SJA News - November 16, 2022

IN MEMORIAM: Shondelle "Shondie" Paynter '94

In a week when we are focused on the importance of gratitude—being grateful for what we have and counting our blessings—we have been reminded at SJA that sometimes we see the ways that we are blessed in vivid contrast to misfortune, and we are made to recognize what we’ve had by losing it.


This past weekend St. Johnsbury Academy experienced the sudden and unexpected death of one of our beloved educators, Ms. Shondelle Paynter. As the Head Proctor of Sheepcote dorm, she made a home and a haven for every student in her care.


Shondie was born in Bermuda on June 30th, 1976, and according to her own account, when former headmaster Bernier Mayo visited Bermuda to recruit students, he found himself eating real Bermudian food in her family’s backyard. And he brought Shondie back with him to St. Johnsbury, Vermont to attend the Academy. If you don’t know what Bermuda is like, you should know that it is a very warm place with clearwater beaches and palm trees. There are lots of ways for a place to be beautiful, and we in Vermont don’t share many of these with Bermuda.


Shondie never did make peace with the cold, and she responded to snow as a kind of personal insult, often with vivid language. But she loved St. Johnsbury Academy. Many of our current faculty and staff had Shondie as a classmate in the early 1990s. She graduated in 1994, and to hear her good friend Jamie Ryan tell it, after graduation while in college at Lyndon State, she just kept gravitating back to campus, and she more or less started proctoring in Waterman dorm before anyone had made the wise decision to hire her for the job. She never left. Shondie lived and worked at SJA for 28 years, and over that career she made every dormful of students into a family. She touched countless lives. She was a mother for anyone who needed a hug, or a shoulder to cry on, or someone to join in a shriek of delight when a celebration was in order. She was irreverent and hilarious, and said things like “Holy Bejeezus Batman!” When she said, in response to something outrageous, “Shut the Front Door!” it was pretty clear what she meant. 


She was also wise and intuitive, and if you ever struggled with a student or community conundrum, someone might say, “Go see Shondie—she’ll know what to do.” This was true for many generations of SJA resident students, their friends, and their families, and for her colleagues and everyone lucky enough to know her. She seemed to have infinite springs of love and compassion for her Academy family. This touched us all, and was particularly meaningful for the students of color here, about whose experience and concerns as students in northern Vermont she was always thinking.


Her loss—the loss of this beautiful soul—is literally being felt around the world. Hundreds of alumni and friends have flooded social media with words of condolence, and with many wonderful stories about Shondie from those who knew and loved her as much as we always knew she loved us. It’s hard to have known her and not to have a story about her, because she was always so completely herself, outspoken, honest, and joyful.


There is no script for these moments. But Shondie would want us to remember, I think, that despite the snow (Holy Bejeezus!), this is a week when we should be counting our blessings—and that we should, without a doubt, be counting her among them.


Dr. Sharon Howell


A service for Shondie will be held at South Church Hall on Monday, November 21, 2022, at 2:00 p.m. For those unable to join us in person, you can watch via live stream at SJA Webcaster Public - YouTube. For those asking about in memory gifts, they can be directed to the Development Office, St. Johnsbury Academy, PO Box 906, St. Johnsbury, VT 05819, or online at Make a Gift - St. Johnsbury Academy ( Be sure to reference, “For Shondie.” 


The Arts Have Returned

Since returning to SJA in 2020, I have had the awesome privilege of passing the torch to students at this school, where my passion for all things theatre was ignited. As a student, the faculty helped me gain the confidence to reach for my dreams of a career on Broadway.


When CLUE opens at Fuller Hall on Wednesday, November 16, it will be my second production as Director of Academy Theatre. Happily, the Arts have returned to the world and St. Johnsbury Academy after suffering devastating losses. I am now not only in charge of directing plays and musicals and teaching theatre, but I find myself, more importantly, reconnecting students with their emotions and each other. While the sports world was able to continue during the pandemic, music, dance, and theatre was not. We weren’t allowed to sing, express ourselves loudly, stand close to one another, or perform. We took for granted everything that the Arts give to people, and we are so lucky to have it back.


Growing up with board games, there was nothing like the game of CLUE to bring out the competitive edge of childhood friends and family. No one could be trusted while playing CLUE, and I think most of us have the memory of those characters, the different rooms of the mansion, the infamous weapon game pieces, and the fun of narrowing down your list of clues until someone made an accusation.


The game CLUE inspired a movie that inspired the stage version. Academy Theatre students have embraced the madcap, over-the-top slapstick comedy, and we have all had a great time putting this show together. In an ensemble comedy like CLUE, these young actors have fully committed to their roles and play them with humor and conviction. Teamwork is required to pull off the combination of mystery and physical comedy. Each cast member has worked to find their character, and I am very proud of everyone on stage and all the students working tirelessly backstage. Special thanks to my colleague, Flo Darling for jumping “feet first” into costuming and becoming an integral part of Academy Theatre.


My job’s greatest reward is the pure joy these young actors exude from being back on the Fuller Hall stage. I urge you all to go out and support the Arts, and especially Academy Theatre, as we regain our footing. We need the theatre, and the theatre needs you.


Ray Walker '81

Director of Academy Theatre

The show runs Wednesday-Friday, November 16-18, at 7:00 PM in Fuller Hall.

Tickets can be purchased here.


Grace Bosco Recognized as Outstanding Educator

St. Johnsbury Academy's Grace Bosco has been recognized as a recipient of the 2022 University of Vermont Outstanding Educator Award. As a Special Educator, Reading and Writing Specialist, and Orton Gillingham Instructor, Grace has demonstrated a strong work ethic and an ongoing commitment to doing what's best for the students. Grace is a valued and respected member of the SJA Special Services Department.


Students Attend Scholars' Bowl Event

On Friday, Scholars' Bowl traveled to Spaulding High School for a Super Regional Tournament. All six members of the team contributed to each match. This tournament gets the students ready for the state competition in the spring. Congratulations to (l-r) Captain Theodora Montague '23, Anna Casciari '23, Jeremiah Watson '26, Sam Babcock '24, Norah Blankenship '23, and Nico Sipples '23.

Hannah MacDonald Recognized as Student-Athlete Scholar

Senior Hannah MacDonald was honored last week as one of the ten student-athlete scholars in the state of Vermont. Hannah gave her acceptance speech at the Vermont State Athletic Director's Association banquet held in South Burlington. Joining her is Assistant Athletic Director Patrick Rainville.


November 16-18

SJA Theatre Production of "Clue," Fuller Hall, 7:00 PM

View the promotional poster here.

Tickets can be purchased through Catamount Arts here.

Friday, November 18

Thanksgiving Break begins.

Monday, November 28

Classes Resume

Friday, December 2

Senior Capstone Day


Under the direction of Mr. Rowe, the band performed in the annual Veteran's Day Parade last week. Photos from the day can be viewed here.

The fall athletic season is officially over, and the awards are flooding in for our athletes. The Athletics Department is doing a great job of posting them all to their Facebook page, so click here to see more.

The Varsity Girls' Basketball team organized a dodge ball tournament last week to raise money for the school's Unified Basketball team. Photos from the opening rounds of the tournament can be viewed here.

Chef Bystrzycki's kitchen is buzzing with activities as students prepare food to share with the community.

A large group of students, faculty, and staff participated in the blood drive.

We have been fortunate this semester to have several musical performances during Chapel. Click here to watch last week's.

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