By Andrew Wong (V) As a tumultuous 2019-2020 school year came to an end this past June, and the COVID-19 pandemic stretched into yet another month, many members of the Pingry community were questioning if in-person learning would be possible in September. With teachers, administrators, and students desperately wanting to go back to school, Pingry Anywhere, the framework to try and facilitate school in the era of COVID-19, was created. The goal of the project was simple: get Pingry safely back in session this fall. However, it was less clear at first how this would be done. Head of School Mr. Levinson underscored the complexity of the task, summing up how Pingry Anywhere needed to “strategically [align] all dimensions of the School, from teaching and learning to technology to operations and facilities.” A leadership team, consisting of various teachers, administrators, and outside consultants, overseen by Mr. Levinson himself, was formed to manage this Herculean endeavor.
Throughout the summer, Pingry was transformed into a construction site, as facilities staff worked daily to install plexiglass safety barriers, set up massive outdoor tents, and convert the Hyde-Watson gym into a massive cafeteria. Student volunteers and faculty members spent countless hours packaging and distributing thousands of face masks and shields for the entire Pingry community. Meanwhile, the tech team installed speakers, microphones, cameras, and TV monitors in the classrooms to facilitate Pingry’s new hybrid learning model. Teachers rewrote their curricula to make sure that their plans for the year could handle both in-person and remote environments.
After a great summer-long effort, Pingry Anywhere was ready to be unveiled to the community. On September 14th, Pingry students walked back into campus to begin a school year like no other. Each student was required to fill out a pre-screening form before arriving on campus, wear a mask and shield, and try their best to spread out. Classes were hybrid, with some students joining via Zoom from home. After so many months of preparation, Mr. Levinson said of the occasion, “it was just so uplifting and gratifying to see months of planning come to fruition to bring our community back together.” Students were also extremely happy to be back.
“It was by far the oddest school day I’ve ever had,” said Dean Koenig (VI). “Seeing hundreds of faces in the same building for the first time in months, I thought there was no way in-person learning would last more than a few weeks.” While many students and faculty were initially doubtful about how long Pingry Anywhere would last, the new hybrid model proved to be extremely successful and resilient, in even the face of an uptick of local COVID-19 cases. Daily information on the spread of the virus was provided via the Pingry Anywhere Dashboard, and the addition of weekly pooled COVID testing provided by Mirimus Labs has helped to further ensure student safety.
Now almost two months into the new hybrid model of learning, Pingry Anywhere has proven to be a reliable system for learning during the COVID-19 era. As Mr. Levinson stated, Pingry Anywhere has “strengthened the sense of belonging that students feel as part of the Pingry community and has allowed us to come up with new ways of delivering on our promise of excellence.” Mr. Fahey, director of Pingry’s Health and Wellness Task Force, agreed, speculating on how “maybe the future of Pingry Anywhere is the future of education!” In the weeks that lie ahead, the limits of Pingry Anywhere will most definitely be tested, as the nation prepares for a possible winter spike in COVID-19 cases. Nonetheless, thanks to the flexibility of Pingry Anywhere, regardless of what happens, Pingry students and faculty can be assured that they will be well-protected, and the school will adjust to whatever circumstances arise.
One of the most memorable and cherished traditions at Pingry is Convocation, a ceremony marking the school’s commitment to the Honor Code and a kick-off to the academic year. It was started in 1987 by Mr. John Hanly, the headmaster from 1987 to 2000. Mr. Hanly’s passing this year is a considerable loss, and Head of School Mr. Levinson acknowledged his significant impact on Pingry.
Each year, students arrive at the auditorium in formal attire, sitting alongside their peers and teachers. However, due to new social distancing measures only seniors could be seated in Hauser. Other students and faculty members watched the ceremony remotely, either in their advisory locations or at home. Senior faculty member and Magistri Mr. Miller Bugliari ’52 delivered the invocation, emphasizing that this year is a year of “testing” — a test of our community’s determination, resolve, and will.
After Mr. Bugliari, Student Body President Nolan Baynes (VI) lightened the mood by telling the Pingry community about a movement he started called “#respectfulsnowday,” an Instagram hashtag that demanded for snow days in a “polite” manner. However, the movement halted when it shifted from a hilarious tradition to serious conversations with Mr. Jake Ross, former Dean of Student Life. Although the fire of his first social media movement was extinguished, Baynes used that experience to fuel another one. Baynes spoke up about the racial injustices in the country, specifically the murders of Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd, and Breonna Taylor. In contrast to #respectfulsnowday, this story stemmed from genuine concern, confusion, and pain. When he expressed these emotions to the Pingry community, he found immense support in meetings, emails, and messages between the school’s leadership and students. This time, supportive actions were taken; Baynes emphasized the importance of voicing one’s genuine concerns and speaking out against injustice to spark change. The Honor Code teaches us that it is our responsibility, as members of the Pingry community, to use our strengths to create substantial impact and stand up for what is right.
The next speaker, Honor Board Chair Meghan Durkin (VI), began her speech by describing a news broadcast, which consists of 25 minutes of news and a kicker: a 5-minute positive bookend that leaves viewers “a sweet taste in their mouth to walk away with.” Although this year has felt like the negative news of the first 25 minutes, Durkin argued that we are now at the kicker, where the Pingry community has the opportunity to “redefine and bolster our values.” This year, the Honor Code is growing with the community to create a positive and compassionate environment; when there are challenges or obstacles, the Pingry community still upholds the Honor Code’s fundamental values of honor and integrity. At the end of Durkin’s speech, advisory and Honor Board representatives from the Middle and Upper School came to the stage to present Durkin and Baynes with copies of signed pledges that affirmed the students’ commitment to the Honor Code.
Then, Board of Trustees Chair Jeff Edwards ’78, P ’12, ’14, ’18 delivered his speech; he used Einstein’s saying of “in every difficulty lies opportunity,” but one’s mindset determines if a situation is one or the other. Despite the unpredicted difficulties, what lies at the heart of Pingry remains unchanged — our support and care for one another. He encouraged the students to approach the difficulties with an open mindset and an opportunistic outlook.
Mr. Levinson then recognized the twenty-five Magistri faculty members, who have served at Pingry for at least 25 years. He recounted a story about flat tires, highlighting the importance of seizing opportunities to learn from and understand each other.
Following Mr. Levinson’s remarks, members of the Pingry community joined together to listen to, and hum, “Old John Pingry.” As students and faculty exited Hauser and their advisory locations, each community member was reminded of our community’s values and traditions.
In late May, the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minnesota policemen triggered a mass movement across the nation (and eventually the world) in support of Black Lives Matter.
The Record previously detailed some of the earlier impacts that this multifaceted movement has had on the Pingry community. Pingry’s leadership has affirmed its support of Black Lives Matter and of minority students. Furthermore, Pingry students have taken action by petitioning, protesting, and consistently spreading awareness.
The focus on our nation’s problems has also thrown issues surrounding race and identity within the Pingry community into sharp relief. To this end, an anonymous account known as Black at Pingry (@blackatpingry) was created. Modeled after similar accounts at other private preparatory schools (including Dalton, Lawrenceville, Exeter, Andover, Choate, and Newark Academy, among many others), this Instagram account provided an outlet for Black students to anonymously expose some of the discrimination and issues they’ve face. Within several days, the platform began highlighting instances of racism and unfairness towards other people of color, and has since expanded to include all minorities (religious and racial).
The first post on the account appeared on June 11, 2020, a week after Pingry’s Finals Week concluded. Posts are added regularly; as of June 27, just over two weeks after the first post, there are 80 explanations, descriptions, and expressions of frustration. The account has 1,776 followers, and it has achieved widespread recognition among Pingry students, parents and alumni on Instagram.
We at The Record encourage readers to view the extent to which both ignorance and prejudice has penetrated the Pingry community by viewing the posts on the @blackatpingry page. Incidents include use of the n-word both inside and outside of class by teachers and students; ignorance about non-European civilizations, cultures, and history; various microaggressions, including unsavory remarks about wealth, intelligence, and cleanliness; and taunting behaviors based on cruel stereotypes of racial and religious groups. These pervade through speech and action (in some cases, inaction is the most poignant) and demonstrate that Pingry’s commitment to true diversity and inclusion has not fully succeeded in correcting some of the troubling behaviors.
Regarding the account, one student said: “@blackatpingry opened my eyes to a side of Pingry that, before, I only vaguely knew from second-hand information. It was jarring to learn the specifics, but I think it’s precisely the kind of wake-up call that our community needs.”
In response to these powerful posts, the school released a brief letter from Head of School Mr. Matt Levinson. Some students expressed disappointment that it had taken so long for the Pingry administration to respond to the emotional strength required to tell the stories on the @blackatpingry page. Once again, we encourage readers to view the full statement on Pingry’s social media channels (Instagram: @thepingryschool). Mr. Levinson exhorted the community to read the @blackatpingry page, and said that “unless and until we are willing to acknowledge these experiences, take responsibility for our past and present, and commit to the work of creating a better Pingry for our students of color, the stories of pain will never end.” Mr. Levinson ended his message by expressing a school commitment to active anti-racism and an effort to decrease the burden on the backs of students of color at Pingry, especially Black students.
After this public commitment, Mr. Levinson sent out an email to the Pingry community on June 24 to announce two events, both called “BECAUSE WE CARE.” The first, on Thursday, June 25, was for students who identified as Black; the second, on Friday, June 26, was for the caregivers of those students. These discussions were intended to foster “ongoing, honest, and open dialogue” and begin a continuous conversation about diversity and inclusion. On June 26, Mr. Levinson released an action plan for treating the ills of discrimination and racism in the Pingry community, and explained that incoming Director of Diversity and Inclusion Mr. Gilberto Olvera would be the point person for these initiatives. The plan calls for an anti-racism task force, engagement of the school community, a more inclusive and multicultural curriculum, faculty and staff training, better human resource management, and a progress check.
The Pingry community will anxiously await the administration’s more concrete actions on such issues, and some members have expressed concern over certain directives. According to one student of color, “I find it concerning that Mr. Levinson makes diversity sound like it only includes one perspective, the general ‘people of color.’ Within people of color, there are so many nuanced interactions that Mr. Levinson has made quite clear he is unaware of, and has no interest in learning about, given the exclusive wording of his emails.”
Another student of color voiced a different opinion on the decisions: “It’s a little bit disappointing, but expected given previous actions, that Mr. Levinson only chose to address racism directed towards [black members] as opposed to the racism which affects various other groups at Pingry. At the same time, I understand his position of leadership is a very difficult one to be in, and no matter how he responds, it is inevitable that people will pick out the flaws in his response based on their own perspectives and interests. Nonetheless, the detail that he provides in his email reflects a promising and focused commitment to anti-racism, and I hope we can see these plans manifest into measurable change.”
The @blackatpingry Instagram account has had an outsized impact in bringing to greater light the issues that people of color and minorities face at Pingry. The Pingry community ought to look forward to an equitable future for all; we will see how administrative and community decisions work towards such a future.
By Noah Bergam (V), Justin Li (V), and Aneesh Karuppur (V)
June 18, 2020
On the evening of June 11, the Pingry community received an email from Head of School Matt Levinson and the Board of Trustees confirming that Mr. Jake Ross was fired from The Pingry School. A few hours earlier, an apology email which Mr. Ross had sent to the baseball team earlier in the week began to circulate around the student body, and gained more public visibility as a result of an email from Alexandra Weber ‘20 sent to juniors and seniors; in her email, Weber stated that Mr. Ross had been barred by “the administration” from sending his apology to the whole school. The next day, a group of students, backed by over 600 petition signatures, sent an email to the Board of Trustees asking them to reinstate Mr. Ross.
Here is how we interpret the situation, according to the content and rhetoric of the Board’s June 11 termination letter, Mr. Ross’ apology letter, and the students’ June 12 letter to the Board.
On the week of June 8, an Instagram account operated by Pingry parents known as “_bigbluebaseball_” posted a picture of Mr Ross and the seniors on the boys’ baseball team, holding a banner that read “Everything Matters.” Some Pingry students thought the timing of this banner was in bad taste, since it resembled the slogan “All Lives Matter,” which is used as a protest against the Black Lives Matter movement.
If the June 11 letter from the Board answered one thing directly, it was that Mr. Ross was not fired for the Instagram post itself. Rather, he was fired for disrespectful conduct towards “school administrators,” including Mr. Levinson, when they attempted to “engage the community in dialogue” about the post and its impact.
Why was Mr. Ross disrespectful? Rather than providing any direct insight into the context of his frustration, or affirming the confidentiality of such context, the June 11 letter expounds on the idea that the conduct was part of a longer pattern of bad behavior: “This is also not the first instance in which he has demonstrated poor judgment and disrespect. We have learned there have been other instances that have resulted in a demotion of leadership responsibilities.” These words attack Ross’ character in past, possibly unrelated incidents rather than shedding light on the moment that actually caused him to get fired.
Moreover, the vocabulary describing Mr. Ross in this email is much harsher than that used to describe Mr. Graig Peterson in the August 27, 2019 email which announced Peterson’s firing in the wake of his use of “extensive, non-school-related electronic communication with several Upper School students.” In the August 27 email, written by Mr. Levinson and Upper School Director Ms. Chatterji, the only directly negative word used to describe Peterson’s behavior was “inappropriate,” whereas the June 11 email condemns Ross’ behavior with phrases such “unprofessional and inappropriate,” “unacceptable and antithetical to our values,” and “poor judgment and disrespect.” The June 12 petition letter pointed out the “usually strong terms used to characterize this incident,” going so far as to say that “the Dean Ross you described is not the Dean Ross we all know and love.”
The June 11 letter props up the school’s commitment to diversity and inclusion, treating Ross’ termination as a stepping stone towards that goal. The letter begins by quoting Mr. Levinson (or, as the letter colloquially refers to him, “Matt”) about his determination to uphold Pingry’s “inclusivity, honor, respect, and civic engagement” and ends with actions the school will take towards making a more inclusive educational environment. The aforementioned, overtly negative depiction of Ross, bookended by positive descriptions of the inclusive mission of the Board and Mr. Levinson in particular, implies that Mr. Ross personally stood in the way of this mission, and moreover that his termination contributed to the school’s goals of diversity and inclusion: “This letter and the actions below are only the first step.”
In his apology letter, Ross takes on a very different style from the Board; while the June 11 letter is self-promoting and, with 29 authors, profoundly impersonal, Ross’ letter establishes a voice that acknowledges mistakes and commits to personal change: “I clearly missed this one, but I will learn. I will be better.” Ross’ language is perhaps not as professional and self-assured as the Board’s (“The emotional rage and hurt I feel each time I think about what it must be like to be a black person in America, is not something I can convey in an email”) yet it embodies his open, relatable style as a leader, which the June 12 petition letter from students defends as a quality that allowed him, as a dean, to contribute to diversity and inclusion at Pingry with “sensitivity, dignity, and swiftness.”
The June 12 petition letter takes a sharp stance against the rhetoric of the June 11 message, stating that the “vagueness of the statements in the letter we received has also done little to assuage our concerns about the handling of this incident.” It implies that the June 11 email increased the very “deepening polarity” it pointed out and may have broken the Honor Code principle of “confidentiality in disciplinary proceedings” considering how it “so readily and publicly humiliate[d] a colleague.” Ultimately, the letter makes a bold request to the Board: “rectify your mistake by reinstating him.”
As of June 19, The Board of Trustees and Mr. Levinson have yet to respond.
We do not know much about the situation surrounding Mr. Ross’ misconduct: neither its severity nor its source. What we do know is that, between the language that the Board and Mr. Levinson used to describe Ross, and the language used by students and Ross himself, we have two very different pictures of the former dean––one depicting a disrespectful figure who stood in the way of diversity and inclusion, and the other depicting a crucial part of the Pingry community who actively supported the endeavour.
The first night my dad came home from treating COVID-19 patients at Newark Beth-Israel Hospital, I asked him what the situation looked like.
His immediate response: “No one knows anything.”
Ground zero, according to him, was a welter of confusion. In the midst of a growing influx of cases and a narrowing supply of masks and ventilators, it made sense: no one working there had seen or been prepared for this kind of situation before.
The situation at the hospital has since improved, but confusion has continued to sweep the entire population as we realize the power of our quarantine, and the fact that, if we break it, we risk restarting a vicious battle on the front lines.
We have a long road ahead of us, and we’re all looking forward to the day when we can walk away from this pandemic. But when will that day be? How do we reach it? And how do we make sure this never happens again?
These are the core questions I seek to address in this investigation.
To truly put down the virus at this point, we have to reach a status called herd immunity.
Herd immunity occurs when a significant majority of the population (about 70%) have been exposed to the virus, developed antibodies, and reached a point where they are no longer contagious. This creates a situation where those who cannot survive the virus (i.e. the immunocompromised) are surrounded by a “herd” who can act as a buffer from outbreaks. Life can then go on as normal.
Herd immunity can either happen naturally or artificially (i.e. through a vaccine). According to the WHO, “there is not enough evidence” to suggest that surviving COVID-19 will naturally grant long-lasting immunity. But even with that assumption, the death rates we have seen so far suggest that it might take well into 2021 and over half a million American deaths before we reach that point, according to Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center.
And then there is a vaccine––a scalable treatment that can give someone a “dumbed down” version of the virus and allow their immune system to develop the necessary antibodies to protect themselves. If we develop a vaccine, it can accelerate us to herd immunity with much more certainty than the natural route.
The vaccine time-table we have been hearing from government officials, like Dr. Anthony Fauci, is 12 to 18 months, which would have us waiting through mid-2021 … but there’s no guarantee that we will remotely follow this timeline, or that we will even be able to develop one. And if we do, we will have to develop a much stronger global supply chain to satisfy an exceptional demand.
In any case, we have a long road ahead of us. But that doesn’t mean we won’t progress. Reopening the economy can happen in steps; Governor Murphy has outlined a six-part plan that includes gradual reopening of specific businesses, as well as significant expansion of contact tracing and testing.
Beating Future Outbreaks
The position we find ourselves in reflects what I like to call the Fundamental Theorem of Public Health: the fact that ad hoc treatment is a more expensive and more painful alternative to prevention.
Keyword is prevention. How do we prevent a virus from wreaking this kind of havoc in the years to come?
To get answers, I talked to my sister Scarlett Bergam, a candidate for a Master’s Degree in Public Health with a concentration in Global Infectious Disease at Brown University.
One of the main things she stressed was quicker action. When asked what contributed most to the situation at hand, Scarlett pointed to a lack of testing and the ramifications thereafter. “While this was not completely in our control, it led to many people infecting others without knowing. To combat the inevitability of not knowing who was infected, we should have shut down our economy much sooner.“
It’s important to understand that testing alone is not enough––those who test positive need to immediately be isolated from the general population, as well as those who they came into contact with in the meantime. Hence, contact tracing: a tool that, if used on a wide enough scale, can turn a virus’ growth rate upside down.
According to Scarlett, “This would be incredibly efficient if people consented to it. However, ethically, there is always a fear of giving up one’s data.” She acknowledged the fact that most contact tracing would probably have to include GPS information, and that tracking of people’s locations could discourage signups (mandatory contact tracing, of course, would invoke some hefty constitutional issues).
However, she expressed some faith that a partnership between local government and the private tech industry could maximize both the effectiveness and the appeal of contact tracing. (Additionally, I found in my own research some clever methods of contact tracing that wouldn’t impede privacy.)
In terms of what we need to do to make these systems a reality, Bergam stated that “policy definitely has the biggest impact—new laws and funding allocation have the power to save mass amounts of lives, much more efficiently than any one doctor can.” Ultimately, making these kinds of long-term investments can save a lot of money and life down the line, and if there’s one good thing that COVID-19 has given us, it’s the amount of incentive we now have to follow through.
It’s incredibly scary to not know when life will go back to normal.
We can rest assured that one day it will. But in order to reach that day, we need solutions, widespread cooperation, and, perhaps most importantly, knowledge. “No one knows anything” is a scary prospect in the hospital but also in the general population––we need to understand the science and the policy surrounding this pandemic. We cannot afford to fall for misinformation, political understatements, or the illusion of blissful ignorance.
We are living in a time of historical proportions, with historical mistakes that will be studied for decades and centuries to come.
So let’s be clear on our situation, and the solutions at hand. Let’s face this world head on and come back to our changed world, not defeated by this present suffering, but empowered by the future in our hands.
As the growth rate of the coronavirus begins to flatline, Americans grow tired of a virus that has ravaged this nation for far longer – the racially charged murder of innocent black Americans, including Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd, by a systematically flawed criminal justice system.
Since George Floyd’s murder in Minneapolis, Minnesota, on May 25, thousands have taken to the streets across the country in frustration. These protests have called for murder charges against the policemen who killed Floyd, as well as concrete legislative reform to end these homicides. The former request was fulfilled on June 3, when the Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison announced a second-degree murder charge (upgraded from third-degree) for Derek Chauvin, who asphyxiated Floyd by kneeling on his neck for over 8 minutes, as well as aiding and abetting charges for the three former policemen who allowed Chauvin to do so. In terms of broader reforms, protesters are calling for divestment from police forces, an end to the Qualified Immunity (which make it extremely difficult for officers to be found guilty), and a ban on choke and knee holds.
Within the Pingry community, many students and alumni have joined in on the activism. Most have been helping spread awareness on allyship and petitions via social media, while others took part in peaceful protests in their communities.
The protests across the country are evidence of a desire and pressing need for change. While most of these protests have remained peaceful, some have turned violent, with police provoking protesters and protesters taking part in arson and vandalism. In the case of the former, it is disturbingly unclear how police are being disciplined for their brutality, especially against peaceful demonstrators. In the case of the latter, there has been confusion over who has been inciting the violence, and debate surrounding the acceptable limits to what protesters should do. Some cite the destruction of private property alone as reason enough to condemn the rioting, while others see the rioting as a tantamount reaction to decades of oppression and police violence.
In the wake of the Floyd shooting, Student Body President Nolan Baynes wanted to see allyship and action from the school’s administration, so on May 28 he emailed Pingry’s top administrators, including Headmaster Matt Levinson, asking Pingry to speak up.
After some back and forth, including further student emails which pressed the school to take more direct action, administrators set up a community-wide Zoom meeting on June 3 to initiate more dialogue about the issue.
During the meeting, which was attended by over 300 students and faculty, participants had an opportunity to voice their opinions and frustrations in hopes of improving Pingry’s future responses and actions against racial injustice. Students were able to offer suggestions to the faculty and the administration, while teachers reflected on “action steps” they could take to better facilitate discussion around race in their classroom and beyond.
On Friday, June 5, the Pingry Allyship Collective (a newly formed coalition of all the affinity groups, student unions, SDLC, and CASE) sent a letter to administrators requesting more transparency between students and faculty involved in diversity and inclusion (inset at bottom left).
Words from a Pingry Protester
Giles Burnett (IV), who took part in peaceful Black Lives Matter demonstrations in Somerset, NJ, on May 31, provided a statement on why he chose to protest:
I’ll tell you what my mom told me. ‘Watch your tone around strangers, don’t wear your hoodie in public, never question or talk back to an officer, turn down your music in the car, don’t bike/drive through that neighborhood, you better be home before dark, take your hands out your pocket, walk with a purpose and don’t linger, you don’t get any second chances in this world.’ Or, I can tell you what America told me. ‘Cross the street or clutch your purse when you see me, follow me in the store, slow your car down when you see me, slow down your cop car when you see me, ask me if I’m lost or in the wrong store, ask me where I got that $20 from, ask me if I play football or basketball, ask me if you can say the n-word.’ That is my everyday life, I march so my black brothers and sisters don’t have to answer those questions. I march so innocent black men and women aren’t killed in the streets. I march to fight the systemic racism that plagues our country. This past week has been one of the most painful and exhausting weeks of my life. I’ve cried, reflected, laughed and everything in between. I’ve been able to channel these emotions into action and change. However, there is no change with only 14% of the nation speaking up. We need allies and we need unity. It’s a marathon, not a sprint. Stay safe.
The Record’s Statement
We wholly condemn the police brutality present in this country, as well as the silence that has allowed it to viciously persist. As a publication, we stand for improvements in Pingry’s discourse surrounding race relations. We encourage writers of all identities to tackle these difficult subjects, and we are open to civil discussions around the presence of racial injustices in our School, our nation, and our world.
I am sure you have seen on the news and through social media that the murders of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd have resulted in mass outrage throughout the country. This is not the first time this will happen, and I doubt it will be the last. Many members of our Pingry community have felt the need to advocate upon social media discussing possible protests, sending out petitions, and even speaking their own emotions. As a school, during times of crisis, this definitively being one of them, we have been able to address issues that are affecting students head-on. To be direct, in the fall, when commenting upon the suicide of nearby students, the administration was very prompt to address the matter, and all hands were focused upon it. It is odd that even with the murder of Ahmaud Arbery, I was the only person upon campus to speak out formally. There seems to be some lack of adult input in these situations, and it’s isolating to the students whom it affects daily. From my perspective, the daily micro-aggressions and events at this school go silenced and unnoticed, especially from the administration As a middle school student, I would feel as though I was alone fighting a fight that would never be resolved, and here we are in 2020 dealing with the same issue. Except now, I’m a senior with a legitimate position in our school. As a Student Body President, an active advocate in our community, and most importantly, a Black boy, I’m asking you to speak out on it. Show solidarity with the people who have been affected by systemic racism for over 400 years who attend your school. If you don’t, I, along with other students in your building, will continue to fight the fight that has yet to be resolved in this country. As adults, you have a platform just like I do, and I hope you find a way to advocate for people who look like me and not just turn a blind eye and become shocked when the next murder occurs. Black tears fall upon deaf white ears.
Nolan Baynes II
May 28 Letter from Nolan Baynes II (V) to Pingry Administrators
We are proud to be Pingrians; we wish to discuss diversity-related issues in Pingry because we want this community to become a better, more inclusive place. We started diversity work in Pingry because we either were displeased with the lack of representation in our school or believed that the existing representation is both superficial and trivialized by the students and the staff. However, the goal of PAC is not to point fingers or merely complain about the past wrongs we have observed. Instead, we wish to progress in collaboration with the administration and contribute to the commendable endeavors of our school. In order to do this, however, certain methods of communication and action must be reformed; one of our main concerns is the lack of collaboration and/or transparency between faculty leaders who make diversity-related decisions and the students who feel the result of these decisions (or lack thereof). As a result, we hope that the administration takes our ideas and perspectives seriously.
Excerpt of June 5 Letter from Pingry Allyship Collective to Pingry Administrators
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.
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!
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.
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.”