Serenades Reimagined For COVID-19

Serenades Reimagined For COVID-19

By Brian Li (V)

Every year, the Buttondowns and Balladeers, led by Dr. Andrew Moore and Mr. Jay Winston respectively, provide Valentine’s Day Serenades around the Upper School, as they belt romantic songs to unsuspecting individuals. However, due to the restrictions amid the ongoing pandemic, the process for this year’s serenades needed to be revised.

After careful deliberation, the solution involved virtual serenades that would be pre-recorded and played back to faculty, staff, and students who received one. Each acapella member would record their own voice part by playing a click track of the song in one ear and singing along. By using the click track, every recording could be synchronized. Then, the recordings were sent to Paula Roper, an editor that Dr. Moore has worked extensively with in the past. Roper and her son Eric, who works for Apple, created a video for each song by displaying the recordings of each choir member next to each other in a grid format.

The Buttondowns recorded four songs, each arranged by president Ore Shote (VI); these included “Baby” by Justin Bieber, “Grenade” by Bruno Mars, “My Girl” by The Temptations, and “I Want It That Way” by the Backstreet Boys. The Balladeers’ song options were “Electric Love” by Børns, “Valerie” by Amy Winehouse, I Won’t Say I’m in Love” from the film Hercules, and “Easy Love” by Alivia Clark (V).

The recordings were distributed through a variety of avenues, one of which involved the Balladeers/Buttondowns joining a class’s Zoom meeting and then presenting the video by sharing their screen. For those who received serenades individually, a choir member simply played the recording on a laptop for them. According to Dr. Moore, the best method, after multiple trials, was by “sending [the serenades] to a Zoom address and hav[ing] the seniors go into the class to watch the reactions.” In addition, those who ordered serenades after the deadline were still able to receive the recordings by email. Each serenade cost $5 and around $100 were raised in total. The proceeds will be donated to Morris Habitat for Humanity in support of families in need. 

Despite the success of the virtual serenades, there were areas that could be improved in the future. Since the songs were recorded over a three-week period and finished during the week of Valentine’s Day, Dr. Moore noted that recording earlier might have provided extra leeway for editing, redoing recordings, and more. Furthermore, “it might [have been] nice to have a student do the editing if they had the time and appropriate skills.” In order to prepare teachers for the unavoidable interruption of class due to serenades, also allowing them to complete a survey to choose which day of the week is best may also be introduced next year.

COVID-19 serenades were, overall, a huge success and are truly a testament to the adaptability, creativity, and resilience of the Pingry community.

Pingry Students Create Stem-In-Place

After witnessing the far-reaching and debilitating effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on our communities, a group of Pingry students, public school students, and I looked on anxiously, wondering if anything could be done to help alleviate this dire situation. With virtually all schools going remote during the pandemic, many students did not receive the same quality of education that they usually would have, stunting their learning and putting them at a disadvantage compared to their peers. We wanted to help such students continue to learn and enrich them with knowledge that could benefit them down the road. 

Thus, STEMinPlace was born: a group of high schoolers who wanted to help the community during the COVID-19 pandemic by providing high-quality, free, interactive, and fun learning opportunities for middle schoolers. “STEMinPlace started as just an idea; I knew I had the goal of teaching middle schoolers these STEM topics, but I wasn’t sure how to get there,” founder Ryan Arrazcaeta (V) stated. After forming a team and creating our website (, we decided on a structure for our program that would effectively educate our students and set us apart from similar organizations. By offering six STEM courses––Chemistry, Physics, Computer Science, Astronomy, Genetics, and Game Theory, we hoped to provide students with various courses that they could choose from, stimulating their interest and potentially sparking a passion for a subject that they were previously unaware of. In addition, we invited guest speakers every week to demonstrate how these topics apply in the real world. 

While the structure of our program was coming to fruition, we were worried about raising awareness. Finding enough students for a fledgling organization seemed nearly impossible. We reached out to family and friends to spread the word, unsure if we would even have 10 students. One day, to our surprise, we checked the responses to our signup form and saw over 100 registrations and counting. This shock quickly turned to horror as we were initially overwhelmed by this sudden influx of students. Nevertheless, we adjusted our curricula, prepared for a much more exciting than we previously imagined, and with our combined teamwork, successfully taught just short of 1000 students over the course of six weeks. 

Our classes and commitment to education were much appreciated by our students and their families. In part, we continued to receive more signups because of students and parents recommending our program to others. They also expressed their gratitude by commenting on our program. One said, “Volunteer high school kids pulled off remote learning better than the paid professionals at my kids’ private school. What more can I say? Amazing.” Several parents offered donations, but we asked them to donate to other organizations with similar missions, namely the “I Have a Dream” Foundation, Teaching Matters, and the Michael Aymar Foundation. 

STEMinPlace has also been an enriching experience for our team. We learned how to run an organization, developed valuable leadership and educational skills, and for some of us, gained a passion for teaching and community service. Connor Chen (V) discovered that he “thoroughly enjoyed teaching others about topics that [he] knew a lot about and realized that sharing [his] knowledge with others is very gratifying. [He] also learned how management works behind the scenes and gained valuable experience in how to run a program with a motivated team to work alongside [him].” We hope we helped our communities in any way possible and provided students with an education that they will never forget.

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