An Announcement From the Community Service Club

An Announcement From the Community Service Club

In the wake of this devastating COVID-19 outbreak, a lot of people have felt a sudden urge to do something, anything, to help the community heal. Even though making a thank-you video or doing a color-a-smile seems pointless next to the tragedies we face, these initiatives make a difference. As Oscar Wilde put it, “The smallest act of kindness is worth more than the grandest intention.” The amount of time it takes to post on Instagram is the same amount of time it takes to fill out the form that sends notes of appreciation to the healthcare professionals at Morristown Memorial. Though we cannot provide a cure, there is no end to the ways we can support the people in our community. Pingry’s Community Service Council has started making Morning Meeting announcements that present volunteer opportunities from sharing your appreciation to making sleeping mats out of plastic bags. We urge you to at least look at the slides, if nothing else, to learn about what is available. It is easy to feel helpless in this socially distanced time, but we can assure you that even one thank you video will bring a smile to a doctor who has worked around the clock, or calling your grandparents every so often could truly brighten up their day. When we get out of this quarantine, I think it would be amazing if every student could come back to Pingry knowing they brought a smile to just one person’s face.  

A Look Into Pingry’s Academic Life

A Look Into Pingry’s Academic Life

By Christine Guo (IV)

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.

Mitigating the Spread of COVID-19 in Quarantine

Mitigating the Spread of COVID-19 in Quarantine

By Julian Lee (V)

With statewide stay-at-home orders currently issued in at least 42 states, we should take into consideration the factors that could compromise the effectiveness of this quarantine. Inspired by the simulations created by the Washington Post and the YouTube channel 3Blue1Brown, I wanted to further investigate how human behavior––specifically, visiting friends––can impact the spread of COVID-19 under a quarantine environment.

 

I created a simulated environment of 100 households, where only interactions between family members and one-on-one visits with friends can cause infections. The user can change various parameters, such as the average days between visiting friends, and observe how changing these variables affect the spread of the virus. The simulation can be found here.

 

The simulation suggests that in the world of social distancing, the frequency of visiting friends has a greater impact on the spread of the virus than the size of a person’s social network (simulation results shown at the end of the article). Someone who visits the same friend every other day spreads the virus faster than someone who visits one friend every four days in a ten-person social network. Based on the simulation, reducing the number of friend visits during quarantine by a factor of two could have an effect comparable to halving the infection rate of the virus.

 

Below are my findings from the simulation (100 simulations were run for each setting):

  1. Doubling the average time between friend visits from 2 days to 4 days caused the virus’ average spread to decrease from 51% to 29% of the population.
  2. Halving the infection rate for both friend visits (from 20% to 10%) and family members (from 40% to 20%) resulted in a similar reduction in virus’ spread from 51% to 27% of the population.
  3. Decreasing the number of friends (i.e. the social network) from 10 to 1 caused the virus’ average spread to decrease from 54% to 40% of the population.

 

While someone might think it is completely benign to visit just “one” friend every other day, such behavior by an entire population can still result in an exponential growth of the virus. For example, if someone infects the one friend they are visiting during quarantine, that friend would then infect their entire family, and these family members would infect their own friends.

 

This simulation helps to quantitatively demonstrate an obvious yet powerful fact about social distancing: to ensure that our quarantine proves effective, it is essential that we work towards minimizing the frequency of visiting others.

 

Pingry’s Remote Talent Show

By Mirika Jambudi (III)

Due to Pingry’s transition to remote learning last week, students from all four grades were able to showcase their talent in Pingry’s first-ever Remote Talent Show! Over spring break, Student Government class presidents were hard at work redesigning the format of the competition using a March-Madness-style bracket. “We had to reorganize the entire bracket, but it ultimately allowed for more students to be able to display their talents,” said J.P. Salvatore (III), freshman class president. He described his excitement to see the talents presented and his hope that it would be a great community-bonding experience.

 

Students submitted a variety of talents, ranging from self-accompanied songs to skillful soccer ball handling. Out of the 11 submissions, the Upper School voted on their four favorite acts. The top 4 students advanced to the final round and were able to submit new clips of their talents. The four finalists were Sophia Cavaliere (V), Camille Collins (III), Natalie DeVito (IV), and Nicolás Sendón (III). All the finalists brought their best to the final round, and it was up to students to decide who would ultimately become the first-ever champion of the Remote Talent Show. “It was fun seeing the final four talents and voting … I was impressed by the amount of talent each grade has to offer,” said Ram Doraswamy (IV). 

 

Ultimately, on Monday, Nicolás Sendón (III) was announced winner and Natalie DeVito (IV) earned runner-up. Nicolás had played a song on the bagpipes, while Natalie sang a song and self-accompanied on guitar. “I was excited to hear that I had won … everyone brought a lot of talent to the show, and I’m grateful for the community’s support,” Nicolás remarked. Natalie agreed, describing her gratitude for those who reached out to her. “Connection and solidarity is super important right now, and sharing art has the potential to bring people together, now more than ever,” she said. Nicolás was awarded a $20 Amazon gift card for winning first place. Congratulations to Nicolás and Natalie, and to all others who participated!

 

Why is Coronavirus So Hard To Cure, and What Are We Doing To Cure It?

By Max Ruffer (Grade 6)

We hear a lot about the big picture epidemiological story of COVID-19: the way it spreads on an interpersonal or interregional basis. But what about on the cellular scale? As numerous institutions race to find a cure to COVID-19, they must consider how the virus behaves in our bodies––we should consider that too. So let’s take a step back and look at the virus that’s on a chaotic world tour: SARS-CoV-2. 

 

SARS-CoV-2 first attacks the upper and lower respiratory tract. Early stages of the virus show reduced white blood cells and lymphatic cells, considering these cells play a crucial role in the immune system. The fact that we’re working with a virus makes it even harder to cure. Unlike bacteria, viruses generally take over human cells and force them to make copies of the virus. The virus does this by landing on a human cell and injecting its genetic material into the cell. Antibiotics are not an option because they function by stopping bacterial reproductive systems––viruses rely on the host to reproduce (which is why they are often not considered living creatures). According to microbiologist Diane Griffin, “Bacteria are very different from us, so there’s a lot of different targets for drugs. Viruses replicate in cells, so they use a lot of the same mechanisms that our cells do, so it’s been harder to find drugs that target the virus but don’t damage the cell as well.” 

 

The rapid rate at which SARS-CoV-2 and other viruses mutate also adds to the complexity of finding a long-term solution. These mutations “trick” the lymph nodes’ memory cells, which can remember and immediately launch an attack on a recurring virus if it reenters the body. However, once the virus mutates, the cells can no longer recognize the strain and must relearn its signature.

Thus, while an antiviral treatment might be effective one year, it may fail the next. For example, the reason you need to get a different flu shot every year is because the flu mutates every year. 

 

Even with these disadvantages, humans are fighting back. Currently, 306 studies are being conducted into how SARS-CoV-2 behaves, but only nine have been completed. As of now, we have discovered only two drugs that may impact the disease: hydroxychloroquine and danoprevir combined with ritonavir. To accelerate the progress of finding a vaccine, many researchers have used their understanding of SARS, a virus similar to COVID-19, as a starting point. However, studies on medicine take about 11 months to complete in the United States and even with these existing treatments, COVID-19 remains deadly, killing many patients within 15 days. 

 

The high infectivity of COVID-19 presents one of the most difficult challenges. Hospitals are running out of safety equipment, beds, and respiratory equipment due to the overwhelming number of patients with COVID-19. The lack of safety equipment is an issue for people who are at the front lines of this pandemic. When healthcare workers are infected, the virus becomes much more dangerous. Simply being near someone infected can give you the virus. As a result, the CDC now recommends wearing cloth face masks when out in public to slow the disease’s spread and thereby relieve the stress on the healthcare system. 

 

Despite these difficulties, COVID-19 can be eradicated. With the help of “social distancing,” as well as the selfless work of researchers and healthcare professionals, humanity will overcome this crisis. As a community, we can do our part by staying inside and helping those who need it. Although COVID-19 may seem an insurmountable obstacle, we are slowly clearing it.  

 

Updated AP Exams

By Brian Li (IV)

With the closure of schools in the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak, students are unable to receive the same level of education as before. For Pingry students the changes have been especially relevant in the context of fast-paced Advanced Placement (AP) courses. AP courses are considered rigorous and demanding, and they usually finish with a three-hour year-end exam covering all of the topics studied during the course. However, as a result of school closures, many AP courses will not be able to cover all of the necessary curriculum, leaving students at a disadvantage for the exams. 

 

To combat this issue, The College Board, the parent organization of AP courses, has altered the exams in wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. In place of the standard three-hour in-school exam, The College Board has announced that exams will be 45 minutes long, administered online, and only include “topics and skills most AP students and teachers have already covered in class by early March.” They will be open-book, with AP World Language exams consisting only of speaking questions and most others consisting only of free-response questions. The exams will be administered from May 11 through May 22, the third and fourth weeks of the month, and makeup exams will be offered in early June. 

 

In these extraordinary circumstances, such significant changes to the AP exams may seem very sudden. Students with questions can contact their teachers or counselors, or visit the AP College Board COVID-19 website linked here

Middle School To Start New Schedule

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.

COVID-19’s Origins

COVID-19’s Origins

By Alex Wong (I) The effects of COVID-19 are a lot clearer than the causes. It has closed schools and businesses worldwide, infected over a million people, and is seriously challenging the capacity of our healthcare systems, both here in America and abroad. But how did this happen? Almost everyone can agree the virus originated in Wuhan, Hubei, China … but how? There are two major theories. 

 

The first is that it came about naturally and, according to Dr. David Lung,“was a product of […] excessive hunting and ingesting wild animals, inhumane treatment of animals, and disrespecting lives.” Animals such as bats, dogs, monkeys, and pangolins are often consumed as food, a very common practice in Mainland China. After some genome sequencing, it was determined that the Wuhan coronavirus and the bat coronavirus RaTG13 were 96% similar in terms of genome sequencing. According to an op-ed written by highly acclaimed Hong Kong epidemiologist Yuen Kwok Yung, who in 2003 helped Hong Kong fight the SARS virus, “This particular virus strand was obtained and isolated from Yunnan bats (Rhinolophus sinicus), and bats are believed to be the natural host of this Wuhan Coronavirus.” However there would need to be an intermediate host to get from bats to humans. The Wuhan coronavirus was 90% similar to a strand of pangolin coronavirus in genome sequencing, making the pangolin a likely (but not confirmed) intermediate source. However, because the Chinese government shut down the wet market where the virus was said to have originated, scientists and epidemiologists have been unable to obtain samples from the wild animals in the market, meaning no one yet has been able to confirm which animal it came from, or whether it did come from the market. 

 

The second theory is that the Wuhan Coronavirus was created in the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV) and accidentally set loose via an infected bat. The WIV has a history of researching coronaviruses, and in 2015 the Institute even made a bat coronavirus that could infect human cells. This artificial virus was very similar to SARS (a different coronavirus with symptoms similar to COVID-19). Additionally, the history of viruses escaping Chinese labs (such as the infamous 2004 Beijing SARS outbreak caused by the SARS virus escaping a government lab not once, but twice) have added suspicion. To be clear, the scientists were trying to figure out a cure to SARS, and did not have malicious intentions. However, according to leading microbiologists, the complexity of COVID-19 points strongly to origins in nature. Additionally, the WIV has released no research on coronaviruses since 2015. Ultimately, the theory that COVID-19 was made in a lab is based mostly on mistrust of the Chinese government, a mistrust most prevalent in the conservative discourse of the Western world. 

 

Whether this was a natural virus or a man-made virus, one thing is evident: the Chinese Communist government could have taken quicker action to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. Chinese doctors such as Li Wenliang, who later succumbed to the virus and tragically died, were actually given a notice by Wuhan police to stop spreading “misinformation” about a new “SARS-like epidemic” in December. As the spread continued, the Chinese government locked down Wuhan, but by then it was too late. A Chinese New Year gathering of more than 40,000 people has been pinpointed as one of the events that helped increase the spread within Wuhan. Furthermore, the Chinese government refused to take further steps to contain the virus until January 23, a full month-and-a-half since the discovery of the virus, this was not until nearly 5 million people had fled Wuhan before the lockdown. However, as the virus spread to other parts of the world, many other governments were caught off guard, and in some cases were slower to act on quarantining and testing than China.

 

The Chinese government has been accused of not releasing the full number of cases in Mainland China. Instead of classifying a death as “coronavirus death” they would classify it as “pneumonia-related death.” On top of that, Chinese health officials refused to give information about Patient Zero from Wuhan, and did not allow international research teams to gain access to Wuhan to try and find the origin of the coronavirus. 

 

The Asian community across America has also been impacted by the coronavirus. Co-head of Pingry’s Asian Student Union Monica Chan (V) remarked, “The Asian community around the world has faced devastating repercussions of the virus, being targets of xenophobia and racism. There has been a surge in hate crimes against people of Asian descent worldwide, including vandalism, armed assault, and even mass shooting threats. It is important for the Asian community to remain careful at this time and stay safe!” When asked about what the Asian Student Union did to help fight back against the virus, Monica Chan (V) and Guan Liang (V) mentioned, “ We arranged a Dress Down Day before spring break ended to raise money for NGOs in China. We ended up raising $405 between the Middle and High school! We have also been staying home, social distancing like most people in our community. The Chinese parents within the Pingry community have organized a task force that collects and donates medical face masks to local hospitals with supply shortages. These initiatives are crucial for combatting against coronavirus as they unite the strengths of different ethnic communities.”

 

As the old adage goes, “History will always repeat itself.” Ineffective measures and misinformation by the Chinese government were on display back during the 2002-2004 SARS outbreak, and similar mistakes resurfaced in the early handling of COVID-19. However, we need to be careful in how we analyze the causes of this virus––the Chinese government certainly deserves blame, but we ought not to convert such frustration into racially targeted sentiment. 

Brotman (V) on Pingry Politics Club’s New Podcast

Brotman (V) on Pingry Politics Club’s New Podcast

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 mbrotman2021@pingry.org.

Update (4/6/20): It’s been approved! Check out our podcast here: https://soundcloud.com/pingrypolitics.

New Grading Policies

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!