in.

Thinking back on the three stories of Sam, Dan, and Bob, I believe they show a progression of student agency.

  • Sam was an amazing student stuck in a traditional system. She was motivated to get good grades, but didn’t see how her learning and her grades were connected. 
  • Dan’s students ended their year knowing what they needed to do in that given class to improve, and had the agency to design learning experiences to do so.
  • Finally, Bob pulled artifacts from across all of his courses to curate a set of exemplary work demonstrating his strengths in our transdisciplinary skills. This is a student who knows himself as a dynamic learner with skills that can be used to solve the myriad and unforeseeable problems that he surely will need to solve.

And in thinking about that, let us return to the urgency of and motivation in doing this work. We need students to have the intellectual and emotional endurance to solve the gnarly problems in front of them. How does competency learning support that need?

By focusing on transferable skills over content, it loosens the constraints regarding what we teach, what students read, and what projects they engage in. It enables schools to unapologetically engage in work outside and alongside the canons and focus on topics instead, such as climate change and anti-racism. Competency learning in and of itself does not do that, but it creates the potential for it.

Part 2 of “Teaching and Assessing What Matters” will examine specific examples from the fall in how teachers have created conditions and learning experiences to explore critical topics such as climate change and race in America.)


If you are interested in reading some of the articles that inform and support this work, as well as peruse some of the organizations helping to lead it, I provided some links below. 

Articles:

Books:

  • The End of Average, Todd Rose
  • 21st Century Skills, Bernie Trilling and Charles Fadel
  • Four-Dimensional Education: The Competencies Learners Need to Succeed, Charles Fadel, Maya Balik, and Bernie Trilling
  • Earth in Mind, David Orr

Organizations:


Founded in 1886 and set in the beautiful White Mountains of northern New Hampshire, The White Mountain School is a gender-inclusive, college-preparatory boarding and day school for 140 students grades 9-12/PG. Our mission is to be a school of inquiry and engagement. Grounded in an Episcopal heritage, White Mountain prepares and inspires students to lead lives of curiosity, courage, and compassion.

 

The White Mountain School Named “2020 Partner of the Year” by Oliver Scholars

The White Mountain School is pleased to announce that Oliver Scholars has named the School its “2020 Partner School of the Year.” Founded in 1984, Oliver Scholars prepares high-achieving Black and Latinx students from underserved New York City communities for success at top independent schools and prestigious colleges, with the goal of helping Oliver Scholars “realize their full potential and ultimately give back to the city, the nation, and the world.”

“This award was created to recognize Oliver Scholars Consortium Schools who have gone above and beyond to welcome and engage our scholars and their families. Your efforts to create a diverse, equitable, and inclusive school community have enhanced the educational experiences of our students and help to ensure their ongoing success,” wrote Oliver Scholars CEO Dr. Danielle R. Moss in an email to Head of School John Drew, informing him of the award. “Oliver Scholars is proud of its partnership with The White Mountain School, and our entire team looks forward to a continued partnership.”

White Mountain’s Office of Admission has partnered with and received student referrals from Oliver Scholars for over five years. Additionally, through the development, piloting, and the recent official launch of the new White Mountain Scholars Program—an in-house joint initiative between the Offices of Admission and Equity and Inclusion at the School for BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and people of color) identifying students in grades 9 and 10 from low-income backgrounds—White Mountain has increased collaboration and partnership with Oliver Scholars and other access programs.

“As an Episcopal school, we are charged to strive for an equitable and inclusive community not only committed to education, but to action, working to affect meaningful change,” said Head of School John Drew. “Our society will need to be healed and repaired in all sorts of ways in response to our national reckoning on racism, the inequities made so clear by the COVID-19 pandemic, and by the environmental challenges we face. We’ll find progress and also joy in building a school community that addresses these issues, weaving together people and ideas that lift each other up. Strengthening partnerships between organizations like the Oliver Scholars and The White Mountain School are part of that weaving together.”

White Mountain was recognized as “2020 Parter of the Year” in a virtual ceremony. Student Council President Arli Moyao-Ramirez ’21, who is both an Oliver Scholar and a White Mountain Scholar, presented the award to the School accompanied by remarks.

“In general, being a first-generation, low-income student of color and navigating a predominantly white institution can be difficult. With initiatives like the White Mountain Scholars Program, which was implemented this past school year, the transition to the school became much easier for students coming from underprivileged backgrounds. It provided them with additional resources and mentorship from older students that have gone through similar challenges,” said Arli. “I’ve observed how, in the past three years, I’ve been supported tremendously. Now I’ll be applying to colleges and thinking about what I want to do with my future. I spent these last six months reflecting on how I’ve grown as a person, as a student, and as a leader, and all of this is due to my community.”

For more information about the White Mountain Scholars Program, please contact Matthew Toms or, if your inquiry is also admissions-related, Ashley Willumitis. To learn more about Oliver Scholars, please visit oliverscholars.org.


Founded in 1886 and set in the beautiful White Mountains of northern New Hampshire, The White Mountain School is a gender-inclusive, college-preparatory boarding and day school for 140 students grades 9-12/PG. Our mission is to be a school of inquiry and engagement. Grounded in an Episcopal heritage, White Mountain prepares and inspires students to lead lives of curiosity, courage, and compassion.

The White Mountain Scholars Program offers an empowering, engaging, and affirming environment and programming for Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) identifying students from low-income backgrounds in the United States, starting in grades 9 and 10, so that they may unlock their unique and compelling potential and fully access the vision and promise of an education at The White Mountain School rooted in curiosity, courage, and compassion. 

White Mountain Scholars Program Debuts at The White Mountain School

After a successful pilot year in the 2019-2020 academic year, The White Mountain School has officially launched the White Mountain Scholars Program, which aims to offer an empowering, engaging, and affirming environment and programming for Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) identifying students from low-income backgrounds in the United States, starting in grades 9 and 10.

“Our White Mountain Scholars are a powerful group. On a daily basis I see them embody our mission of encouraging curiosity, courage, and compassion,” said Head of School John Drew. “I am grateful to all who worked with care to make this necessary new program a reality at the School. I am eager to see the program continue to grow and develop in order to better serve scholars, and to see how this program helps us get closer to being the school we aspire to be.”

Managed as a joint initiative between the School’s Office of Admission and the Office of Equity and Inclusion, the program endeavors to provide scholars with access to diverse, program-specific resources and tailored experiences at the School. These are designed to guide scholars toward unlocking their unique and compelling potential and finding genuine and sustained belonging, meaning, and joy in their White Mountain experience. Upon graduating from White Mountain and the program, scholars should be able to apply and/or scale-up individualized and holistic strategies developed during their time in the program for continued success and fulfillment in the academic, emotional, and social areas of their lives throughout college and beyond.

In addition to eliminating or significantly reducing the tuition burden for scholars and their families, the program offers a number of benefits to students, including additional financial assistance beyond the cost of tuition, such as several different stipend options for increased access to experiential opportunities; early fall arrival and program-specific orientation; mentors for younger scholars and mentorship and leadership opportunities for older scholars; and regular and more frequent meetings with key administrators at the School.

“Over the years, the need for this type of program has become readily apparent and we are excited about this program and the important and necessary ways it supports the student experience at White Mountain School.,” said Matthew Toms, program director, and Allison Letourneau, associate head of school for enrollment management, in a joint statement. “The White Mountain Scholars Program reflects the School’s institutional commitment to equity and inclusion and to ensuring that each and every student has full access to our mission.”

During the 2019-2020 academic year, the program was piloted with three students. For the 2020-2021 academic year, seven new students joined the program, and the School seeks to add approximately five new students to the program each fall eventually. Despite being a new initiative, the acceptance rate for fall 2020 was highly competitive, with only 10.7 percent of applicants being admitted.

Though self-referred or consultant-referred students are considered for eligibility on a case-by-case basis, the majority of applicants are currently referred by one of the School’s partner access programs, including: Beacon Academy, Esperanza Academy, Harlem Lacrosse, Inspiring Young Minds (IYM), Lawrence Family Development Charter School (LFDCS), New Jersey SEEDS, Oliver Scholars, and The Wight Foundation. The School is open to new organizational partnerships with other partner access programs throughout the U.S. Please email Ashley Willumitis, associate director of admission, if your organization is interested in partnering with the School on the White Mountain Scholars Program.

For more information about the White Mountain Scholars Program, please contact Matthew Toms or, if your inquiry is also admissions-related, Ashley Willumitis.


Founded in 1886 and set in the beautiful White Mountains of northern New Hampshire, The White Mountain School is a gender-inclusive, college-preparatory boarding and day school for 140 students grades 9-12/PG. Our mission is to be a school of inquiry and engagement. Grounded in an Episcopal heritage, White Mountain prepares and inspires students to lead lives of curiosity, courage, and compassion.

The White Mountain Scholars Program offers an empowering, engaging, and affirming environment and programming for Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) identifying students from low-income backgrounds in the United States, starting in grades 9 and 10, so that they may unlock their unique and compelling potential and fully access the vision and promise of an education at The White Mountain School rooted in curiosity, courage, and compassion.

Introducing the BIPOC Alumnae/i Mentorship Program and Advisory Council

by Matthew Toms, Director of the Student Assistance and White Mountain Scholars Programs

Over the past 17 years directing our Student Assistance Program, The White Mountain School’s in-house counseling and support program, and more recently running the new White Mountain Scholars Program, I frequently hear the specific and unique challenges that students who identify as BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and people of color) at the School face. While we have worked to address many of those concerns and challenges (and have a lot of work to do!), one persistent challenge is hiring and retaining faculty of color. Our BIPOC students frequently do not see themselves reflected back to them in their teaching faculty and advisors. The challenge and impact of this cannot be understated. We continue to work on changing this reality, and I am hopeful that some of the strategies and ideas we have moving forward will lead to impactful and lasting change in this realm. 

I have been thinking for some time about how we can better support our BIPOC students in the face of this current reality and, in this process, reached out to a few BIPOC alumnae/i, informally, to brainstorm ideas. In this community of alumnae/i, there is a wealth of knowledge, experiences, and wisdom about navigating a predominantly white institution (PWI). While at the School, our BIPOC alumnae/i developed and honed the racial stress coping skills and strategies to survive and, for many, thrive at White Mountain.

Over the spring, I reached out to Kim Cooper, our director of equity and inclusion, to pitch the idea of engaging BIPOC alumnae/i in the hopes that some would be willing to serve as mentors for our current BIPOC students. After doing a couple of listening sessions with BIPOC alumnae/i, we put out a limited solicitation for participation in a pilot mentorship program for current BIPOC students. The response was overwhelming! So many alumnae/i were eager to mentor, guide, and support current BIPOC students. After meeting regularly with Ericia “Rece” Bramwell ’16, Chantal Stephenson ’17, Darius Borges ’16, and Fawaz Okoya ’18, we developed a framework for this pilot program. By the end of the summer, we had current BIPOC students matched with BIPOC alumnae/i.  Though the program has only recently begun, I regularly hear from many mentees how appreciative they are for having these budding relationships with their mentors. 

This year, as it is a pilot program, we limited participation to only current White Mountain Scholars and mentors. The program consists of regular formal and informal touchpoints between mentors and mentees. The program will also include one retreat annually—either at White Mountain or another location—where we can all spend time and get to know each other and continue to build this foundation of support for current BIPOC students. In the absence of a pandemic, this will happen in person, which we are so excited for! In the meantime, we will have a couple of larger group Zoom meetings to get to know each other. Additionally, any interested BIPOC mentor can serve on a BIPOC Advisory Council that serves the School in making programmatic and directional recommendations to the senior administrative team and Board of Trustees. Next year, after we have worked out some of the kinks, we hope to open this program up to any current BIPOC student, domestic or international. 

I want to extend my deepest thanks and appreciation for all of the alumnae/i who have given so graciously of their time to play this role in the lives of the next generation of White Mountain BIPOC students. It really means a lot to these students. If you would be interested in playing this role in support of a current White Mountain student, please reach out to me directly at matthew.toms@whitemountain.org or to scott.hunt@whitemountain.org.


Founded in 1886 and set in the beautiful White Mountains of northern New Hampshire, The White Mountain School is a gender-inclusive, college-preparatory boarding and day school for 140 students grades 9-12/PG. Our mission is to be a school of inquiry and engagement. Grounded in an Episcopal heritage, White Mountain prepares and inspires students to lead lives of curiosity, courage, and compassion.

Student Life: Compassion and Engagement in a Crisis

by Nicole “Nicki” Shedd, Assistant Head of School for Student Life

As we leaned into the spring—reeling emotionally from the sudden need to close campus for the spring and move to remote learning—we quickly realized that our students were suffering tremendous loss that would extend into the fall when they returned (we hoped!) to campus. Most of them grappled with the loss of senior traditions, graduation, family celebrations, athletic seasons, theater productions, and the cherished goodbyes with friends that they might never see again. Some of our students were tasked with managing their own studies while supporting the homeschooling of siblings, picking up jobs, and some dealt with isolation and emotional distress at levels they had never faced before. Not to be downplayed, all of our students managed this change while their daily support structure was unexpectedly stripped from them.

In this unfamiliar time, our students had to redefine where they would seek support when they no longer had the day to day support of the adults on campus. Our first priority was maintaining students’ opportunities to connect with trusted adults, one of the tools critical to their health and happiness. According to author Brooklyn Raney, “Research shows that just one trusted adult can have a profound effect on a child’s life, influencing that young person toward positive growth, greater engagement in school and community activities, better overall health, and prevention of risky and threatening behaviors. From educators to piano teachers, camp counselors to aunts and uncles, and athletic coaches to babysitters, every adult who encounters a young person holds the privilege of shaping that child’s life—and also the significant responsibility.”

Our Community Health Commitment, signed by the entire community this fall, asserts that “… life at The White Mountain School is centered around a safe, inclusive community that affirms the identities and experiences of everyone who lives, learns, and works on campus. Community life is central to the White Mountain experience and creating protocols that ensure our safety while bringing us together as a vibrant whole is of paramount importance to realizing that experience.” We are committed to providing experiences and opportunities that support our students’ ability to thrive during normal times and, once we are on the other side of the pandemic, navigating that new landscape. That support starts from a place of compassion and engagement, named in our mission statement, and includes equipping students with tools and skills necessary to reduce the physical and mental health impact of COVID-19. It’s important to recognize that we’re collectively walking through grief amid the COVID-19 pandemic. We all experience things differently; grief is very nuanced, and our responses and thresholds for discomfort are also different. While confusing and complex, this also puts those of us supporting others—especially in a small community such as this—in a position to help our students understand their grief, confusion, and frustration during a time of tangled emotions and stressors.
One of my favorite parts of community life at White Mountain is our advisory program. In all of my years in boarding schools, it is where I have found the most meaningful engagement with students and what has been the catalyst for connection with my advisees and their families that remains twenty years later. The advisory program provides a unique opportunity for personal and supportive collaboration between adults, students, and families. A student’s advisor acts as their advocate and supports them in all aspects of school life. Developing connections with each advisee and maintaining a real awareness of what is happening in each of their lives on a day-to-day basis is the essence of what it means to be an advisor at White Mountain. Daily check-ins before Morning Meeting, regular advisor meals, informal gatherings, trips, and frequent conversations help to build and maintain this important relationship. Advisors strive to cultivate an atmosphere of care, trust, and mutual respect in which students can openly discuss their successes, goals, concerns, and overall experience at the School.

We began to lean into our advisory program over the summer, primarily as a means of creating and maintaining connections with students and families. But also to lay the foundation for a year when we knew that students would need a trusted adult on campus as they navigated the mental, emotional, and physical toll of adjusting to a different style of learning, living residentially, engaging with peers, and processing the trauma, that has for some, exacerbated some of the tricky moments that our students are grappling with during their teenage years. According to the World Health Organization, “Adolescence is a unique and formative time. Promoting psychological well-being and protecting adolescents from adverse experiences and risk factors that may impact their potential to thrive are critical for their well-being during adolescence and for their physical and mental health into adulthood.”
Advisory dinners are an important part of how we create community at the School. In fact, it could be argued that sharing a meal with our students may be the single most important part of our Student Life curriculum. It is especially valuable in our schedule’s frenetic pace that we prioritize time to simply be together. A shared meal signals that we value and respect each other and that it is important to us to spend together. The benefits from strengthening our advisory groups through shared meals can include better communication skills, improved self-esteem, and a protection against negative social dynamics. We set our phones aside and share the stories that shape our lives; we laugh, we joke, and, most importantly, listen. We teach our students that sharing a meal with people you care about is a symbol of forgiveness, togetherness, and a shared understanding of the things that tie us together. It is a signal of coming together, a time of reflection and offering gratitude, and creating friendships. This was once a practice that we observed three times per year. In this year of need for increased connectedness, we have increased the frequency of these dinners to once per month.

We have partnered with The Social Institute, a national company that uses an online platform for exploring social and emotional learning (SEL). From their website: “The Social Institute (TSI) is a gamified, online learning platform that empowers students to navigate their social world — social media and technology — to fuel their health, happiness, and future success. By reinforcing character strengths like empathy, integrity, and teamwork and by showcasing their role models (from student leaders to U.S. Olympians), we use a relevant, positive approach to inspire students to make positive, high character choices.” SEL is important in school communities because our brains require social and emotional health to learn and develop. Really digging into the work of SEL requires connection, which one could argue is more readily available in a residential school setting, where adults have chosen to live a lifestyle in which they live and learn alongside their students.

In the current climate, our students are dealing with more than just a pandemic; they are weathering a storm of isolation, of racial injustice, of COVID-19, of political intolerance. As we work with our students and our own families to understand this complex environment, it is more important than ever to understand, appreciate, value, and respect each other. Through this work, our community will continue to practice weaving compassion into our daily lives while practicing radical hope and acceptance. The work that we have been and will continue to do with The Social Institute consists of one tool in a toolbox. Our equity and inclusion work, work in Morning Meetings, advisory groups, the dorms, the Learning Center, Student Assistance Program, in classes, and on athletic team and in co-curricular groups are also tools in the toolbox. As always, the guiding principle for our work is connection, community, and relationships. It’s about connecting kids to peers and adults and making them feel safe and secure as we lean into the hard things. And there will, no doubt, continue to be hard things this year. It’s next-to-impossible to expect teaching and learning to occur in a crisis without attending to our emotions. It’s important to normalize emotions and give students creative ways to have outlets when things are hard.

It is hard to effectively tend to our emotional health if we neglect our physical health—I know that I function best if I squeeze in a quick run or walk outdoors when I’m feeling stressed or overwhelmed. In his powerful work about the eye-opening discrepancy between today’s children and time spent in the outdoors, child advocacy expert Richard Louv argues that the lack of nature in the lives of today’s screen-dependent generation has created a nature-deficit. Louv attributes this deficit to concerning childhood trends, such as a rise in behavioral issues, anxiety, obesity, attention disorders, and depression. Leveraging our enviable geographic location, we have the distinct advantage of getting kids outdoors often, meeting them where they are in terms of individual comfort and ability while allowing them to explore the ways in which they want to connect to this beautiful place.

We have used the challenges of the fall to reimagine how we engage students and keep them active in our athletic and co-curricular program, in our on-campus Orientation Trips, and by building on the enthusiasm around our new Outing Club. The fall athletics and co-curriculars program, which is critical to the community-building and camaraderie that we prioritize at White Mountain, was implemented using remote and hybrid models-offering daily activities, both in-person and remote, for our first four weeks before switching to our formal athletics and co-curricular program. The program included activities such as rock climbing, yoga, building workshops, mindfulness, fishing, running, mountain biking, photography, chess, current events, drawing, and archery. We believe that our afternoon programming, Orientation activities, and Outing Club programming are an essential part of our sustaining students’ mental and physical health, and are committed to providing robust and inviting programming that is holistic in its approach to meeting the varied needs of our students.

As the waves of the COVID-19 pandemic begin to wane, we will not vividly remember our dorm and campus work jobs, our crew shifts, the content from classes, what the weekend activities were, or how delicious the meals served to us in the Dining Hall were. What we will remember are the relationships we have formed with those around us. Most anywhere you go on campus, you can see that students and faculty are engaged with and genuinely care about each other. Students and adults risk vulnerability here and do things that they might not attempt in another community. We can do this because our culture supports an environment where people can feel safe and cared about. We work hard to build trust, to listen to each other, and celebrate with each other. We cheer for each other when things are going well and support each other when things are tough. Our community leads with being gracious, and I believe that this is a more gentle high school experience in terms of judgment and rigid student cliques that exclude others. Being intentional about creating that kind of community is what compassion looks like and separates us from other school communities.


Founded in 1886 and set in the beautiful White Mountains of northern New Hampshire, The White Mountain School is a gender-inclusive, college-preparatory boarding and day school for 140 students grades 9-12/PG. Our mission is to be a school of inquiry and engagement. Grounded in an Episcopal heritage, White Mountain prepares and inspires students to lead lives of curiosity, courage, and compassion.

Difficult and Necessary Work

by Kim Cooper, Director of Equity, Inclusion, and Justice

Over the past five months, students, alumnae/i, parents, staff, and faculty have frequently asked about The White Mountain School’s commitment to equity, inclusion, and justice. Sometimes the question is: why aren’t you doing more? Other times the question is: why are we doing this? Regardless of the angle of approach, those words—equity, inclusion, and justice—are at the tip of all our tongues, at the center of all our questions. Each time I am asked why White Mountain is engaging in the work of equity, inclusion, and justice, I feel compelled to answer like this: because we must. We must engage in this work not only because the world needs us to, but also because we have written it into the mission of our School: “White Mountain prepares and inspires students to lead lives of curiosity, courage, and compassion.” Curiosity, courage, and compassion are foundational to the success of equity, inclusion, and justice. We need curiosity so that we can learn about world views other than our own, so that we are compelled to look outside our own lived experiences. We need courage to reflect critically upon those lived experiences, to acknowledge that what we have always known may not be the only truth, and then to be courageous enough to speak a new truth. We need compassion because, without it, our curiosity and courage are in vain; compassion, when wed with curiosity and courage, turns to empathy, which we need in this fight for justice.

My approach to this work derives from what I’ve learned from reflecting back on my own upbringing and educational experience. I didn’t grow up talking about race—or any other identifier at that. As a family, we would sometimes watch the news during dinner, and I remember political headlines popping up then disappearing on the screen. I don’t remember if my parents ever commented on the news; if they did, I wonder if it was just in hushed whispers to themselves, not wanting to bring my siblings and me into the folds of what was deemed inappropriate. We lived in a small, mostly white town in New Hampshire, and I was raised by parents who also grew up in small, mostly white towns as well. They were not practiced in talking about systems of oppression, about what the political headlines on the nightly news really meant, or about why we lived in mostly white towns.

I fell in love with reading at an early age, and I remember my favorite books in middle school were written by Mildred D. Taylor, a Black woman: Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry; The Road to Memphis; and Let the Circle Be Unbroken. I devoured these books. I read and reread them in a way that I haven’t done with any book since. And yet, I didn’t have the language to process what I was reading, to understand that the stories of these characters didn’t just live in the pages of my favorite novels: they actually lived all around me. 

This trend continued throughout high school. I still loved reading, and my teachers often suggested extra books for me to read outside of class. One was The Autobiography of Malcolm X. There are pictures of me reading this book, my lips pursed, eyebrows tense: what was 15-year-old me thinking while I read that book? How was it that I could have read Malcolm’s story and still not understood the depth of the racist world I lived in? In high school, I would go on to read Toni Morrison, Ralph Ellison, and Zora Neale Hurston, all Black writers who were telling me explicitly what it meant to be Black in America; and yet, I wasn’t listening. I didn’t understand. How could that have been possible? 

What I’m learning now is that my teachers and my peers were never willing to have a conversation with me about the world beyond the books. The racism that I learned about in high school was a thing of the past; it was a pain so beautifully drawn by the magic of Toni Morrison, and it was there simply for me to read about, not something for me to examine in the life I lead or in the communities in which I lived. It wasn’t until I was twenty-four years old and in graduate school—called out by my peers and professor for something quite racist—that I understood I too had race, and that race did not just exist in the books I read but in me, and in the very white world I lived in. Now, with what I have learned and what I am continuing to learn, I know that I likely caused great harm to many people in all of those years. Of course, I didn’t know that I caused harm; I believed I was someone who was trying to do right for the world, but I was only deciding what was right based on what I saw in myself.

Now at The White Mountain School, it is my job—my duty and responsibility—to make sure that as few students as possible are telling that same story when they are older. It is my job to create and sustain a community where students will not go years and years thinking that the injustice or inequity that they read about in high school only lived in those books and not all around them. Because there is inequity in this world; that is a fact. And this country where many of us live, and where all of us have decided to pursue education, was created upon a racist foundation with structural inequity that we—the collective we of this nation—do not yet know how to confront; that is also a fact.

Our job as educators is to prepare students to enter the world with the necessary skills to succeed, and the world to which we are sending our students is riddled with intentionally constructed injustices. A world:

  • That values physical property more than the lives of Black women; 
  • Where the police are murdering Black people in the streets, or in their homes, or in front of their children, simply for being Black; 
  • Where LGBTQ people, most especially transgender people, are erased from narratives, either by being murdered or by being written out of legislation; 
  • Where women, most especially women of color, are silenced, boxed up, simplified, exploited all for the ease of a white patriarchy; 
  • Where prisons are overpopulated with Black, Latinx, and Indigenous folks still providing free labor for this nation; 
  • Where Latinx immigrants are caged up and Latinx citizens are threatened with violent deportation; 
  • Where Native people are sold for profit as mascots while the little that remains of their land is dug up and destroyed before them; and 
  • Where white is synonymous with power, money, access, trust, innocence, and success.

However, we are also sending our students out into a world where young people of all genders and races are rising up and organizing themselves; they’re collaborating, problem-solving, analyzing, writing, and presenting—all for the cause of a safer, more just, more equitable world. I’m not sure if there is anything more central to White Mountain’s mission than that.

The enormity of the task before us is incredibly difficult. The exclusionary systems holding America together are rooted deep in our culture, and they are born from the colonization that haunts us on a global scale. This work cannot be done with one person, or one club, or one group of people at school. We cannot dismantle the global impacts of white supremacy and colonization, sexism, and homophobia if those historically privileged and protected are not part of the movement. That is why White Mountain intentionally embeds justice into the fabric of our community: equity, inclusion, and justice does not live in an elective course or club or group of people; rather, it lives in the academic mission and vision, in the expectations of faculty and staff to be inclusive, culturally competent, and antiracist educators, in the values and voices of the student leaders, in a culture that upholds storytelling as the healing and unifying force that it is.

While I am confident in White Mountain’s commitment to equity, inclusion, and justice, I will be the first to tell you that, historically, we have not always been guided by those principals. We have made mistakes that have caused our alumnae/i, current students, and past and present employees great pain, and that is a trauma that many are still processing. I own and acknowledge that truth; I commit each day to helping our community heal and be better for our current and future community members. And yet, I know that making this commitment does not ensure we won’t make more mistakes or cause more harm; in fact, I know that we will. The inherent nature of doing this work in a predominately white institution is messy, complicated, and imperfect, which is why it makes it all the more important for our community to be prepared and trained, to have open minds and open hearts.

It is my enduring hope and intention that White Mountain students see no separation between doing “work” for school and doing “work” for justice. When they read Sarah Broom’s memoir The Yellow House, or Tommy Orange’s novel There There; when they use speculative fiction to understand American history and read The Deep by Rivers Solomon; when they study Nikole Hannah-Jones’ The 1619 Project as the primary text in their history class; when they use mass incarceration as the foundational structure in their statistics class; when time after time they are given the agency to tell their story, to center themselves in their learning and their quest for truth—they will know that what they’re learning is not just about books or credits or projects, it is about them as an individual and their duty and desire to understand the world in which they live. They will know it is about their duty and desire to be curious, courageous, and compassionate, both for themselves and for the humanity of all.

If you want to connect with me to share your experiences at the School, to offer feedback, to share ideas or resources, or simply to just be in conversation about equity, inclusion, and justice—please feel free to reach out to me at any time. The best way to connect with me is via email: kim.cooper@whitemountain.org.

Kim Cooper is The White Mountain School’s new director of equity, inclusion, and justice, having assumed the role permanently this summer after serving on an interim basis in the 2019-2020 academic year. Throughout the 2020-2021 school year, Telemark and Echoes readers can expect to hear from Kim on various equity, inclusion, and justice-related topics, both at the School or in society at large.


Founded in 1886 and set in the beautiful White Mountains of northern New Hampshire, The White Mountain School is a gender-inclusive, college-preparatory boarding and day school for 140 students grades 9-12/PG. Our mission is to be a school of inquiry and engagement. Grounded in an Episcopal heritage, White Mountain prepares and inspires students to lead lives of curiosity, courage, and compassion.

Open Hearts and Minds: Our Episcopal Heritage

by The Rev. Kathy Boss, Chaplain

Recently a friend of mine told me about an experience he’d had of entering the Episcopal Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York City. It was a communion service, but it was unlike any he had seen before. Religious leaders from a multitude of religions—Islamic imams, Jewish rabbis, Protestant and Catholic priests and ministers, Hindu pujaris, Sikh granthis, and more—were walking down the aisle together. They were all dressed in their traditional garb, singing together, coming together in communion. It was one of the most profound religious experiences he’d ever had.

This story is an example of the rich Episcopal tradition and heritage on which The White Mountain School was founded. It also illustrates one of the primary reasons I chose to be ordained in The Episcopal Church and take on the role of White Mountain’s chaplain—the commitment to open hearts and open minds. One of the practices that distinguishes an Episcopal school is a regular chapel service. However, the service at an Episcopal school, including here at White Mountain, often looks very different from other schools from Christian traditions.

Because White Mountain is rooted in Episcopal heritage, there is a commitment to openness, inclusion, and drawing on a multitude of resources across many faith and spiritual traditions. What it means to be human, to be ethical, to be spiritual, to worship are entered into as ongoing conversations. These conversations draw from the diverse field of humanity’s interaction with the Divine, with mystery, with what is “more than.” Episcopal and Christian traditions and prayers provide a thread, but always with the understanding that there are many threads, many ways—some explicitly religious, others more secular.

In my short time here at White Mountain, I have already seen the fruits of this commitment to open hearts and open minds in the compassion that our students, faculty, and staff all have for one another, and in their openness to dialogue and personal growth. I feel privileged to be a part of this community.

My role as chaplain is to maintain and nourish this sense of inclusivity and compassion (for self and for others), to provide thoughtful engagement with the religions of the world, to uphold a commitment to social justice and scientific thought, and to create spaces for spiritual and personal growth. How this manifests will grow and shift over time. It is not something I will do alone. I look to all of you—and your diversity of lived experiences, intellect, and imagination—to shape my work as we respond to the needs of the community.

In all of this, together, we cultivate the way of love. As The Most Rev. Michael Bruce Curry, presiding bishop and primate of The Episcopal Church, writes, “When love is the way, we will lay our swords and shields down by the riverside to study war no more. When love is the way, there’s plenty of room for all of God’s children. When love is the way, we actually treat each other, well, like we are actually family.” Those religious leaders at St. John the Divine embodied this love, this family, and gave us a taste of what is possible.

I invite you to reach out with any questions you may have, or if you’d simply like to have a conversation. This world is a mysterious place, and it is filled with hard questions that defy simple answers. Being in communion with one another across differences and across the world reminds us that we are all seekers, all on this journey together.


Founded in 1886 and set in the beautiful White Mountains of northern New Hampshire, The White Mountain School is a gender-inclusive, college-preparatory boarding and day school for 140 students grades 9-12/PG. Our mission is to be a school of inquiry and engagement. Grounded in an Episcopal heritage, White Mountain prepares and inspires students to lead lives of curiosity, courage, and compassion.

Academics: Compassion and Engagement in a Crisis

by Mike Peller, Assistant Head of School for Teaching and Learning

At the heart of our academic program is a collection of unique students and their unique curiosities. We know and firmly believe that students are wired to learn, so long as we can provide the right learning environment. That environment, we know, is one that permeates trust, care, and respect, as well as a principal belief that students are capable of doing remarkable things if we give them the space to do so. This has always been understood at The White Mountain School. Thus, our response—which was spurred by COVID, this summer’s renewed reckoning on race and the political turmoil—is grounded absolutely in our history, culture, and mission. Our response meets students with what they need most right now: compassion and engagement.

In early March 2020—as students were off-campus, being inspired by experiential and immersive learning on amazing Field Courses—the senior administrative team was making decisions on how we would respond to COVID, realizing that school as we knew it would radically change. Everything was evolving so quickly. A week later, in mid-March, we communicated to students and families that we would be going remote for the foreseeable future. We extended Spring Break by a week to engage faculty in a weeklong professional development on remote learning, but only so much could be accomplished in a week. Thus, our response to remote learning—like so many other schools—was an emergency response. We knew that our response to this 2020-2021 school year had to be proactive, rather than reactive. It had to be mission-aligned.

Now, as I write this, our campus is mostly full of students. For those not able to be on campus, we set up multiple cameras in each classroom and are using Zoom in ways to virtually connect everyone because we know how important it is to sustain relationships. Students have been immersed in their classes since mid-August, two weeks earlier than normal, in new courses such as:

  • Design Entrepreneurship
  • U.S. History: The 1619 Project
  • The Ethics of Food, Politics & Poetics
  • Advanced Robotics
  • Music Composition
  • Natural Disasters & Humanitarianism in the United States

The students are doing work that is meaningful, relevant, and connected to the world they live in. The learning is active. And more important than that, students feel connected to their teachers and their classmates. Within the School, we are showing up for our students by meeting them with compassion and creating meaning opportunities for engagement.

Compassion and engagement. These words, which anchor our mission, have served as beacons for us during the last seven months when we were thrust into this new normal. As schools across the world looked for ways to remain solvent, at White Mountain, we asked: How might we seize this opportunity not just to survive but to thrive and accelerate? You see, survive is not good enough because, as we see it, we have students now and in the future, who deserve better and need us. For so many reasons, we were not only well-positioned to react, but also to improve. Our commitment to student-driven inquiry and project-based learning, our fundamental belief in our Essential Skills and Habits, and our awareness that an academic program must inspire students to live in a more sustainable and just world coalesced in all the right ways. So, we did what we do so well here: we rolled up our sleeves and got to work. We got to work designing a program to meet the needs of our students. One of the major responses we made was changing our schedule. The process of changing a school’s schedule often takes close to two years. We did not have the luxury of that time. We had a couple of months. But we seized this opportunity to increase our commitment to immersive student-driven inquiry, student care, and student agency.

Immersive Student-Driven Inquiry

We made a significant change to the daily schedule intended to better serve our students in the context of wellness and deeper learning. Rather than taking five or six classes over the course of a year, our students now take two to three “yearlong” courses each semester. The impact of this is significant. Rather than having five or six courses to manage, which means five or six projects and homework assignments to juggle, our students now only have to keep track of two or three. We are meeting them with compassion. We knew that we could reduce some cognitive dissonance with all of the external uncertainty and crises surrounding their lives by allowing students to dive deeply into a few topics. In the same way that our Field Courses provide rich learning because students can channel their focus and attention, we believe this schedule change will give students the space to think deeply, ask bold questions, and engage completely. And with a suite of courses that are tackling topics of social justice, environmental responsibility, and civic engagement head-on, we know that the learning that is occurring is fueling both the curiosity and courage in our students to respond with compassion.

Student Care

While we already had and have many systems and structures in place for student care and, most importantly, a culture of student care, our new schedule provides two new major aspects for student care. First, every course has an hour-long flex block attached to it. Students remain in the class with their teacher and peers during this time and have an hour to begin their asynchronous work (a.k.a. homework.) For so many students in the past, they might begin their work at home, only to find out that they aren’t sure how to begin. With the new flex block, when a student meets this hurdle, the teacher and their peers are there to support them and figure out how to get them started. All students deserve this level of support and care. Secondly, and by design, the new schedule not only reduces the number of courses each student takes at a given time, but it also reduces the number of students any given teacher has at a given time in half. With fewer students to directly “care” for, teachers can provide more meaningful feedback and meet kids’ individual needs more effectively.

Student Agency

We want students to take ownership of their learning. This occurs in so many ways here, both in terms of what a student explores and the type of feedback a student requests. This year, to prevent any student from slipping through the cracks and ensure that all students are being challenged appropriately, we have formalized bi-weekly student conferencing with each of their teachers. Every two weeks, students reflect on their work in each of their courses, have a formal conversation with each of their teachers, and then summarize the conversation in a document shared with their advisor. The advisor then sends the reflections on the feedback in an email to the student and parents/guardians. This purpose is three-fold: first, to provide students with regular feedback on their progress. Second, to give the student agency in their learning. Third, strengthen the student’s triangle of support (teacher, advisor, and parent-guardian). It is one of many support structures at White Mountain intended to both care for and empower our students. What is unique about this process is that it is student-led. Learning should be done by the student, and thus they should not only be inspired to ask brave questions but also to assess their answering of those questions. We expect that the bi-weekly conferences will feed naturally into the end-of-year Inquiry Summit, when students curate a digital portfolio of their best work and defend it in front of their advisor and two other faculty members.

We are a better school because of the work we are doing in response to COVID, the renewed reckoning on race, and the political turmoil that torments our nation. In the face of a crisis, or crises, it is important to lean into what one does well. That is exactly what we did for our academic program. We leaned into immersive student-driven inquiry, student care, and student agency. We leaned into compassion and engagement.


Founded in 1886 and set in the beautiful White Mountains of northern New Hampshire, The White Mountain School is a gender-inclusive, college-preparatory boarding and day school for 140 students grades 9-12/PG. Our mission is to be a school of inquiry and engagement. Grounded in an Episcopal heritage, White Mountain prepares and inspires students to lead lives of curiosity, courage, and compassion.

Kathy Boss Joins The White Mountain School and All Saints’ Episcopal Church in Dual Role

Kathy BossThe White Mountain School (Bethlehem, NH) and All Saints’ Episcopal Church (Littleton, NH) are pleased to announce the joint hiring of Kathy Boss, effective July 1, 2020. With the support of The Rt. Rev. A. Robert Hirschfeld, bishop of The Episcopal Church of New Hampshire and president of White Mountain’s Board of Trustees, Kathy will serve as both the chaplain at White Mountain and as a curate at All Saints’. 

“I’m excited for Kathy to join us this year and grateful for the partnership with All Saints’ and the Diocese to create this joint position. Her work in schools and in community service and building will provide our students with wonderful opportunities,” said John Drew, head of school at White Mountain. “We are thrilled to have Kathy join us for her first years in ministry after a long and varied career, which will bring great strengths to the school and the parish. Through her work, we also look forward to innovative partnering with the students and staff at White Mountain,” said The Rev. Curtis Metzger, rector at All Saints’.

At White Mountain, Kathy will attend to the community’s spiritual and religious needs, join the Student Assistance Program team, teach, and facilitate an all-School Morning Meeting once each week. She will also be an integral partner in the School’s work related to social justice and service. At All Saints’, Kathy will work alongside Fr. Curtis in outreach to youth and young families, Christian formation, and rich experiences in worship.

An experienced educator and inclusive community builder, Kathy has spent the last three years working toward a Master of Divinity degree with a concentration in global and community engagement from Boston University. She is set to graduate this summer and will be ordained a deacon in The Episcopal Church on Saturday, July 11. Ordination to the diaconate is the first step for those called to the priesthood, and Kathy will likely be ordained to the priesthood sometime in 2021, according to Fr. Curtis. 

Before her M.Div. work, Kathy worked at High Mowing School in both leadership and faculty roles. Prior to her time at High Mowing School, she was the executive director of the New Hampshire Writers’ Project and before that was a development coordinator at the Seacoast Science Center. Kathy also holds a master’s degree in English from the University of New Hampshire and a bachelor’s in English from Boston University. 


Founded in 1886 and set in the beautiful White Mountains of northern New Hampshire, The White Mountain School is a coeducational college-preparatory boarding and day school for 135 students grades 9-12/PG. Our mission is to be a school of inquiry and engagement. Grounded in an Episcopal heritage, White Mountain prepares and inspires students to lead lives of curiosity, courage, and compassion.

Founded in 1875, All Saints’ Episcopal Church is a parish within the Northern Convocation of The Episcopal Church in New Hampshire with a mission to honor the Lord Jesus Christ by practicing the Christian faith through prayer and acts of love and unconditional kindness. All Saints’ is a warm and welcoming Christian community with open-minded, curious, fun-loving, devoted, and relational parishioners who strive to offer radical hospitality to the stranger and infinite respect for all.

From the Field: Zoë Simon ’21 on Bringing New Sustainability Ideas Back to White Mountain

As a three-year junior at the White Mountain School, I have had myriad opportunities to foster a deep connection with the land, learning to love its natural diversity and uniqueness. Having access to our student farm has produced in me a desire to protect, encourage, and utilize sustainable farming practices. As I continue to learn more about our food systems, I hope to catalyze the ongoing shift in our community’s mindset and practices surrounding food culture and cultivation.

Faculty and administration at The White Mountain School have continued to do an excellent job educating students on our environment and natural systems both in and outside of the classroom. Our many environmentally directed Field Courses—along with our biology, chemistry, AP Environmental Science, and sustainable farming classes—continue to prepare, inspire, and encourage students to have compassion for, and be curious about our environment, in line with the School’s mission. An important aspect of learning is gaining hands-on experience; students who sign up to be a part of the Farm and Forest crew, one of the School’s co-curriculars, are taught to start seedlings in our greenhouse and care for them until harvest. We produce a wide variety of fruits and vegetables each season, many of which are used by our kitchen and served in our dining hall during meal times. The visits the Farm and Forest crew have made to other farms have continued to grow my appreciation for the work I have been fortunate enough to take part in.

This spring, as part of the White Mountain Field Course program, I was given the opportunity to travel to the Stone Barns Center for Food And Agriculture in Westchester, New York. This not-for-profit organization strives to make four-season, resilient, and sustainable farming possible, giving people the opportunity to eat and farm organically. They provide locally-sourced, in-season ingredients to Blue Hill restaurant, with whom they have developed a partnership. Throughout our stay, we learned about composting, beekeeping, crop rotations, crop planning, soil health, winter crops, mushrooms, and fermentation as well as creating goals for our farm at White Mountain and brainstorming concrete steps by which they may be achieved.

During one brainstorming activity, students were asked to write down agricultural and environmental goals for our farm, community, and kitchen on sticky notes; these sticky notes were placed on a spectrum of how close we felt White Mountain was to achieving these goals. Things like “organic, locally sourced ingredients for every meal” were unanimously deemed unmanageable with our current infrastructure and resource availability, while other ideas such as “use smaller plates to reduce food waste” seemed within reach. These ideas gave way to rich conversation and important questions; “if it’s not possible to serve organic, locally sourced food for every meal, how about once a week? During our snack break on Thursdays? As a snack between classes and sports?”. After discussing and evaluating the ideas and needs of the farm, kitchen, and community, we were asked to break up into smaller groups and come up with three plans: one plan that was easily within reach, one that was a stretch, and one dream scenario. Through this process came an abundance of amazing suggestions such as creating weekend foraging and harvesting activities where students can learn to cook using things found in nature, repurposing old logs to start a mushroom farm in our woods, working with our kitchen staff to create a meal plan that students are truly excited about in order to prevent food waste, creating a rotating barrel-style composting system to make turning compost easier, planting crops that can survive the harsh temperatures of winter in our greenhouse during the colder months, and so much more.

It was truly inspiring to watch my peers connect with each other about ways to make White Mountain a better place to live. I can say, without a doubt, that the week we spent exploring our options as a farm at Stone Barns will not go to waste, as we continue to be curious about and involved in the expansion of our program. I am so excited about where these ideas will take us, and am proud to be a part of this movement to draw our beautiful school and it’s community closer to the land.


Founded in 1886 and set in the beautiful White Mountains of northern New Hampshire, The White Mountain School is a coeducational college-preparatory boarding and day school for 135 students grades 9-12/PG. Our mission is to be a school of inquiry and engagement. Grounded in an Episcopal heritage, White Mountain prepares and inspires students to lead lives of curiosity, courage, and compassion.