As the growth rate of the coronavirus begins to flatline, Americans grow tired of a virus that has ravaged this nation for far longer – the racially charged murder of innocent black Americans, including Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd, by a systematically flawed criminal justice system.
Since George Floyd’s murder in Minneapolis, Minnesota, on May 25, thousands have taken to the streets across the country in frustration. These protests have called for murder charges against the policemen who killed Floyd, as well as concrete legislative reform to end these homicides. The former request was fulfilled on June 3, when the Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison announced a second-degree murder charge (upgraded from third-degree) for Derek Chauvin, who asphyxiated Floyd by kneeling on his neck for over 8 minutes, as well as aiding and abetting charges for the three former policemen who allowed Chauvin to do so. In terms of broader reforms, protesters are calling for divestment from police forces, an end to the Qualified Immunity (which make it extremely difficult for officers to be found guilty), and a ban on choke and knee holds.
Within the Pingry community, many students and alumni have joined in on the activism. Most have been helping spread awareness on allyship and petitions via social media, while others took part in peaceful protests in their communities.
The protests across the country are evidence of a desire and pressing need for change. While most of these protests have remained peaceful, some have turned violent, with police provoking protesters and protesters taking part in arson and vandalism. In the case of the former, it is disturbingly unclear how police are being disciplined for their brutality, especially against peaceful demonstrators. In the case of the latter, there has been confusion over who has been inciting the violence, and debate surrounding the acceptable limits to what protesters should do. Some cite the destruction of private property alone as reason enough to condemn the rioting, while others see the rioting as a tantamount reaction to decades of oppression and police violence.
In the wake of the Floyd shooting, Student Body President Nolan Baynes wanted to see allyship and action from the school’s administration, so on May 28 he emailed Pingry’s top administrators, including Headmaster Matt Levinson, asking Pingry to speak up.
After some back and forth, including further student emails which pressed the school to take more direct action, administrators set up a community-wide Zoom meeting on June 3 to initiate more dialogue about the issue.
During the meeting, which was attended by over 300 students and faculty, participants had an opportunity to voice their opinions and frustrations in hopes of improving Pingry’s future responses and actions against racial injustice. Students were able to offer suggestions to the faculty and the administration, while teachers reflected on “action steps” they could take to better facilitate discussion around race in their classroom and beyond.
On Friday, June 5, the Pingry Allyship Collective (a newly formed coalition of all the affinity groups, student unions, SDLC, and CASE) sent a letter to administrators requesting more transparency between students and faculty involved in diversity and inclusion (inset at bottom left).
Words from a Pingry Protester
Giles Burnett (IV), who took part in peaceful Black Lives Matter demonstrations in Somerset, NJ, on May 31, provided a statement on why he chose to protest:
I’ll tell you what my mom told me. ‘Watch your tone around strangers, don’t wear your hoodie in public, never question or talk back to an officer, turn down your music in the car, don’t bike/drive through that neighborhood, you better be home before dark, take your hands out your pocket, walk with a purpose and don’t linger, you don’t get any second chances in this world.’ Or, I can tell you what America told me. ‘Cross the street or clutch your purse when you see me, follow me in the store, slow your car down when you see me, slow down your cop car when you see me, ask me if I’m lost or in the wrong store, ask me where I got that $20 from, ask me if I play football or basketball, ask me if you can say the n-word.’ That is my everyday life, I march so my black brothers and sisters don’t have to answer those questions. I march so innocent black men and women aren’t killed in the streets. I march to fight the systemic racism that plagues our country. This past week has been one of the most painful and exhausting weeks of my life. I’ve cried, reflected, laughed and everything in between. I’ve been able to channel these emotions into action and change. However, there is no change with only 14% of the nation speaking up. We need allies and we need unity. It’s a marathon, not a sprint. Stay safe.
The Record’s Statement
We wholly condemn the police brutality present in this country, as well as the silence that has allowed it to viciously persist. As a publication, we stand for improvements in Pingry’s discourse surrounding race relations. We encourage writers of all identities to tackle these difficult subjects, and we are open to civil discussions around the presence of racial injustices in our School, our nation, and our world.
I am sure you have seen on the news and through social media that the murders of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd have resulted in mass outrage throughout the country. This is not the first time this will happen, and I doubt it will be the last. Many members of our Pingry community have felt the need to advocate upon social media discussing possible protests, sending out petitions, and even speaking their own emotions. As a school, during times of crisis, this definitively being one of them, we have been able to address issues that are affecting students head-on. To be direct, in the fall, when commenting upon the suicide of nearby students, the administration was very prompt to address the matter, and all hands were focused upon it. It is odd that even with the murder of Ahmaud Arbery, I was the only person upon campus to speak out formally. There seems to be some lack of adult input in these situations, and it’s isolating to the students whom it affects daily. From my perspective, the daily micro-aggressions and events at this school go silenced and unnoticed, especially from the administration As a middle school student, I would feel as though I was alone fighting a fight that would never be resolved, and here we are in 2020 dealing with the same issue. Except now, I’m a senior with a legitimate position in our school. As a Student Body President, an active advocate in our community, and most importantly, a Black boy, I’m asking you to speak out on it. Show solidarity with the people who have been affected by systemic racism for over 400 years who attend your school. If you don’t, I, along with other students in your building, will continue to fight the fight that has yet to be resolved in this country. As adults, you have a platform just like I do, and I hope you find a way to advocate for people who look like me and not just turn a blind eye and become shocked when the next murder occurs. Black tears fall upon deaf white ears.
Nolan Baynes II
May 28 Letter from Nolan Baynes II (V) to Pingry Administrators
We are proud to be Pingrians; we wish to discuss diversity-related issues in Pingry because we want this community to become a better, more inclusive place. We started diversity work in Pingry because we either were displeased with the lack of representation in our school or believed that the existing representation is both superficial and trivialized by the students and the staff. However, the goal of PAC is not to point fingers or merely complain about the past wrongs we have observed. Instead, we wish to progress in collaboration with the administration and contribute to the commendable endeavors of our school. In order to do this, however, certain methods of communication and action must be reformed; one of our main concerns is the lack of collaboration and/or transparency between faculty leaders who make diversity-related decisions and the students who feel the result of these decisions (or lack thereof). As a result, we hope that the administration takes our ideas and perspectives seriously.
Excerpt of June 5 Letter from Pingry Allyship Collective to Pingry Administrators
The bipartisan government report on the 2008 Financial Crisis and the Great Recession paraphrased Shakespeare in its analysis: “The fault lies not in the stars, but in us.”
I read parts of this report, as well as numerous other sources, for a history project, and it was really eye-opening how much I learned about the human nature that plays into economics, from perverse incentive to predatory lending to, ultimately, the ethical dilemma of the bailout.
Over the course of my entire childhood which existed in the backdrop of this Recession, I never really understood the event and the different interpretations of it that persist to this day. Talking to some classmates, I realize this gap in knowledge might be more widespread than I thought, and it makes sense; in all our years of coursework, we never had the chance to sit down and actually discuss it.
The economics around me only became more eye-opening when, in the wake of the George Floyd murder, I sought to educate myself on some of the systemic racism in our country. From there I discovered the sheer severity of racial wealth inequality in this country and the covert redlining which contributes to it. This is once again something I knew vaguely, but I wish I could have learned about it in detail in a structured classroom environment. It should not have taken a national crisis to learn this.
On this note I would like to make a request. Pingry should mandate economics education throughout all four years of high school, teaching not only good practices for personal finances but also looking at systemic issues, both past and present, to examine their causes.
In our current system, aside from the one trimester of Financial Literacy in freshman year and the online Financial Literacy coursework in senior year, Pingry students need not think about economics unless they have the interest and the space in their schedules to take a course in it.
That’s not enough.
And look, I know it’s easier said than done to ask Pingry to teach more of this or that. But I think economics as a subject, in the context of the kinds of issues that I brought up, stands out from the crowd of other subjects. I say this not only because of its obvious usefulness for students as future consumers but also its importance right now in terms of intellectual discourse.
Understanding economics is a civic duty. It makes us question policy rather than assume someone else has it all figured out. It can also help us have more fact-based discussions surrounding social issues in America, which may help open students up to discussions of privilege and diversity and inclusion more than our current, opinion-based approaches.
Four years of economics education would make for a continuity that the current system lacks. Additionally, it would not be particularly hard to implement for the sophomore and junior classes, for it should not require new hirings or substantial schedule changes – in fact, it should exist outside the course schedule and be largely asynchronous, with progress marked by quizzes or short responses.
However, for the more curious students, there should be occasional, optional meetings where students can discuss some of the material with an economics teacher and ask questions. Think of it like an addition to our community service requirements. A requirement for the intellectual well-being of Pingry students, and moreover an opportunity for interested students to engage in the subject.
Ultimately, we’re living in history. That should have been evident since 2008, and it is more than evident now. Our financial literacy curriculum, moving forward, should reflect that.
After 41 years at Pingry, beloved Upper School German teacher and former Head of the World Languages Department Norman LaValette is retiring this year. Mr. LaValette (often referred to by students as “Herr LaV” or simply “LaV”) is known for his unorthodox but effective teaching methods, which, as his students can attest to, involve countless mantras, exquisite vocabulary, speed dialogue, and sometimes even jumping on tables.
LaValette is a born teacher, but the way he ended up choosing German and Pingry requires a bit of background.
In terms of the former, the story starts back when he was in 7th grade, when he had the choice at his public school to learn either Latin or German. He liked both languages; Latin piqued his interest in toy soldier collection, while German had interesting connections with his native Dutch. He chose Latin, only to receive his schedule and find it had German on it. Apparently there were not enough signups to fill up a Latin class. “The rest is history;” he studied German through high school, college, and grad school.
When LaVallette entered the teaching world, Pingry was not his debut job. After four years teaching at three separate high schools, LaValette stumbled upon Pingry by a recommendation from a friend. After interviewing for the job, LaV recalled he was “duly allured,” taken aback by “the reverence for scholarship, for ideas” among both students and teachers. Once again, the rest is history.
LaV taught German during a time when the Berlin Wall was thought to be indestructible. He recalled taking students to the country on exchange trips in the late 80s and early 90s––on one trip in specific, his students traded US dollars for medals and belts from Russian soldiers in East Berlin. He recalled thinking: “This is wild.”
Herr LaValette has run Harkness discussions in German since the 1980s, back before it was cool for even high school English classes. He recalled one specific discussion that devolved into fisticuffs––a discussion where he jumped in and ultimately took an accidental punch to the jaw from one of his students. If anything, it was a testament to his sheer dedication to his students, and, of course, the relevance of his class discussions: as LaV put it, “German can push people’s buttons!”
According to German teacher Karsten Niehues, “[LaV] is a living legend. Over the years, more than 1,000 teachers have participated in his workshops and learned from his wisdom. While LaV has a student-centered approach to teaching, he also believes in the value of teachers with strong personalities.” Indeed, LaV’s pedagogy has made huge impacts on the teachers around him. Fellow German teacher Igor Jasinski stated, “Watching [LaV] teach has helped me become a better teacher, as it makes me want to bring to my classes some of that intensity and sense of urgency that is the hallmark of Norm’s teaching style.” Colleague and former German teacher Ann Dickerson said, “He is an innovative, energetic, passionate educator who has never become complacent or cynical about teaching, and comes to school every day as eager to grow and to learn as if he were just starting out.”
This is evident in his own words. When asked what teaching has taught him, LaV responded, “If you’re an ambitious person, if you start a year with a goal, inexorably what’s going to happen, especially if you’re a teacher, is you aren’t going to reach all of them. You’re not ever as good as you think you are. But here’s the cool thing about teaching: most teachers I know, they will get back on the horse, and set up new goals, new ambitions, strive to do what they couldn’t do the year before.”
The first mantra LaV taught me back in sixth grade German was Aller Anfang ist schwer: every beginning is difficult. So too is every ending, especially to a career this amazing. Herr LaV, you will be greatly missed.
In this time, we are surrounded by unknowns, unsure of whatever comes next. The media outlets have analyzed this pandemic from every angle, scrutinizing each viewpoint… except, it seems, the positive one. It is with this sentiment I find myself longing to share what I believe to be Pingry’s greatest quality: its deep commitment and dedication to the student body.
As I walked out of the clocktower on March 6th, my backpack filled with books, I was prepared to depart for my final Spring Break at Pingry, ready for the exciting conclusion to my senior year. However, this year, that anticipatory aura was not present. Preparing for COVID-19, teachers and administrators instructed us to bring everything home. When my extended Spring Break turned into a permanent quarantine, I feared this marked the end of high school. Nevertheless, while my time inside the Pingry walls came to a close, the faculty, staff, and administration refused to allow this to be our official end of high school. Even apart, we were able to stay connected as a class and community.
From this point, we went online. Teachers willingly made adjustments to their disrupted personal lives. The Pingry family grew, children and pets being a welcome inclusion into the virtual classroom. They helped us retain a sense of normalcy, even from our bedrooms and kitchen tables. Outside of the classroom, we were still able to participate in quintessential senior events. From the comfort of our homes, the Virtual SAC Assembly was as humorous and witty as ever. Dressed in spirit gear in our living rooms, the athletic awards were a welcome reminder of all we have accomplished over these last four years. The Pingry faculty and staff was instrumental in allowing us to keep these traditions, but that was not all these wonderful individuals did for us.
We, the Class of 2020, will go down in history for the world we are graduating into, but in our minds, we will fondly remember the special gifts and events we got to have, unique to our class. On the morning of May 1st, each senior woke up to balloons on our front steps, commemorating our final day of classes. Later that day, we were welcomed back to the Pingry parking lot, social distancing from our trunks and sunroofs. We received surprise packages, filled with bookstore memorabilia and graduation regalia. The Pingry community ensured that I could still display the Pingry colors proudly.
The teachers gave us lasting memories, bringing the student body and faculty together in unity. Whether the special videos with messages, the college shirt video, or the advisor Spotify playlist, we were able to get a window into the lives of our beloved teachers. No other class had received these special senior gifts, and they are ones my peers and I will continue to cherish.
Then came the senior picture day on campus. My family packed into our car and made the journey west on Route 78, perhaps for my last time as a high school student. We turned the corner past the stone entrance, and were met with familiar faces: ours, smiling back, all together. The car slowed to a crawl down the driveway as I scanned the images of my friends and peers. This was quite the surprise, and such a special one at that. The Pingry community had given us this treasured gift, one even my brother, Class of 2016, laments he did not receive. Although we missed out on the last few months in Basking Ridge, we received innumerable and immeasurable gifts, specially curated for our class, that we will take with us forever, uniquely ours.
There is a theme throughout these activities: connection and community. While we certainly did not envision ending our Pingry career this way, we, the collective Pingry community, have not allowed quarantine to rob us of our traditions. From the award ceremonies over Zoom to the senior photos on campus, we maintain a positive and unified group. The Class of 2020 will certainly be remembered, and the teachers and administration are sending us off with unprecedented fanfare that will propel us into our future colleges with courage and resilience. Things may be more different now that ever, but we are still going out strong. Thank you Pingry and congratulations to the Class of 2020 once more.
As an eighth grader at Pingry, my time management skills were particularly poor. I spent too much time procrastinating each afternoon, causing me to start my homework late at night. I have only myself to blame for these habits, but the consequences were rough. I had to fight to keep myself awake in class, as if dragging myself through some sort of syrupy, incoherent blur. I spent my flexes and any free time catching up on sleep. I think that’s where I developed the reputation that won me the superlative “most likely to fall asleep in class.” I’m glad my peers were generally accepting of this unusual behavior, but I felt out of place. I had friends from some classes, but I did not feel a part of any group of people; rather, I felt like an individual who happened to be in the same grade as others.
In the spring of that year, I met with Ms. Leffler, who had been both my science teacher and advisor for two years. I remember our conversation very well, especially that she seemed genuinely concerned about my sleep schedule and social life. I think it was at that point that I realized I needed to change myself. We talked about how high school would be different—I would have more work, but also more free time. I would have a conference period every day, but also join and invest more time into clubs and other school activities. She mentioned how I’d likely find more people with which I could resonate in that new environment.
What Ms. Leffler said came true, albeit not immediately. At the start of my freshman year, instead of sleeping between classes, I became overly focused on secluding myself to finish work during flexes and conference periods. At least I was sleeping more at home and less tired during the day. I think I started feeling I was a part of the Class of 2020 a bit later in that year. I got better at balancing my time; while I found time to talk to friends, I was still able to acknowledge when I needed to work on something urgent.
What truly made me feel a part of this class, however, extends beyond that. From old classmates asking how I was doing to 8:10 AM calls from students concerned I’d miss class, these little but not insignificant moments made me feel at home in Pingry. While our classes grew more rigorous, I was comforted by the collective support of my fellow classmates. I specifically remember throwing around possible essay ideas with Mr. Shilts and a few other students after class one afternoon. Hearing everyone else’s thoughts let me come up with the rather daring idea of proving that two canonically unlinked characters were the same person. Though I liked the concept, I wasn’t sure it would work, but the enthusiasm I received from everyone in the room convinced me to try. This, and many other moments from outside of class, helped to connect us. Though we struggled with schoolwork, balancing after-school activities, and finally our college applications and results this year, our celebrations and sympathies for each other made these endeavors more bearable. I’m sincerely grateful for the empathy and warmth this class has shown these past few years, and I hope that I’ll find something similar as I transition into yet another new environment next year.
On April 27th, in the midst of remote learning and stay-at-home orders, a few STEM-oriented Pingry students staved off quarantine boredom by participating in the Delbarton Digital Science Fair. Complete with expert judges, including IRT mentor Dr. Sparrow, the remote fair allowed hundreds of students to show off their research for the year, attend a panel, and even win awards, all without leaving their homes.
William Li, a Delbarton junior who helped organize the event, explained its inspiration: “last year, we organized our first Delbarton Science Fair,” he says. “When the whole state went into lockdown, we transitioned to a digital platform.” However, Li realized that students at many other schools were unable to exhibit their research. “When we learned that other schools were canceling their physical science fairs,” he added, “we expanded that platform to include all NJ schools. I myself have done high school research, so I know the amount of work and passion that goes into it. We just couldn’t let that type of work go unexhibited and unrecognized.”
In addition to helping NJ students get recognition for their research, the fair had a positive impact on the broader community. “All the prize money and fair sponsorships have been given directly to charities or as credit to businesses impacted by COVID-19,” Li said.
With Pingry’s annual Research Exhibit cancelled, the Delbarton Digital Science Fair represented a second chance for Pingry students to practice speaking about their projects and get expert advice. Although many IRT groups had to leave their experiments unfinished, some had collected enough data throughout the year to share their projects. Three IRT projects were presented at the fair: “Shallow Mind”, “Drone-Rover Communication for Pathfinding”, and “The Effect of KIF11 Activity on YAP Localization.” In addition, one Pingry student participated with individual research.
Overall, Pingry’s experience at the event was overwhelmingly positive. “I was impressed by the breadth and depth of science presented. A number of Pingry students were involved, which was great to see,” Dr. Sparrow noted. Li agreed: “I’m very happy that Pingry participated in the fair this year,” he said. “You guys really have a renowned Research Program, and learning about its successes was a big reason why I decided to found the Research Club at Delbarton. It was really wonderful working with you all on this, and I look forward to more collaborations in the future!”
If I had to pick a headline to summarize the entire COVID-19 pandemic here in America, it would have to be “North Carolina Man Steals Truck With 18,000 Pounds of Toilet Paper”. In a close second would probably be our good friend, the Florida Man with, “Florida Man Steals 66 Rolls of Toilet Paper”. In this time of great struggle and uncertainty in our nation, and indeed the entire world, it has become evident that it is fear, not reason, that drives the decision making of not just the two aforementioned characters, but also that of the entire world. We’ve all seen the news. Videos of people fighting over the last bag of rice at the supermarket. Lines stretching out the door of big box stores. As my friends across the world can confirm, there is not a single scrap of toilet paper to be found on store shelves anywhere. People are fearful, and it is evident that hope, just like toilet paper, is nowhere to be found.
Yes, people do have a right to be scared. The statistics can speak for themselves: Over 2.6 million people have been infected globally, with more than 800,000 cases here in the US alone. The world economy has come grinding to a halt, and American jobless claims are at their highest in the last 10 years. Our everyday lives have come to a complete standstill, as everyone around the world practices social distancing to stop the spread of the coronavirus. Yet, with all of these tribulations and challenges that we face presently, there is a brighter side to this crisis — more than just the infection numbers, death toll, or economy the media keeps yapping about.
The coronavirus has brought out the best in America, a good side that many in our country did not believe exist. Our entire nation, once derided by political pundits as “hopelessly divided”, is now united in a great crusade to fight back against the coronavirus. On Capitol Hill, for what may be the first time in recent memory, Democrats and Republicans have found common ground in a bid to provide relief packages for all Americans. President Trump and New York Governor Cuomo, once bitter political enemies, now work together daily to direct government policy towards the virus. Governor Cuomo’s daily press conferences have now become regular viewing for millions of Americans trapped at home, as he continues to send messages of encouragement and positivity not just to the state of New York, but to the entire nation.
Manufacturing companies have put aside their quest for profits to retool the production lines and make much needed PPE and ventilators. America’s biotech firms have now developed testing kits that can diagnose the virus in minutes and allow for more tests to be run, while scientists in laboratories across the globe work at breakneck speed to develop a vaccine in record time before winter arrives.
Doctors, nurses, and first responders in all 50 states are working tirelessly around the clock to contain this virus. It is thanks to the valiant work of our healthcare companies and professionals that the rate of infection is no longer exponential, and as Dr. Deborah Birx, the White House Coronavirus Response Coordinator, said two weeks ago, “we’re seeing [the curve] stabilize, and that gives us great encouragement”.
Social Media, once criticized as a force that only divided society, has now become the very thing holding everyone together while we are all separated. Crowdfunding campaigns to save local businesses from the economic tsunami caused by COVID-19. In New York City alone, thousands upon thousands of dollars have been raised by New Yorkers on GoFundMe to support local restaurants and stores who have been forced to close due to the pandemic. John Kransinski, of The Office fame, publishes new videos detailing good news happening around the world on YouTube every day to try and keep people positive during social distancing. New quarantine food trends, such as Dalgona coffee and no-knead bread have become popular as a result of these easy but tasty recipes being shared on the internet. Facebook groups have been set up to help provide groceries, toiletries, and home cooked meals to the elderly in order to keep them protected from the virus.
But the coronavirus hasn’t just brought out unprecedented goodness within our communities. It’s also brought us new opportunities. While COVID-19 may have forced us all to social distance inside, this new reality presents a whole host of opportunities for us. We have been given the gift of many months of free time, so what do we do with it? How about learning a new skill, or experimenting with new recipes? What else can you do with all that stockpiled food anyways?
Perhaps you could build a healthier lifestyle and use this time to build a better you. You could finish those side projects that you never had time for, or maybe start a new lifelong obsession with a new hobby. The choice is in your hands.
There is no way to know how long we will be inside, and based on the current numbers, there will be many more months, if not a year, before things return back to “normal”. But until then, as we witness the first great global crisis of the 21st century, an event that will be forever etched into the collective memory of our generation, let us be reminded that this crisis will be over some day. As we edge closer and closer to the light at the end of the tunnel, let’s put our best foot forward and do our best to remain positive through this tumultuous time. Let’s be inspired by the acts of kindness and humanity throughout the entire world and be our best selves. Let’s not allow our fear to control us, and instead remain hopeful that there are better days ahead of us. All we have to do is stay positive, keep smiling, and just believe.
After my year abroad in Jordan was cut short, and I took time to reminisce about all the things I learned and experienced, I realized that I have just finished an epic, once-in-a-lifetime journey. I immersed myself in a new culture, I was introduced to new political opinions, and I visited some of the most beautiful places in the world. The moments and experiences I had will forever be among my most treasured memories.
During my time in Jordan, I was fortunate to visit the many cultural and natural treasures of the Middle East, including Petra, The Dead Sea, Wadi Rum, Salt, Amman, and The Citadel. I have experienced all these places in a personal way. I have walked miles through these wonders taking in their magnificent views, the air, and in every step, I would value the world around me. In Wadi Rum, my friends and I stayed at one of the most questionable campgrounds that I have ever been to, but we still played card games and stayed up all night so that we were ready to see the sunrise. That day, I conquered my fear of heights, to an extent, and climbed what seemed like Mt. Everest to watch the sunrise. It was worth it. Within the next couple hours, we went on Jeep tours around the desert, climbed up sand dunes, and smiled the whole way through––well, except for when my friend Humayd lost his phone in one of the largest and steepest dunes I have ever climbed. On the bus ride back to school, we were all passed out and some of us even slept on the bus floor.
The smaller moments of our trips are what I will miss the most. The weekly trip to the mall, the daily laugh from English class, sneaking into the Model UN party, walking into Arabic class everyday with my closest friend Josie, and hearing our teacher say, “صباح خير” (Good Morning!) and “ أى اخبار” (Any news?!).
While the COVID-19 pandemic may have cut my time short, I still have a lifetime of memories, my one-second-a-day montage, and new friends who will always be with me. While I wish I had a proper conclusion to my year, this has in some ways made me further appreciate what I had.
I want to thank King’s Academy for making my year what it was, and even though it ended in an unexpected way, I still have an entire year’s worth of memories to hold onto. I want to especially thank my fellow students; together we went on trips, spent ninety minutes in Arabic everyday, and bonded in ways I have not with anyone else. So, thank you Josie, Isabella, Louisa, Laila, Taher, Humayd, and the person who brought us all together, Ms. Lina Samawi.
Since the conclusion of Spring Break, Pingry students and faculty members have adopted remote learning in order to follow the state-mandated social distancing guidelines. By now, they have finished their first two weeks online. Although this transition has not been easy, members of the Pingry community are working hard to resume the quest for knowledge as they try to find peace during this time of uncertainty.
According to feedback from some students, most of their classes run synchronously or by using a combination of synchronous and asynchronous sessions. Almost all of the teachers use Google Meet as the platform for “face-to-face” sessions or conversations, and most work is posted via Schoology or sent out through emails. Teachers make themselves available for help during designated time slots or during flexes and conference periods to make sure students can still seek extra help if they need to.
However, although the continuation of block schedules is supposed to help create structure, the switch to remote learning has not been an easy one for the students. Many have reported that remote learning is negatively affecting their productivity, and it often seems like there is less time for students to meet with their teachers for help. Because students and teachers are constantly interacting through their computer screens, some found that online school is more draining than typical school. Many students also report a significant increase in their workload, as well as a lack of motivation to finish it. Moreover, although teachers were guided to cut their 60-minutes periods to 45 minutes, students still spend hours in front of their computers between attending classes and school work.
Students are not alone in having to adjust to virtual classes. Many teachers also find themselves having to alter their usual way of teaching. “The biggest difference for me is that teaching is like acting or stand-up comedy. I respond to the energy of the group. When we are physically all together, I can see and feel so much more. I can tell when you are tired or sad or upset with somebody in the room. I can tell whether you understand or not, so I can adjust my response…Online, it all feels much stiffer.” said Upper School English teacher, Mrs. Grant.
For the last two weeks, teachers reported that they have gotten a little more used to the experience, but they continue to struggle with their lesson plans. “Lesson planning is very different, and it takes a lot longer. I find myself reaching out to other language teachers, exploring different sources,” said Mr. Benoit, World Languages Department Chair and Upper School French teacher, “The most complex part right now is figuring out what assessments will look like at the end of each unit or theme.” Mr. Grant, a chemistry teacher at Pingry, believes that “if learning isn’t fun, then it will be easily forgotten. We need to help students gain the skills of thinking and reasoning that they will use throughout their lives.”
When asked how they’ve adjusted to remote learning, teachers listed several examples of how they have had to adapt. “One thing I learned from my first class is that as a teacher, I hate the mute button for my students, and now I have a ‘no mute’ policy,” answered Mr. Grant. Ms. Thuzar, a computer science and math teacher at Pingry, said that she “spends more time planning and making sure that the remote learning experience for the classes is not too different from the actual in-person classes.” Although that is difficult to accomplish, Pingry students and teachers are all trying to find some peace and normalcy during this chaotic time.
Like their students, some teachers have also found remote learning to be more tiring than a typical school day. “For some reason, this is all so draining,” said Mrs. Grant when asked about her experience, “Instead of gaining energy from being with all of you, I get exhausted. I was talking with some colleagues Friday evening, and they all reported that they wanted to take a nap in between classes.” Many teachers and students end up sitting in front of the computer and barely getting up the whole day. “I feel like all the classes are all lumped together into this continuous-time span where I sit at my desk in front of my computers for hours,” Ms. Thuzar added, “For the days I teach 3 or 4 classes per day, I ended up staying in front of my computers from about 8 AM to 4 PM, excluding lunch.”
Even though the future is filled with uncertainty, spreading positivity and hope has kept us going. Mrs. Grant shared a small anecdote that cheered many of her students up: “On a positive note, since Mr. Grant and I have opposite schedules, there is non-stop teaching going on in my house right now, so my cats are soon going to be ready for college!” Similarly, Mr. Grant shared that “these are definitely strange times. I think that the most important thing that remote learning can try to achieve is our sense of community. We will get through this experience and remember these times for the rest of our lives. With this in mind, I hope we can make some good memories together.”
Please take care of yourselves and continue to spread love and positivity amongst your friends and family! Stay safe!
On February 20th, Pingry students travelled to Boston, Massachusetts to participate in the Harvard Model Congress (HMC) held at the Boston Sheraton Hotel. HMC, the largest congressional simulation in the world, provides students the opportunity to learn what participating in the United States government is like.
Each student was assigned a current member of the U.S. House of Representatives or Senate to represent while at the conference. Before the event, students researched their roles, learning their delegate’s stance on various issues selected by the conference organizers.
During the conference, participants from around the country gathered to engage in lively debate, learn how to compromise, and simulate drafting legislation for the passage of bills. “I learned how to work with delegates from the other party to write bipartisan bills and make amends to certain sections of the bill to please both parties. Overall, it was a really great experience,” said Vared Shmuler (III). Sophomore Sarah Kloss (IV) gave several speeches as Billy Long, a Republican Congressman from Missouri, and was even able to present her bill during a full committee meeting.
On Friday, students had the opportunity to visit the Harvard University campus during their break. Afterwards, awards for outstanding performance at the event were announced. Ian Larson (VI) was awarded an honorary mention for best delegate in his committee, the National Economic Forum.
After an educating and engaging weekend, Pingry students are looking forward to returning to Harvard Model Congress next year!