50th anniversary of Winterim celebrates wonder in learning and the vision to make girls 'future-ready'
From international excursions to interesting classroom experiences, Harpeth Hall’s celebrated premier program helps students find their place in the world
by Jessica Bliss
While Idanelle McMurry served as Harpeth Hall’s head of school in the 1960s and 1970s, the world rapidly evolved around the young women she led. The idealism of equality ran stride for stride with the unrest of war, and as the country suffered the assassination of a president and celebrated man’s first steps on the moon, no one knew exactly what would come.
The tenor of turmoil and progress left Miss McMurry with much to consider as the leader of a school founded to educate girls and help them find their place in the world.
“She was contemplating thorny issues ahead of her time,” former head of school Ann Teaff wrote in a column in 2009. “What role should women have in the workplace? Why do women earn less than men? Why do glass ceilings exist in so many companies and professions?”
At the time, Miss McMurry said she modeled the program after a similar program in Texas. “It was a response to concerns of the 1960s and a way to give students of a girls school a broader experience in the community and, by traveling, in the world,” Miss McMurry said. The early goals of Winterim, according to Miss McMurry, were “to give girls an opportunity to learn a new skill, work at an internship off-campus, or travel abroad to experience a different culture.”
These goals remain the focus today.
This year, Harpeth Hall celebrated five decades of wonder in learning inspired by Miss McMurry’s vision, and what Harpeth Hall’s Winterim founder knew so well back then is still true. As the International Coalition of Girls Schools puts it: Girls need authentic experiences in the real world to develop skills and gain knowledge that will make them “future-ready.”
For three weeks each January, Winterim sets the stage for that growth.
Designing a future of purpose and possibilities
“We all use things every day, but we don’t think about how they come to life,” said guest instructor John Loudenslager, a professor of engineering management at Vanderbilt University who has developed patents and products for big brands, including YETI, Otterbox, Microsoft, and Gatorade. “That is the premise of this class.”
Engaging opportunities like this fill every Winterim course catalog from 1973 to today. Fifty years after its inception, Winterim is one of Harpeth Hall’s premier programs — a defining experience for current students and thousands of alumnae who have looked to Winterim to learn more about what they love and who they want to become.
The offerings have certainly evolved from the early years of the program. Page 12 of the 1974 Winterim catalog, for example, touted a class called “computer” saying, “The computer has come to be a major factor in our society. For this reason, we are offering a course designed to introduce students to the various uses of the machine and skills to operate it.”
But, whether it is navigating the computers of yesterday or the medical robotics of tomorrow, Winterim has carried forward Miss McMurry’s program mission. Every decade has introduced essential new skills that have advanced with the times to ensure that Harpeth Hall girls can stretch boundaries, broaden their knowledge, and envision a career choice that keeps pace with their future aspirations.
This year, 9th and 10th grade students chose from more than 80 challenging, project-oriented classes on campus. They wrote screenplays, dissected marine animals, recorded original music, explored how math and art intersect, cultivated their personal brands, and so much more. They learned from Harpeth Hall faculty and professionals from around the country — including alumnae specializing in pediatric technology, podcasting, geochemistry and oceanography, and U.N. global finances.
“In this era of AP exams and exacting academic results, Winterim stands alone in cultivating exploration, a sense of wonder, and the kind of joy in learning that transcends an ordinary classroom experience,” Head of School Jess Hill said.
And then there are the experiences that open doors beyond Harpeth Hall’s campus.
Unmatched opportunities that shape a career
Rebecca Miller Spicer ‘89 still hasn’t forgotten her Winterim internship at a Nashville television station during her junior year at Harpeth Hall. The station allowed her to get valuable hands-on work experience, and she quickly developed a strong passion for TV news. The next year, she requested another internship at the same location — a move discouraged by the Winterim office in the spirit of expanding students’ horizons with a breadth of experiences. Eventually, seeing the enthusiasm and determination fueling her request, the Winterim coordinators conceded, with one caveat: she had to choose a different TV station. So she did, and the experience charted her path forward.
After graduating and earning two college degrees, Ms. Spicer enjoyed an award-winning career as a television producer before serving on the White House communications team for President George W. Bush and eventually transitioning to corporate communications and public affairs. She now leads communications for Airlines for America, which represents the leading U.S. airlines in Washington D.C. “Everything I have done professionally — and personally, too — is possible because of Winterim,” she said.
“Truly, I cannot say enough about the foundation it provided. Winterim not only gave me the confidence to pursue a fulfilling, rewarding career but also the desire to live a balanced life that is not one-dimensional,” she said. “There is not a single day that isn’t impacted by some aspect of Harpeth Hall. That is still true three decades later.”
Over the years, Ms. Spicer has sponsored interns and hosted Winterim receptions in Washington D.C. “It is so important for us to give back and to ensure that Winterim continues to grow and thrive for the next generation.”
From deserts to the tropics, across the countryside through the world’s largest cities, Winterim allows Harpeth Hall students in 11th and 12th grades to become global adventurers through academic study trips and internships.
Traveling immerses students in cross-cultural experiences and deepens their understanding of the world and the world's needs. In recent years, Harpeth Hall students explored Italy, Spain, France, Kenya, Australia, the American Southwest, California, Florida and the Keys, and went on an Outward Bound-led expedition through Joshua Tree National Park.
“During Winterim, I am constantly pushed to try new things,” said senior Avery Hassan, who completed her 2022 Winterim internship at a Nashville public relations firm and went on an academic travel trip to the Northeast in 2023. “I can confidently say that without Winterim I would have no idea what I want to do with my life after high school. I’ve done new, exciting classes and completed an amazing internship because of Winterim.”
No matter the path, Winterim provides unmatched opportunities to develop new interests, travel to unfamiliar places, explore potential careers, and create memories for a lifetime — and the future is filled with possibilities.
As country music singer-songwriter and Apple Music podcast host Kelleigh Bannen ‘99 noted when she came to talk about storytelling and interview techniques with this year’s Winterim podcast class: “I took my very first guitar class during Winterim.”
Now, the musician — who has toured alongside country music’s biggest names, including Little Big Town and Luke Bryan -- interviews global superstars such as Dolly Parton and Carrie Underwood, illustrating that you never know where Winterim will take you.
“At Harpeth Hall, we are given so many opportunities that it is inevitable that we will experience something new,” senior Maddie Meyer said.
And everything that Harpeth Hall girls experience during Winterim is imbued with Miss McMurry’s belief that regardless of what the future holds — whether shaped by the consequential age of the 1960s and 1970s or fashioned by the rapid advancements of the 21st century — women cannot make progress by waiting for things to happen. Our girls must take the reigns of their own ambitions. And, in that lesson, the legacy of Miss Murry's wisdom endures.
“We are indebted to Idanelle McMurry for her vision and innovative spirit as a school leader,” Ms. Hill, Harpeth Hall’s current head of school said. “Each year when Winterim rolls around, I am forever grateful that this program was established and embedded in our school culture so long ago. There is no better way to prepare our girls for the possibilities that await.”