By Meghan Durkin & Andrew Wong
On Thursday, March 12, amid concerns over the novel Coronavirus, known as COVID-19, Head of School Matt Levinson announced that Pingry would adopt a remote learning model until at least April 10. On Friday, March 27, heeding Governor Murphy’s updated advisory, this remote learning regime was extended to April 17.
School-sponsored activities, including athletics, were suspended as well, in hopes of keeping the Pingry community safe. This news followed the cancellation of multiple spring break trips, including the French exchange program and the athletic trips to Florida.
Prior to Spring Break, as New Jersey reported its first case of COVID-19, Pingry prepared for likely disruptions as a result of the virus. Mr. Levinson assembled a task force, led by Associate Director of Operations, Safety, and Strategic Initiatives David Fahey, to monitor the situation as it evolved. This model “allows us to act with deliberate speed and care in our decision-making, while also being nimble and adaptive to changing circumstances,” said Mr. Levinson. So far, the biggest challenge for the task force “has been the speed at which [COVID-19] has unfolded.” While COVID-19 spread from China to South Korea to Italy, the virus seemed to be a distant threat. Though, by late March, the United States had over 27,000 confirmed cases.
As Pingry does its part to slow the spread of COVID-19, a new reality of “social distancing” has affected faculty and students. Governor Phil Murphy ordered a statewide lockdown, which encourages people to stay home and shuts down all non-essential business, leaving vacations cancelled, standardized tests postponed, and store shelves empty. Pingry’s remote learning model looks to continue fostering educational growth, while keeping Pingry and the greater community healthy. Teachers, by using virtual classes and online assignments, hope to make remote learning engaging and effective. Mr. Tim Grant, a chemistry teacher, explained the “need to try to create a classroom feel where everyone can feel heard and be involved,” as he believes “a class does involve the transfer of information, but much more importantly it must have the feeling of community.” For many teachers, including Mr. Grant, effectively using remote learning will be a “journey that to me looks like I’ve been air-dropped into the Amazon and I can’t imagine what comes next. The journey will be both scary and exciting with many new discoveries.”
Dean Ananya Chatterji echoed this sentiment in an email to Upper School students, expressing the faculty’s shared hopes for the extended closure. She explained that transitioning to online learning “is NOT going to be perfect. Everyone knows this, and no one — not a single one of us — expects that this will go smoothly. We are hoping to treat it like an adventure: something we can try our best at, knowing there will be pitfalls and successes. Most of all, adventures should be fun. So our hope, as a faculty, is to have fun with it.”
Students will also have to adapt to new circumstances, not only academically, but also extracurricularly. With delayed athletic seasons that face possible cancellations, students look to make the best of the unexpected situation. Mr. Grant, who coaches girls’ varsity track, explained his realization “that [he] must give enough information so that each athlete can learn how to coach themselves.” Both students and coaches must find “some gems against the rubble,” as they stay in-shape and prepare for a potential season at home. Along with sports, clubs face new challenges, as they hope to keep members connected online.
Furthermore, this new territory of remote learning changes many students experience socially. Sanjana Biswas (V) said, “I’ll miss my friends the most and just the experience of being in school. As much as we complain about it, we all have fun talking to our friends during lunch and flexes and going to class.” Though, she added, “It’s pretty easy to stay in touch through FaceTime and text.”
While the COVID-19 pandemic continues to unfold, the Pingry community looks to be cautious, as the possibility of extended closure looms. Students and faculty alike promise to remain open and positive throughout these uncertain times. Gia Kalro (V) believes that while “we’ll have a lot of trial and error, eventually it will all work out.”
As of March 22, global Coronavirus cases have surpassed 300,000. In just a few weeks, everyday life in the United States and abroad has been replaced by social distancing and self-quarantining, while each day the number of cases grows. Though, during this time of uncertainty, both the Pingry and global community has stressed the importance of staying calm and maintaining hope. Mr. Levinson encourages students “to have fun, try new things, be creative, and take the time to get outside for some fresh air,” while finding “ways to build community remotely, whether it’s around a shared interest like a club, or around a passion project.” He asks the community to “be patient as we all discover new ways of learning and being in community together.”
By Alex Wong (I)
On December 20 and January 10, the Middle School held its annual Geography Bee, Talent Show, and Spelling Bee. These events featured performances by various students in the Middle School, showcasing academic, musical, speaking, and spelling skills.
The Geography Bee was held on December 20, with 24 contestants participating (eight from each grade level). It featured both a written and oral round. Questions included questions relating to territories such as Ascension Island to natural phenomenons such as avalanches. Eventually, the field of 24 was narrowed down to two contestants, Dhruv Nagarajan (I) and Alex Wong (I), with Dhruv ultimately winning on the fifth question of the Championship round. He will now advance to the state tournament in March.
Directly after the Geography Bee, the Middle School hosted the Third Annual Talent Show. For the first time in three years, all students who auditioned for the show were accepted. Performances ranged from rapping to poetry to various musical performances. The crowd showed great enthusiasm for the various performances, such as playing the violin while hula hooping.
The Fourth Annual Spelling Bee (a Pingry tradition started by student Noah Bergam (V) in 2017) was held on January 10. Each grade had ten preliminary round winners, so there were 30 contestants. The Spelling Bee featured both vocabulary and spelling rounds. Nick Henry (I) remarked, “It was fun to participate in the Spelling Bee, since it was the first time I was involved in it.” Words in the Spelling Bee included “lightning,” “Sinai,” “artillery,” and many others. Ultimately, with a field narrowed down to two contestants, Dhruv Nagarajan (I) and Vinav Shah (I) remained. Vinav won the Bee with the word “austere.” He will now advance to the state round of the Spelling Bee in April.
The Middle School ended 2019 and started 2020 with impressive displays of student skill. All of the middle schoolers had a great time watching their peers participate in the three events. The enthusiasm that every middle schooler displayed for their fellow students was amazing.
By Brian Li (IV)
On Monday, January 21, Pingry hosted its eighth annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service. In the morning, students, family members, and faculty volunteered for various organizations, including Cancer Support Community, The Sharing Network, and Color a Smile. In 2012, 50 families volunteered during the first MLK Day of Service; this year, over 200 members of the Pingry community participated. Ms. Shelley Hartz, Director of Community & Civic Engagement, created the event after hearing the slogan, “Martin Luther King Day: A day on, not a day off.” She spoke with members of the Pingry School Parents Association (PSPA) and put together a day where “we [invite] other community organizations and provide opportunities for our community to do service for these organizations.” Ms. Hartz also decided to include an informative aspect on “Martin Luther King, social change, and civil rights.” The MLK Day of Service provides the community with a chance to give back and contribute to society. To Ms. Hartz, the best part of the day was seeing students volunteer. “It is very heartening to me when students choose to participate instead of sleeping late. [I am] able to step back and see them having fun while they’re helping another organization.”
By Hugh Zhang (V)
Following successful seasons across the board last winter, Pingry boys’ athletics have raised the bar even higher this year. Outstanding accomplishments from all teams continue to demonstrate Big Blue’s athletic excellence, and Pingry is poised to finish strong this season. Here is a look at some of the most memorable highlights so far.
Coming into the season, Matt Fallon boasted several records on his résumé. Only a junior, Matt is already one of the best swimmers in the country, and this winter he added a few more achievements to his list. Against North Hunterdon, Fallon broke the national independent short course records for the 200 meter IM and 100 meter breaststroke. He also claimed the meet record for the 100 yard breaststroke at Lawrenceville. Regarding these successes, Fallon commented, “The hard work during practice definitely paid off, and I couldn’t have done it without the team.”
Armed with one of Pingry’s best lineups in recent memory, the powerhouse boys’ swimming team, led by seniors Reid McBoyle (VI) and Will Stearns (VI), swept both the Skyland Conference and Prep Championships, and won its 13th consecutive state title, breaking the state record for the most state titles won back to back in a 98-72 win over Bishop Eustace. Upon winning the state title, captain Reid McBoyle remarked “After seeing the other captains in years past win the state title, it’s been an important ritual for us to come here, do well and win. And this year if feels really good because we finally broke that record. It’s awesome that we got to go through the program and become the first team to beat that record.”
The boys’ winter track team is also having a terrific season; as Captain Henry Wood (V) remarks, “we are consistently dropping PRs each race.” The team put up impressive results at the Prep Championships, with James Draper (VI) coming in fifth for shotput and Wood winning the 1600 meter run. Wood also broke the 1000 meter school record at the New Balance games and placed second in the 800 meter at the Skyland Conference Championships.
Pingry has dominated the ice as well, with the boys’ ice hockey team heading into the state tournament as number one seed. Juniors Eric Bush and Jared Kordonsky both hit the 100 point mark this season, and the team has secured multiple victories, including a recent win against The Hun School. Overall, it has undeniably been a “solid season,” according to hockey captain James Cummings (VI).
By Martine Bigos (IV)
The annual Art Faculty Exhibition was on display in the Hostetter Gallery through January 31. The exhibition featured the work of many Pingry studio art teachers, including Ms. Xiomara Babilonia, Ms. Melody Boone, Mr. Miles Boyd, Mr. Russell Christian, Ms. Rebecca Sullivan, Mr. Rich Freiwald, Ms. Patti Jordan, and Ms. Nan Ring.
Last year, the faculty exhibit, entitled “Now and Then,” explored the teacher’s artistic evolutions. By comparing their older pieces to new creations, viewers were able to see the growth and development of the teachers’ styles. Once again, this year’s exhibit displayed the faculty’s creativity and talent. On Wednesday, January 29, Pingry students and faculty were invited to a reception that celebrated the exhibit. While enjoying snacks, visitors explored the various pieces and appreciated the beautiful artwork.
Among the pieces on display was Ms. Nan Ring’s “Veiled Figures” series. Throughout the series, she explores “the way we fit in—or not—to our bodies, our clothes, our culture, and the planet.” When searching for inspiration, Ms. Ring was drawn to a veil’s “myriad folds and geometric patterns formed by the way the gauzy material overlaps itself as it is draped on the wearer.” She’s hopes that her “paintings evolve for viewers as the viewer evolves” and that they “mean different things to the viewer at different times of their life, just like a poem does for a reader.” In her paintings, Ms. Ring showcased the beauty and complexity of veils, as she explored the versatility of them.
Next up in the gallery is the 24th annual Student Photography Show, which will be showing in the gallery until March 3. The show features the works of students from eleven different private and public schools across the region. Both exhibits, back-to-back, put the talent and creativity of the faculty, and the students they help mentor, on display for the whole community.
By Vicky Gu (VI), Meghan Durkin (V), and Eva Schiller (V)
On Friday, January 31, Form V and VI students attended Pingry’s annual Career Day, in which they were able to interact with a wide variety of Pingry alumni and gain insight into future career options.
The event began with a keynote presentation by Dr. Jennifer Weiss ‘89, who spoke to students about her unique position as one of the few women who specializes in orthopedic surgery. After the keynote, students dispersed and were able to attend three career panels––two chosen before the event, and one that the student could decide that morning. Each panel was led by two or three Pingry alumni involved in a specific career––among the careers featured were law, media and communications, and medicine. Students had the opportunity to ask the alumni questions about their education, career paths, and projects, as well as general life questions.
At the end of the school day, after speaking about her profession, talking to students, and participating in numerous panels, Dr. Weiss was interviewed by the Pingry Record Staff. The following are excerpts from our conversation.
How did Pingry prepare you for the world of orthopedic surgery and sports medicine?
I found Pingry to be more rigorous than college and medical school. My teachers [Mr. Lavalette, Mr. Grant] took an interest in where I thought my limits were, and pushed me past my limits. It is a place where I went from being a shy rule-follower to being proud.
How did you become interested in orthopedic surgery/sports medicine?
My dad was an orthopedic surgeon. Then, I had a funny route: as I got older, my dad was really excited about me being an orthopedic surgeon, so I got really unexcited about being an orthopedic surgeon. But, when I did my orthopedic rotation, I fell in love with it.
What attracted you to a male-dominated specialty?
I was very comfortable with a group of my friends who were boys from a very early age. I believe that I grew up in a bantering environment, so when I came into the world of orthopedics, not as my father’s daughter, but as a medical student, I was comfortable with the way people spoke to each other. I fell in love with it socially.
What do you think was the most challenging part in your entire career path?
It was my second year of being a resident. The newness had worn off. It’s like when you’re going on a long run, the middle miles are the most tiring. The second year, I thought, is this ever going to be over? The fatigue set in mentally and physically.
What is the biggest challenge you face on a day-to-day basis?
I struggle with maintaining perspective of how privileged I am to have a healthy family, to have a job that I love, and that I can send my kids to a good school. I still get lost in the weeds because I want everything to be better and more perfect.
How have you balanced your family life with your professional life? What was it like when you first had children?
I like the phrase work-life integration. I brought my kids with me today, and I will try to bring one of my three kids to each meeting with me. My son mountain bikes with me. Lila will do her homework, and I’ll be in the room on my computer next to her.
What would you like to tell the greater Pingry community?
I want the people in this community to know how the Pingry family and the alumni network is extensive. People are open with their time and hearts through this connection. It’s gonna be there for you.
By Christine Guo (IV)
After their excellent season last year, the girls’ varsity squash team has high hopes for the upcoming season. Led by Captains Renée Chan (VI) and Jessica Hutt (VI), they hope to further improve on their record from the previous year. Coach Francis Odeh, who is new to Pingry, hopes to “bring excitement, hard work, and improvement to the team” as their preseason begins, and is already amazed by the determination and enthusiasm of his players.
Despite the graduation of their number two player, Alisa Chokshi ‘19, the captains are optimistic about their team’s lineup. “Our main goal is to beat our toughest competitors, which are Hackley, Poly Prep, and Lawrenceville,” said Chan. In addition to hard work, the captains prioritize the importance of team bonding since many new freshmen are joining the team. “We want to build on our team culture and cultivate positivity,” said Hutt, who hopes to have a successful season.
By Brian Li (IV)
Looking to build off last year’s success, the boys’ varsity squash team is ready for another busy and focused season. The team, led by Chris Zachary ‘19 and Jeffrey Xiao ‘19, finished with a record of 15-2 and capped off a dominant season as Division II National Champions.
The coaching staff has seen a major overhaul from last season with the departure of Mrs. Tina Rix-Stout and the addition of two new coaches, Mr. Francis Odeh, Assistant Director of Squash, and Mr. Chad Smith, Director of Squash. Mr. Odeh will bring more than 30 years of squash expertise, including a #1 national ranking, and will mainly run the girls’ varsity team. With past coaching experience at The Lawrenceville School and a successful junior career, Mr. Smith will oversee and direct the auxiliary squash program and “build the brand,” according to Coach Ramsay Vehslage. Coach Vehslage will remain as the Head Coach of the boys’ varsity team while Coach Olivia Tandon continues her role as the primary JV squash coach.
When asked about the goals for this season, Coach Vehslage stated, “Get seeded in Division I … In order to get there, we need to focus on winning five-game matches and in order to do that, we need to focus on fitness.” Mr. Vehslage also remarked that, “We have a lot of guys who are very passionate about the sport and are willing to put in the work individually so that they can contribute to the success of the whole team.” With captains Collin Wen (VI), Alex Chiang (VI), Waleed Nisar (VI), and Charlie Malone (VI), the boys’ varsity squash season is bound to have a triumphant season.
By Ben Gottesman (V)
The very underclassmen heavy wrestling team is excited to see what achievements lie ahead in the next few years. Captain Mason Stahl (VI) says about this year’s team: “We have a very young team this year; over half the players are freshmen. Our goal is to have every player improve and to create a strong footing so that Pingry wrestling will continue to grow and evolve in the future.” Along with the infusion of freshmen this year, there is a whole new three-team coaching staff being implemented, including the head coach. “We want them to be a part of the wrestling family, and hopefully this new insight will accelerate our program even more,” says Stahl. With a whole new team and culture, the next few years could be very successful for Pingry wrestling. The season officially begins for the team on December 11 against The Peddie School. We wish the team the best of luck!
By Brooke Pan (V)
The girls’ basketball team is looking strong this winter, with high hopes to build on their performance from last year. Captains Jennifer Ryan (VI), Aly Feeley (VI), and Olivia Volpe (V) will be leading this year’s team as they approach the upcoming season with a new and improved mentality.
“It was kind of hard last season because we lost a lot of our best players,” Volpe recalled. “Because of that, we went into last season with low expectations and … we lost a lot of morale.” Working from the lessons they learned from last year, the girls’ basketball team has made it their mission to “work harder on [their] team chemistry.”
Feeley is confident in the team’s ability to achieve this goal. “We all have a strong work ethic and a desire to get better every day, which is critical to the success and improvement of a team.” She adds, “this team has a really special environment and culture that differentiates it from other sports teams on campus … I can’t wait to see how the season goes!”
By Ben Gottesman (IV)
After a spectacular showing in both the county and state tournaments last year, the senior-heavy boys’ basketball team is looking to make an even deeper run into this season’s tournaments. Coach Jason Murdock said, “Knowing that we have six returning seniors from last year’s team, experience is key and we always want to win our conference, advance in our county tournament, and show well in the state tournament.” The team has been preparing offseason, Coach Murdock explains. “[The guys] have been in the gym working with Coach Scott, so they are very motivated.” It is clear that team culture is very crucial to the success of the program, Coach Murdock explains. Incoming freshmen should expect, “a team that cares about each other, a team that works hard and is competitive, and a team that’s going to do their best to represent Pingry.” The team officially kicks off the year with a difficult game at Immaculata on December 23rd.
By Brooke Pan (V)
This season, the Pingry ski team is looking to continue their positive momentum by improving upon last season’s success. Led by captains Matt Dispenza (VI), Natalie Ladino (VI), Peter McClearn (VI), and Rosemary Collins (V), the team hopes to build on last year’s performances while also fostering a strong rapport between each member of the team.
The ski team’s main priority this year is “to qualify for team states and get more individual skiers into the Race of Champions,” Collins said. To do this, the captains have implemented additional on-snow training sessions at the National Winter Activity Center. “This mountain has a steeper trail than we usually train on […] By training more on a steeper pitch, we will be better prepared to race,” Collins added.
Aside from individual improvement, the captains also hope to further the camaraderie on the team. Ladino notes, “One of our goals is to foster a stronger team environment so that we can encourage a more positive and supportive atmosphere for everyone.”
Overall, the Big Blue ski team is looking forward to a promising season.
By Sarah Kloss (IV)
The boys’ winter track team is returning with a strong lineup this year. Despite losing a handful of senior players, the team still has fifteen boys, including five new freshmen. With both new and returning runners, Head Coach Chris Shilts says, “We have some strong individual talent, and we hope to put these pieces together with some with lesser experience for some relay experimenting.”
The boys will be pushing through rigorous training in the winter weather. Henry Wood (V), a runner for the boys’ winter track team, said, “There are a lot of different elements that go into our training. The team lifts in the weight room four days a week. It is important for us to practice even if conditions are harsh so we don’t fall behind on our training.” After finishing fifth last year, the team hopes to crack into the top three in the NJSIAA Prep “A” Meet. The team is also hoping to place high in the Skyland Conference.
With a lot of strong runners, the boys’ winter track team is ready to perform to the best of their ability. They are excited to succeed and show that their training has paid off!
By Walker Johnson (V)
The girls’ winter track team, led by captains Dylan Anidjar (VI) and Kier Brown (VI), is looking to carry their great successes from last spring into the winter season. Last spring, two relay squads made it to nationals. This year, the team is looking to build on this achievement. Coach Christopher Shilts’s main goals this season are to “make a run at the Group A title and place high at Nationals in both relay and individual events.”
The team is made up of both experienced upperclassmen and newcomers to the sport. Anidjar believes that with the team’s “supportive and knowledgeable coaching staff” as well as its “hard work, [it] will definitely lead to a successful season.” With the season right around the corner, girls’ winter track is ready to achieve their goals and have a great season.
By Emily Shen (IV)
With Mrs. Whitman Annis as Head Coach, the Girls’ Ice Hockey team is ready to continue their last year’s legacy. This year, with many new players joining the team, Head Captain Lizzie Gilfillan (VI) and Assistant Captains Allie Moss (VI) and Annie Oatman (VI) are excited for the team to kick off the season with a smashing start.
The addition of new players to the team means working with girls of different skill levels. Gilfillan, discussing challenges that she is determined to overcome, says, “As a team, we definitely have a lot of strong and experienced players, but with many new girls joining this year, there will be a gap between the older and the younger players. As the captain, it is important to bridge the gap between the two groups and work together toward the championship.”
Gilfillan also plans to make her last high school season a memorable one. When asked about her experience with Pingry Ice Hockey, she mentioned, “Last year was one of the most fun seasons I’ve had. We weren’t the strongest, but it was a lot of fun. This year, we are trying to foster a fun and enjoyable environment, but we also look forward to playing strong in the tournament season in February!”
With a large team this year, the girls’ ice hockey team is looking forward to a successful season. In one of their first meets, they will be playing against Kent Place School, another very competitive team.