The Journey: Proctor's Woodlands and the Learning Edge

Posted by Brian Thomas


Pictures tell you things that written history never will or perhaps can. On my wall in my office just behind my left shoulder is a photograph taken in 1895. It is of the Proctor and Carr families of Andover, NH. During the opening weeks of school, I spoke at great length to our community about members of this family, but John Proctor is the person from whom we as a school get our name. When the picture was taken, John Proctor was gone from the scene for 12 years, he died in 1883, but his extended family and relatives were alive and well represented in Andover. What Proctor planted, the regenerated seeds and start of a new school, still stands today. Vibrant and prosperous.


Proctor Academy Boarding Prep School New EnglandProctor Academy Boarding Prep School New England

The background of the picture holds the most clues for the Proctor we now inhabit. The grass is handsomely groomed behind the family, and the hillside sloping up into the woodlands in the back of the Proctor-Carr clan looks landscaped and newly planted. Perhaps it was thinned out for farming over time. The hill in the picture looks more barren than it does today if we took a picture on or near the same spot. In fact, by its appearance, the second growth of the forest was just beginning with the advent of the young trees. When someone ambles through the Proctor Woodlands these days, you get the sense of the enormity and scale of our lands and the history and dedication it took by a few to have such an important and valuable resource remain for us to enjoy now.

Proctor Academy Boarding Prep School New EnglandProctor Academy Boarding Prep School New England

Flash forward from the 1890s to this past week in 2022, the Proctor Science Department met in the new Woodlands Building – just a few hundred yards to the northeast of where the Proctor-Carr picture was taken – to discuss the legacy of our commitment to environmental sustainability as a school with the mission that is planted deep within the recesses of our genealogy. Indeed, the Science Department came together to flesh out the continued collaboration with the former Proctor science teacher and Woodlands Manager, Laura Ostrowsky. Laura is now in a Phd program back in her native Minnesota. Before leaving, the school and Science Department engaged Laura to begin to see how the Proctor Woodlands might get even more students interested in using our lands much in the same way it was before the Proctors and Carrs arrived on the scene. 

Proctor Academy Boarding Prep School New EnglandProctor Academy Boarding Prep School New England

Last school year with the help of her students, Laura staked out on a grid about 270 acres of our nearly 2,500 acres under the school’s stewardship. The portion of the land within the prescribed area could be extrapolated to represent the entire Proctor Woodlands. Proctor’s new Woodland Building and the Dave Pilla Memorial Forest are rare in the independent school world. The Woodlands Building is a gateway to the forest. What Laura and her students mapped and  created are ways for Proctor researchers, as well as others associated beyond Proctor’s academic walls, to observe and conduct original investigations. By stewarding our own second growth forest in a way that few schools (K - 12) that we know of can claim, we find solutions for more complex problems that our students will encounter in the future. In fact, our closest peers with managed forests are not independent schools but major research universities, like Dartmouth, Yale, Harvard, and the University of New Hampshire, each of which boasts their own woodlands research areas. 

Proctor Academy Boarding Prep School New EnglandProctor Academy Boarding Prep School New England

Last year, Matthew Mueller ‘22 spoke at one of the closing assemblies of the 2021 - 22 school year about his original research while also giving credit to his teacher and her work. This year, all of the science classes resolve to do work in the Woodlands. Many of them will get to take full advantage of the Woodlands Center as well as the new greenhouse that is attached.

This year, the sky’s the limit as our teachers and students get to play, discover, measure, and know what lies within the boundaries of what the Proctors and Carrs may never have even dreamt of when they were protectors of these lands.

Proctor Academy Boarding Prep School New EnglandProctor Academy Boarding Prep School New England

With permission from Laura and the science department, take a look at the slides that Laura prepared that explains the work that has been done and what we hope to explore with Proctor students to keep us and our students all on the learning edge.


Brian W. Thomas, Proctor Academy Head of School 

Curated Listening:

Our time on this land is fleeting, but others have marked the occasion by observing carefully and critically from their vantage point, as the Proctors and Carrs must have known when their images were captured–for us. Similarly, our great poets have tried to give us some perspectives, too. Listen and read the 23rd US Poet Laureate, Joy Harjo, as she gives us “Eagle Poem,” that conveys what a picture may not. Listen: HERE. Read: HERE.


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