The world I’m growing up in scares me to death. It seems like everywhere I look there is something to be afraid of. In fact, I’m almost fifteen and I just got permission this summer to ride my bike to my friend’s house. It’s only two blocks away, but I understand why. The world I’m growing up in is scary because it’s dangerous. I can’t tell you that it’s more dangerous than any other period in human history, but I can tell you this: we’re certainly more aware of it. The news flashes every day with new stories of gunmen, arson, murder, and scandal in our very own White House. That shadow in the corner of my eye, that’s danger. The creak on the stairs when I’m home alone, that’s danger. This constant fear bleeds into every single aspect of my life.
In school, we’ve had lockdown drills for as long as I can remember. An announcement is made, so we lock the doors, draw the blinds, huddle in the corner, and stay as silent as possible. For those 4-7 minutes, I examine my best friend’s shoelaces intently. I imagine what I would do, if at that very moment, the drill was real and a shooter barged into the classroom. I count the bricks on the wall. I wonder if this is what it felt like to live during the Cold War, diving under desks to take cover at the prospect of nuclear war. Then, I wonder why people believed that a wooden desk could stop an atomic bomb. Probably, I think, for the same reasons we draw the blinds and lock the doors. Ever since the shooting in Parkland, Florida, though, something has changed. Everything feels more real. The idea of a school shooting used to be almost nonexistent. Something that happened to those poor kids in Sandy Hook, but could never happen to us.
But the national uproar 5,000 miles away brought about changes reaching all the way to Pingry. Now, we have more detailed lockdown procedures. Recently, we had an assembly describing safety procedures, and our newly installed lockdown buttons in case of an emergency. We know what to do during lunch, during time between classes. We know that if there’s an emergency, we are to go into the nearest open classroom, let as many kids in as possible, lock all the doors, and hide. The threat has become omnipresent. It’s not far away and vague anymore, but something that could actually happen to us. Even in the bathroom stalls, the inner doors are plastered with laminated posters explaining what to do if someone is in the bathroom while a lockdown is in progress. It tells me what keywords to listen for to make sure the all-clear is legitimate. The danger of a school shooting stares me in the face while I use the bathroom. It’s an unfading feeling of unease, present even when I’m walking down the hall with a friend, goofing off like an average pair of freshmen. I see the security guards on duty keeping an eye on everything, watching for any signs of suspicious activity. I understand why they are there, of course, but it reminds me that nowhere is safe.
I live in the epitome of suburbia, so it’s strange to have this fear everywhere I go. We have become desensitized to shootings and gun violence, and barely react to the now daily reports of shootings. Everywhere is unsafe: first movie theaters, coffee shops, and retail stores, and now schools. For me, school is a place I look forward to going every day; however, some days, when I step off of that yellow Kensington bus, I feel afraid of the unknown, and I concoct imaginary emergency scenarios in my head. I have my parents on speed dial, as a “just-in-case.” I have a message in the notes section of my phone for my loved ones, should something actually happen to me, though the chances are slim. I really shouldn’t have to worry about this; I’m just your average high school freshman trying not to fail Spanish and science, binging rom-coms and Disney movies in her free time. We shouldn’t have to worry that when we leave our houses in the morning for school, it might be the last time our parents see us alive.
Our government should have stepped up on gun policies and implemented stricter gun laws years ago, right after the incident at Sandy Hook. How many more lives must be lost until our government takes charge? Our nation needs action, and it is long overdue.
A math problem? Of sorts, yes. Except it extends beyond the scope of a simple one-period, ten-problem math test—it is something we deal with at Pingry daily.
Class sizes are one of the most important parts of an educational experience, but we talk about it the least. In fact, I have never heard anybody talk about class size during my two-and-a-half years at Pingry.
Of course, this is mostly justified. Pingry’s class sizes are significantly smaller than those in other schools, both public and private. Our student to faculty ratio is half of what it is in surrounding public schools and one third of the national average.
Smaller class sizes have long been linked to better academic performance and learning capabilities. For the same reason a private tutor is more helpful than a large group lesson, smaller class sizes allow for more individual attention. Pingry bills its class sizes as small enough to foster this connection between the faculty and other students, but not too small as to discourage collaboration and teamwork. Our school prides itself on these class size caps, which are featured prominently in multiple places on pingry.org. They are all centered around the same line: “keeping class sizes to 16 at the Lower School, 14 in the Middle School, and 13 in the Upper School.”
Earlier this year, I noticed that my science class seemed unusually large. This made me realize that not every class is as small as Pingry’s website claims. My science class, for example, has 16 students, which isn’t massive, but the lab always feels full. With more students, it is more difficult to provide attention to each individual student, regardless of how good a teacher is. When 65 minutes have to be divided up among more students than normal, the time per student ostensibly decreases.
I wanted to make sure I wasn’t the only one noticing that class sizes are inching further away from that magic number 13. So, I created a survey that asked for the class size (including the teacher) of English, math, history, science, and language classes. I sent out the survey to various juniors and the entire Record staff. Out of the 17 people I polled, two reported not taking any language classes, so I ignored those two values when analyzing the data.
Based on this data, though, class size doesn’t really seem to be much of a problem. The averages are slightly higher than 13, with the exception of science classes, which are fairly higher. On the other hand, language classes seem particularly small.
This data doesn’t reveal the whole story though. The range of class sizes for each of these categories varies significantly: 10 for English, 12 for math, 9 for history, 5 for science, and 14 for languages.
This inconsistency led me to analyze each of the individual values themselves, shown in the table, which shows the percent of the sample with the class size of each category.
Clearly, a pattern has emerged. Language classes are mostly reasonably sized, besides one large class. History is the next best, with once again one very large class. English classes are in the middle of the pack, but the class size keeps increasing. Math classes are a little bit higher, but one class has a surprisingly large 20 students. Science classes exhibit the largest class sizes.
It’s understandable that not every class can be exactly 13 students, but to have almost three-quarters of science classes have more than 15 students is quite a stretch. In fact, not a single one of the science classes is less than 13 students; Pingry’s Science Department prides itself on its thorough explanation of concepts, but this disproportionate class size distribution hampers that proposition.
Now, I am in no way criticizing the faculty, staff, or administration. My point isn’t to criticize everyone except the students, but rather to note a trend that hurts our collective education.
Another important thing to note is that this is in no way a perfectly scientific survey. It is entirely possible that multiple students in this survey shared classes, which would skew the results. Misreporting could also have been a factor. My study also ignored electives and double subjects in science or math, for example. I definitely believe that further investigation should be done in order to ensure that class sizes are what they are supposed to be.
In this survey, I also asked for an ideal class size. The minimum was seven, and the maximum was 15 students. The average was 10.82 students per class. Obviously, classrooms and teachers don’t appear out of thin air, but some future thought needs to be given to what class size the average student might find beneficial.
Overall, there isn’t really much to panic about—just some intriguing numbers that show class sizes, especially in science, aren’t as low as they should be and that maybe the number 13 itself needs to be rethought a little bit. Perhaps 13 isn’t as magical as we believe.
There are issues that everyone agrees are violations of the Honor Code: bullying, vandalism, racism, sexism, and so on and so forth. If any such disrespectful actions are committed, we unanimously cite the perpetrator’s betrayal of the Honor Code. We have a general consensus in this respect. However, there are some topics of contention among the student body when it comes to breaking the Honor Code, including—but definitely not limited to–– cheating, using Sparknotes, and breaking the dress code. Maybe when we students talk to teachers, administrators, or prospective parents, we have the facade of a united front, but I assure you, we have quite a spectrum of opinions ranging from very conservative to very rebellious.
Last year, I found out about someone cheating on a test. Now, when I say “cheating,” I do not mean “Sparknoting” Jane Eyre or telling someone that the test was easy or hard, but blatantly communicating the exact problems that would be on the test. I was shocked. I knew people looked at siblings’ tests or maybe knew the bonus question, but I was genuinely shocked by this incident. Sometimes we make fun of the Honor Code for being too idealistic or rigid, but was it really so naïve of me to believe that students would not actually cheat on a test? I will acknowledge that I am not a person who breaks a lot of rules, so maybe my shock is simply a consequence of my ignorance. However, I guess I expected that as a student body, we agreed upon, if nothing else, perhaps the most basic principle of the Honor Code: integrity. Then again, I did not report that person, so who am I to talk?
Let’s be completely candid about how many times we break the Honor Code each day, in our personal lives, in our academic lives, and in our extracurriculars. Are we all impeccable Pingry students that have upheld the contract we so earnestly signed on the first Friday of the school year?
No, we are not. I know that I am not. So how can I judge? How can I be so shocked? How can I write this 650-word rant about the Honor Code simply because someone cheated?
I can do this because I cannot pretend to be okay with people cheating. I got some of my lowest grades on the very tests the aforementioned person cheated on. I would study for hours, days before the test, dreading what types of questions were going to be asked. Meanwhile, that student was cruising, already having known the exact questions on the test. I wasn’t just appalled; I was infuriated. The message I’d been left with was this:
“Life’s not fair. Get used to it.”
It is unfortunate, but it could not be more true. Not everyone is going to follow the Honor Code; not in Pingry, not in college, and not in the real world.
I do not have a magical solution. I could end this opinion piece by saying that everyone should try to be good, and that we should try to make life fair by following the Honor Code to the best of our ability, but that would just further breach my integrity. The person who cheated will probably cheat again and get away with it. Pingry can make us sign all of the contracts in the world, have us write the Honor Pledge thousands of times, and have brilliant speakers for the Honor Board’s Speaker series, but the Honor Code at Pingry is, at its root, a suggestion—a highly recommended suggestion—but a suggestion nevertheless.
Follow the Honor Code, or don’t follow the Honor Code; the one truth I can tell you is that it comes down to you and the values you choose to have faith in.
Herr Igor Jasinski is back! This year, he will be teaching a variety of both Upper and Middle School courses: German I, German III and IV for high schoolers, and German IA for the sixth graders. He is also a faculty advisor of the Polyglot magazine, and a Middle School Homework Club proctor.
Herr Jasinski grew up in a small town in Germany outside of Düsseldorf, and later went to the University of Düsseldorf, earning his Grundstudium (bachelor’s) degree in Philosophy and German Literature and Linguistics. From there, he received his Hauptstudium (graduate) degree from the University of Tubingham in Philosophy and Modern German Literature. He then participated in graduate studies, including a Ph.D. program in Philosophy at Stony Brook University in New York, earning an MA in the subject.
Herr Jasinski’s teaching career began at Bergen County Academies, shortly after finishing his Ph.D program. He had never taught before, but he says that even during his interview for the position, he could tell that teaching was something he really loved: “It’s hard to quantify it, but it was interacting with the students that felt great… How you create a community, and the feeling you get when it works and you’ve created a curiosity and openness in a student, I feel like I connected with that.” After Bergen County, Jasinski taught at a variety of schools, both private and public, including William-Cullen Bryant High School and Scotch Plains-Fanwood High School for German and/or Philosophy.
Herr Jasinski began at Pingry in 2009 and taught classes here for five years before deciding to take a sabbatical in 2014; he enrolled in a Montclair-based EdD, or Doctorate of Education, program in Pedagogy and Philosophy. To write his dissertation, he moved to a city on the coast of Mexico, Puerto Escondido. While he was there, he received and accepted his first book offer. Giorgio Agamben: Education without Ends was published at the end of 2018.
After publishing his book, Herr Jasinski decided that it was time to get back to teaching, scouring the U.S. for available jobs. Luckily for us, he was able to come back and teach at Pingry. Though he admits he does not have a lot of free time, Herr Jasinski loves to run, Salsa dance, and do yoga. He is also hoping to start a Philosophy Club here at Pingry this year, and maybe even propose a course on the subject. “Teaching philosophy to young people is a real passion of mine,” he says. We wish him the best of luck this year, and are excited to have him back!
The high temperatures of the final days of September thankfully began to subside by Saturday, October 5 on this event-packed day. By 8:30 a.m., the Basking Ridge campus was swarming with parents of Middle and Upper school students for Pingry’s annual Back to School Day, where they sat for ten-minute versions of their children’s classes. There, parents could learn about the content of their children’s courses while also getting to know the teacher. Parents who were new to Pingry also had the opportunity to tour the campus.
Following their simulated school day, parents joined others in the Pingry community for a bountiful fall lunch. The spread included barbecue, Italian food, and cider, but the dessert was particularly exquisite. To gear up for the upcoming autumn season, guests dined on apple cobbler, pumpkin spice mousse, and apple cider doughnuts. Another tent offered spirited goodies, such as car stickers, t-shirts, and blue-beaded necklaces in preparation for the upcoming sports games. Visitors were able to participate in other activities as well, such as checking out the Pingry Credit Union booth or having a chance to meet acclaimed world traveller Denis Belliveau.
Throughout the afternoon, Pingry’s sports teams competed against a slew of other New Jersey high school teams, with each game starting approximately half an hour after the last began. At 2 p.m., girls’ varsity soccer kicked off the sequence, defeating Livingston 5-1. The co-ed varsity water polo team, played next, winning their match against Saint Peter’s Prep 9-6. Varsity football was also victorious against Montclair Kimberley Academy. Girls’ varsity field hockey was unfortunately defeated by Bridgewater Raritan, losing 0-2. The second water polo game, this time with Pingry’s co-ed junior varsity team, also won 9-6. The last two matches by the boys’ soccer team ended in stunning victories; at about 4 pm, the boys’ junior varsity soccer team prevented Princeton Day from scoring a single goal, winning 9-0. Boys’ varsity soccer did the same, beating Princeton Day with a score of 6-0.
“[The girls’ varsity soccer players] are a formidable team,” says Alison Lee (VI). “Their finesse and teamwork is absolutely astonishing, so it is no wonder that they won the game.”
As the sun fell, Pingry students began to gear up for the Homecoming dance. The theme, “Storm Area 51”, had decisively won when proposed in a vote to the student body. It was based on a popular Internet meme: supposedly, if enough people raided the US Air Force facility, the government would not be able to stop all participants from freeing whatever secrets, particularly aliens, kept there. Student raiders were appropriately dressed in glamorous, alien-themed attire.
“I really liked the Area 51 theme because of how uniquely relevant it is to 2019,” says Anjali Kapoor (VI). She states that students would be able to look back at this particular dance and “remember how this was the year that millions of people signed up to storm Area 51 in search of aliens.” Alison Lee agrees: “yes, outer space has been done before, but I think what was unique about this year was that we took a current event as our theme… Honestly, I feel like it might even be the best theme that we’ve had so far because of its uniqueness to our time.”
During morning meeting on September 23rd, Pingry’s Taiko Drumming Club performed “Dokokara,” a composition written by the principal of the LA Taiko Institute in the 2010s.
Three years ago, Pingry’s former headmaster suggested that Mr. Leone should host a workshop about taiko drumming. Twelve students and faculty attended. A few months later, Pingry’s newly established taiko group put on their first performance at the Taste of Pingry event, and Pingry Taiko Drumming became an official club. Since then, Taiko has performed at several school-wide events, including: A Taste of Pingry, the Lunar New Year Assembly, Night of Noise, and more.
Mr. Leone was interviewed after the morning meeting performance on September 23rd, and below are excerpts of that conversation.
How did you discover and how long have you been involved with Taiko?
“I have been playing for about ten years. I got introduced to Taiko through a global music class. I was a music minor so one of the requirements was to take some music electives. Because we had to do a field study, the professor told us about a Japanese Taiko drumming group in Philadelphia. I was blown away. About a week later, I saw them again and someone at TCNJ told me that they were thinking of starting a Taiko group. I never thought I’d hear from them again, but I did! At the first practice, I was terrible! Three sessions turned into five, which turned into eight, and we had our first performance. I wrote a piece for the group because the Asian American Association had a cultural show in the spring where we debuted. From there TCNJ Taiko was born and is still going today. They’re on their twelfth year there!”
How do you select a piece for the club to perform?
“I try and find things that are open source or pieces that are copyleft. Copyleft means that it’s open to use, but whatever you produce has to be released copyleft. This is a little tricky for us because there’s a lot of disclosure and consent. I also try and find pieces that are fun to play and watch! ‘Dokokara’ is a challenging piece, but some of our members need a good challenge. The piece should be accessible for any Taiko members that are relatively new.”
What is the process for preparing a Taiko performance?
“Learning the piece and getting everyone comfortable is important. I believe very strongly in making sure that everyone is confident with what they’re doing before they go on stage. I try to fit in as much practice time as possible and encourage students to practice on their own. Members have asked to rehearse outside of regular practice, which is easy since we can set up a drum in a practice room. We have to make sure that practices are low pressure. Some of the performances can feel high pressure, but only if you let it. Performing in front of the whole school is one of the bigger audiences I’ve performed for. The Pingry community is supportive and energetic, so I feel zero pressure.”
My brother joined me outside, football in hand. The fall wind brushed past our faces as it carried the ball from his hands to mine and back. Our hands grew colder with each toss until we ran inside for warmth. It was the first time we had thrown the football together in years. When we were younger, it was a weekly ritual, and one that brought us sweet memories. Five years later, standing in my backyard as the football flew through the chilling air, I felt the desire to reverse time. I wanted more than to be reminded of what we used to do; I wanted to be back in that time. I wished for my carefree, strong self; I needed my brother to have time to spend with me again.
I felt nostalgic. The feeling was overwhelmingly bittersweet. I envied my former self. The nostalgia consumed me. But I know I’m surely not alone in this feeling. Society has come to seek nostalgia more frequently. The feeling has shaped our media, trends, and fashion. Nostalgia, often a relatively personal feeling, has become global. The connectivity of our world, which has only recently expanded, forces commonalities in experiences that trigger nostalgia. With the rise of technology and social media, we have a greater access to shared thoughts and events, which ultimately allows nostalgia to shape our world as an image of the past.
This newfound sense of global nostalgia is evident in recent fashion trends: platform shoes from the seventies, scrunchies from the eighties, and the denim-on-denim look from the nineties. The popularity of these trends has resurfaced decades later to blend into today’s fashion. While acting as reminders of the past, they serve as evidence of the desire to return to and pull from what was. Nostalgia is also fueling the entertainment industry. In the last six months, Disney has released three live action remakes of their classic films, including Aladdin and The Lion King, which, combined, made over two billion dollars at the box office. These movies attracted people who had watched them as kids, capitalizing on the need for nostalgia. The films allow them to relive a simpler, often more desirable, time in their lives. Furthermore, both the resurfacing of fashion trends and classic movies stress the worldwide nature of nostalgia. It is felt universally by a generation. As distant places and people are connected through technology, that shared nostalgia is more accessible and society is reaching for it.
The accessibility of nostalgia is present in the popularity of Netflix. With the click of a button, people can watch shows and movies from decades ago. These shows, including Friends and The Office, are not only watched by original fans, but by a new generation who wishes to be included in the shows and the collective experience they create. Along with this, the Netflix revivals of shows such as Gilmore Girls and Arrested Development give viewers a greater entrance into the past as it seemingly takes them, in a new way, back to the first time they saw the show. For original viewers, this type of access to their favorite show has only been made possible recently.
While nostalgia allows fond times and experiences in our lives to resurface, it can be dangerous. Nostalgia acts as another form of regret, a form that is often sheltered from the negative connotations. The feeling stops us from letting go; it stops us from being satisfied. With expanding technology and connection, nostalgia is no longer as simple as reminiscing over tossing the football in the backyard; it is a way to expose the discontent with society in the present. People wish to go back to a time in which they believe the world was better off. The rise of global nostalgia signifies a collective need to remove ourselves from the present, and reminisce about the simpler times of our past.
For Pingry, convocation welcomes a new student body and ushers in a new year of thought, achievement, and education, along with the celebration of the Honor Code that is held in such high esteem.
Convocation opened with the signing of the Honor Code, written by Pingry students in 1926. The signing of the Honor Code reminds the community about the promises they made to be honorable and contribute “to the larger community of the world,” as the Honor Code says. When all members of the Pingry community sign the Honor Code, the school becomes a more tightly-knit community that is bound by a single contract.
During Convocation, a number of speeches were given to formally begin the 2019-2020 school year. Mr. Miller Bugliari ‘52, Head Coach of the Boys’ Varsity Soccer Team and Special Assistant to the Headmaster, is distinguished for 60 years as a faculty member. He began his time at Pingry as a biology teacher in 1959. Student Body President, Brian Li (VI); Board of Trustees Chair, Mr. Jeffrey Edwards ‘78, P ‘12, P ‘14, P ‘18; and Head of School, Mr. Matt Levinson were among the speakers at Convocation. Emily Sanchez (VI), Honor Board Chair, spoke of the Honor Code’s use as an identifier for every student and faculty member in Pingry. “Everybody is able to grow into themselves and not be afraid to take the necessary risks,” she says. Similar messages of acceptance and growing from failure were shared by speakers throughout the ceremony.
Hopefully, as the year gets underway, Convocation will remind students, faculty, and staff to always fulfill the Honor Code and simply slow down. In the words of Mr. Levinson, “Take a moment to hit the brakes on whatever you are doing… [and] think about your classmates and your role in the community.”
This year’s annual PSPA Friday Night Lights took place on September 27, as hundreds of students, families, and faculty from the Lower, Middle, and Upper Schools came together to support the Big Blue’s football team.
The evening began with the community gathered around the tent to enjoy pizza, pasta, and mozzarella sticks while keeping warm with hot chocolate and apple cider. Along with the food and drinks, teddy bears of a variety of colors were handed out to everyone.
Although the team lost 34-0 to Long Island Lutheran, the energy from the stands was unbeatable. “Despite the loss, I really enjoyed FNL, and the enthusiasm of the crowd was great,” Katherine Xie (IV) said. Form VI students were especially energized, cheering on their fellow seniors with large cardboard cutouts of the players. They also started chants for the crowd to follow.
Big Blue may have lost this game, but the spirit from the community was never diminished.
Mr. Joseph Napolitano is thrilled to join the Pingry faculty as a teacher as well as a set designer. He will be co-teaching sections of the Scenic Costume and Design course this year, and has already been named Head Set Designer for all of Pingry’s drama productions. In addition to designing, he plans to assist in set construction, as well as tackle various other aspects of Pingry Drama, ranging from ticketing services to environmental graphic upgrades and marketing initiatives.
Before joining Pingry, Mr. Napolitano attended Rowan University. After graduating, he worked on design. “[I] collaborated with a variety of organizations and universities on creative placemaking, experience design projects, large-scale public art, and production design for theatre and television,” he mentioned. He’s also taught design workshops and classes and really enjoyed the experience, which is one of the reasons he wanted to teach at Pingry. “[They] inspired me to seek out further opportunities for sharing my knowledge of process,” he recalled.
So far, Mr. Napolitano enjoys being a part of the Pingry community. “My experiences thus far at Pingry have been wonderful!” he remarks. “I’m extremely grateful for the drama department faculty and staff. I could not have asked for a better team to be a part of.”
Mr. Napolitano is currently working with part of the Student Tech and Design Crew for this year’s fall play, Our Town. He has really enjoyed working with these students so far, stating, “I’m most grateful to have witnessed moments of brilliance amongst our theatre design/tech crew students in the shop.”
One goal he has for this year is to educate his students about the different areas of production design and hopefully spread his passion to aspiring designers. Another goal is to “draw parallels to adjacent areas of study [e.g., architecture, thematic design, technology, etc.] and identify specific skills that are used not only in theatre-making, but in many other disciplines as well.”
Outside of Pingry, Mr. Napolitano designs professional productions, including Into the Woods, Urinetown, and other productions both on and off Broadway, and has won multiple awards for his designs.
He also is passionate about sustainability in his profession, and enjoys working with the charitable organization Broadway Green Alliance. With this organization, he works “on multiple sustainable initiatives industry-wide,” which promote recycling and sustainability in the Broadway community.
He is incredibly excited to getting to know the community in the upcoming year! Welcome, Mr. Napolitano!
On the 21st of August, I started a journey that would leave a lasting impact for the rest of my life. As I crossed the threshold to enter the plane, I felt panic and reluctance coursing through my body. I found my seat and felt my eyes getting heavier. The next thing I remember was looking out the window and seeing desert stretch for miles; after a summer of anticipation and an 11 hour flight, I finally landed in Amman, Jordan.
The first days felt relaxed; my mother was there to comfort me and I knew that the rest of my family and friends were only a phone call away. After the third day, I finally walked into King’s Academy with a clear head and an excitement that had never been matched in my life.
The first week felt like I had already been there for a year, and I was convinced that I needed to catch the next flight home. I always managed to find myself alone in my room, wishing I could be in a comfortable environment with a school I knew, friends I knew, and a life I knew.
As the days went on, however, I found myself growing into a routine and my life seemed more manageable. Though, I still longed for my own bed and my dogs running up to me as I got home.
After the second week ended, I felt something new brewing inside me. It was the same excitement I felt when I first saw the campus and I finally started to feel as though I belonged. More kids took an interest in me and teachers were commending my bravery for leaving home and moving somewhere new—the school didn’t seem as daunting anymore.
I was reminded of why I came to the Middle East and I began to revert back to my outgoing, happy self. I had moments where I closed my eyes, and when I opened them, I was hit with the reality that I was in Jordan. My life was a dream that most people think about, but never get the opportunity to do. Even on weekend trips to the mall, I looked outside and savored every view that ran along as the bus was zooming. My friends were pointing out camels and sand dunes, and I was finally beginning to process not being in New Jersey.
Even after a month of being here, I still think about my home and what would be happening if I were in the comforts of Pingry. Though, whenever I find myself drawing closer to that thought, I am always reminded of the golden opportunity I have been given and am reassured that I made the best decision by coming here. The transition was difficult, but already the trips to the Dead Sea, Petra, and Wadi Rum have made all my sacrifices in coming here worth it.
The Upper School Mathematics Department welcomes Mr. Zhaojun Yong, who will be teaching both Honors Geometry and Advanced Algebra and Geometry. Besides teaching, he will also be coaching the boys’ freshman basketball team and advising a club in the middle school.
Mr. Yong is no stranger to New Jersey. Having grown up near Rutgers, he is familiar with the Basking Ridge area. In his free time, he enjoys playing sports, mainly tennis and basketball. “Sports, as well as running in general, are great ways to get my mind off of school and academics,” he said. Mr. Yong is especially drawn to playing basketball, having been a member of his high school basketball team. This experience played a large role in his inclination to coach basketball at Pingry. “I’ve always loved playing basketball,” Mr. Yong said. “Especially now that some of my students are also involved with the team, it creates another dimension towards them in terms of understanding who they are.” Mr. Yong praises basketball for its ability to “allow kids to interact in a manner different from class settings.” With the season approaching, he is looking forward to coaching the team.
Prior to coming to Pingry, Mr. Yong attended college at NYU, where he majored in mathematics. He recently finished graduate school at Columbia University. There, he furthered his schooling in mathematics, earning his master’s degree in Mathematics Education.
During his time at college, he often served as an informal tutor for his fellow peers; he helped them whenever they had difficulty with math-related problems. This informal service soon unveiled Mr. Yong’s passion for teaching and paved the way for his future career.
Mr. Yong started his educational career by working as a substitute teacher. “The desire to want to help students and help others” was his main motivation for teaching. In the past, he knew that many of his peers saw math as too difficult, and they would, therefore, shy away from the subject. In hopes of changing these perceptions, Mr. Yong strives to create an atmosphere in his classes where “students do not feel discouraged,” and rather feel open and “accepting towards new challenges.”
At Pingry, Mr. Yong aspires to “help more high schoolers to not feel so intimidated by math.” He plans to achieve this by “helping prepare [students] as best as I can, in terms of what I know and what I can do.” Good luck, Mr. Yong!
With a passion for teaching and love for the Spanish language and culture, Ms.Guadalupe Nunez receives a warm Pingry community welcome. This fall, Señora Nunez joined Pingry as a Middle School Spanish teacher and Form I advisor. In addition, she will be helping with the production of the Middle School play.
Ms. Nunez graduated from Syracuse University, where she earned a Bachelor’s Degree in International Relations and Human Resource Management. She received her Master’s Degree in Foreign Language Education from New York University. Before joining Pingry, Ms. Nunez taught Spanish to elementary and middle school students at schools such as Hunter College Elementary School, Trevor Day School, and New Canaan Country School.
Besides her teaching posts, she also implemented a program for non-English speaking students at Teach for America and worked with other non-profits around the New York City area including the International Rescue Committee, the Coalition for the Homeless, and El Museo del Barrio. In addition to these roles, Ms. Nunez has also worked with a middle school on their diversity committee.
Throughout this school year, Ms. Nunez sincerely hopes to “infuse a love for learning languages and for appreciating the people and culture of the Spanish-speaking world,” which ties in to her passion for teaching. Ms. Nunez says that she was “inspired to become a teacher because through teaching, I feel you can empower students to follow their dreams and be advocates for themselves.”
Outside of Pingry, Ms. Nunez enjoys cooking and taking part in different recreational activities with her two sons. When asked what she enjoys about Pingry, she says that she particularly admires the inquisitive nature students and honorable character of the students.
This year, the Upper School History Department welcomes Mr. Saad Toor, who will be teaching three sections of World History 9 and one section of World History 10.
Mr. Toor recently completed his M.Sc. in South Asian Studies at Oxford University in the United Kingdom, where he was fortunate enough to be taught by important world leaders such as Hillary Clinton, the Prime Ministers of Kosovo and Kenya, and many British ambassadors. In addition, he was a classmate to politicians and important figures in the world, such as Nobel Peace Prize laureate Malala Yousafzai, and former Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd.
At Oxford, Mr. Toor studied the history of Pakistan and India under British colonization, as well as the geopolitical aftermath of decolonization that continues to affect the region to this day. Outside of class, Mr. Toor played cricket for the Oxford Pakistan XI club team and Merton College club teams, and trained with the Wolfson-Saint Cricket Club and Oxenford Cricket Club. Mr. Toor was also active in debate at Oxford, and was fortunate enough to debate Gandhi’s grandson on the Indian Partition.
Alongside his M.Sc. in Modern South Asian Studies, Mr. Toor holds both an M.A. in Curriculum and Instruction and a B.A. in Political Science with a minor in History and Middle Eastern Studies from the University of Connecticut.
Mr. Toor taught college students at the University of Connecticut’s Osher Lifelong Learning Institute and Stanford Unviersity’s Bing Overseas Program. He also taught history to high school students for two years in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia at an international school, and taught for two years in the Connecticut public school system.
Mr. Toor brings a unique global perspective from his studies in the UK and two years teaching in Saudi Arabia, and he hopes that his “extensive global experience will inspire Pingry students to reach out of their comfort zone and go abroad to have life-changing experiences similar to what I did.”
Having lived in three different countries and two different states in the last four years, Mr. Toor hopes that New Jersey will be a new and welcoming home for him. He is especially interested in Pingry’s Honor Code, and how it “inspires students to hold themselves to the standards of ‘Excellence and Honor’ and try new things in school.” He plans to try new things as well, and intends to “learn all sorts of life lessons from [his] own students” as they grow throughout the year. He is thrilled to bring expertise on the histories and politics of the Middle East, Pakistan, and India to the classroom, and hopes that his students will be just as interested in history as he is.
In his free time, Mr. Toor loves playing and watching cricket, and has written several commentaries on the sport. He is an avid Dallas sports fan, and loves watching UConn college basketball during March Madness.
As the new school year begins, Pingry is extremely fortunate to welcome Dr. Zachary Wakefield to the History Department. He attended Juniata College, where he earned a Bachelor’s Degree in history. He then went on to earn his M.A. and Ph.D at Auburn University, both in history as well. Prior to joining the Pingry community, he spent four years working as a history teacher and coach at a boarding school.
At Pingry, Dr. Wakefield is teaching three World History 9 classes and one AP US History Class, where he has already spearheaded some of his unique classroom practices. These include placing phones in a basket at the start of class, as well as taking paper notes instead of electronic notes. When asked how these tactics benefitted the classroom environment, it all came down to keeping students focused: “People have been conditioned to pick up their cell phones or check social media as soon as they get a notification,” he explained. “I get that, so rather than me getting upset and disrupting class, I like to just take it out of the equation.”
In addition to the techniques he has brought with him, Dr. Wakefield wants to try new methods and expand his horizons. “My goal for the school year is just to get out of my comfort zone, teaching-wise, and maybe try more student-driven activities,” he said. He would also like to attend a number of academic conferences. After his first month at Pingry, he is optimistic: “The students are smart, and they keep me on my toes,” he said laughing. “They’re pushing me, which makes for a really good classroom environment.” He also enjoys the vibrant atmosphere, as well as the rural setting. “I love the area; it reminds me of where I grew up,” he remarked.
In keeping with his passion for history, Dr. Wakefield’s hobbies are quite worldly. When he’s not teaching, Dr. Wakefield loves being outdoors, whether that be hiking or going to the beach. He is also an avid reader and traveler.
Being a new teacher can be intimidating, but Dr. Wakefield is ready to rise to the occasion. “Even though I’m starting at a new school, which is challenging, I’m going to try my best to grow as a teacher and achieve my goals,” he stated. Good luck, Dr. Wakefield!