Ms. Schurdak has been working as an administrator with this age group for over 20 years and is excited to join Pingry, having been struck “by the commitment of the Middle School faculty to educating middle schoolers… They are both serious and joyful about their work.”
Class of 2022 - African Leadership Academy at the School for Ethical and Global Leadership
Before we arrived in Johannesburg, South Africa, we did some pre-readings from the African Leadership Academy's [ALA] curriculum, and they led to many interesting discussions on topics such as feminism, intersectionality, and parenting styles. My favorite of those topics was intersectionality because it gave me a better understanding of how minorities in our country feel and how different types of oppression can stack on top of each other to form an almost unbearable type of oppression.
Now we’re on campus and getting to know ALA students as well. My roommate and some of his friends are from Liberia and they were talking to me last night about how much Liberia looks up to the U.S. and how much influence we have on their country. I understood the creation of Liberia and how it came to be through my AP U.S. History class at Pingry, but I never understood how much influence we gave them. Things like the U.S. dollar are used in their country and it completely blew my mind.
I also had a very interesting conversation with my friend Mbaka of Kenya, and she talked to me about politics in Kenya and how tribalist their elections turn out to be. . . I cannot wait to be here for the coming months and to get into more of these intriguing conversations!
Note: Excerpted from a School for Ethical and Global Leadership blog post.
Class of 2021 - Chile
Midway through the summer before my sophomore year, while my friends were enjoying the beach and taking in the sun, I packed up my life into a couple of suitcases and moved over 5,000 miles away. I was preparing to go live in Chile, and say goodbye to the hot, humid weather of New Jersey and hello to a house in the hills, just 10 miles from world-class skiing, outside of Santiago, the capital.
I was able to design the entire experience myself, with the support of Pingry's faculty, and this provided me with unique opportunities. It was important to me while designing my trip to be able to live close to my Chilean relatives and to be able to play rugby. In the end, I was able to live within walking distance of my cousins and a short car ride away from the rugby field. For school, I was fortunate to be able to go to an International Baccalaureate school, assuring that my sophomore year would count when I came back to Pingry.
The lack of a rigid program allowed me a ton of flexibility so that I could explore the city and learn about the culture and history of a country that doesn't frequently make world news. Through my daily experiences, from debating politics with my host father or learning about the broader Latin American experience from Uber drivers, who were oftentimes immigrants and refugees from other countries, I was able to gain a much deeper appreciation for the history of these places and how it affects their perspectives on the modern world.
I met people from all over the world, including of course Chile, and had many great experiences with them. My host family convinced me that no weekend was complete without an asado (Chilean barbeque) and at least one carrete (a party). I celebrated Chilean Independence Day by attempting to learn how to do the traditional dance in our P.E. class at school (and failing miserably) and by getting drenched as I hiked through the forests of southern Chile.
Readjusting to life back in New Jersey was not without its challenges. It was definitely weird to find out about all the events that had transpired in my absence second-hand, a whole year worth of Pingry that I missed. . . It was also interesting returning as the "Chilean," after spending a year abroad as the "Gringo," making me an informal cultural ambassador in both places. In some ways, it felt as if I was a new student joining the Pingry community, and in other ways, it was like I never left.
Class of 2025 - Pingry Global Field Studies Program to the Adirondacks
Charlie Ackermann '25 (wearing the blue hat) was one of five Middle Schoolers who spent six days over Presidents Day Weekend 2020 at the North Country School (NCS) in the Adirondacks, as part of a Pingry Global Field Studies Program.
We walked in after the five-hour drive from Basking Ridge, N.J. The "Rock-E House" is what they call it [named for NCS benefactor Eileen Rockefeller Growald]. A big house—three floors, and nothing but space. The icicles on the roof sparkled like a starry night. This is gonna be a good one, I thought.
Driving down the road to do barn chores, it was -9º. Inside the van it was probably 0º. As we got on the road, we noticed the windshield. Foggy and bitter, that of an old man. We pulled over and cleaned off the windshield. Well, [Middle School Dean of Students] Mr. Coakley did. Juan, Jai, and I sat in the car, shivering.
Eventually, we pulled up to the barn and walked around the gleaming, red gate and into the facility. In addition to the four of us, North Country School (NCS) students helped care for the horses, chickens, goats, sheep, ram, and ducks. Usually, there are around 15 NCS kids helping out. Today, there were five. Ten people in all—the four of us from Pingry, the head farmer, and the five NCS kids. 10 PEOPLE, and 34 chickens, five ducks, 10 sheep, two goats, 11 horses, and one ram. We had to clean and replenish all of their areas, whether it was to collect the eggs or clear the manure and add new shavings to help the animals live in cleaner stalls. . .
. . . From this trip, I learned that hard work pays off. Of course, this is a common saying, but in this case, it's very obvious. You help the animals, and they become healthy and prepared to continue the journey that everyone ventures on—life.
Middle School visual arts teacher, Belize
My experience at TREC (Tropical Research and Education Center) in Belize, as part of a Pingry Global Field Studies Program for faculty, was, in short, amazing. I applied for the program because I love learning experientially, I love and had prior experience snorkeling, and I look forward to one day being able to help lead a Global Field Studies course at Pingry myself. I knew this experience would allow me to gain a better understanding of what is expected of the students and what they can accomplish in a week's time.
Our trip leaders, Deirdre O’Mara P '17, '19, '21 and Graham Touhey, developed and planned an outstanding curriculum. The snorkeling excursions—four full days in the water at different sites—were expertly planned out to allow for a slow progression of skill level. By the end of our program, I found myself being challenged more and more and accomplishing swims I never thought I would, such as a night snorkel and snorkeling with sharks. Every step of the way our leaders provided support and encouragement and, at one point, literally held my hand in the water until I felt confident enough to go on my own.
The amount of information and learning that happened on this program was incredible. Director Dr. Ken Mattes and Maureen Gannon, our hosts at TREC, provided a plethora of information during each outing, teaching me so much about all the different species of plants and animals in the Belizean Barrier Reef. I truly enjoyed being immersed in Belizean culture, eating authentic Belizean food, and exploring the beautiful island of San Pedro.
Throughout my time there I kept a journal, writing down notes and using my mini watercolor kit to capture special moments. I look forward to sharing my journal with my students and encouraging them to use their own art journals in and out of the classroom.
Class of 2020 - Pingry Global Education Programs
During my time at Pingry, I have been fortunate to be able to go on several amazing Global Education programs that have led me to both discover and deepen my passion for my interests in life.
My first trip was in the winter of my freshman year when I participated in the “Winter in the North Woods” program to the Adirondack Park in New York State. We visited and helped at a boarding school—North Country School—that also is a working farm, and we were able to experience the beautiful stillness of mountains in the wintertime. Our lessons were focused on sustainability and the steps that the school had taken to reduce their environmental footprint, to preserve the surrounding environment, and to promote sustainable lifestyles. My experiences on the course led me to develop a love for the environment and the natural world, and a determination to help the environment in any way I can.
My love for travel and history has been further deepened by two Global Field Studies programs I took to Europe. The first was during the summer before my junior year, when I traveled to Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina on the “Nations at a Crossroads” program. We learned about how nationalism and war have shaped the identity and history of the region, specifically regarding the Yugoslav Wars in the 1990s. On our journey, we met with many locals who each recounted how their lives were touched by the wars. In these conflicts, each faction was defined by its religion and ethnicity, turning communities against one another throughout the region. Listening to the emotion in their voices change as they talked about the hardships they faced made each conversation very personal and impactful, and I will never forget the struggles these people went through. During this time, I was able to fully understand how much more powerful it is to hear these stories in person rather than in a textbook, and how learning through immersion is one of the most powerful tools someone can have.
These lessons were reinforced on a second program I participated in, the “Beyond the Wall” course to Berlin, Prague, and Budapest. After World War II, each city fell under the communist leadership of the Soviet Union. We traveled across these beautiful cities visiting their many monuments to the past and other public spaces, and we learned how governments could use these places to reshape their nation’s past to fit their current ideologies better. I have always been fascinated whenever we learned about the stories of individual countries in my history classes at Pingry, and being able to be told by locals about how they’ve seen their cities change as their leaders changed has only furthered my interest in learning how a nation’s past can heavily influence its current leaders, even years later.
I am excited to continue to learn about world history and different types of governments during my senior year at Pingry, and I hope I can continue to do so in the years to come.
Class of 2019 - National Security Language Initiative for Youth (NSLI-Y), China
During the first week of my National Security Language Initiative for Youth (NSLI-Y) program in Chengdu, China, I remember hearing a thought-provoking statement during our visit to the U.S. Consulate. A representative told us that the relations between the two countries are built on people-to-people interactions, more so than exchanges between media, government, etc. I remember thinking that this concept was so simple, yet so powerful.
Upon completion of my six-week program, I can now say with certainty that the people-to-people interactions I had with the people were the most rewarding part of my experience. Whether it was joking around with my Chinese friends, having meaningful discussions with my host family, or simply bargaining with shopkeepers in Chinese, I feel as if I have broken down many stereotypes and gained a true appreciation for China and its deep culture.
From climbing the Great Wall and swooning over cute pandas to having a traditional farm lunch in the countryside and crashing Chinese weddings, I was truly immersed in the local Chinese culture, an experience unlike anything I could have imagined! It’s also the little things that really mattered—like playing with my nine-month-old host brother, Dodo, after school everyday, going for swims with my host sister, and totally failing at speaking Chinese. But all those experiences made me grow so much as a person, and I am forever grateful to have had the opportunity to study abroad and expand my horizons.
John Paul Salvatore
Class of 2023 - Pingry Global Field Studies Program to China
Deciding to spend two weeks this summer in China on a Pingry Global Education program with a group of students and faculty members was one of the best decisions I have ever made. Throughout the program—titled "Journey to the East: Pingry-China Exchange 2019"—I consistently interacted with my peers and was completely immersed in the culture and lifestyle of the Chinese people. Time flew by rather quickly with an array of daily activities that made my head spin, though in a pleasant sort of way. Exposure to a new country and culture can be an exhilarating experience.
Throughout the entire trip, I picked up multiple skills about traveling, navigating, and even basketball with our peers at Quzhou No.2 School, but most importantly I was able to expand my knowledge of the Chinese language, people, and culture. I was able to see a country from the inside out for two weeks and gain a different perspective than that offered by the American media. I was able to make new friends with students from China and deepen friendships with students from my own school. For that and much more, I am immensely grateful for the experience.
To date, I can say with a great deal of certainty that China has been my favorite travel destination and I hope to return to reunite with my peers in Quzhou and perhaps even climb the Great Wall once again. The entire trip was an eye-opener in several respects and a great learning experience. I would like to thank Mrs. Yu, Mrs. Romankow, Mr. Murdock, and others at Pingry for enabling a wonderful program to China.
Class of 2021 - Pingry Global Field Studies Program to San Pedro, Belize
I think my most memorable moment was when I was sitting on the ship Goliath, which we traveled on the majority of the trip. I was looking out into the horizon from the top of the ship and realized the true vastness of the ocean.
It made me realize how closed-minded I am—not necessarily an ignorance, but an unawareness. I had become so familiar with what I knew that I lacked the understanding of what I hadn’t experienced. Being in a place I was unfamiliar with, I experienced a vulnerability that, as humans, or even as a member of a first world country, I don’t normally experience. I immersed myself in two worlds that I was previously unfamiliar with: a foreign country and a barrier reef. All in all, It was a truly humbling experience, and I learned much more than just the names of fish. I truly found a better understanding of the world around me and the importance of leaving your comfort zone.
Class of 2019 - North Country School, Adirondacks
Over the six days I spent in the High Peaks region of the Adirondacks over Presidents Day weekend in 2018, I was able to immerse myself in an entirely foreign way of life. Even though I was just about four-and-a-half hours from the familiar halls of the Pingry Campus, I was exposed to a lifestyle so drastically different from my life in suburban New Jersey.
Although I originally signed up for Pingry's trip to the Adirondacks because of its recreational opportunities, I came away with so much more. The trip forced me to evaluate my own way of life from a totally new perspective. Entering the trip, I had such a limited view of what it means to "live sustainably." Recycling my water bottles? Turning off the sink while I brush my teeth? That was about all I knew. My time at the North Country School (NCS) provided me with an entirely new lens through which to view the world around me.
Just hours after arriving, our group ventured to the barn for afternoon barn chores, which included tending to the chickens, sheep, goats, and horses. To say the least, I was petrified.Before the trip, I had never really been around farm animals, much less cared for them. The first day of chores, I was hesitant to get involved, stepping back in order to let the more experienced NCS students finish the job. Yet, as the trip progressed, I became increasingly attached to the animals. On the last day, I asked to go back to the barn because I still had not captured the perfect photo of my favorite sheep.
By the end of the trip, I had acquired so much knowledge about topics from organic food to generating your own heat. However, no teacher ever lectured me about these topics as they would in a traditional classroom. I was forced to learn by doing.
Even though the trip taught me so much, it left me with many questions as well. What efforts should Pingry make to be more sustainable? Would every initiative at NCS be realistic for the Pingry Campus? What can I do at home to decrease my impact on the environment? This experience taught me how much you can learn by being in a new, possibly uncomfortable, situation. By challenging myself, I was able to learn and grow, while still having tons of fun.
Class of 2018 - Bears Ears National Monument, Utah
When I joined Pingry's Outing Club at the beginning of my junior year, I expected to go on a few hikes and campouts throughout the year. What I didn’t expect was an incredible backpacking trip over Spring Break through the breathtaking canyons of Cedar Mesa in southeastern Utah, a trip that would have a major impact on my life.
When backpacking, you carry everything you need to survive on your back and have to rely on the handful of people you are with. Luckily, the trip was led by incredible trip leaders and Pingry faculty Mr. Crowley-Delman, Ms. Sullivan, and Mr. Horesta, as well as seven of my fellow classmates, who I knew I could trust.
I spent the first half of my junior year preparing for the trip, researching gear, and learning about the area we would be traversing. Yet, when we were getting ready to board our flight from Newark to Salt Lake City on March 11, I was still unsure of what to expect in the days ahead. It wasn’t until we descended into the canyon the following day that I could fully comprehend what I had gotten myself into.
Over the next 10 days I hiked over 50 miles, explored numerous Anasazi ruins, learned more about Cedar Mesa and the controversy surrounding the recently designated Bears Ears National Monument, and slept (without a tent) under a blanket of a thousand of stars.
I learned more in a week surrounded by the walls of a canyon than I have ever learned in a week surrounded by the walls of a classroom, and discovered a new passion that I hope to continue pursuing during my final year at Pingry, and beyond.
Lower School Educational Technology Specialist
Like many Pingry faculty, Jill Driscoll, Educational Technology Specialist at the Lower School, is always in search of fun with STEAM—that is, projects that weave together science, technology, engineering, art, and math. Take, for example, the “Snowball Saver” endeavor she helped to oversee two winters ago, during which Kindergartners, inspired by the book Snowy Day, by Jack Ezra Keats, had to figure out a way to prevent snowballs from melting when brought indoors. It was a “design-thinking” challenge at its best.
Last year, she, along with second-grade teachers Sally Dugan, Mary Ogden, and Sara Berg, decided to broaden their STEAM initiative—by a few continents. They introduced Grade 2 students to an innovative, STEAM-based global learning program. Facilitated by an educational organization called LevelUp Village, the three second-grade classes partnered with schools in either Ghana, Nigeria, or Brazil to take the same design-thinking course. In “Global Storybook Engineers,” for example, after reading the Italian folk tale Strega Nona, students were tasked with constructing a tower strong enough to withstand an avalanche of spaghetti. Not only did they have to design, build, and problem-solve, they were collaborating—through weekly video exchanges—with peers who live in countries vastly different from their own.
The program was such a success, it was introduced to Grade 4 students the following year. Soon, Mrs. Driscoll hopes to roll the program out to all Lower School grades.
"The design-thinking part of it is so cool, but the global connection is really the icing on the cake,” says Mrs. Driscoll. "We really want Pingry students to learn from the exchange. The kids have an opportunity to see life differently from their own, and that's an important lesson, too."
Class of 2018 - TASIS EnglandHonestly, if you had told eighth-grade me or even freshman-year me that I would be taking a semester away from Pingry, the school that I have attended since the sixth grade, during the second semester of my sophomore year, I probably would have laughed and denied any possibility of such a thing happening.
Although the idea of spending a semester abroad in college had always intrigued me, I never knew that taking a semester away in high school was a possibility. Even now, in my junior year back at Pingry, it is still surreal to think that my “crazy” idea—as my parents first called it, of attending TASIS England, an American boarding school with an international staff and student body located southwest of London in a small village called Thorpe—became a reality.
Yet, a little less than a year after applying to TASIS in the spring of my freshman year, there I was, on Monday January 18, 2016, the first morning in my new “home away from home.” I was sitting in the dining hall at breakfast hearing a conversation in German behind me, in Russian at the table next to mine, and in French across the room, all the while actively trying to participate in—let alone comprehend—a conversation in Spanish with native speakers at the very table I was sitting at. Less than 24 hours into my adventure abroad and the international experience that I was promised was did not disappoint.
Over the course of the six months that I spent in England, I met hundreds of people who told fascinating and compelling stories about their lives in their home countries of Spain, Russia, Belgium, Saudi Arabia, Venezuela, Guatemala, Japan, Brazil, France, South Korea, Canada, India, South Africa, Italy, China, Mexico, Greece, the Czech Republic, Switzerland, Croatia, Tanzania, and Portugal, to name a few. I spent weekends exploring the city of London and was able to visit Austria during February break and Spain during a field trip and with my roommate to visit her hometown.
It’s hard to sum up a life-changing and eye-opening semester filled with incredible people and experiences into one sentence; however, if I had to, I would say that taking a semester away and taking the risk to board at TASIS England allowed me to truly step out of my comfort zone and experience life without the constant presence of my parents’ support and guidance.
Class of 2017 - High Mountain Institute, Rocky MountainsHigh Mountain Institute provided me with a brave space, a place where I could step outside of my comfort zone and figure myself out. By putting myself into uncomfortable situations, both physically and mentally, I learned that I can.
I can cook, I can run 10 miles, I can like history, I can live without my phone, and, in fact, I thrived without it. I can summit a mountain, and climb a cliff, and go into and out of a canyon. I can rock climb, I can bake brownies, and I can wrestle with someone three times my size. I’ll lose, but I can still do it. I can square dance, I can play guitar in front of actual people and not just my dog and the stuffed animals on my bed, I can cross a river, and I can push my way through a patch of willows that are much taller than I am. I can hike 10 miles in a day with a backpack that is almost half my body weight.
I learned to stop saying “I can’t do this” before even trying. I figured out how to be more open to different ideas and choices, and that I may even like them.
Class of 2017 - Arabic Year, King’s Academy, Jordan
However, after assurances from King's, parents of Arabic Year students, and contacts who live and/or travel to Jordan for business, we gave Reid the green light to attend. And, we are so glad we did. Reid's junior year was filled with the unique experiences of living, learning, and exploring Jordan and the region.
Our son returned to Pingry with life-long friends made from countries like Egypt, Afghanistan, Jordan, Malaysia, and Colombia. He learned Arabic and better understands the complex history, culture, politics, and people of the Middle East. He had to represent and defend the U.S. and its history in classrooms filled with students from more than 35 countries. Reid flourished personally and academically, becoming all the more independent so very far from home. Most important, he gained an invaluable perspective of the U.S and the world at large.
Class of 2017 - St. Stephen’s School, Rome
None of us had ever attended a MUN simulation before, and our knowledge of Japan’s situation was limited to our study in the weeks prior to the conference. Upon arrival, I entered a conference hall packed with teenagers dressed in business clothes, carrying clipboards and appearing extremely confident.
The room was abuzz with the languages of Europe. As French, Spanish, German, and Italian all blended together with English into a hum of excitement, I truly embraced the MUN experience. I realized that before me was a once-in-a-lifetime chance to see the world from an authentically European view, and I had the opportunity to debate issues from truly global perspectives.
Seeing the world through a different lens allowed me to shed all remnants of my small-town New Jersey self, and I was pushed into my new skin as a citizen of the world. It was there, sitting in the audience as a panel of European teenagers discussed the ongoing fight against terrorism, where I truly felt myself enter adulthood.