By Sophia Lichterfeld
Each October 31, Winsor students have two reasons to celebrate: it is not only Halloween but also Founder’s Day, Mary Winsor’s birthday. At this year’s opening ceremony, Ms. Pelmas said, “This school was created with social justice at its core. [The founders] knew that no one can lead well without being forward-thinking and generous-minded, a phrase we have used for over 100 years.”
As the world around Winsor evolved, the school adapted in various ways. The Banner spoke with Latin teacher Ms. Hatcher, Institutional Researcher Ms. Labieniec, history teacher Ms. Parsley, Head of School Ms. Pelmas, science teacher Mr. Schopf, English teacher Mrs. Skeele ’71, and Archivist Ms. Warren ’84. They each shared their thoughts about how Winsor has changed over time.
Ms. Warren: The school has grown enormously, from eight 10-year-old girls in a townhouse to this bustling campus of 470 students. It has also grown in terms of the backgrounds, heritages, and perspectives contributed by both students and teachers. While Miss Winsor worked hard to include families unable to pay full tuition—in 1910 she had secured funding for nine scholarships—she would be amazed to see how the school now reflects a much broader range of humanity.
Ms. Parsley: When I got here, 17 years ago, about 25% of the kids here self-identified as something other than white, and now that number is closer to 50%. I think people of all shapes and sizes can feel welcome and like this is their place—not like they’re just a visitor passing through, but like this school can really be home and belongs to them.
Mrs. Skeele: The advisory system was the first step in taking care of students one-on-one. In the ’70s and ’80s, we started weekly meetings called “For Seniors Only.” Seniors talked about issues that concerned them—mental health, wellness, etc. Under Carolyn Peter’s leadership, we faculty began educating ourselves more. We read over the summer; we had outside experts come in to work with us. We practiced what it would be like to take a walk with a student on their way to class and have a check-in and listen.
Ms. Labieniec: I think Winsor has significantly shifted in how we value the holistic well-being of “the Winsor student.” When we built the LOC, we wanted several things: more community space; dedicated spaces to amplify student experiences in arts and athletics; a larger theater for leadership and events. That same year, moving from a five-day schedule to a rotating seven-day schedule also allowed us to prioritize community time and maintain a more reasonable workload. We updated courses to fit this model. The visual and performing arts departments created opportunities for students to experience different arts with a new elective program for IIIs and IVs, and we implemented a Lower School STEM program with a sequence of coding, fabrication, and design. These changes were part of a larger narrative of embracing student-centered learning, developing relevant 21st-century skills, and allowing students to explore various areas.
Latin teacher Ms. Hatcher: In both Lower and Upper Schools, there is a greater emphasis on building academic skills that can be transferred across departments. When I work with the seniors on their Independent Learning Experiences, students have a good sense of their interests and passions AND they have the skills to carry out exciting and meaningful work. I would like for Winsor to use all the resources and opportunities of being a city school more intentionally. As the saying goes, “all change is local”; what are we doing to be a part of the change in Boston?
Science teacher Mr. Schopf: Moving forward, I think technology can be a more powerful tool in connecting to other schools and communities. Classes could speak with organizations closer to the primary sources or even with the people doing the research!
Head of School Ms. Pelmas: We are trying new approaches to reach students that may never have heard of Winsor; for faculty, we are doing searches in a greater range of places. We know that students who feel understood and feel comfortable taking risks also learn better; our job is to have a sense of each student’s needs so that we can be part of the solution to the challenges they face. One of the things that I have always loved about this school is that graduates leave here feeling like they can and should change the world—not as a burden but as an opportunity—and I think that has been somewhere in the school since its founding.
Despite the drastic shifts that have taken place since 1886, Mary Winsor’s vision for students of the school to seek to improve the world around them, make their voices heard, and engage thoughtfully with their communities remains at the core of Winsor’s work today. In the 100 years since Ms. Winsor’s retirement in 1922, the school has transformed tremendously, particularly by focusing increasingly on the experiences of students. Yet, as debate coach Ms. Berg P’77, ’81, ’85 recalled, “it was then as now a site of powerhouse teachers and coaches and the destination for exceptional young minds.”
Responses edited for brevity and clarity.