The Wall Street Bets Reddit Community, affectionately referred to as r/WallStreetBets, proudly describes itself as “like 4Chan found a Bloomberg Terminal.” So-called YOLO (“You Only Live Once”) trades are the order of the day on this subreddit, with users dumping thousands of dollars into high-risk, high-volatility trades that essentially treat the stock market like a massive casino. Upon visiting the board for the first time, users are greeted with posts on dozens of these potential YOLO trades that have the potential to either make you a millionaire, or absolutely rob you––usually the latter. Yet even as these YOLO trades go bust, many of the Redditors take pride in their massive losses, posting pictures of hundreds of thousands of dollars lost on high-risk options and trades.
However, when these trades do go right, one can become a millionaire practically overnight. This was the case with Gamestop (GME), a YOLO trade started by a user u/DeepF——Value, a 34-year-old financial educator from Massachusetts named Keith Gill, who mostly posts cat memes on Twitter and Reddit. Gill originally placed $54,000 on GME in September of 2020, when GME traded at roughly $8.50 a share. The bet soon gained momentum on r/WallStreetBets when Gill posted an update on January 11, 2021. Users started buying the stock en masse, sending the price to about $65 a share by January 22.
Wall Street hedge funds soon took notice of this sudden uptick in GME’s stock price, and immediately saw an opportunity to make some quick money. GME’s stock price was indeed heavily overvalued: the company itself was not expected to turn a profit until 2024, and with the COVID-19 pandemic, it was in severe financial distress. Expecting the stock to nosedive owing to Gamestop’s precarious financial situation and poor fundamentals, investors short sold the stock. By January 22, 140% of GME’s public float had been shorted, making it the most shorted stock on the market.
Seeing how GME had been extremely shorted by Wall Street hedge funds, members of r/WallStreetBets soon found themselves with a golden opportunity. If they could get users on the board to buy more shares of GME (which would increase the stock price), hedge funds would have to buy back the stock to cover, which would further increase the stock price and cause a short squeeze, thus sending the stock price soaring.
On January 25, the plan was put into motion. Swathes of users bought GME (nearly 175 million shares were traded that day), pledging to send “Gamestop to the Moon!” The internet soon took notice and “GME to the Moon” was trending on multiple social media platforms that day. Influencers hoping to make a quick buck posted screenshots of their positions and asked their followers to buy into the stock. Millennial college students looking to pay off their college debts hopped on the trend, dumping their stimulus checks and whatever savings they could scrape together into GME. Gen-Zers, many of whom had never even touched the stock market before, started accounts on free trading platforms such as Robinhood to hop on the GME rocket and become part of history. Never before in stock market history had so many people been united together in a singular goal to buy a stock.
This sudden influx of people buying GME caused the stock’s price to rise sharply, as expected. A gamma squeeze was also triggered by traders scrambling to buy options in order to hedge their short positions and protect themselves from further risk, which further increased the stock price. By the time the market closed on January 26, GME had risen 92.71% to a price of $147.98 per share. During after-hours trading, Tesla CEO Elon Musk took to Twitter and posted a link to the r/WallStreetBets subreddit with the caption “Gamestonk!”, sending the price of the stock to $200. By the time the market closed the next day on the 27, GME was trading at $483 a share, an increase of almost 750% from its stock price just a week prior, and an increase of more than 1000% for the entire year.
In the span of two days, Redditors and YOLO investors who had placed thousands of dollars into GME found themselves with millions of dollars in newly acquired wealth. Meanwhile, hedge funds who had dumped billions of dollars into short positions on GME found themselves losing their entire position to the short squeeze. Morgan Stanley reported that it had seen some of the largest de-grossing actions in nearly 10 years, meaning hedge funds worked to cover their short positions and to sell stock in other companies in order to limit their volatility exposure as GME’s stock price took off. Other funds, who had bet big on the GME short, simply couldn’t cover their losses. Among the biggest of these losers would be Melvin Capital, a $12 billion hedge fund who had staked out a multibillion dollar short position on GME. In the wake of the short squeeze, Melvin found itself losing nearly 30% of its value on its failed GME short, necessitating a $2.75 billion buyout from Citadel and Point72 Asset Management in order to prevent the fund from going under.
As of the time of writing, GME is now trading at roughly $58, thanks to a combination of brokerages restricting trading of GME, short ladders by hedge funds in order to force a selloff, and a loss of interest from retail traders. Wall Street itself has been reminded that retail traders, ordinary people, are still very much a force on the market, and they too, have as much of a right and ability as do those working in multi-billion dollar hedge funds. This event, when a group of retail investors, redditors, millennials and Gen-Zers all came together and managed to upset Wall Street, will certainly go down as an event to remember, an event that will help to define the Millennial and Gen-Z generations.
To most people, the term “endowment” elicits vague references to money and stands as a distant term reserved for larger universities. However, Pingy actually maintains an endowment fund of its own, which is more relevant to the community than people realize; in fact, this $80 million strong endowment is responsible for funding all of the school’s financial operations. We spoke to Mr. Olaf Weckesser, the CFO and COO of Pingry, about the school’s endowment, hoping to shed some light on this elusive subject.
An endowment is a pool of money or assets that a not-for-profit, commonly educational, institution uses to maintain itself long-term. Every year, the endowment is invested in various securities, such as stocks, bonds, and real estate. The following investment return can be spent on the institution’s financial operations, while the principal amount remains untouched and is only used to generate returns in future years. An endowment’s size varies according to the institution’s size and needs. Sometimes, endowments can amass to enormous sums, especially for larger college institutions. To give an extreme example, Harvard University boasts the largest academic endowment in the world with a hefty $40.9 billion, according to a 2019 Harvard Crimson report.
A common misconception that the general public holds, and misinformed media outlets often criticize, is that schools are “hoarding” their endowments, prioritizing the wealth of the fund over the school’s operations and overall health. After all, it is difficult to imagine why any institution would need to accumulate billions of dollars when they could be spending it on school improvements. However, Mr. Weckesser clarified that opinions like these most likely stem from a lack of financial expertise. Unlike a savings account, where the holder can spend the entire amount, the principal endowment amount is used for creating investment returns, not for spending. Going back to the Harvard example, they only spent 2 of their $40.9 billion endowment in the 2019-20 fiscal year according to their website. Leaving the principal amount unspent allows the school to continuously sustain the fund for years to come; without a healthy endowment, tuitions would need to be raised significantly in order to keep the school running.
Pingry’s endowment fund comes almost entirely from donations and growth in asset value. Currently, the school website states that its endowment is approximately $80 million. Funds drawn from the endowment cover a wide range of financial operations, such as financial aid, to which more than half the fund is allocated, faculty salaries, which also take up a large percentage of the fund, and even individual club budgets. Endowment decisions are made by the Board of Trustees and Mr. Weckesser. Additionally, within the Board is an Investment Committee whose goal is to complete investments that maximize returns and minimize risk for the fund. According to Mr. Weckesser, the Board sets a draw rate of approximately 3% for the school to spend every year. Although the Board has the power to adjust the draw rate, Mr. Weckesser said that it generally stays constant throughout the years.
It’s important to note that not all donations go to Pingry’s endowment. Benefactors have the choice to donate to either the school’s endowment or to the Annual Fund, also commonly referred to as the Pingry Fund. As the name suggests, the Annual Fund consists of the money that gets spent within the year. According to Mr. Weckesser, although there’s no fixed threshold for either fund, larger gifts generally go to the endowment fund, while smaller donations go to the Annual Fund. On Giving Day for example, one of Pingry’s most well-known donation events, all proceeds go to the Annual Fund.
The Pingry endowment is responsible for financing many operations, from the maintenance of the Basking Ridge campus to the Outing Club’s movie night. Even though only a portion of the Pingry community donates to the endowment fund, it is crucial to understand how the school is financed. The wealth of the fund affects everyone in the community, and can provide clearer illustration of the behind-the-scenes work at Pingry, as well as a better appreciation of the school’s resources.
Can a COVID-19 vaccine bring life back to normal? Early data suggests that certain vaccines could be the answer to this question. However, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has a long and elaborate process for approving said vaccines. The process begins with an exploratory and preclinical stage, followed by clinical development; within the latter is a three-phase process. Phase I includes small groups of people receiving the trial vaccine. In Phase II, the vaccine is given to groups of people who fit a target demographic. For the final phase, the vaccine is given to thousands of people to test for both efficacy and safety. Once the vaccines pass Phase III, companies must receive approval from the FDA before manufacturing and mass-distributing the vaccine. Once the vaccine is distributed, the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System monitors the side-effects. As of November 24, 2020, five companies––AstraZeneca, Jannsen, Moderna, Novavax, and Pfizer––are going through or plan to go through Phase III clinical trials.
When infected with COVID-19, it takes several days for a person’s body to recover from the infection. During this recovery period, the body creates the necessary tools to fight off the infection and the immune system proceeds to store information about how to protect the body against COVID-19 in the future. The vaccines allow the body to produce the necessary white-blood cells to attack the virus and defend itself from infection without contracting it.
There are three types of vaccines that are currently in Phase III of clinical trials: an mRNA vaccine, a protein subunit vaccine, and a vector vaccine. The mRNA vaccine contains genetic information that allows the virus to create a specific protein that lets the body make copies of said protein. When infected with COVID-19, the body will detect this protein and create white blood cells that will fight off the virus. Meanwhile, protein subunit vaccines harness pieces of proteins from SARS-CoV-2 (the virus which causes COVID-19), and, similar to the mRNA vaccine, the body creates white blood cells to fend off these proteins. Finally, vector vaccines contain a weakened version of the live virus that the body then uses to first learn about COVID-19 and create the defensive white blood cells thereafter.
Moderna and Pfizer Pharmaceuticals have released data from Phase III trials, both companies planning to release mRNA vaccines with approximately 95% success rates. In trials done by Pfizer, patients were analyzed 21 days after being given their vaccine whereas Moderna analyzed its patients 14 days after administration, and results show that both vaccines have had little to no side effects. A major difference between the two vaccines, however, is in the way they must be stored in order to maintain efficacy. Pfizer’s vaccine must be stored at -112 degrees Fahrenheit for up to 5 days, requiring special freezers found in labs and hospitals. In stark contrast, Moderna’s vaccine can be stored between 36 to 46 degrees Fahrenheit while being able to stay in the refrigerator for 30 days. As both vaccines wait to be approved by the FDA, both companies begin to make plans for widespread distribution.
Our community has taken drastic measures to slow the spread of COVID-19 by wearing masks and staying socially distant. By continuing the current safety measures and following the CDC’s recommendations––especially as vaccines are approved and distributed––the return of normalcy may soon be upon us.
The Pingry Admissions process is a somewhat mystifying one, as a lot of the decisions are, quite literally, made behind closed doors in the Admissions Office in the Upper School foyer. The Form III entry year is the most competitive, with around fifty to fifty-five open spots. The school typically receives around four or five applications per spot, indicating a 20-25% acceptance rate for the freshman class. Recent years have also seen a steady increase in the number of students applying each year, making the selection even more competitive. To gain more insight into exactly how these students are chosen, I spoke with Ms. Lorian Morales, the Assistant Director of Admission.
As part of the application process, students must first submit their actual application. This consists of family and applicant information as well as the Parent and Student Questionnaires, which include a few short essays. Then, three recommendation forms, transcripts and report cards, and standardized testing results need to be submitted from the student’s previous school. For the final stage, the applicant usually visits campus on a specific “Buddy Day,” during which they are paired with a current freshman to experience a day in the life of a Pingry student.
The application process also consists of an interview with a member of the Admissions Office. Both the student and their parents have their own interviews, which is a great opportunity for the family to ask questions and learn more about Pingry. Ms. Morales also mentioned that it allows the Admissions Office to “get a true sense of the applicant during their interview … whether it be their sense of humor that comes across, or something they care deeply about. Getting a glimpse into the student beyond their activities helps see how they may connect with others at Pingry.” Currently, the interview and visit days are virtual to ensure community safety, but all components of the application must be completed by late January. Decisions are typically announced in early to mid-March.
The Pingry admissions process is similar to the college admissions process, as there are a “limited number of openings compared to the abundance of great students” who would thrive and enhance the school community, explains Ms. Morales. Pingry values both well-rounded and “spiked” students (those who particularly excel in a certain area). When looking to add students to a grade, the Admissions Office “is truly working to craft a class.” Both types of students play a role in enriching the Pingry community, but the Admissions team really looks for students who “will come to Pingry and be eager to get involved in the community,” whether that is through athletics, the arts, STEM-related activities, or clubs.
The COVID-19 pandemic has also impacted the application process at Pingry in that there is an influx of applications from families who do not typically explore private schools. With this year’s remote learning and hybrid models, many families who are no longer satisfied with their public school system are now turning to Pingry and other institutions. The smaller class sizes, teacher accessibility, and safety precautions around COVID-19 are very appealing, leading to an increase in applications for the incoming class.
The selection process for applicants is a challenging one. However, it is evident that the Admissions team takes great care when crafting each new class, making sure to include students with diverse backgrounds and talents who are eager to get involved in the Pingry community.
By Zoe Wang (V) By the middle of March 2020, the coronavirus pandemic sent schools and educators into a frenzy. Phil Murphy, the Governor of New Jersey, announced that all public and private schools were to be immediately closed to prevent the virus’s spread. The safety of students and staff were of the highest priority. Following the state’s orders, Pingry closed its doors to the community during spring break, and plans to commence remote learning ensued. After Pingry’s shift to remote learning, the question remained: what will school look like in September?
In July, the administration announced Pingry’s plan to resume school in the fall, titled “Pingry Anywhere.” As Head of School Matt Levinson stated, “The philosophy of Pingry Anywhere is to be able to provide education from anywhere.” Pingry Anywhere is a flexible education model that integrates in-person and online learning to accommodate students learning on campus and at home.
The plan meticulously considered all factors that make up a student’s typical school day at Pingry and implemented necessary precautions and safety measures. Every morning before arriving on campus, everyone must complete a pre-screen form that asks for your temperature, if you have any of the COVID symptoms, or if you have traveled outside of the state recently. At each school entrance, everyone’s temperature is checked to ensure that it is below 99.9°F.
Lunch has been redesigned so that Form III and IV students eat in the Hyde and Watson Gym, while Form V and VI students remain in the Engel Dining Hall. Additionally, all meals are pre-packaged, with plexiglass dividers at every table to minimize the risk of contact while eating. One of the most significant changes, however, is how classrooms now look. There are plexiglass barriers between every desk and TVs in every classroom for those opting to learn remotely. To encourage students to go outside for some fresh air, Adirondack chairs and tents have also been installed at the back of the school so students can interact with each other or take a “breather.”
After the first month of school concluded, COVID-19 testing began rolling out. The non-invasive antigen test is saliva-based and uses pool-testing. Along with wearing the mandatory masks and face shields, testing provides community members with another cautionary measure. The test results will allow the affected individuals to quarantine and contact tracing procedures will follow while mitigating others’ risk at school.
The efforts of several individuals at Pingry who have put in countless hours to make the students and faculty’s daily lives seem as ‘normal’ as possible are extremely appreciated by the community, as we truly are lucky to be able to go back in-person.
Like Pingry, Newark Academy has instituted similar protocols such as a daily COVID-19 questionnaire to complete before entering the campus, increased cleaning of high-touch surfaces throughout the day, and social distancing procedures. The key differences lie in the flexibility of attending school and testing. Pingry allows students and families to decide daily where they will be attending in-person or remote learning. Newark Academy also gives students the option to shift to remote education; however, they must wait until designated transition times to return to in-person learning. Unlike Pingry, Newark Academy has not yet announced plans to implement COVID-19 testing. This additional measure is beneficial for Pingry in keeping the community safe and campus open for as long as possible.
As a Pingry community member, everyone is expected to uphold the Community Pledge and follow all of the contact tracing and quarantine protocols. It truly is commendable what a great job the faculty and staff have done to bring the students back on campus to a thriving environment filled with exceptional learning.
By Jessica Lin (VI) Pingry’s various research programs are one of the school’s greatest strengths. From the renowned Pingry Research Exhibit to the newly added Humanities Independent Research Team (HIRT), our programs are rapidly developing and expanding. We investigated three well-known schools around the area with whom to compare research programs and see how we can potentially improve. These schools are Stuyvesant, a New York public magnet school; Hotchkiss, a Connecticut private boarding school; and Lawrenceville, a New Jersey private day/boarding school. For the purposes of this article, a research program is defined as a school-offered extracurricular program whose mainfocus is to conduct scientific research to further new understandings in that field. Therefore, this investigation aims to cover research clubs and programs rather than any research based classes.
Beginning with Stuyvesant, we gathered information from their website and found that the school research club runs a science magazine called SIGMA, similar to the Pingry Community Research Journal (PCR). It is organized into four separate departments: layout, annotations, which summarizes articles to make them more comprehensible to the general public, creative works, which focuses on producing the content for the publication, and processing/revisions. Based on SIGMA’s departmental organization, one takeaway is that some form of annotations might also prove useful in PCR issues. Adding short summaries and definitions for scientific terms would expand the audience of PCR to the whole student body, rather than just those who are knowledgeable in STEM. However, a criticism of SIGMA’s structure is that a separate role for annotations would divide the researcher from their work; it would be more efficient to have each researcher define their own terms, since they’re the most knowledgeable in that subject area. The combination of the researcher and annotator roles is also more suitable for Pingry based on our smaller student body compared to Stuyvesant.
Stuyvesant also runs a publication called Nucleus which focuses on prevalent issues and developments in chemistry and physics. Many of the Pingry research programs are centered in biology research, so broadening the scope to different science subjects would benefit Pingry students as well.
After conducting online research and searching through the Hotchkiss and Lawrenceville school websites, we were unable to find a research publication or journal that they run.
According to the Stuyvesant curriculum and student insight from their school newspaper, Stuyvesant appears to be more STEM-centered than Pingry; this orientation is reflected in the spread of their research programs, as they lack any equivalent to Pingry’s HIRT. However, one strength is their Stuyvesant Research Mentoring Program (SRMP), which pairs upperclassmen with underclassmen who are interested in scientific research. The goal is for the more experienced upperclassmen to “help aspiring student researchers develop their scientific interest and enable them to get a foothold in the research world,” according to the SRMP website. While Pingry offers various tutoring programs in core subjects like Math and English, a research-specific mentoring program could help expose new high school students to the vast range of research opportunities that can initially be overwhelming. Because many Pingry research programs only accept students in Forms IV through VI, such a mentoring program could help students engage in science research and help them develop essential skills, such as how to read research articles or how to design a lab. This type of program could also help bring the student community together.
Lawrenceville provides more opportunities than Stuyvesant to delve into humanities, such as the University of Pennsylvania’s School Participatory Action Research Collaborative (SPARC), where UPenn graduate students and faculty collaborate with a number of independent schools, including Lawrenceville, to “improve school culture, policy, and practice,” based on their website description. Their research focuses on how issues such as gender, relationships, and identity present themselves at Lawrenceville. Finding a way for Pingry to join SPARC would add greatly to the humanities research department, which HIRT is currently bearing the brunt of. Although we have strong programs at Pingry that cover similar topics, such as the newly formed Pingry Allyship Collective (PAC), a research-based program like SPARC could benefit and pair well with PAC, integrating diversity and inclusion with scientific data specific to our school.
All three schools meet a similar lab equipment standard to that of Pingry, as they all have DNA testing equipment, robotics labs, and some form of a lab space to conduct biological research. However, one unique asset of Hotchkiss is their observatory for stargazing. The on-campus Hotchkiss Observatory boasts a 20 inch telescope and enables students to research stellar activities through the student-led Astronomy Club. Hotchkiss states that their rural geographical location in Salisbury CT gives them access to clear skies at night, so it’s undetermined as to whether Pingry would be able to build one in our current location, not to mention the costs of constructing one. However, it could add another layer to the diversity of Pingry research programs.
Based on the schools we investigated, we can conclude that Pingry stands as a top-tier research program among other local high-level schools. The most meaningful and realistic improvement Pingry should consider is adding a program similar to UPenn’s SPARC: one that focuses on the role that gender, race, or any other identifiers play in the school community. We should utilize humanities research to develop an empirical understanding of diversity and equality in our school, so we can then work with other existing initiatives, like PAC, with the goal of improving our school culture. This program would also bolster the humanities research department, which is currently significantly smaller than the STEM department. Whether these ideas are ultimately implemented or not, research remains a vital part of high school education. Research teaches students how to explore and think for themselves, so it’s crucial that Pingry continues to build upon these valuable programs.
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.
In the last year-and-a-half, the departures of teachers such as Mr. Peterson, Ms. Taylor, and Mr. Thompson did not pass without controversy and speculation. Despite the uncertainty clouding most of these departures, it is undeniable that each one these teachers, and every faculty member at Pingry, offers something unique to the community; this year, the absences of these teachers have made us especially aware of this fact. As such, their departures left many of us feeling disappointed, and in many cases confused.
By speaking one-on-one with a few students, I have gleaned that the effect of these recent departures and the broader issue of teacher turnover is a topic students want to discuss. Aneesh Karuppur (V), for example, tells me that he is specifically “concerned regarding the number of departures each year, as it hurts the continuity throughout the years, as well as the solidity of Pingry’s teaching style and curriculum.” He also mentions that “as more and more of the Magistri faculty leave each year, it’s very important to secure replacements who will be able to stay at Pingry for similarly long periods of time.“
The foundation of an effective education, especially at Pingry, is the student-teacher relationship, and the concerns of Aneesh and many others raise important questions about Pingry as an educational institution. However, it is important to examine whether concerns like these are even justifiable. Looking past the particularly conspicuous departures in recent years, is teacher turnover really an issue at Pingry? Is the administration doing enough to make Pingry a place where teachers want to teach, and keep teaching?
To begin my investigation, I took a quantitative approach. In search of a reliable faculty database, I spoke with Dr. Dinkins, who informed me that such a resource was not readily accessible and instead advised me to look through past yearbooks. While yearbooks would not allow me to examine metrics, like average faculty tenure, using them in combination with departing faculty articles in the Record’s annual commencement issues allowed me to generate an annual proportion of departing faculty. This statistic would provide a broad picture of teacher turnover each year, which I could further categorize by department.
At home, I laid out the yearbooks I had accumulated on my bookshelf from 2012 to 2019 and recorded the number of Upper and Middle School faculty in each department each year, as well as the number of Magistri across all three campuses (I chose to exclude administrators since their turnover does not necessarily fit within the scope of my investigation and a large portion of administrators also taught classes in other departments). I added the department totals to obtain a total number of teaching faculty, making an effort to avoid double-counting faculty members who appeared in multiple departments, such as Mr. Lear or Ms. Thuzar.
I found that from 2012 to 2018, the proportion of faculty departures remained relatively consistent. The only notable feature of the graph occurs in 2019, where 9.4% of total teaching faculty departed and the graph indicates a significant upward spike, giving some justification to the recent concern. Nevertheless, I don’t believe that this singular spike, which could very likely be an outlier, indicates any overarching issue with teacher turnover at Pingry. However, it is notable that the number of Magistri has declined rather steadily since 2012, a trend that affirms Aneesh’s concern that fewer and fewer of Pingry’s faculty are holders of this prestigious distinction.
I decided it might also be interesting to see the differences in faculty retention across departments; I observed that the department that seems to retain its faculty the best is the arts department, which sees an average 5.47% of its faculty leave each year since 2012. By my metric, the language department seems to be the worst, with an average percentage at 11.04%, which doubles that of the arts department
While quantitative analysis can be informative, I do not feel it is sufficient to survey an issue as nuanced as teacher turnover solely by the use of statistics. In an effort to humanize my analysis, I spoke with US Director Chatterji, who was familiar with many of the recently departed faculty and could give me a more personal outlook on the issue. We talked first about the measures Pingry takes to incentivize teachers to keep teaching at Pingry. While she pointed out that Pingry has no formal incentivization program, she stressed the importance of “conversation” to faculty retention. She says that “teachers want to teach at Pingry because of its emphasis on human relationships.” She cited the numerous instances in which she had written recommendations for teachers applying for positions at other schools: by speaking about their experience and perhaps making a change to what they’re teaching, their office space, or the number of seasons they coach, these teachers were often happier and chose to continue teaching at Pingry, even with other job offers on the table.
She also made an important distinction between the types of departures, saying that “[Pingry] can’t hold all people. Our goal is not to retain people who are leaving because of retirement, marriage, or other life circumstances.” Instead, she believes that the more important number to look at is how many teachers are moving to other schools in pursuit of something Pingry wasn’t providing. Mr. Karrat or Dr. Chin-Shefi are examples of teachers who could fall into this category. Looking at departures from this lens, there does not seem to be a trend or major issue, with an average of 2.5 faculty moving to different schools each year and the rest leaving for largely unpreventable reasons.
The third category of departures is dismissals. While often the most dramatic and memorable, this is the category over which Pingry has the least control, as the school cannot control the behavior of its faculty. Nonetheless, I chose to look into an area where Pingry can exert at least some influence over the frequency at which they are forced to dismiss teachers: the hiring process. Ms. Chatterji explained that Pingry posts job openings in various locations, including job search websites, as well as on the “Employment” page of pingry.org. Mr. Dinkins, and now Ms. Holmes-Glogwer, in collaboration with department chairs, then sorts through resumes and applications from these various channels to identify qualified candidates. If the number of dismissals is actually an issue, which I don’t have the data to conclude (the Record does not write departing faculty articles for dismissed faculty), perhaps Pingry is losing its ability to attract candidates who, once hired, can continue to uphold the standard that Pingry expects from its faculty. Eva Schiller (V) also mentions that “there seems to be very extreme punishment for certain teachers without widespread preventative measures being made across the board,” and I concur that clearer guidelines for faculty conduct might help reduce the number of necessary dismissals.
Ultimately, though, I believe this investigation indicates that the Pingry administration seems to be doing their best to retain faculty. As the statistics I gathered show, recent concern likely stems from last year’s unusually high departure rate, and while the number of Magistri does seem to be declining, there is no way to say it will not rise again in the near future. At the same time, teacher turnover is an important issue to monitor, and investigations like this one can allow us to hold the school accountable if an abnormal teacher turnover rate begins to more conclusively tarnish the Pingry experience.
The Pingry Record recently sent out a survey to 75 Pingry Upper Schoolers about the school’s academic life. The purpose was to see what aspects of the school could be improved upon from a student’s perspective. Because it was anonymous, students were able to speak out on certain subjects that they may not have felt comfortable discussing before. The information gained from this survey benefits not just students, but the entire community by creating a better learning environment.
To get better results, it was crucial to poll a wide variety of Upper School students. Even though the juniors and seniors may have more experience in course selection, it was ultimately decided that every grade level should have a chance to voice their opinion. However, because the survey was only sent out to a small percentage of high schoolers, the data is not as accurate as it would have been if the entire school was polled. Moreover, only 32 people answered the survey, so the data cannot be considered a perfect representation of the student body. Luckily, a similar amount of people took the survey in each grade (Graph 1).
The majority of the survey questions were answered on a “strongly agree” to “strongly disagree” spectrum. Overall, there were some very interesting results. The majority of students agreed that Pingry offers enough art/music/drama courses (Graph 2a). In another statement, the majority strongly agreed that AP courses are important to them (Graph 2b). This is intriguing because it shows how relevant and worthwhile AP courses are to Pingry students. Most also felt neutral or strongly disagreed with the statement that Pingry should do away with academic awards (Graph 2c). However, in a later statement, the majority agreed that Pingry focuses too much on academic success (such as grades) (Graph 2d). Even though the results from Graph 2d and 2c may contradict each other, it is clear that many still see the academic awards as an integral part of the school. Lastly, more than half of the students disagreed that their teachers use Schoology effectively to send them updates (Graph 2e). This data shows how there is still a need for improvement with how technology is used in the classroom, which is especially relevant during remote learning.
The last few questions on the survey were free response. One question asked students whether there were any specific courses that they wished the school offered. A handful of students wanted more finance classes, especially those that could be applied to real-life circumstances (such as doing taxes). Other students wanted more philosophy and psychology courses. Another question asked if there were any extracurriculars that students believe the school should fund/pay more attention to. Some people wanted more attention towards debate, while others wanted funding for the music equipment and set design tools. However, it is important to also note that the majority of surveyed students did not offer a response to these questions.
After reviewing these results, one impressive takeaway is how content students are with the school’s academic program. That said, there are definitely ways to improve the student experience at Pingry.
In the past year, the Pingry Upper School English Department has undergone major changes involving the Junior and Senior curricula. Previously, the Junior/Senior electives were a collective affair; now, Juniors and Seniors take their spring electives separately, resulting in a shift in the works used and courses that are taught by faculty. As Pingry students, it is important to understand exactly what purposes these changes serve and what you may be losing and or gaining from the new curricula. To further understand this topic, I interviewed Upper School Director Dean Chatterji, who helps oversee any and all curriculum changes.
Dean Chatterji explained that curriculum change is a “two-year process” and that these changes are “big changes that we are not undertaking right now.” The sentiment seems that course adjustment is a difficult and lengthy process that is only undergone when it is necessary. Dean Chatterji also discussed how the most recent changes have been those made to the English curriculum. This prompted me to reach out to Dr. Dickerson, Chair of the English Department, for further clarification.
Dr. Dickerson said, in the case of English, that “last year was a year of great change.” Dr. Dickerson explained how the English spring elective program was revised for Juniors and Seniors. Both classes used to take their second semester English elective together, in a mixed class; that method was discarded. When asked why, Dr. Dickerson stated, “We felt that the Juniors did not have enough options for Junior electives.”
The English department added three new electives: Gold Rush, Waterways, and American Contemporary Poetry; these courses are meant to “complement American Literature” which is the required fall semester course. Dr. Dickerson further explained that “American Literature can be kind of rushed and packed so we felt that this would give students a chance to further explore these topics.” She also discussed how it was difficult for Juniors to keep a certain level of rigor up when mixed in a class with seniors, as seniors leave early for their Independent Senior Projects. Seniors now take a full year of courses related to world literature, and new electives have been added to their course sheet as well. Rising Juniors and Seniors may have noticed that they both have five different spring electives to choose from, which is new to this year. Rising Juniors have the option to take The Contemporary American Short Story, which is a new course that will run next year. Rising Seniors have two new options to choose from Creative Writing and The Great Epic: The Trojan War & Its Aftermath, making the number of spring electives between Juniors and Seniors equal.
Dr. Dickerson explained that “it’s all a trade off; you’re always losing something and you’re always gaining something,” which is something that is always important to keep in mind. Though some books such as The Adventures of Huck Finn are no longer part of the curriculum, many great novels have been added in response. As literature and world issues progress, the curriculum will continue to change to keep it as relevant and valuable as possible.