By Alex Wong (I)
On March 31, 2020, the Middle School announced a brand new schedule. Effective April 6, it is very similar to the regular school schedule, where classes would be held according to letter days instead of according to weekdays. The changes it does make, however, have elicited a variety of responses from the Middle School student body.
Middle School students discussed the new schedule during the April 1 remote Advisory session. During the week of March 23, Middle School students only attended one core class per day, as well as advisory on Mondays and Wednesdays. The new schedule is very similar to the regular school schedule: seven different blocks (in contrast to the five core classes in the former remote learning schedule), with four classes per day, as well as a flex (featuring student interest clubs) and Independent Work/Athletics Block at the end of the day. Some students expressed concern over the increase of classes in an unfamiliar environment. Laura Young (I) remarked, “I think that the former schedule had too few classes per day, however, the new schedule may be a bit much.” On the other hand, some students liked the increase of classes. Claire Sartorius (I) mentioned, “I think the new schedule is better because it feels like a regular school day.” Max Ruffer (6) mentioned, “I think that the new schedule will help with homework management. With the new schedule I only get the day’s homework. Getting a week of homework has messed up my eating schedule. When I do my homework, I try to get all the work done at one time. If I have a lot of homework then sometimes I end up doing things I normally would not do such as skipping lunch. With the new asynchronous classes however, it will help the students to improve skills such as writing before a major test.”
Middle School teachers hope that the new schedule will bring back a sense of familiarity to the whole Middle School. When asked about the new schedule, Middle School Dean of Student Life Mr. Michael Coakley said, “The hope with this new schedule, ‘Remote Learning 2.0’ as we’re calling it, is that we’ll be able to give students increased structure and community facetime in these unusual times. Connection with other people matters right now; it reminds us that our community is bound less by a building and more by the values and willingness to support one another that we all share.” Science teacher Ms. Debra Tambor is also optimistic about the new schedule, mentioning, “The modified remote learning schedule will allow for increased contact for students and faculty, the advancement of learning, and more structure to the student’s work week.”
In summary, the Middle School schedule has brought a lot of uncertainty to the table, for teachers and students alike. However, there is one thing everyone can agree on in the Middle School: we will get through this, and we will make it work.
By Marcus Brotman (V)
The Politics Club is expanding! In the midst of the corona-quarantine, it is more important than ever that Pingry remains engaged both academically and politically. For this reason, I started the Pingry Politics Podcast (aptly named Pingry Politics). I want to make the often complex issues of modern politics more accessible to Pingry students. The podcast will host a variety of students and members of the Pingry community to share on the political topics they are passionate about.
It’s widely known that America’s political conversations often devolve into shouting. This is a result of the emotional charge which many divisive issues hold with Americans, ranging from gun control to taxes. I believe the reason many students find themselves discouraged from political discourse is a lack of political knowledge, combined with the current state of political debate at Pingry and in our country. Too often political beginners are treated harshly for their lack of knowledge. Instead of being encouraged to further their understanding, they are berated for having the “wrong” opinion. This mentality damages our political discourse because it provides large hurdles for the general population. Students who are politically interested may be dissuaded from adding to our discourse if they fear the abrasive nature of modern political debate. This is clearly a lose-lose situation, but that is where I hope the Pingry Politics Podcast can help.
Our Podcast will explore political topics of all kinds. In our first episode, to be hosted on Wednesday, April 1, we will delve into the political and economic state of Mexico with Pingry Alumnus, Ricardo Vollbrecthausen’12. Ricardo has a unique perspective on Mexico as he is a citizen of both the US and Mexico. Ricardo also started a publishing company in Mexico which publishes educational material in indigenous languages. He is able to speak from personal experience and his in-depth knowledge of the country as a whole. Our discussion will focus on the issues which Mexico faces: wide-spread corruption, brain-drain, slow economic growth, poor monetary policy, and more. We also analyze how Mexico will be affected by the new USMCA trade deal, and how president López Obrador (aka AMLO) has led the country.
If you are interested in our podcast, we are currently hosted by Soundcloud under the name Pingry Politics. In the future, we hope to expand to more popular platforms, such as Spotify and Apple Podcasts.
As the president of the Politics Club, I acknowledge political bias is unavoidable. Regardless, the Politics Club leaders and I will make all attempts to present objective facts to our audience and provide counterpoints to ensure that no views go unchallenged. To ensure a neutral perspective we have students of opposing political views researching for each episode. If you’d like to share your views on the podcast or suggest a topic for us to discuss, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
By Monica Chan (V)
Schools across the country are currently navigating uncharted territory in the realm of remote learning, which inevitably brings up the question of how to adjust grading policies. Some schools have decided to adopt pass/fail evaluation, some will omit third quarter grades from the final grade, and others have chosen not to adjust grading at all. Seeing that Pingry is still in the process of considering how grades will ultimately be allocated, I decided to delve into a few possibilities, and illustrate some of the possible benefits and drawbacks of each. Each of these possibilities are for second semester grades only, since we already have one full, undisrupted semester complete. I have also enclosed a summary of the recent Student Government proposal that was sent to the administration by the senior class student representatives.
Pass/fail seems to be a popular choice for many universities, including Harvard and UC Berkeley. The rationale lies in the belief that many students may feel like their current grades do not accurately reflect their potential, and the disruption of remote instruction might hinder their ability to demonstrate growth or reverse the effects of an outlier grade. Some schools have turned to “optional” pass/fail, meaning that students can elect to change certain courses to pass/fail grades. However, Harvard Medical School has stated that they will only accept pass/fail grades if the applicant’s school mandated pass/fail. This type of policy puts students in a tough spot when they have to show a poor grade that could have improved under normal circumstances.
Another idea is to remove the +/- designation. Basically, this option means that there would be no +/- designation on your grade, so if you scored between a 90-100 it would be an A, 80-89 is a B. While I haven’t seen any schools implement this yet, it would provide a ballpark estimate of your grade while still leaving some leeway for performance increase.
During my search for different grading policies, I had a few people outside of Pingry reach out to me with their schools’ grade changes. One student at another school said that their school is grading based on participation, meaning that traditional assessments have been omitted altogether. Instead, a number of research projects or creative projects have been implemented instead. This may be difficult for traditional science and math classes, but perhaps one alternative may be assigning concepts to different groups of students to teach to the rest of the class and then getting graded on the quality of those lessons.
On Wednesday, March 25, Pingry’s Student Government sent a proposal to Dean Chatterji and Dr. Cottingham outlining their suggestions on academic evaluation in the era of remote learning. The proposal included making AP exams optional, which has already been implemented, cancelling final exams, and making spring semester courses pass/fail. For example, if you are in a one semester spring computer science course (Programming Languages and Design, Introduction to Programming) your grade would automatically be pass/fail.
The proposal also suggested that second semester grades for full-year courses (AP courses, core curriculum classes) cannot bring down your final year grade. This means that if you earned an A in the first semester, and currently hold a B+ in your second semester grade for a certain class, the B+ can not bring down your final average. The administration will revisit the grade adjustment discussion in mid-April.
Whatever the administration decides to do with the grading, it is apparent to everyone that this year’s academics won’t be traditional. Many colleges such as Harvard and UChicago have said that they will understand grade changes for next year’s high school senior class, and that will have no impact on their evaluation of you as a candidate. Do not fret!
By Anjola Olawoye (III)
On Friday, January 17, the Pingry community held an assembly to honor and celebrate the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. This is an annual event, in which the Short Hills and Basking Ridge campuses show their appreciation through poetry, music, skits, and more. In one past MLK Day assembly, Sarah Collins Rudolph, a survivor of the bombing of Birmingham’s 16th Street Baptist Church, shared her unique experience.
This year, the Middle and Upper School students and faculty members remembered Martin Luther King, Jr. with a number of music and dance performances, spoken word, and slideshows. The assembly began with an uplifting spoken poem by Jordan McDonald ‘26 named “My Ancestors’ Wildest Dreams,” which paid homage to her ancestors. The performance was followed by a group of Middle Schoolers who danced to the R&B/Soul song, “Rise Up,” by Andra Day. “Rise Up” spreads the message of perseverance during hardships and prompts listeners to feel hopeful. Another highlight of the assembly featured singer/songwriter K’Lynn Jackman, who performed songs including “Tomorrow” by Trevon Campbell. Similarly to “Rise Up,” “Tomorrow” is another uplifting song that discusses the mindset of being hopeful for a promising future. The song was also released as an inspirational way of leading people into Black History Month. Throughout the assembly, historical slideshows and videos were projected to remind the Pingry community of Martin Luther King’s crucial role in activism. Towards the end of the MLK assembly, affinity groups including the Black/African American, South Asian, and Latinx groups wrote letters to Martin Luther King that reflected upon his profound impact on activism. The South Asian affinity group discussed how “although they are neither black nor white, Dr. King is not only an advocate for the black community, but other minorities as well.”
Not only did the Pingry community honor Dr. King in the assembly, it engaged in community service during the MLK Day of Service the following Monday. The MLK assembly provides an opportunity for students, faculty, and staff to learn and remember Martin Luther King, Jr.’s legacy.
By Maile Winterbottom (V)
The Pingry community gathered together to celebrate Black History Month in a moving assembly on Friday, February 7th. There were singing performances, videos, poems, and even a fashion show. The assembly kicked off with a video about the history of Black History month, followed by a beautiful singing of “A Change is Gonna Come,” by Kaley Taylor, who wore a shirt with the words “Black Girl Magic.” Another video was also presented of black students sharing what Black History Month means to them. Many other presentations followed, including a moving monologue by the Afrofuturism HIRT, a performance of the song “Amazing Grace” by Ore Shote, and the reading of an original poem by Ajuné Richardson. All of these presentations did an excellent job of showing the beauty and power of the black community in Pingry and around the world.
A graceful dance, to the powerful song “Rise Up” by Andra Day, was then performed by Ms. Barnes and Mrs. Bonds, along with a group of Middle and Upper School students. Following the dance, a group of African-American Pingry parents came up to the stage, showing pride for their respective historically black fraternities and sororities. As their children cheered them on in the audience, the parents danced joyfully across the stage, some wearing clothing with their fraternity/sorority colors.
Next came a fashion show in which a number of lines were showcased, all inspired by the works of well known African-American fashion designers. One line was called “black girl magic,” in which young black women walked across the stage in simple black t-shirts with the words “black girl magic” on them. Another line was “black boy joy,” which was explained to be a line that encouraged young black men and boys to feel vulnerable, as it is often perceived that they are not allowed to be.
“I thought that the combination of music, fashion, and poetry were all really beautiful,” remarked junior Sandra Adablah. Overall, the assembly did Black History Month justice, and it celebrated black history and culture in a way that was both powerful and fun.
By Dean Koenig (V)
The annual Lunar New Year assembly on January 24 commenced as Middle School Chinese 1B students performed the celebratory Chinese Dragon Dance. The students raised and lowered the body of the long, red dragon figure around the auditorium. As one of the most common Lunar New Year traditions, the Dragon Dance is performed for a variety of reasons, including to deter evil spirits and bring good luck.
Next, Jeremy Lin (V), Kyra Li (III), Lauren Kim (III), Aneesh Karuppur (V), and Justin Li (V) played a Chinese folk song called “The Joy of the New Year.” The bright tune of this traditional folk song from the Hebei Province was perfectly captured by the diversity of instruments the students presented. The song represents familial harmony and the lively spring in the New Year.
After the folk song, the Purple Swans Dance Troupe returned to the stage for the second year in a row. Former Upper School Chinese Teacher Ms. Yi Hao, who plays a pivotal role in the group, helped bring them back. They performed an elegant Chinese folk dance for the “New Attire” ritual. The “New Attire” dance represents a Lunar New Year custom in which women wear new clothing and dance joyfully for a year of good fortune.
Next came Franklin Zhu (IV) and Ram Doraswamy (IV), who celebrated the New Year in one of the most popular ways: singing. The two performed “Look Over Here, Girl,” a 1998 Chinese pop song by Taiwanese artist Richie Jen. While singing in Chinese, Zhu played the tambourine and Doraswamy strummed a guitar.
Perhaps the audience’s favorite part of the assembly was when the emcees, Monica Chan (V) and Guan Liang (V), announced that day’s lunch menu. Since food is an integral part of Chinese culture and celebrations, the SAGE Dining crew prepared a delicious Chinese-themed meal. In addition to the lunch, there were Chinese cultural stations led by Chinese students and families in the cafeteria during conference period with activities and treats, such as dumplings, a chopsticks contest, and bubble tea.
As the excitement settled down, a video was played that showed the celebration of Lunar New Year through the lens of student interviews. Those in the video shared the ways in which they celebrate and what they enjoy about the festivities. The video was both informative and humorous, getting several laughs due to the comical editing style.
To close the assembly, the fan favorite Taiko Drumming Club performed a piece called “Tatsumaki,” which means “whirlwind.” The energy of a whirlwind could be felt throughout the auditorium as Pingry Taiko, led by math teacher Mr. Christofer Leone, put on one of its strongest and most dynamic performances yet. “It’s incredibly rewarding to see all the hard work and hours of preparation that the students put in pay off on stage,” Mr. Leone said.
Overall, the assembly was an entertaining way for the community to celebrate the Lunar New Year. Liang said, “The Lunar New Year is a time of joy, and I’m happy to be able to share this joy with the Pingry community.”
By Martha Lewand (VI)
On February 1, Upper School students attended the annual Snowball Dance at The Westin Governor Morris in Morristown, NJ.
Students spent the night dancing, having fun with their peers, and enjoying dinner while a small group of faculty chaperoned. This semi-formal dance was a great way for the student body to enjoy themselves after the end of a long first semester.
Snowball is a “Sadie Hawkins” style dance—a school dance in which girls traditionally ask boys to be their date. Some students asked their dates to Snowball through creative “promposal”-style ways. At Snowball, most girls wore corsages as guys bore boutonnieres. A majority of girls styled dresses and jumpsuits from stores like Revolve, Free People, Lulus, and more, while most guys dressed in different colored suits with ties.
Once students began to arrive at around 7 p.m., they checked in with chaperones and hung their coats. Shortly after, the dancing commenced. For roughly three hours, the DJ played many hit songs from the past few decades. The songs ranged in style and tempo from Rihanna’s “We Found Love” to The Killers’ “Mr. Brightside” to Ed Sheeran’s “Perfect.”
“I had a lot of fun dancing,” said Nicole Gilbert (VI). “It was the most enjoyable Snowball of all the years I’ve been.”
In the midst of the often crowded and lively dance floor, students took breaks to eat dinner and drinks catered by the hotel. Food options included pizza, dumplings, pasta, and more. At the end of the dance, there was an ice cream bar with an expansive selection of toppings to choose from. In addition, drinks such as non-alcoholic piña coladas were served.
“The food and drinks were a great mix of student favorites and more formal options” said Jessica Hutt (VI). “There were lots of crowd-pleasers as well as classier selections to fit the evening’s dressed-up vibe.”
After the dance, students collected their belongings and headed out. Some went straight home, to a diner, or hung out with friends. For some seniors, it was a night they made sure to cherish.
“It was emotional because of the fact I never wanted to leave,” said Josh Thau (VI), a senior lifer. “I sincerely enjoyed it.”
By Meghan Durkin (V) & Andrew Wong (IV)
On Thursday, March 12, amid concerns over the novel Coronavirus, known as COVID-19, Head of School Matt Levinson announced that Pingry would adopt a remote learning model until at least April 10. On Friday, March 27, heeding Governor Murphy’s updated advisory, this remote learning regime was extended to April 17.
School-sponsored activities, including athletics, were suspended as well, in hopes of keeping the Pingry community safe. This news followed the cancellation of multiple spring break trips, including the French exchange program and the athletic trips to Florida.
Prior to Spring Break, as New Jersey reported its first case of COVID-19, Pingry prepared for likely disruptions as a result of the virus. Mr. Levinson assembled a task force, led by Associate Director of Operations, Safety, and Strategic Initiatives David Fahey, to monitor the situation as it evolved. This model “allows us to act with deliberate speed and care in our decision-making, while also being nimble and adaptive to changing circumstances,” said Mr. Levinson. So far, the biggest challenge for the task force “has been the speed at which [COVID-19] has unfolded.” While COVID-19 spread from China to South Korea to Italy, the virus seemed to be a distant threat. Though, by late March, the United States had over 27,000 confirmed cases.
As Pingry does its part to slow the spread of COVID-19, a new reality of “social distancing” has affected faculty and students. Governor Phil Murphy ordered a statewide lockdown, which encourages people to stay home and shuts down all non-essential business, leaving vacations cancelled, standardized tests postponed, and store shelves empty. Pingry’s remote learning model looks to continue fostering educational growth, while keeping Pingry and the greater community healthy. Teachers, by using virtual classes and online assignments, hope to make remote learning engaging and effective. Mr. Tim Grant, a chemistry teacher, explained the “need to try to create a classroom feel where everyone can feel heard and be involved,” as he believes “a class does involve the transfer of information, but much more importantly it must have the feeling of community.” For many teachers, including Mr. Grant, effectively using remote learning will be a “journey that to me looks like I’ve been air-dropped into the Amazon and I can’t imagine what comes next. The journey will be both scary and exciting with many new discoveries.”
Dean Ananya Chatterji echoed this sentiment in an email to Upper School students, expressing the faculty’s shared hopes for the extended closure. She explained that transitioning to online learning “is NOT going to be perfect. Everyone knows this, and no one — not a single one of us — expects that this will go smoothly. We are hoping to treat it like an adventure: something we can try our best at, knowing there will be pitfalls and successes. Most of all, adventures should be fun. So our hope, as a faculty, is to have fun with it.”
Students will also have to adapt to new circumstances, not only academically, but also extracurricularly. With delayed athletic seasons that face possible cancellations, students look to make the best of the unexpected situation. Mr. Grant, who coaches girls’ varsity track, explained his realization “that [he] must give enough information so that each athlete can learn how to coach themselves.” Both students and coaches must find “some gems against the rubble,” as they stay in-shape and prepare for a potential season at home. Along with sports, clubs face new challenges, as they hope to keep members connected online.
Furthermore, this new territory of remote learning changes many students experience socially. Sanjana Biswas (V) said, “I’ll miss my friends the most and just the experience of being in school. As much as we complain about it, we all have fun talking to our friends during lunch and flexes and going to class.” Though, she added, “It’s pretty easy to stay in touch through FaceTime and text.”
While the COVID-19 pandemic continues to unfold, the Pingry community looks to be cautious, as the possibility of extended closure looms. Students and faculty alike promise to remain open and positive throughout these uncertain times. Gia Kalro (V) believes that while “we’ll have a lot of trial and error, eventually it will all work out.”
As of March 22, global Coronavirus cases have surpassed 300,000. In just a few weeks, everyday life in the United States and abroad has been replaced by social distancing and self-quarantining, while each day the number of cases grows. Though, during this time of uncertainty, both the Pingry and global community has stressed the importance of staying calm and maintaining hope. Mr. Levinson encourages students “to have fun, try new things, be creative, and take the time to get outside for some fresh air,” while finding “ways to build community remotely, whether it’s around a shared interest like a club, or around a passion project.” He asks the community to “be patient as we all discover new ways of learning and being in community together.”
By Alex Wong (I)
On Thursday, March 19, Head of Middle School Ms. Laurie Piette sent out an email to Middle Schoolers, detailing the schedule for Remote Learning amid the COVID-19 outbreak in the United States. The schedule detailed days of the week for live check-in sessions, due dates for asynchronous work for classes, and when students would receive feedback on their asynchronous work. The start of remote learning in the Middle School has caused mixed reactions among the faculty and students alike.
Like their Upper School counterparts, Middle School students were instructed to use Google Meet to attend their remote classes. Throughout the week of March 23, students received a variety of communications from Middle School Dean of Academics Mr. Allen Thomas, Middle School Director of Athletics Mr. Gerry Vanasse, Middle School Dean of Students Mr. Michael Coakley, their advisors, and their subject teachers, culminating in an advisory meeting on March 26. Laura Young (I) remarks, “I think remote learning is something we are all not familiar with, and it will be rough in the beginning with mistakes, but I think that remote learning is just as good as learning in school. This is not a step back, this is just a different way of learning.” Tyler Katt (I), mentioned, “It is a lot more relaxed however you have to be responsible with timing out your work and attending your online classes.”
With these hopes in mind, on March 27, Middle Schoolers logged on for their first remote class, English, where they were able to ask questions to teachers, learn new class guidelines such as muting your microphone during class, and start to get a feel of learning remotely.
Remote Learning has certainly brought its own changes to the Middle School, whether it be a massive reduction of classes (1 or 2 classes per day online versus 5 classes normally) and the switch to a pass/fail grading system for all core classes. When asked about how he felt about the changes, Ian Konops (I) remarked, “My feelings on remote learning are mixed. I’m happy to be back at school but I had hoped that the classes and work would be more interactive. I would like more live classes and interaction with teachers and students.”
Outside of academics, Middle School Director of Athletics Mr. Gerry Vanasse stepped up and made daily home workout videos for the Middle School students to watch and do. Mr. Vanasse has featured workouts such as light weight resistance, circuits, and dynamic warmup. When asked about what inspired him to start making the exercise videos, Mr. Vanasse commented, “Just as students will make time for their remote academic learning, they need to schedule time in their day to exercise their bodies. The videos are designed to provide a variety of workout types that are fun, effective, and can be done at home. I hope the videos will continue to help motivate and inspire our Middle School students to stay fit and healthy.”
In conclusion, everyone knows that this is an unfamiliar and uncertain time. Everyone in the Middle School is trying their best to pursue life as normal, and in these next few weeks, we will see if this new remote learning model can work.
By Alex Wong (I)
On December 20 and January 10, the Middle School held its annual Geography Bee, Talent Show, and Spelling Bee. These events featured performances by various students in the Middle School, showcasing academic, musical, speaking, and spelling skills.
The Geography Bee was held on December 20, with 24 contestants participating (eight from each grade level). It featured both a written and oral round. Questions included questions relating to territories such as Ascension Island to natural phenomenons such as avalanches. Eventually, the field of 24 was narrowed down to two contestants, Dhruv Nagarajan (I) and Alex Wong (I), with Dhruv ultimately winning on the fifth question of the Championship round. He will now advance to the state tournament in March.
Directly after the Geography Bee, the Middle School hosted the Third Annual Talent Show. For the first time in three years, all students who auditioned for the show were accepted. Performances ranged from rapping to poetry to various musical performances. The crowd showed great enthusiasm for the various performances, such as playing the violin while hula hooping.
The Fourth Annual Spelling Bee (a Pingry tradition started by student Noah Bergam (V) in 2017) was held on January 10. Each grade had ten preliminary round winners, so there were 30 contestants. The Spelling Bee featured both vocabulary and spelling rounds. Nick Henry (I) remarked, “It was fun to participate in the Spelling Bee, since it was the first time I was involved in it.” Words in the Spelling Bee included “lightning,” “Sinai,” “artillery,” and many others. Ultimately, with a field narrowed down to two contestants, Dhruv Nagarajan (I) and Vinav Shah (I) remained. Vinav won the Bee with the word “austere.” He will now advance to the state round of the Spelling Bee in April.
The Middle School ended 2019 and started 2020 with impressive displays of student skill. All of the middle schoolers had a great time watching their peers participate in the three events. The enthusiasm that every middle schooler displayed for their fellow students was amazing.