the westminster news
Published by the students of Westminster School
By Alice Tao ‘24
Mrs. Nancy Urner-Berry, one of the first girls to attend Westminster, was a member of the class of 1981. She now remains a valuable faculty member. Let’s hear about her experience during the ‘Old Westy Era’ compared to her experience now. We discussed everything from 20th-century food to dress code. Enjoy!
Can you describe your experience at Westminster in the late 1970s?
I was a day student from Granby, and I came here in my fifth form year. There were very few new students in our class, and we had smaller classes in Baxter, our old academic center. I especially enjoyed my math and chemistry classes, hence the reason I teach them now. I came soon after girls were admitted, but it didn’t feel like we were new on campus. I felt that in just a couple of years, they got girls really well integrated into student life. However, there were fewer girls’ sports teams. I don’t believe there were always JV teams for every sport. You could easily be a tri-varsity athlete or get cut and go to track. Also, I stayed away from the smoking area, haha!
How was the food back then compared to now? What has been your all-time favorite?
There was no such thing as a salad bar. They did have the hard ice cream, which has always been a highlight. The food itself, I don’t believe, was really yummy. I remember when you went through the serving line, you would get desserts first. Desserts were always either pudding or yellow cake with frostings on top. There wasn’t anything as interesting as what we offer now. We also had a soda machine so I would always get sodas during meals. There was definitely no General Tsao’s chicken!
In terms of modern Westy, I love the food here. The little salads and roasted vegetables are my favorites. I still like the ice cream and the chocolate chip cookies, and I think they do delicious soups. My favorite meal ever would be the fajitas or chips and guac. It is just so yummy.
How was the dress code when you were here as a student?
The dress code was really hard. We had Sunday Chapels, so you had to have a suit or a fancy dress. For classroom dress, it was a blazer with pants, and you were required to wear the blazer. There were also strict requirements for what you could wear even on your own time, like going to games, walking downtown, or being around campus on a Saturday. We couldn’t wear ripped jeans or inappropriate t-shirts. I remember it being polos for the boys. Overall, it was pretty strict. I found the old W book with all the details and you can see it down below!
What were the dorms like?
When I was here, there were the old Andrew’s and the old Alumni, which was a girls’ dorm for a long time. The first boarding girls went into the old Andrew’s, and there are plenty of good reasons why that building no longer exists. It was not very homey: cinder blocks everywhere and a lot of worn rugs.
What did downtown Simsbury look like?
There was no Starbucks. There was no Popover. There was no CVS. There was no Sarah’s Nails. I don’t remember ever walking downtown, but day students did have cars, and we would go out to restaurants on route 44. They were good times!
What activities and student organizations did you have?
We had very active Newspaper and drama programs. So, there were a lot of plays. Although I never did a play, I was in the chamber choir. There was a barn where you could build your own kayaks to go in the Farmington river.
What was your most memorable moment both as a student and a teacher?
As a student, my most memorable moment would be an instance at the Lawn Ceremony. Once you signed the book, you had to smoke a peace pipe. I was not very experienced at that, so I just coughed and choked my way through the ceremony. It was not fun. As a teacher, my most memorable moment would be when students pranked us on April Fool’s day. Someone brought their sheep from home and put it on the sixth-form lawn. That was pretty funny.
Why did you choose to come back as a faculty member?
I chose to come back because it’s fun to work with teenagers. They are very entertaining, really. When you look at it as an adult, you are like wow, did they really just do that? Did they really just make that decision? And then you remember oh yea, they have a teenage brain. All jokes aside, truthfully, it is really fun, and I love spending time with intelligent, dedicated, and determined students. It makes me so happy to see them grow! I also love having the summer off to do other things. For example, going back to school and being a student myself again. Having the opportunity to continue learning is amazing.
What would be your advice for current students after you’ve lived it?
Well, the college process is very different today. I would say try to enjoy your classes more and not stress so much over the grades. But, as I said, the college process has changed, and I understand it’s not always realistic. There are many more great colleges out there that students probably aren’t aware of, and they are all going to find a college that fits them best and have an amazing experience.