The White Mountain School offers a wide variety of academics for a truly robust learning experience. Find out more about independent studies and unique athletics at WMS in this podcast with student Sarah Abbott.
John Maher: Hi, I'm John Maher. I'm here today with Sarah Abbott, a student at The White Mountain School, a private college prep day and boarding school in New Hampshire. And today we're talking about academics at White Mountain School. Welcome, Sarah.
Sarah Abbott: Hi, John.
How WMS Academics Prepares Students for College
John: Sarah, how do you feel that the academic classes at White Mountain School have prepared you for college?
Sarah: I feel like here they really emphasize knowing how to ask the right questions and how to research, I guess. In a lot of ways, they prepare you to find anything that you can't figure out on your own. They teach you how to look it up, find a book, or who to go to, whether that's your teacher or maybe another teacher who doesn't teach your class but is familiar with it.
John: Right. So very different from what we might think of as the typical school where you're just sitting in a classroom all day and you're learning something out of a book and then the teacher says, “Okay, read the next chapter,” and then you talk about that. It sounds very different where, like you said, you're able to explore topics on your own and you know how to do that outside of the classroom research and you have that opportunity to talk to other teachers about it and things like that.
Small Class Sizes & One on One Teaching
John: Do you think that the small class sizes and the extra availability of teachers makes a big difference compared to other larger schools?
Sarah: Yes, absolutely. I feel like at a larger school, if there's a subject that maybe isn't your strong suit, you're encouraged to maybe not take honors or something like that. Whereas here, it's just like, if you are interested in it, your teacher is going to help you do well in that class. We have this one teacher, Renee, and she's our physics teacher, which is the subject you hear, "That's the hardest class you’ll take." And she's just there in the dorms ready to help people almost every night. If you send her an email, she'll get back to you immediately. She wants to make you successful.
John: Right. And those teachers, they're here on campus all the time and they're available to you, so if you need extra help, you can just go see them?
Sarah: Yes. I always joke about showing up outside of their apartments.
LASR Projects at WMS
John: Right. What other types of experiences have you had during your time here at The White Mountain School?
Sarah: In terms of classroom experiences?
John: Well, classroom and other academic learning experiences that are maybe outside of the classroom?
Sarah: I think LASR is a big one that I'm doing right now. You can do a semester or a year-long project on a topic of your choice. And it's sort of like an independent study, but it can take almost any form. It's not per se like a curriculum. It could be partly a curriculum and partly a project. Mine is on the WMS food and how we can incorporate more local food into our dining hall in hopes of improving the health, sustainability, and social justice aspects of the current food system.
John: Okay. And the LASR project is sort of like a thesis almost, where you're choosing the topic yourself and you're saying, “I want to go and learn all there is to learn about this topic,” and try to apply that to, like you said, the school right here. You're trying to apply what you're learning to the food system right here at the school.
Sarah: Yes. It is like a mini thesis. There is a pretty long paper involved that they’ll walk you through how to write and what to do.
Summer Programs at WMS
John: I understand that you did a summer program? Can you tell me about that?
Sarah: I did the pre-college program at Colorado College this past summer, which is weird to say because I think I went and did my first year of high school at my public school. And after that year, I think I was just done with academics. I couldn't imagine going to more formal school. But at White Mountain, it’s slightly different where I was like, “All right, I can do this. I can go into a whole another school environment and it'll be fine. It's not this thing that I'm putting myself through."
John: Right. At your regular public school, the last thing you would want to do in the summer was go take more school, right?
John: But how do you feel the experiences that you've had at White Mountain School set you up and made you want to have that extra experience in Colorado and learn something else there?
Sarah: I think it's a confidence thing. It's just being like, “I can understand this. I can do well in this if I try,” because I've done it at The White Mountain School. They help me, they teach you how to look for your resources and how to go through whatever material you have and learn it the best that you can without it being this thing that you're emotionally involved in. It's not going to be this stressful experience you might have sitting in a class of nearly 30 people and not really getting to talk to the teacher or anything like that. I went to a summer program where I said I'm going to be in a similar situation where there it is a small class and there's available places where you can deposit your questions.
Unique Studies at White Mountain School
John: Yes. What other doors do you think that being at White Mountain School student has opened for you?
Sarah: Well, I guess, as I mentioned before, it was like ice climbing. I'm from New Jersey. We don't have sheets of ice on rock. And I just showed up and I was like, “Alright, I'm going to do this.”
John: I understand that, at the school, you've done some other work with sustainability and there’s a school farm that's right here on campus?
Sarah: Yes. I think that there's really a 360 view on sustainability here. I'm hoping to study sustainability and environmental science in college. We're looking at the sustainability of a whole community. Though it is a small community, we do have many large-scale aspects that you can't see anywhere else. We have a school farm that you can look at. We have composting. What else? We talk about different topics and we see how our community lives them. It's interesting just to really experience it when we try to make ourselves more sustainable.
John: Right. It sounds to me like White Mountain School really puts a strong emphasis on having a student figure out what they are interested in doing and then supporting them in whatever way that they can as a school, to allow that student to pursue that topic that they're interested in, whether it's going on a field course to another county or to another state to learn more about that topic that they're interested in. [They can] get involved with the school farm and sustainability if that's available right here on campus, or do an extra pursuing of a sport that they're interested in like ice climbing or something like that. It just seems like the school really wants to support you in whatever it is that you're interested in doing and what you're interested in pursuing. Is that true?
Sarah: Yes. I feel like I could go into the office or go into the academic dean’s office, if it were academic, for example, and be like, “Alright, I want to set myself up to do this,” and they’ll really make that work. I was on a track to take AB calculus in my senior year and I was like, “I want to take PC.” And the Academic Dean here, Shane, really just was like, “Okay, here's what we could do.” Anything they really can do, they're going to do.
John: Right. Alright. Well that's really great. It's great to speak with you, Sarah. Thanks again.
Sarah: Great to be here.
John: For more information, visit the school’s website at whitemountain.org or call 603.444.2928.