March 17, 2021

A conversation with Mr. Williams...

Nate Williams always knew he would be an educator due to his youthful spirit and kinship to childlike wonder and curiosity. After gaining his B.A. in natural science and M.A. in educational leadership from Castleton University, Nate joined the Vermont Academy community in 2012. Teaching at VA allows Nate to encourage his students’ curiosity by submerging them into the outdoor classroom experience. It is common to find Nate knee-deep in a beaver pond studying the unique ecosystem alongside his students. His love for the natural world has also allowed Nate to reinvigorate the Outdoor Programs at VA into a three-fold approach: Wilderness, Rock Climbing, and the Long Trail Hike. In all of these facets, Nate enjoys facilitating personal growth and self-reflection for the students involved. He encourages all his students to unplug, play outdoors, and connect to the natural world.
He and his wife, Leah, an educator at Putney Central School, live in the woods of Westminster West with their three boys, Llewyn, Birk, and Oliver.  At their home, they play in the garden and work to fell trees for firewood. When not teaching, Nate can be found climbing a cliff face, kicking a soccer ball barefoot, riding a snowboard, or playing hoops with students in the gym. Above all, he loves to play, centering his life and teaching philosophy around it. 
How did you know you wanted to be an educator?
I always knew I wanted to be an educator from the time that I was a little kid. I grew up with many cousins, and all of my aunts and uncles would frequently comment, “Wow, you are so good with kids.” So it just felt right -- I perked up playing with kids, especially being an older cousin and having a chance to be a leader. I always connected with the youthfulness and the child-like wonder of young people and still do. As I grew up, a lot of the influences in my life were teachers. My mom taught kindergarten and first grade. In high school, I connected with my earth science teacher, who taught me how to snowboard as well, so my experience with that teacher went beyond the classroom, making it all the more influential. These experiences led me to pursue a career in education, beginning with a B.A. in natural science and an M.A. in educational leadership.

What do you think is the most challenging aspect of being an educator right now?
One challenge right now is how we address the inequity in our society -- the history of the prejudices profoundly entrenched and taught. As educators, some of us have to unlearn what we were taught through systemic conditioning and then turn around and teach these things to the next generation. That’s a big challenge that has been exposed as of late and is essential for humanity’s growth.
Another significant challenge I find as an educator is attempting for students to actively participate in their own curiosity and sense of wonder. As children, we did this naturally, but our connection to this sense of wonder commonly disappears by the time we are young adults. To me, this is unfortunate because experiencing wonder is what drives our thirst for learning. As an educator, there is no moment I am more proud of when I witness a student come into the present moment and marvel in wonder at what they are observing in a class. I believe that wonder is the fertile ground for which the seeds of learning grow. But in this age of heavy screen use and information overload, allowing for wonder to be found is tough. As a society, our addiction to screens is very real, and it’s an endless battle to bring students to the present moment and ask questions about the natural world that is all around them.

What is your Vermont Academy story?
Traveling before and after college allowed me to gain essential perspective on who I was and who I wanted to be in this world, with the most profound experience being the thirty consecutive days spent hiking the Long Trail in Vermont. This transformative journey is something that I want all humans to experience, and I saw the opportunity to infuse this into my teaching at Vermont Academy. I joined the community in January 2012, and within a year, I became the Outdoor Programs Director. In the summer of 2014, we offered a six-day backpacking hike for students to work on their leadership skills, which continued for the following six consecutive summers. Many students and teachers have been involved over the years and have found deep meaning in the journey they embarked on.
Another facet of VA in which I hold dear to my heart is living in the dorms. I was a dorm parent in both Alumni Hall and Davis House, and the connections I have made with those residents have turned into life-long friends. Living on campus was one of the greatest joys that I never saw coming. Some of my favorite moments were late nights chatting with kids over tea and records, covering life’s topics and its meaning. For me, dorm parenting was where the connections were made, and the trust was earned -- and when a student trusts you, real learning can take place. 

How do you feel Vermont’s outdoor offerings support the VA curriculum outside of the classroom?
Before my time at VA, my teaching experience stemmed from outdoor field studies programs where students would come for several weeks at a time and focus on field research. Vermont Academy was my first time teaching inside a classroom, but I brought this outdoor classroom concept to my VA curriculum, which was the best part. The outdoor classroom at VA is so rich in biodiversity -- beaver habitats, river systems, bird migration, maple sugar stands, for example. Many of our classes utilize these various habitats for project-based learning. Teachers across all disciplines take advantage of our grand campus; it is not just the science department. For example, students studying Huck Finn in English class make rafts to send down the Saxtons River.
How is Outdoor Programming implemented at VA?
Following my first year of teaching at VA, I hopped on the opportunity to play a part in our Outdoor Programs.

In the fall, we offer a sport called Wilderness Skills, whose curriculum is based on three pillars: play, reflection, and gratitude. We hike a local mountain once a week, spend Friday nights camping out, canoe and kayak, and we Sit Spot.

Sit Spot is weekly time spent alone -- without a screen -- submerged in our VA forest. These solitary moments are a foundation of this sport, allowing students to break from their busy life and time for exploration of themselves and their surroundings. The key to this is the group sharing that occurs after the Sit Spot. We gather around the fire circle and share what we experienced at our spots. At the beginning of the season, students fight it and claim it’s so dull, but soon their relationship changes with their Sit Spot. After a while, students look forward to the weekly time alone, claiming that it lowers their stress and lets them just be. It’s a massive challenge for this generation to be away from screens and ask themselves, who am I? Our students don’t experience boredom anymore, and that’s why these exercises are so important.
Our season culminates with overnight solo camping where students build a shelter made of only natural material and spend the night alone in them. Students most certainly find empowerment.
We also offer the sport of rock climbing in the spring, where we utilize our on-campus indoor climbing wall and our outdoor ropes course. Weekly trips to off-campus crags occur throughout New England, like Marlow Profile in New Hampshire, Farley Ledges in Western Massachusetts, and Rumney in Northern New Hampshire. On some of these trips, we camp out overnight, adding to the overall experience. Our philosophy on climbing is based in safety, trust, and a growth mindset. We are a team, but the climbing experience is a personal journey with the coaches as the guide.
Our most in-depth outdoor experience occurs in the summer on the Long Trail Hike. Participating students go on a six-day backpacking trip on the Long Trail in Vermont, carrying everything they need to thrive in the woods for six days. This experience is designed for all hiker levels and is meant to allow students to find their power and place in our community. This is facilitated best by our “Leader of the Day” approach, where each hiker is responsible for leading the group for 24 hours. The responsibilities include orienteering, map use, food management, breaks, keeping track of others’ wellness, and overall group dynamic management. Each day ends with a fireside reflection and feedback for the corresponding leader, allowing them time to reflect on their experience. Participants walk away from the 6-day hike with a better sense of who they are in the world, personal empowerment, and, in many cases, a rather funny trail name.
What does it mean to be a successful student at VA?
VA honors and exemplifies students that try new things and then go with it. For example, a student may come to VA identifying as an athlete but then take an acting class and uncover a passion for the performing arts. They then take part in a school production and begin to follow this passion. Socially, it is acceptable at VA to try something new. It is not as risky as other places. At graduation, a successful student here feels like they have grown or had the chance to grow into someone they thought they never could be. Our school motto is “Be true to your best self.” We do this very well here at Vermont Academy.

This interview is one in a series spotlighting Vermont Academy educators; their unique and innovative classroom approaches; what makes their classrooms successful and what challenges them; and what it means to live and learn at Vermont Academy.

Our campus is now open to in-person tours!
 We offer several other tour options for families who cannot meet the requirements to visit us in person.

Please call or email our office to schedule your tour: // 802.869.6229

All admissions interviews will still be conducted virtually.

In-person Campus Tours
You will be able to walk around campus with an admissions officer and go into buildings, including classrooms, athletic facilities, dorms, and our dining hall. Families must comply with Vermont State Guidelines and complete our Visit Form before arrival. This form must be filled out and emailed to at least 24 hours before your arrival on campus. These guidelines apply to those who live out of state – Vermont residents do not need to quarantine. 

Drive-through tours
For families who cannot meet the requirements to visit us in person, we offer an option to tour Vermont Academy's grounds. During this tour, you will remain in your vehicle and led by an Admissions Officer. Please contact our office to schedule a drive-through tour. 

Personalized Virtual Tours
For families unable to travel during this time, we offer virtual personalized tours via Zoom. Please contact our office to schedule a personalized virtual tour. 

Winter Carnival 2021

Vermont Academy just celebrated its 112th Winter Carnival!

Ranging from the Big Air competition to human slingshot,  dodgeball, and synchronized ice dancing, students actively engaged in various fun events. While masks may have hidden some smiles, the joy that the students found in one of Vermont Academy’s most beloved traditions is evident in the photos. With a “Movies” theme, student teams chose to name themselves after such classic films as Jaws, The Godfather, Dodgeball, Mean Girls, Clueless, the Incredibles, and more. 

Vermont Academy offered numerous ways for alumni to share the fun. On Friday, February 19, alumni were invited to attend a “Winter Carnival through the Decades” online discussion to share their own memories of this long-standing tradition. With attendees from the 1950s to our most recent graduates, the excitement to share and learn was heartwarming. Be sure to check out the event recording!

Alumni Spotlight

Rachel Montesano ’15
Wholeheartedly Devoted to Helping People Get Healthy

Rachel Montesano ’15 always saw a career in healthcare on her horizon. After losing her father at age nine due to untreated type 2 diabetes and heart disease, she knew she wanted to become a nurse. She credits Vermont Academy with testing her work ethic and her ability to seek resources as a major reason she has been successful in achieving her goals and becoming a Registered Nurse at Yale New Haven Hospital. Graduating in 2019 from Quinnipiac University with a BSN, Rachel enjoys being part of a team of healthcare providers to give care to patients and to see patients get better, and to be able to return home. 

Reflecting on why she enjoys her work, Rachel shares that in getting to work as a team she has the support and is able to find encouragement when things are going well. She shared her experiences about working during the pandemic. "While this time has been extremely difficult to be a nurse, the small victories of my patients getting better and being able to return home to their lives happily, healthy, and safe is the true pay off of the work that I do as a nurse. Each day I go to work I know I am one step closer to helping end this pandemic."

Read more about Rachel's story HERE.
VA continues to support rolling admission for the 2021-2022 school year.

We are excited to learn more about you and your family. Please complete the following inquiry form to receive Vermont Academy’s Viewbook, information about our financial aid program, and what to expect from a boarding school experience. FILL OUT THE INQUIRY FORM HERE.

We ask that all prospective students complete this form prior to scheduling their interview and campus visit.

Next Steps? Get to know VA.

  • Get a start on your application and APPLY NOW.
  • Explore previous editions from The View from the Hilltop HERE.
  • Learn more about VA through our Virtual Open House Series. WATCH PREVIOUS OPEN HOUSE SESSIONS.
  • Explore our campus via our VIRTUAL TOUR.
  • Learn more about Scholarship Opportunities and Affording Vermont Academy HERE.
Dates to Remember:
February 1: Application and financial aid deadline*
March 10: Admissions decisions sent to students and families
April 10: Enrollment contract and deposit due

*After February 1, applications will be accepted on a rolling basis.
Vermont Academy's Admissions Office is here to help you through the application process, from the interview to the application and beyond.

Please contact our office for more 
information at // 802.869.6229

Education for Life - One Student at a Time

Vermont Academy is a coed college preparatory boarding and day school in southern Vermont, serving grades 9-12 plus a postgraduate year.
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