Reflections of Studying Abroad: My Life in Jordan

Reflections of Studying Abroad: My Life in Jordan

By Emma Drzala (IV)

After my year abroad in Jordan was cut short, and I took time to reminisce about all the things I learned and experienced, I realized that I have just finished an epic, once-in-a-lifetime journey. I immersed myself in a new culture, I was introduced to new political opinions, and I visited some of the most beautiful places in the world. The moments and experiences I had will forever be among my most treasured memories.

During my time in Jordan, I was fortunate to visit the many cultural and natural treasures of the Middle East, including Petra, The Dead Sea, Wadi Rum, Salt, Amman, and The Citadel. I have experienced all these places in a personal way. I have walked miles through these wonders taking in their magnificent views, the air, and in every step, I would value the world around me. In Wadi Rum, my friends and I stayed at one of the most questionable campgrounds that I have ever been to, but we still played card games and stayed up all night so that we were ready to see the sunrise. That day, I conquered my fear of heights, to an extent, and climbed what seemed like Mt. Everest to watch the sunrise. It was worth it. Within the next couple hours, we went on Jeep tours around the desert, climbed up sand dunes, and smiled the whole way through––well, except for when my friend Humayd lost his phone in one of the largest and steepest dunes I have ever climbed. On the bus ride back to school, we were all passed out and some of us even slept on the bus floor.

The smaller moments of our trips are what I will miss the most. The weekly trip to the mall, the daily laugh from English class, sneaking into the Model UN party, walking into Arabic class everyday with my closest friend Josie, and hearing our teacher say, “صباح خير” (Good Morning!) and “ أى اخبار” (Any news?!). 

While the COVID-19 pandemic may have cut my time short, I still have a lifetime of memories, my one-second-a-day montage, and new friends who will always be with me. While I wish I had a proper conclusion to my year, this has in some ways made me further appreciate what I had. 

 I want to thank King’s Academy for making my year what it was, and even though it ended in an unexpected way, I still have an entire year’s worth of memories to hold onto. I want to especially thank my fellow students; together we went on trips, spent ninety minutes in Arabic everyday, and bonded in ways I have not with anyone else. So, thank you Josie, Isabella, Louisa, Laila, Taher, Humayd, and the person who brought us all together, Ms. Lina Samawi.

 

Pingry’s Transition to Online Learning

Pingry’s Transition to Online Learning

Image by Andrew Wong (IV)

By Emily Shen (IV)

Since the conclusion of Spring Break, Pingry students and faculty members have adopted remote learning in order to follow the state-mandated social distancing guidelines. By now, they have finished their first two weeks online. Although this transition has not been easy, members of the Pingry community are working hard to resume the quest for knowledge as they try to find peace during this time of uncertainty. 

According to feedback from some students, most of their classes run synchronously or by using a combination of synchronous and asynchronous sessions. Almost all of the teachers use Google Meet as the platform for “face-to-face” sessions or conversations, and most work is posted via Schoology or sent out through emails. Teachers make themselves available for help during designated time slots or during flexes and conference periods to make sure students can still seek extra help if they need to.

However, although the continuation of block schedules is supposed to help create structure, the switch to remote learning has not been an easy one for the students. Many have reported that remote learning is negatively affecting their productivity, and it often seems like there is less time for students to meet with their teachers for help. Because students and teachers are constantly interacting through their computer screens, some found that online school is more draining than typical school. Many students also report a significant increase in their workload, as well as a lack of motivation to finish it. Moreover, although teachers were guided to cut their 60-minutes periods to 45 minutes, students still spend hours in front of their computers between attending classes and school work.

Students are not alone in having to adjust to virtual classes. Many teachers also find themselves having to alter their usual way of teaching. “The biggest difference for me is that teaching is like acting or stand-up comedy. I respond to the energy of the group. When we are physically all together, I can see and feel so much more. I can tell when you are tired or sad or upset with somebody in the room. I can tell whether you understand or not, so I can adjust my response…Online, it all feels much stiffer.” said Upper School English teacher, Mrs. Grant.

For the last two weeks, teachers reported that they have gotten a little more used to the experience, but they continue to struggle with their lesson plans. “Lesson planning is very different, and it takes a lot longer.  I find myself reaching out to other language teachers, exploring different sources,” said Mr. Benoit, World Languages Department Chair and Upper School French teacher, “The most complex part right now is figuring out what assessments will look like at the end of each unit or theme.” Mr. Grant, a chemistry teacher at Pingry, believes that “if learning isn’t fun, then it will be easily forgotten. We need to help students gain the skills of thinking and reasoning that they will use throughout their lives.” 

When asked how they’ve adjusted to remote learning, teachers listed several examples of how they have had to adapt. “One thing I learned from my first class is that as a teacher, I hate the mute button for my students, and now I have a ‘no mute’ policy,” answered Mr. Grant. Ms. Thuzar, a computer science and math teacher at Pingry, said that she “spends more time planning and making sure that the remote learning experience for the classes is not too different from the actual in-person classes.” Although that is difficult to accomplish, Pingry students and teachers are all trying to find some peace and normalcy during this chaotic time. 

Like their students, some teachers have also found remote learning to be more tiring than a typical school day. “For some reason, this is all so draining,” said Mrs. Grant when asked about her experience, “Instead of gaining energy from being with all of you, I get exhausted. I was talking with some colleagues Friday evening, and they all reported that they wanted to take a nap in between classes.” Many teachers and students end up sitting in front of the computer and barely getting up the whole day. “I feel like all the classes are all lumped together into this continuous-time span where I sit at my desk in front of my computers for hours,” Ms. Thuzar added, “For the days I teach 3 or 4 classes per day, I ended up staying in front of my computers from about 8 AM to 4 PM, excluding lunch.”

Even though the future is filled with uncertainty, spreading positivity and hope has kept us going. Mrs. Grant shared a small anecdote that cheered many of her students up: “On a positive note, since Mr. Grant and I have opposite schedules, there is non-stop teaching going on in my house right now, so my cats are soon going to be ready for college!” Similarly, Mr. Grant shared that “these are definitely strange times. I think that the most important thing that remote learning can try to achieve is our sense of community. We will get through this experience and remember these times for the rest of our lives. With this in mind, I hope we can make some good memories together.”

Please take care of yourselves and continue to spread love and positivity amongst your friends and family! Stay safe!

 

 

So, Why does Hitting the Apex Matter?

So, Why does Hitting the Apex Matter?

By Meghan Durkin (V)

It’s been over two months since the United States confirmed its first coronavirus case in late January. Since then the landscape has changed drastically, as the virus has forced all non-essential businesses to shut down, kept most states under lockdown, and left most of the world at a standstill. This week, with cases in numerous states across America predicted to hit their peak, the healthcare system, its workers, and all others without the ability to stay home prepare for the hardest battle in the ongoing war against COVID-19.  

During a news conference on April 4, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo called the apex “the battle of the mountain top,” and affirmed that New York and other highly-affected states, including New Jersey, “are not yet ready for the highpoint.” Our lack of preparation for such a high number of cases remains the greatest challenge of this apex. How can a healthcare system brace for a pandemic it never expected? How do hospitals continue to treat patients as their resources dwindle? As of April 11, the United States became the country with the greatest number of confirmed deaths, with over 1,000 being from New Jersey and about 7,000 being from New York. If the pressure on our healthcare system becomes too immense, those numbers will rise even faster.

Even when cases begin to decline, avoiding another outbreak is critical to curbing even greater disasters and preventing future quarantines. Many countries who seemed to have handed coronavirus an early and swift defeat faced a resurgence of cases in late March. For example, in Singapore, where cases had dropped by late February into March, a second wave of cases has forced the country to close all non-essential businesses and schools. The emergence of new cases in Singapore serves as an important warning to the United States: allowing people to return to school, work, or “normal” life too early may cause another outbreak of the virus. If the country doesn’t proceed with caution, there could be a second peak on its way.   

Here’s the brighter side: a peak must be followed by a decline. At this point, a decline in cases can’t come soon enough. The Coronavirus is not only a medical problem, but also an economic disaster unlike any other. What had been a booming economy in the United States is now facing a major downturn. With many businesses forced to shut down, specifically those in the hospitality industry, companies have little choice but to lay off or furlough large parts of their workforce. In about three weeks, over 16 million Americans lost their jobs and the number continues to rise. For employees and employers across the country, the sooner the virus is controlled, the faster they can get back to work. 

Ultimately, the onset of a peak in cases poses both problems and promise. The United States is far from being out of the woods, as evidenced by continued problems in countries, like Singapore, who are facing a second wave. Thus, the balance between caution and normalcy is becoming increasingly important to reduce deaths and keep the healthcare system afloat. Though, with the worst (hopefully) almost behind us, the U.S. and its people can slowly start to see the light at the end of the tunnel. If not released from possibly many more months under stay-at-home orders, then at least hope and reassurance that the worst is on its way out.

COVID-19 Pandemic Cancels School

COVID-19 Pandemic Cancels School


By Meghan Durkin (V) & Andrew Wong (IV)

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.”