For 21 years, beginning in 1975, Williston Northampton culture was partially defined by Winter Session. Modeled on the January Term programs then popular at many colleges, Winter Session focused not on college preparatory academics, but instead on “learning by doing.” As the original prospectus read, “The student will not just speak French in class but will speak it with and among Frenchmen in Cannes. He will perform in a play; or sing in a chorus; or build a table; or learn to type; or serve senior citizens in the community…” The list went on.
During the 25-day program, faculty frequently taught their avocations: some of the offerings included fine cooking with Alan Shaler (English), carpentry and toymaking with Bob Bagley (math), wood carving with Ann Vanderburg (math), home renovation with Stephen Seybolt (English) and Bob Couch (math and photography), and figure skating with Harriet Tatro (science). Other faculty stayed closer to their specialties, but offered mini-courses that didn’t quite fit the regular elective curriculum, or which — Ellis Baker’s and Richard Gregory’s acting and directing workshops, for example — involved students new to those particular pursuits. Opportunities for travel were a special feature; in most years, there were three or four overseas trips. Beyond the “usual” European destinations, travel courses went to locales then considered exotic: Egypt, China (in 1982, when Western tourists were only beginning to be welcomed back), Soviet Central Asia, the Galápagos.
Over time, the program evolved, moving to the two weeks after March break and being renamed Intersession. It remained popular, but various factors, such as a desire for more traditional class time, additional independent study opportunities in the curriculum, and perhaps just the changing ethos, led to the suspension of the program in 1996. Though it remains missed by many, the best aspects of Intersession — independent study, creative approaches to curriculum, and collaborative learning—continue at Williston Northampton School today.