Sixth-grade girls learn football and their male peers learn field hockey—just another way in which Pingry educates its students to challenge a variety of cultural norms.
“I arrived here to find kids meeting at 7:30 a.m., before school, for no credit, just to share what they’ve learned [Journal Club],” she observed. “They are so prepared and so eager to participate. In my high school, you were in trouble if you were talking to a teacher. At Pingry, students are looking for an excuse to visit the science wing and talk to us.”
As an advisor to Pingry’s cutting-edge Independent Research Team—in which students can apply the often abstract lessons of the classroom to actual research—Ms. Kirkhart sees this mutually nurtured enthusiasm between teacher and student play out in sophisticated, student-run science experiments. In a fruit fly lab, to be precise. She leads a team of student investigators who are studying the genetic basis of learning deficits in Alzheimer’s patients, using fruit flies. The students devised the topic themselves, isolated the proteins they wanted to examine, and, says Ms. Kirkhart, are very much in charge.
“Letting kids design their own, actual science projects is so unusual at a high school level. This is real science that they’re doing; it’s not cookbook, we-know-the-answer-already science. This is graduate-level. When I started with the team, I figured I would run the project and get them to help me, but it turned out to be the other way around.”
This is my Pingry.
“’This is an existential game,’ he said to me. ‘You’re a very good freshman, you know your place on the team, but it doesn’t matter who you are or where you come from; you play like you play and good things will happen,’” recalls Jack. “I will never forget his words. We lost that game, but our defense, which I’m proud to be a part of, held Hillside to 18 points, one of their lowest scoring games all season.”
What word would this three-sport athlete use to sum up Pingry athletics? Pride. It’s not only the school chant, he says, it speaks to the greater character of the school, and the coaches’ commitment to—and expectation of—the players.
But, when he arrived, he took a dance class with Mrs. Wheeler and discovered an interest in movement (later, in high school, he even started a dance group with three of his friends called “The Pingry Academiks”). A drama class with Mrs. Romankow and performances with friends during Multicultural Day Assemblies sparked a love for performing. Then, he took a poetry class with Dr. Dineen and developed an interest in performance poetry. And conversations with his track coach and English teacher, Mr. Shilts, led to a curiosity in film. By the time he graduated, his passions were numerous.
“I was a definitely all over the place at Pingry, and even in college,” he says (he graduated from Trinity College in 2014 with a degree in fine arts, focused on illustration and film studies). “But the freedom to explore, to experiment, is really what Pingry afforded me. I didn’t want to do just one thing; I wanted to bring together different styles and types of art and find a way to make it all work in harmony.”
Now, as a multimedia artist pursuing an MFA in graphic novels and comics at the Academy of Art University in San Francisco, he is doing just that.
His advice to current Pingry artists? “Be hungry—make the most of the faculty and resources while you're at Pingry, because you won't find their quality and personal investment even at many colleges and universities. It's a top-tier institution; the space and freedom is there for you to not simply create an opportunity, but blaze new paths. The sky is your limit."
"Without the wheel, my head would be spinning,” said Sabrina Tran ’15. “Ceramics has helped shape me in ways that I never expected."
Honors Portfolio was Sabrina’s favorite class her senior year. While ceramics are her passion, the class allowed her to experiment with other mediums, like photography. Her senior-year Independent Study Project was on “image transferring ceramics”—overlaying family photos onto her ceramic pieces. That fearlessness to experiment, fostered at Pingry, spurred her to resist complacency and try out—in her senior year—a few new activities, like Pingry’s GirlCode, a computer science and coding club for girls. She also joined the Girls’ Varsity Golf Team.
She credits Pingry’s college counseling department for helping to keep her head straight through it all.
“Mrs. Amy Cooperman was the best; she was so inviting and eager to help find the best college for me. At certain parts of the application process I would just walk into her office and vent about my worries and doubts. Going into her office was like going to a mini therapy session.”
And when she lands on the campus of the University of Rochester, where even newer opportunities will abound, Sabrina is confident that she will dive right in.
What's more, their division placement in the Skyland Conference puts them in the pool with some of the state's toughest competition—four of the state’s top 20 teams, to be exact. Perhaps most noteworthy, he is the first Pingry coach to see two of his athletes (Nic Fink ’11 and Sebastian Lutz ’15) reach a pinnacle of the sport: the Olympic Trials.
A standout swimmer and water polo player for Choate Rosemary Hall and Bucknell University, Coach Droste was named Patriot League MVP in 1993 and was on the League's first All-Decade Team (1990-2000). He worked as an ornithologist for a few years until, in 1998, he began assistant coaching at Pingry under legendary boys’ coach and 2014 Athletics Hall of Fame inductee Bill Reichle. Fourteen years later, when Mr. Reichle retired, Coach Droste assumed the position of Head Coach. That same year, he was named Somerset County Coach of the Year. In 2015, he was awarded the NFHS (National Federation of High Schools) Coach of the Year Award at the state level for exemplifying the highest standards of sportsmanship, ethical conduct, and moral character.
Mr. Droste’s wife, Ananya Chatterji, is a Pingry faculty member, and his daughter attends the Lower School.
Growing up with an older brother who often recruited her as his wrestling partner, Kaley learned a few things about the sport and wanted to give the team a try. Mr. Sullivan’s response? Join us! Being the only girl on the Middle School’s team doesn’t bother her a bit. “I kind of like that I’m different from everyone else,” she says. “In the end, I’m part of a team, so, boy or girl, it doesn’t really matter; we’re all in this together. And all the boys are my friends.”
Also a ballerina since the age of two (she recently had to give up dance due to a full schedule), Latin class with Mrs. Kelleher—the fun discussions and her crazy homework assignments—and science class are among her favorite academic subjects. For the cheerful, eager Middle Schooler, it’s hard to pinpoint what she loves most about the school.
“There are so many things,” she says. “Its diversity, the teachers, all the activities. I just love it here.”
A mechanical engineering student in China, she relocated to the U.S. for a banking job after college, and moved on to a position in computer programming. She then pursued a master’s in computer science from NYU, and joined a start-up, where she did project management work. Juggling family life and career demands, she decided to change her course. With both of her daughters enrolled at Pingry at the time, she became increasingly involved in campus life, substitute teaching for one of the Chinese teachers on a number of occasions. When Pingry was in search of a second full-time Chinese faculty member, they immediately turned to Mrs. Hao.
“I never imagined I would be a teacher, but I have no regret at all,” she recalled. “Pingry is a very uncomplicated environment in that all hurdles are stripped away; teachers can really focus on being productive.”
After five years teaching at Pingry, the eagerness and interest level of the students still impress her: “They ask questions that even I, as the native speaker, don’t know the answer to!”
Mrs. Hao has also become a cultural ambassador for the school, leading faculty and student trips to China, organizing Pingry’s annual Chinese New Year celebration, and rallying Pingry’s Asian community to share their perspective. She treasures this sort of human interaction and impact, which she doesn’t feel the computer science field would have afforded her to the same degree.
“Helping students to acquire language skills is the critical part of my job, but being able to influence them in other ways is so meaningful,” she says. “Helping them to understand another culture—how another human being experiences life differently—really helps them to learn about themselves.”
The violin player (since Grade 4) and Glee Club member was particularly intrigued by the Cancer Project, a hallmark of Pingry’s 10th grade Honors Bio class, during which students learn the fundamentals of biology through the study of cancer cells. Culminating a month-long group research project, they must present on a particular cancer therapy, give a lesson on it to select Pingry faculty and staff, and be able to answer any question thrown their way. “We were expected to know the material in depth, and know how the therapy works on the body to treat the cancer. It was a level of intimacy with a very specific subject that I don’t think I would have gotten at another school.”
She is also not sure another school would have its own campsite, nestled in the woodlands surrounding its 200-acre campus. Last summer, when she participated in the Outing Club’s trip to the Adirondacks, she and her fellow Pingry adventurers spent the night before their departure in tents on the campsite—a tutorial, of sorts, or, perhaps, a test. She recalls, “Just as incredible as summiting the actual mountain was the time we spent on campus, at the campsite.”