Whetting the Appetite for Community

Every school day, more than 600 people stream into Winsor’s dining room. They come from different backgrounds, cultures, and towns. They come in talking, laughing, silent, tired, energized, nervous, lonely, and happy. For all their differences, they have one thing in common: They are hungry for what Winsor’s culinary team provides.  

“Food is a great unifier in today’s world,” says Chef Heather Pierce, Winsor’s culinary director.  “We can just enjoy each other’s company with what’s on the table. That is what I want our community to do here at Winsor: Stop, take a break from the intensity of the day, and share in a meal.”

Sharing time and food sounds like a straightforward and foolproof formula for creating community. But Ms. Pierce’s work is far from simple. It calls for a deft blend of art, science, and, above all, an understanding of who she cooks for.

Day by day, she has built a reputation for being accessible, involved, and easy to approach. Students often email her to propose menu ideas and to invite her to club meetings where food-related issues will be discussed. She has presented on nutrition through the wellness program, partnered with Planet Protectors on recycling and food-waste concerns, and collaborated with affinity groups, where students share a common identity such as race, heritage, or religion, to plan special meals.

Sometimes a student’s need to feel like they belong may be answered through adapting a family or traditional recipe to feed the whole Winsor student body.

“I love it when students share their food memories with me! I may not be able to duplicate their family recipes exactly, but I try to represent them the best that I can,” Ms. Pierce says. “My favorite comment that I’ve heard a few times is ‘I felt seen.’ I love that.”
Of course, some students would rather be heard more than seen, so the dining room maintains a comment board where students can post questions or make suggestions and the staff can then respond.

All of this effort does not go unrecognized, and “Chef Heather” is a favorite of many of the students. Lara do Rosario ’26 says Ms. Pierce’s thoughtfulness “can be witnessed by her leadership in the kitchen and her dedication to cultural diversity in her menus.”  
Though enticing people to try something new is one of her greatest satisfactions, Ms. Pierce never forgets about the student who would “rather have something a little less bold and a little more comforting.”

Winsor students often spend their days experimenting and pushing beyond their comfort zone, and sometimes a warm bowl of oatmeal or mac and cheese is adventure enough. The main feeling that kids should have in the dining room is that this is a place for them, where they can relax and be nourished.

At the end of the day, Ms. Pierce says, she simply wants to make people happy through food. “It’s the best feeling to share something you love with so many people,” she says.

Finding Their Happy Place

Laura Duncan, director of the Virginia Wing Library, says that “people laughing and talking” is the soundtrack to her days. “I hear a lot of laughter, which is so lovely. We want the library to feel like a really happy space,” Ms. Duncan says.

Students overwhelmingly name the library as one of their favorite places on campus. Whether they need to study in silence or want to relax around the puzzle table and find that missing corner piece, they know there’s a sunny spot for them here.

Hamna Chowdhry ’26 says, “The library has always been a chill,
safe space for me to work or talk.” While students feel inherently welcomed at the library, they may not be aware how much planning and thought goes into shaping this environment. For Winsor’s library professionals, creating opportunities for belonging is an overarching goal that serves as their North Star for every consideration, including how they use the physical space, the new programs they launch and how they curate resources.

“Libraries are about so much more than the books on the shelves,” Ms. Duncan emphasizes. “I think they’re places that inspire community and that sense of belonging. My job is really about community.”  

This past year, the library staff developed several programs that helped students explore and find a personal connection to books and one another. Classmates showed up to movie night (the featured film based on a book, of course) in pajamas, and relaxed together over pizza. Before winter break, nearly 100 students responded to a schoolwide survey about their taste in books. In return, they were treated to individually curated selections of books to take home over break.

“One of the things that’s front of mind for [staff] on a daily basis and also in the big picture is, ‘How can we make each and every student feel represented and welcome?’” Ms. Duncan says. “We want this library collection to feel like it’s for everyone, to make sure that people can see their own experiences and learn about other people’s experiences from those books.”

What book would have been in Ms. Duncan’s winter break bag when she was a child?  “When I was very little, I asked my mom to check out Sylvester and the Magic Pebble from the library on a monthly basis. Walking through my local library’s front doors felt like entering a magical gateway where all of these extraordinary experiences awaited me. I hope this library offers people a bit of magic, too.”