We had the chance to sit down with Matthew Toms for our latest faculty profile. Read more about his experience at White Mountain, the Student Assistance Program, and what brought and kept him here for almost fifteen years.
Growing up in Keene, New Hampshire, I was surrounded by the outdoors at a young age. My career really began as an outdoor educator working as a sea kayaking guide off the coast of northern Maine. As my passion for learning and teaching others in wilderness areas began to take shape, I soon found that my work would take me to some amazing places. I have led trips in experiential/outdoor education in Maine, Utah, Chile, Peru, the Dominican Republic and New Hampshire.
I now live with my wife and two children in Bethlehem, and I love working at The White Mountain School. The North Country of New Hampshire is a special place to live and raise a family. Although my sons are not quite old enough to access this spot, my favorite place in this area has to be the Upper Pemigewasset River. It is a magical section of river that really can only be accessed by kayak.
Student Assistance Program (SAP)
The Student Assistance Program (SAP) is a program that I started almost fifteen years ago. It is a non-disciplinary, collaborative and integrated program designed to offer in-house support services to students. SAP has evolved over the years and is now really integrated into the school community and support system for our students. About 80-90% of our students utilize it in any given year, almost entirely voluntarily, which indicates a student culture where it is okay and encouraged to get help. There is a lot of buy-in from the entire community.
Freshman and Senior Seminars
Along with my work with our Student Assistance Program, I also started the Freshman and Senior Seminars here at White Mountain.
I introduced Senior Seminar a few years ago to really ensure that students were prepared to transition into the college environment. Senior Seminar, which meets several times times a year with the entire senior class, touches upon some of the topics that are most risky, but most important to have a grasp on. For rising college students, this includes: sex, consent, alcohol and other drugs, as well as mental and physical health throughout one’s time at a university.
I have been developing Freshman Seminar over the years in largely the same vein as Senior Seminar, just for students transitioning into high school. We focus on a different version of sex ed and healthy relationships, alcohol and other drugs, communication and assertiveness training, and adolescent development. The way in which you go about these topics with 9th graders and 12th graders can be wildly different, and I have really enjoyed working with both of these age groups.
What do you love about working at White Mountain?
Everything! I genuinely look forward to going to work every single day. I have wonderful colleagues, and great, fun and compassionate students to work with and whom I enjoy being part of such a transformational time of their lives. It doesn’t hurt that I get to share things that I am really passionate about and have fun doing with them.
In my work here with White Mountain, I lead Field Courses, some of which I have designed over the years. In the fall I usually lead a hydropower focused course in Maine where we look at the costs and benefits of damming free flowing rivers. I have also had the pleasure of taking White Mountain students every year to participate in some development work in the Dominican Republic. Aside from these courses, I also am lucky to coach whitewater kayaking and backcountry skiing. I especially love impromptu games of dodgeball and giant slip n slides that happen here on campus!