In his first address to students, Head of School Matt Levinson P '21 shares his perspective on what it means to "hit the brakes."
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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."
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.
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.
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.
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.