Science and Modern Languages faculty member, Renee Blacken, seems to be everywhere at once on campus. You’ll also find her spending hours on end at the WMS farm during the summer months. Learn more about Renee’s dedication to teaching and learning in this first article from our new series of faculty profiles.
From: Ithaca New York
Years at WMS: 2
Home on campus: Carter dormitory with partner (Alan) and son (Walter) and “the beagles” (Fred and Zeba).
Appalachian State University, MS Technology and Environmental Design Bates College, BS Chemistry and Religion
Please describe your professional background prior to WMS?
I was a teaching assistant and a tutor at the high school and college levels. I was also a baker and a farmer.
Why did you choose to come to WMS?
At WMS we know students in many aspects of their lives and we stand to have an impact in ways that extend beyond the classroom. When I came to interview, I saw in the faculty a desire to educate and a passion for subject matter, and also a deep understanding that the way we educate matters. They seemed very interested in how to best teach the subject and also how to best teach each student. At The White Mountain School, it seems possible to reach each student. The natural environment here and the ability to work on the school’s farm were also important factors in choosing WMS.
What are your roles at WMS?
Chemistry, Physics, Spanish, Religion and the Environment Teacher Field Course Instructor Dorm Parent Farm Manager/Farm & Forest Coach Advisor Independent study Advisor: Photovoltaic Systems, The Chemistry of Ceramic Glazes Faculty Advisor to Sustainability Club and DIY club
Why do you love working in education?
The ability to think critically about the word in which we live is an invaluable skill that must be cultivated. The field of education provides a wonderful opportunity to help students craft their own questions about how the world works. As I encourage my students to be discerning and skeptical, while maintaining a sense of wonder as they pursue a greater understanding of the world (perhaps the most important goals of education), they remind me continually to do the same.
What makes you curious outside of school responsibilities?
Farming, food, how to create a sustainable community
What have you learned from WMS students?
I’ve learned that there is always more to learn. From their questions and projects, I have had the opportunity to experiment, build, and gather information on topics I might not have pursued otherwise.
Describe a particularly memorable experience with WMS students.
Common Ground Fair: Standing shin deep in compost as we helped to manage the waste from a fair focused on organic farming, with one of my students strategizing as to how best manage the incoming food scraps. That doesn’t happen everywhere.
Field Course: Watching a student, who on a previous Field Course struggled greatly, help another student ascend a snowy, icy trail on a subsequent Field Course.
Independent Study: One particularly memorable experience was when I arranged a meeting between a student of mine and a professional in the field of photovoltaic installation. During the meeting, the installer said my student was well on his way to being prepared to sit the exam to become an entry level certified energy practitioner. Really, the entire independent study was memorable for me. It was an opportunity to teach the material I had studied in graduate school to a student who was highly motivated and engaged. It really embodied what we can do here at WMS: inspire students to follow their passions, provide them with our expertise, and then get out of the way as they take on the world.