A school for wizards in Whitehall

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Grey School of Wizardry headmaster Nicholas Kingsley

If you’re thinking of attending the Grey School of Wizardry to learn how to shoot lightning from your fingertips, ride a broom to play a real-life game of Quidditch or use a potion to change physically into someone else, you’ll be disappointed.

The Grey School does offer classes in Wizardry, Magickal Practice, Divination and Alchemy – as well as Defense Against the Dark Arts – but the classes are more grounded in the world as we know it than the world of Hogwarts and Harry Potter, according to headmaster Nicholas Kingsley.

“The purpose of the school is to convey knowledge” and to teach people how to convert that knowledge into wisdom, Kingsley said.

The Old English word from which the term wizard is derived simply meant wise one, Kingsley said. Wizards were originally the people their neighbors turned to for help in solving problems, a tradition that also carried with it the responsibility to serve the community, he said.

It was only as the years went on that the idea of wizardry took on the trappings of supernatural magic, he said.

The Grey School is an attempt to bring wizardry back to its roots, he said.

Classes at the school expose students to a wide variety of viewpoints to encourage them to think critically, Kingsley said. Although discussion of such hot-button topics as politics or religion is discouraged, the very nature of the subjects being explored tend to generate conversations about them, he said.

The only rule is that viewpoints be discussed calmly, and that those involved try to take away an appreciation of a belief they may not necessarily agree with, Kingsley said. The idea is to help students learn to build bridges between opposing views, he said.

Those that are reluctant to do so are informed “bummer, you’re here to learn,” he said.

The school also encourages “community crafting” – helping to turn a group of people who just live near one another into a true community, Kingsley said. As part of that effort, students are encouraged to become involved in wherever they live by doing things that improve the lives of their neighbors, he said.

The Grey School has worked to become involved in Whitehall since purchasing a nine-acre property on Poultney Street now called Highspire Manor for its physical campus. Students and faculty have assisted during a variety of community events, including the Sasquatch Festival, and plans call for even more involvement.

Although the school was initially met with “a few raised eyebrows here and there,” the overall reception was welcoming – especially among young people, Kingsley said.

Whitehall Mayor Julie Eagan, in an interview with the school’s online newsletter Grey Matters, said “Whitehall welcomes the Grey School of Wizardry and any apprentices who want to travel to Whitehall with open arms.”

Eagan said she was particularly pleased to note the school’s emphasis on community involvement and service.

“Whitehall is primarily about community and helping one another out. A school for wizards that are training to help their communities should feel right at home here, with ample opportunity to interact with – and assist – much of our population,” the mayor said.

“The Grey School of Wizardry taking root here in Whitehall is a very big deal,” Eagan continued. “When one or two shops open up on the main road, that’s great, but an ambitious project such as an entire school, teaching a different set of skills than normally seen in higher education, helps put Whitehall on the map. Whether it is a destination that brings people into Whitehall for the short term or on a more permanent basis, the school is a sure sign that Whitehall’s best days are ahead of it.”

The school is currently mounting a fundraising effort to purchase additional properties in the village. Kingsley said he hopes to raise $250,000 to buy and refurbish two additional buildings – one to be used for faculty housing, the other as a student dormitory.

Most of the Grey School’s classes are currently offered online, which has worked well since it was first incorporated in California as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization in 2004. The Whitehall campus does host some weekend in-person classes, but the lack of facilities limits both the number of in-person classes that can be offered and the number of students who can attend, Kingsley said.

The inability to have students physically present on campus also is detrimental to the instruction offered – as many more traditional educational institutions found during the Covid-19 pandemic, Kingsley said. Being able to bring students to Whitehall for a six-month semester would improve the learning experience and give students the opportunity for more service to the surrounding community, he said.

The school is currently undergoing a review by the Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges, a private, 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that provides national accreditation to private post-secondary educational institutions.

The Grey School was initially aimed at young people in an effort to capitalize on the renewed interest in learning and school generated by J.K. Rowling’s wildly popular Harry Potter novels, most of which are set on the fictional campus of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. The school early on enrolled about 300 children and 20 adults; those numbers have essentially reversed in recent years, Kingsley said.

“People are intrigued by wizardry,” he said.

But wizardry is “not something to be LARPed (Live Action Role Playing) or role played,” Kingsley said. It is a serious look at how people can “inspire lasting and positive change” through study and involvement in their community, he said.

It is a craft intended to create “innovators, thinkers and doers” who will use their knowledge and skills for the betterment of society, he said.

Grey School of Wizardry headmaster Nicholas Kingsley poses in front of the school’s main building on its campus on Poultney Street in Whitehall on April 6. The school is conducting a fundraising campaign in hopes of buying additional buildings in Whitehall for use as faculty housing and dormitories. (Photo by EJ Conzola II)