By Nicholas D. ’19, Teresa L. ’19, Ellisya L. ’19, Thomas M. ’19, Matthew S. ’19, and Katie T. ’19
Winsor at Belmont Hill
Schedule is a significant aspect of any school and greatly contributes to the students’ experiences; it determines how much homework we have each night, how we choose our course load, how we participate in extracurriculars, and how each day unfolds. Belmont Hill’s fixed, five-day schedule is very different from Winsor’s seven-day rotation. On Mondays, Tuesdays, and Fridays, BH students have a morning meeting held in the Chapel from 8:00-8:15 am, followed by six class periods, each lasting 40 minutes. When we visited, we heard speeches from semi-finalists in BH’s biannual Woodbury speaking competition. The topics spanned technology and its role in our lives, friendships between teenagers of different genders, and more. There are several similar competitions at Winsor, but these are generally constrained to specific classes.
Lunch for Upper School (10th-12th grade) is held from 1:35-2:10 pm, and then all students have a study hall-esque block from 2:15-3:05 pm (allowing sports teams to leave early for away games without missing classes). Having had hour-long classes for close to four years, I found that the classes at Belmont Hill felt very short. Although I appreciate Winsor’s longer classes, which allow for more in-depth lessons and projects as well as fewer subjects of homework each night, the shorter periods at BH kept the day moving.
Belmont Hill goes by a different schedule on Wednesdays and Thursdays; students have two 75-minute classes and then activity periods. Thursday also features a late start at 8:55 am. Although we visited on a Monday and didn’t get the chance to enjoy this aspect of Belmont Hill, I’d love to see this concept implemented at Winsor. As seniors, my classmates and I are able to come in late if we have frees in the morning. Although I only have one first-period free and rarely utilize my senior privilege, I can see how a later start reinvigorates my friends. In fact, a recent study conducted by the University of Wisconsin and published in the journal Science Advances found that pushing school start times back by one hour allowed students to get more sleep, resulting in higher grades and a decrease in tardiness and absences. The varied structure of Belmont Hill’s schedule also allows for specialized programs such as the Advanced Science Research (ASR) course, which places students in research facilities at nearby institutions. In addition to seminar-style classes at Belmont Hill, students in the ASR program work at their lab each Thursday afternoon – without missing any other classes.
Winsor facilitates summer science internships for students, but year-round programs with off-campus components are not available. Perhaps in the future such courses (and not just in STEM fields) will be made available; however, Winsor’s seven-day schedule may make it difficult to accomplish.
As I’ve been a Winsor student for the past eight years, I’ve become very accustomed to our small, urban campus where all of the buildings are connected, so I can avoid going outside if I want. Given the seven acre campus and the connected buildings, we spend a lot of our time indoors, especially during the winter, unless we are going off campus or using the turf fields. Belmont Hill, contrastingly, has a 32 acre campus with a large portion dedicated to outdoor athletic spaces and 10 buildings, so the students spend a lot more time outside walking to class than Winsor students do.
One thing that stood out to me particularly was how quiet Belmont Hill’s surrounding environment is in comparison to Winsor’s. At Winsor, we are constantly surrounded by the many sounds of the city, but that was not the case at Belmont Hill. While Belmont Hill is a bit more suburban than I am used to, I must say it was nice to go through the day without hearing any helicopters over head or sirens speeding by.
The differences extended past the size and composition of each campus. For one, one of the first things I noticed was that there are no lockers on Belmont Hill’s campus whereas every student at Winsor has some space in or near their homeroom to store their belongings. Many Belmont Hill students would leave their bags anywhere they pleased (so long as it wouldn’t be a hazard), and many Winsor students do the same, but I do think it is an interesting contrast between the campuses.
Additionally, I did not see any designated homerooms for each Form at Belmont Hill, which is a stark difference to Winsor where each Class has their own homeroom. Seniors at Belmont Hill do, however, have Senior Commons, which is a common space in Morse. While both schools have a space for seniors to occupy, the Senior Homeroom is a lot more closed off from the rest of the school than the Senior Commons at Belmont Hill. While I am more accustomed to the closed off space that the Senior Homeroom offers, I feel that the open Senior Commons highlights the openness of Belmont Hill’s campus.
Another notable difference was between the off-campus experiences at each school. With our urban campus, we are surrounded by a plethora of places to go off- campus during the day. From Brueggers, which is roughly two minutes from Winsor, to Tasty Burger, which is about a 15 minute walk from Winsor, students have many options to explore that are easy and quick to access. In fact, students seldom, if ever, drive off-campus.
For many Winsor students, making a quick trip to Brueggers’ during a free is somewhat of a tradition as Winsor students are able to go off-campus beginning in their second semester of high school. At Belmont Hill, that is not the case. For one, Belmont Hill students are not allowed to go off-campus until their senior year (in fact, Mr. Bradley, the Head of Upper School, has made a bit of a game out of catching juniors off campus!).
Given Belmont Hill’s suburban campus, it is understandable why students can- not go off campus until their Senior year, as most off campus destinations require driving to reach. For example, Felipe’s Mexican Taqueria, a pretty popular off campus spot for Belmont Hill students, is roughly 15 minutes away by car. Even though there are some benefits of a suburban campus like Belmont Hill’s, I must say that I definitely prefer the proximity of Winsor’s campus to many restaurants.
For any Winsor student who has ever read the annual Switch Day write-up in The Panel and wondered whether the Milk and Cookies tradition really exists, we can attest that yes, it does and that it is exactly as former executive editors have described. Every morning crates of cookies and mini cartons of milk are put on the ground outside. (On the day we visited, the ground was covered in icy patches and gray snow leftover from a recent storm).
Although we missed the overwhelming rush of students when the crates were first put out and by the time we got there, there were barely any cookies left, we did witness the lowerclassmen dashing away with stacks of four or five cookies. For those not interested in shoving their way through eighth and ninth grade boys (aka us), fruit and various packaged snacks were also available inside the cafeteria, but many of these items had to be purchased.
Perhaps even more exciting for us than witnessing Milk and Cookies was trying the lunch of the day: fried chicken, homemade potato chips, and, for dessert, sugar cookies. At Belmont Hill, boys have assigned tables, which alternate every three weeks and which mix people of different grades. For Upper School lunch, this includes tenth through twelfth graders, although most senior tables include only seniors and a couple of juniors.
The meal is served by waiters—one boy brings out a plate of food for the entire table, and, as he puts food on individual plates, the boys at his end of the table pass the filled plates down until they reach the boys sitting at the opposite end. Seniors do not wait on tables, hence the couple of juniors at each senior table (one to wait on the table and one to keep the waiter company). For anyone who doesn’t want the main meal, there is also a plentiful salad bar with fresh raw vegetables and many delicious-looking pasta salads.
In terms quality, the food was delicious: the fried chicken was crispy and well-seasoned on the outside and tender on the inside, and the chips were equally flavorful. Unfortunately, we were unable to sample the sugar cookies. Once we were finished, the same boy who had served us cleared away all of the dishes and utensils.
Overall, the serving process was very efficient and eliminated the long wait of lunch lines that Winsor students’ endure almost daily. From what we could tell, there was only one con: although the assigned tables do allow for conversation with different peers every three weeks, we feel that we would miss having meals with friends, especially friends with whom we don’t share many or any classes.
Besides snack and lunch, Belmont Hill students also have the opportunity to buy snacks and beverages from five vending machines. These vending machines offer a much greater variety of snacks than Winsor’s one food vending machine does. As for beverages, in addition to a vending machine featuring purely Gatorade, there is also one with Arnold Palmer lemonade and one with hot cocoa.
Belmont Hill at Winsor
To many Belmont Hill students, weekly long-block classes represent a tolerable price, paid in exchange for marginally reduced homework. The classes themselves, however, particularly with regard to lecture- heavy courses, are, to some, quite the challenge. At Winsor, however, seventy-five minute blocks are no rarity. The first two classes of the day run for one hour each, leading up to a seventy-five minute class which then transitions into lunch then two hour-long classes after lunch. There are just two forty- minute classes each week, slotting in as the final block on Wednesdays and Fridays. Given their additional exposure to lengthy classes, Winsor students maintained an even level of engagement for the duration of each block, whereas Belmont Hill long blocks of- ten fade by period’s end. As one would expect, the longer blocks allowed each course to cover a bit of ground, often transitioning several times. My Spanish class, for example, began by discussing a poem students had read for homework, before shifting to an analysis of Central American paintings and eventually concluding with careful consideration of a film students had been watching. Despite disparate length, Belmont Hill and Winsor classes were far more similar than one might imagine. There was very little lecturing, with teachers beginning class by projecting slides or raising questions and allowing the students to carry out the conversation. While it was less common for students to get up and out of their seats, students were, much like at Belmont Hill, quick to chime in, and before long most classes grew to be driven by student collaboration and discussion. Naturally, teachers periodically intervene to redirect the dialogue, but, in general, the students played a crucial role in every class.
Many of the differences between the Belmont Hill and Winsor campuses became clear to us as we pulled into the parking lot off of Longwood Ave. After years of freely turning into the long Belmont Hill lot and navigating past dozens of cars, we were slightly surprised to see a relative handful of vehicles (not one of them a Jeep), all guarded by a gate at the entrance. The parking lot, along with the tightly clustered buildings and the passing rush of hurried commuters, served as a vivid snapshot of attending school in the heart of the city. The setting felt new and exciting to us, but Winsor students were fully used to taking full advantage of their urban surroundings. Most take school buses or public transportation to and from their homes. Beginning in the second semester of their freshman year, two and a half years before their Belmont Hill counterparts, Winsor girls are granted the ability to leave campus, and often use their free blocks to take the short walk over to Brueggers’, Caffè Nero, or Pret à Manger; during senior year, students are allowed to venture down to the Fenway area. The independence this system provides is a valuable piece of the Winsor identity.
Though small compared to Belmont Hill, Winsor is surprisingly big. The bright contrast of the turf fields and the courtyard transforms the campus into an oasis from the concrete, and inside the school’s fences it feels quiet and peaceful. The architecture is a striking mix of classic and modern, with a 109-year-old brick building fading into the glass-walled, six-story Lubin- O’Donnell Center, completed in 2015. The old wing hosts the majority of the academic classrooms and a beautiful, three-story library which features portraits of old heads of school, a church-like vaulted ceiling, and the type of silent common area which can be difficult to find at Belmont Hill. The new wing plays host to athletic facilities as well as performing arts centers and a “wellness wing,” in which students can find beanbag-filled rooms to decompress for a free block. While the grounds feel secluded, Winsor has a clear connection to the city, and that physical link to the outside world seems to breed a consciousness not often seen on our campus. Civic engagement permeated almost every facet of our visit. In French class, a discussion of advertising touched on the recent Gillette commercial which spoke out against toxic masculinity, clubs and events related to current events featured prominently in the halls, and writers for The Panel were excited to write articles on political occurrences which rarely get mentioned at Belmont Hill.
In between classes, we appreciated the ability to remain in a climate-controlled environment, making our way up flights of stairs and through bustling hallways instead of across frigid quads. I found myself continually surprised to see lockers lining the sides of the corridors.
Instead of wood panels, Winsor’s walls were covered with creative posters for clubs and vibrant student artwork, highlighting the work of current students over that of past students. The tradition of students’ adding their personal touches to the school’s décor extends to the senior homeroom, whose walls are painted by the incoming 12th graders according to an agreed-upon theme; this year the choice was time travel. The common area, unlike Belmont Hill’s Senior couches, is closed off from the hallway by two separate doors, creating a sanctuary where the class can bond and (as evidenced by the wall of college deferral letters, each marked with colorful critiques of the offending institution) support each other.
In my time at Belmont Hill, I have always been one of the most ardent defenders of our school lunches. But after hearing years wistful comments about other private school dining services, I was excited to try the Winsor food to see how we compared. My first chance to try Winsor’s offerings was during their mid-morning snack, Milk and Cookies’ Winsor counterpart. Though food always tastes better when obtained by risking life and limb pushing through a pack of rabid 7th graders, I could get used to the more tranquil Winsor snack period. Featuring hot chocolate, cereal, Ritz crackers, and fresh fruit, the snack took place in the cafeteria, where people stood in line and were allotted enough time to leisurely eat and chat with friends.
Lunch at Winsor in the Upper School comes much earlier in the day than Belmont Hill, and is structured much more like a classic school lunch. Each student waits in line to grab a red tray before entering the spacious kitchen area, with the main hot option for the day as well as the salad and sandwich bar. Students can then sit wherever they want at a series of tables shorter than the ones at Belmont Hill. Winsor also takes advantage of the lunch period as an upper school-wide free period, holding club meetings while students eat.
While I heard complaints about the lunch of the day – baked haddock – I found the meal really good. The fish was tasty, as was its breadcrumb topping. The side dish, which appeared to be some kind of couscous salad (although it may have been scrambled eggs – I’m no food expert), was delicious. Although one of my fellow head editors who sampled the famed flavored water described it as “definitely having a flavor,” the overall impression of the food was positive. At the end of lunch, we brought our empty dishes to a station where I watched people, shockingly, put compost and trash in their separate, correct bins. These two schools truly are different.