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"My NCS experience provided me a valuable template for how to create a trusting environment where people work hard toward a common goal. I’ve always taken NCS with me as a way to negotiate and engage with the world.”
— David Loud, NCS 75, conductor and Broadway music director
North Country School offers middle school boarding students an exceptional combination of engaging academics, extensive studio and performing arts, a robust farm program, daily work jobs, close-knit residential life, and wide-ranging outdoor activities. This remarkable variety gives every student a clear path to success. Year after year since 1938, North Country School has graduated a wide variety of remarkable people. NCS graduates go on to desirable secondary schools, forward-thinking colleges, and professional lives of lasting impact.
Read some of their compelling stories by clicking on the alumni names below.
After NCS, Luis went to Gould Academy in Maine, then attended Ohio Wesleyan University, where he majored in accounting. After graduating from college he returned home to Guatemala in 1996 and began working in real estate development. He currently runs a company called Techo with his sister, three brothers (one of whom, Rodrigo, is NCS 91), and father. The firm focuses on low and mixed income urban development around Guatemala City. They work with large pieces of land to construct planned communities and have completed several large developments in and around Guatemala City. His deep respect for nature gives Luis a unique perspective as an urban developer. Proud to call himself an environmentalist, he is “constantly aware of the pollution we make as developers. I try to be conscious about what products we buy. I think the School imprinted on me the fact that you have to be conscious about the environment.” Luis works to incorporate green areas and trees into low-income housing developments, but also struggles with the complexities of building low income and affordable housing while practicing environmentally responsible building methods. “We still have a long way to go,” he acknowledges about developers in Guatemala. “We’re working to comply with environmental regulations, but we’re still a ways off from green building. We need investments in new technology, and right now we focus a lot on social responsibility, paying workers well, which is a growing priority.” Luis hopes to be at the forefront of progress toward environmentally conscious building and is beginning to set an example through his own company’s work. As an international student at North Country School, Luis remembers appreciating the chance to live with young people from around the world. “NCS helps students to develop a humbleness with their peers. Kids are all sharing chores around the house and school. It brings people of different social status or backgrounds to the same level. For me, it helped to show that everybody, no matter where they are from, are the same, are equal.” He hopes his own children will someday be students at North Country School.
After NCS, Ellen went to Putney School in Vermont, then to Harvard, where she received grades for the first time en route to her bachelor’s degree with honors in English. She also worked on the Harvard Crimson newspaper, pursuing her love of the printed word. Torn between interests in journalism and medicine, Ellen joined the Peace Corps after graduation and spent two years in West Africa’s Ivory Coast as a medical technician in a tuberculosis control unit. Of her time in Africa, Ellen says, “I believe it’s important for Americans to live abroad. I’m very glad that I did. Living in the Third World informed my life in New York as much as anything has. It gave me real perspective on what we have and what the rest of the world doesn’t.” She believes her years at North Country School played a role in her decision to enter the Peace Corps. “I think what NCS really prepares you for is adventure,” Ellen says, laughing. “I slept outside in 40 below zero weather when I was 12 years old—it’s what we did on winter weekends—and it was terrific.” Experiences like these at North Country School also fostered a deep connection to the outdoors. Ellen estimates that she climbed 20 or so of the High Peaks during her school years. Plus, NCS was “so far ahead of its time in going organic and being concerned about sustainability—things that are on the tip of everyone’s tongue now, but I first heard them at North Country. The idea that we were going to eat what we grow… People in the city are often completely disconnected from their food sources. “I think if you are going to live long term in the city and survive—because it’s a high pressure environment—you need something to balance it out. North Country School gives you a psychological avenue to do that. If you have lived in the outdoors, you know how important it is to get back to it. SOHO is not all there is.” These days Ellen retreats to her house in Washington County, where she cross-country skis, hikes, and rides her bicycle, enjoying nature and the calm brought on by disconnecting from technology. Recreating such a moment, she closes her eyes and sees the view from the top of a 46er.
As a result, Hayden says, “I liked other schools, but I loved North Country.” After NCS, Hayden attended the Putney School in Vermont for three years, then traveled abroad with her mother for her senior year at the American Community School of Paris. Hayden “was appalled” by the competitive academics of her new school—“they had marks, and they posted them!”—but they motivated her to work hard and gain acceptance to Radcliffe, where she began a major in art history. Hayden took time off from college, returned to France to pursue painting, then transferred to Barnard College in New York. Soon after, she married a Guatemalan Frenchman and had her two children before graduating in 1966 with a degree in art history. Hayden pursued graduate study in art history, earning her MA from Hunter College and her PhD in 20th Century American Art from CUNY, where she wrote her doctoral dissertation on Frida Kahlo, the basis for her later biography and a topic suggested by a professor at CUNY. Writing about Frida “was perfect,” Hayden says, “because this was during the feminist movement, the mid 1970s, and it was very emotional to write about a woman and her life.” Hayden’s career as an author began even earlier, when as a young mother, she signed up for a typing course. “I thought it was stupid to type the exercises in the book, so instead I typed children’s books.” Though none of those books was ever published, “they taught me how to write,” she says. Another important influence in Hayden’s evolution as a writer was her lifelong battle with dyslexia. “Struggling with reading means you try to write very clearly—you really think about the reader and take him by the hand.” These days Hayden is working on a biography of the painter Isamu Noguchi, one of Gorky’s best friends and Frida Kahlo’s lover, a triangular relationship that allows Hayden to weave her past work into her current project. “I am happiest when I am in the writing process,” Hayden says, “but getting starting is so hard. It’s a lot like looking down a ski hill. You’re standing at the top, thinking, ‘I cannot go down this hill; it’s way too steep and icy.’ It requires trust, and at NCS they teach you to trust yourself. So you think, ‘I’ll probably still be alive when I get to the bottom,’ and then you just go. “Being able to summon up that just go attitude—I learned a lot of that at North Country.”
Tim attended NCS in fourth and fifth grades and again in eighth grade, graduating in 1993. He headed to Putney School for one year, then returned home to New York City to finish high school. He stayed on for college at New York University, where he earned his bachelor’s degree in studio arts. “NCS can take the credit for instilling my passion for the arts,” he says, “because there I had everything at my fingertips—painting, drawing, woodshop, silk screening, photography—and everything is encouraged.” To this day, three ceramic bowls he made at NCS are displayed proudly in the foyer of his apartment. An only child, Tim also credits NCS with teaching him to be part of a larger community, noting in particular the focus on creating well-rounded individuals. “You get a first class education inside the classroom and outside. At NCS I got to try all these different things—making maple syrup and tapping trees, chicken harvest, barn chores, communal meals, events like Thanksgiving—and what matters is that you participated. NCS teaches people to think unconventionally, not to put limitations on yourself. You learn to do more than what you are ‘supposed’ or ‘allowed’ to do in life.” Tim believes his ability to move comfortably and creatively between fields is a skill he first began to foster at North Country School. He currently works at Majestic Research, a medical market research firm, where for the past four and a half years he has served as a senior member of the recruiting department. His day-to-day activities include recruiting physicians and other medical professionals to participate in research projects, then monitoring the progress of numerous studies from beginning to end. What he finds most challenging and enjoyable about his work, he says, “is the overall fast-paced nature of the profession, coupled with the constant use of different skill sets—analyzing data and metrics, problem-solving, and communicating with people with diverse needs.” For Tim, one of the most striking parts of life at NCS “was living with kids from different countries and walks of life. You had all these individuals from interesting backgrounds, but everybody appreciated people for who they were—not what they had.” The ability to deal with people of all kinds was also crucial preparation for working and living in New York. “Going to school with so many people with different intellects and backgrounds prepares you not only for higher education but for life,” he says.
Jessica is a successful actor with roles in popular television series such as True Blood, Judging Amy, and One Life to Live. She lives in Southern California with her husband and middle school-aged daughter. Jessica has included NCS and Treetops in her estate plans, making her a member of our Balanced Rocks Circle.
In your opinion, what makes North Country School unique?
NCS was a 24-hour learning experience. Today progressive institutions talk about “teaching to the whole child”—something NCS did long before it was the popular thing to do. One thing is that NCS sees every one of its students as just that—unique. The school does not have a “one size fits all” mentality in anything it does. That said, it also underlined the importance of community. There is constant encouragement to be your own individual self, but also to work as part of a community or team. Also, NCS really knows how to take the classroom outside. School takes full advantage of what the outdoors has to offer. I learned to have great respect for the planet and all its creatures. It was intense at times. I was a New York City kid, afraid of spiders, and intimidated by the freezing winters. But I felt safe at NCS. I felt empowered by all the responsibility I was given at the barn or on an overnight in the woods. I felt valued and important. I knew that what I was learning had a larger context—these were life lessons, not just schoolwork. I was always encouraged to try new things. There was never an expectation that I had to become an expert at it—it was all about the process. I also think that the faculty at NCS is really special. At graduation, we received diplomas that were handwritten and personalized by our then Head of School, Harry Eldridge. I still have my own carefully preserved. They were decorated with beautiful pressed wild flowers. The diplomas were presented within the traditional "senior books”—an NCS tradition and gorgeous example of the intimate, profound relationships that students make with each other and the faculty. Faculty had as much influence on me as my parents did. That’s a huge responsibility. The faculty has the opportunity to have a profound effect on the young people at School. Across the board, they do an amazing job. I can’t thank them enough for nurturing me and planting the seeds of so many important things in my life. They are cultivating young citizens who will march on to become great, thoughtful, mindful human beings. You can’t put a price tag on someone’s good character.
What lifelong lessons did you learn from NCS and Treetops?
There are so many! Everything I learned at NCS is so woven into the fabric of my life I don’t know how to separate it from who I am. I learned about the cycle of life and nature at every meal. Not only did we have organic food, we also planted the seed, harvested, cleaned, put it on the table, and ate it. Then we cleared the scraps into our compost pile and returned it back to the field once it had decomposed and planted the seed again. In general, NCS students and Treetops campers have a connection with and a deep responsibility to nature. NCS instilled those values in me, and today I’m a big environmentalist—we have solar panels, compost, and a guerilla gray water system. In addition, there were also some very, very basic things I learned from my houseparents and teachers. I remember standing at the sink in Bramwell House on homenight and Jerry Marchildon saying, “You know, Jessica, this dish isn’t clean. You have to use hot water and soap or the grease won’t come out.” It may sound like a silly example, but I still stand at the sink sometimes and think about Jerry Marchildon. Also, I had some complicated things going on in my middle-school years. It was so powerful and such a gift to be able to express all those things in non-verbal ways at NCS, whether painting, throwing a pot, hiking a mountain, or galloping on a horse. Some things in my life would not have been resolved if I had not been given an alternative means of expression. I think, bottom line, NCS put me in touch with my potential. I left with a deep, visceral sense of myself, and the world around me. In the years between then and now, I have wandered off course at times but I feel like the foundation that NCS gave me has always served as a touchstone. It helped me navigate through Middlesex and Yale and difficult periods of my life. It has shaped my community, informed my choice in friends and my life partner, and influenced the way I am raising my daughter, Samara. I can say without exaggeration that my three years at NCS were among the most influential in my life.
Where does the very personal nature of philanthropy fit in your life?
There is often this uneasiness around the topic [of giving]. I think a lot of this unease comes from expectations. In my experience as a class agent for both NCS and my high school, people often feel that if they are not able to make a “significant” gift, their contribution is not valuable. But truly every gift counts, and we can only give proportionate to our means. I think the person who donates $10 should feel they are marching in the parade right along with the person who gives more. My goal is to give consistently, every year. I recognize that my experience at NCS was supported by those who gave before me. It makes me feel good to know that with my donation I am supporting the experience of those who come after me.
While in Seattle, Dan was introduced to sourdough bread. The natural leavening appealed to him and the attraction stuck. He began to bake exclusively with natural leavens. “You can’t bake good bread without good dough,” he said, “but even with good dough, you need an oven that can bake it properly.” In the 1990s Dan had his first chance to bake in a masonry oven, the kind best suited to sourdough bread, and soon turned his attention to building one. He sought help from the leading expert in masonry ovens at the time, the late Alan Scott, a West Coast icon whom Dan met on a visit to the Bay Area in 1995 after Dan’s granddaughter was born there. (In an interesting coincidence, Alan was integral in building the masonry oven for the famous Berkeley restaurant, Chez Panisse, established by Edible Schoolyard founder Alice Waters, and the clay oven for the inaugural Edible Schoolyard program at King Middle School in Berkeley.) With Alan’s guidance, Dan built himself an oven at home and continued his quest for the perfect loaf of sourdough bread. He also closed his medical practice and began what became a nine-year stint as a traveling physiatrist, working in rehab units all over the country so he and his wife could spend more time with their granddaughter. In this arrangement Dan worked in medicine roughly half the year. He soon found a compelling task for his free time. Over the first year of his friendship with Alan Scott, Dan urged his mentor to put down on paper his vast store of knowledge. “Eventually, I realized that Alan was never going to write the book,” he said. “So I did.” In 1999, co-authors Daniel Wing and Alan Scott published The Bread Builders: Hearth Loaves and Masonry Ovens to rave reviews. The book details the history and chemistry of sourdough bread and includes how-to instructions for building a masonry oven. Nominated for a James Beard Award for best writing about food, the book has sold 65,000 copies. Now fully retired from medicine, Dan continues to bake at home, teaches seminar courses in sourdough baking twice a year, and advises individuals and organizations considering a masonry oven. He was pleased to spend time with us on campus in January. Dan enjoyed his own student days here and believes that NCS greatly affected his and his siblings’ development. After all, he said, “I live in a place just like this one.”
Keeping our kids safe is our top priority. Learn more here.