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Emma Huang

Class of 2021

From a young age, Emma Huang '21 was curious about technology and how things worked, but she was also interested in the humanities. She never considered herself a "techie," she recalls. The Middle School's annual Hour of Code piqued her interest, and then, thanks to an Introduction to Computer Science class her sophomore year, she was led down a path she never expected.  

As a freshman, she joined Pingry's GirlCode Club. Two years later, as one of its three leaders, she helped her team—one of just a handful of high school teams to attend the event—win an award at FemmeHacks, an annual collegiate hackathon hosted by Women in Computer Science, a student-run organization at the University of Pennsylvania. Their winning project? A sleek, user-friendly, interactive website and game promising to educate teens on the basics of finance and investing. 

"Hackathons test stamina and are equally entertaining as they are frustrating at times; we devoted our entire day to passionately working on our projects. In fact, we did not see any sunlight that Saturday—by the time we emerged from the Pennovation Center it was 11:00 p.m.," she recalls. "Regardless of our experience at hackathons and our technical backgrounds, each and every one of our Girl Coders worked tirelessly with unwavering optimism throughout the day. Each group [the club fielded three separate teams] designed and executed its project in unique ways on a combination of technical platforms. This is what computer science is: it allows individuals to twist their brain in creative ways, which is one of the reasons why I love it."

Emma credits Pingry's robust Upper School computer science curriculum—a multi-year program that offers 12 semesters of content, taught entirely by women, no less—with nurturing and empowering her interests. "Seeing women teach your classes, that changes the stereotype, and your perspective," she comments. In the spring of 2020, after being named a finalist in the Conrad Spirit of Innovation Challenge for her "VapeEscape" prototype, a vaping detection device that is paired with an app of her own design to combat the vaping epidemic, she learned that she had won. Being named Pingry's first ever Pete Conrad Scholar was just another consequence of her hard work, yes, but a lot of passion, too. 

"Pingry's classes have really changed the way I see things," she says. "I'm so grateful that I've had all these opportunities, and I'm very happy to have taken that first step in the intro class my sophomore year. All of these experiences have led me to where I am now, with so many great pursuits to consider."

Emma Huang '21 Pingry Scholar


Julia Dunbar

Form V/VI Dean of Student Life, History Teacher

On a cool summer morning, during the first Global Field Studies Program I led at Pingry, I walked through Treptower Park in Berlin with seven students and two co-leaders. We were on our way to the Soviet War Memorial, an enormous monument to Soviet soldiers who lost their lives during the Battle of Berlin in 1945. As we entered the memorial, our group spread out and each of us explored on our own. When we regrouped 20 minutes later, students shared their observations. Some noted the monument’s size—larger than any war memorial they had encountered in the U.S. Others noted the expense—it must have cost the Soviet government a lot to build, especially as it was rebuilding so much else in the aftermath of the Second World War. More than one noted that the whole space felt imposing, intimidating—as the Soviet government likely intended. 

This excursion was part of the July 2016 “Beyond the Wall: Monuments and Voices from Beyond the Iron Curtain” Global Field Studies course. On the program, our group traveled to Berlin, Prague, and Budapest to gain a better understanding of the question: “How does Europe remember and commemorate life under communist rule?” We saw and experienced how three cities reckoned with their country’s history as Soviet satellite states by observing public memorials and by speaking with residents and historians who had lived under those regimes. On the last day of the program, one student observed that although this was not her first time traveling internationally, it was the first time she had taken the time to learn what monuments commemorated and how and why—it was the first time she really understood how the history of a place affected the way it looked and felt in the present. 

Watching students light up with understanding as they observe something firsthand that they have previously only read about, getting to share my passion for history with students in places where that history actually occurred, witnessing the bonds and friendships that student form with each other over the course of a two-week travel course—these are the pleasures and privileges of leading Global Field Studies Programs. I want as many Pingry students as possible to experience the joy and excitement of place-based learning. 

Julia Dunbar Pingry Scholar


Sophie Schachter

Class of 2027

A few days into the start of Grade 4, when Sophie Schachter '27 first began at Pingry, she remembers diving into an animated dialogue about the merits of Because of Winn-Dixie, a story her class was reading. She didn't think much of the book, but she loved the conversation. That was the moment she knew she belonged, she recalls. "That was when it really started to feel like my school." 

Indeed, reading is a passion of Sophie's, and one she feels empowered to explore at the Lower School. "I love fantasy and mystery and novels and realistic fiction—really, any books, just not biographies," she explains, matter-of-factly. By extension, she also loves to write, and recalls a 24-page work of realistic fiction that she penned last year in Mrs. Sherman's writing class, of which she is particularly proud. "I just loved her class. I wrote this story about a girl, Natalie, who has a twin sister and moves to a new school. Her experience was awful, nothing like mine at Pingry. To build suspense, I had to break her leg, she got bullied, her sister was rude to her. But in the end, she survived," she says, smiling at the memory of the plot line she designed. 

Sophie also loves to act, and was thrilled to perform in the school's staging of Seussical, Jr. last spring, in which she played a Wickersham brother ("a monkey that makes trouble," she explains). This year, as a fifth grader—her last on the Short Hills Campus—she can't wait to perform in A Year with Frog and Toad. And she is excited to dig in to the reading and writing projects in Dr. Pearlman's Language Arts class. What does she enjoy most about being a Pingry student? "I really like the community, how everyone helps each other out, and all the challenges," she says. "I also really like the new gym—it has a rock wall and cargo net!" 

Sophie Schachter '27 sitting in Lower School library


Dr. Frances Mecartty

Upper School Spanish teacher

For Spanish teacher Frances Mecartty, teaching a language is not only about conjugating verbs or memorizing vocabulary. It is about people, culture, society, and global issues, she says. And it is why, in partnership with her colleagues in Pingry's World Languages Department, she insists on connecting the study of language to much larger, global themes. Last year, she used music and documentary films to engage her Honors Spanish class in a unit on human rights, migrant youth, and their immigration stories. The message she hopes to get across to her students: "I'm not only your Spanish teacher; I'm instilling in you a sense of social responsibility and an awareness of global issues. You're going to be the future leaders."

Dr. Mecartty, who spent her childhood in both Trinidad and Venezuela, came to the United States in 1984 to pursue a master's and doctorate degree. She has lived in the U.S., her adopted country, she says, for as long as she lived in her native country Venezuela. Prior to coming to Pingry, she was an Assistant Professor of Applied Linguistics and Spanish Teacher Education at The College of New Jersey for five years; college politics left her wanting. What's more, while she didn't mind the onus to publish, it wasn't her passion. "I love to teach, and I love to teach teachers how to impart knowledge to students," she says. Considering a transition to high school education, she came to Pingry to teach a demo class of Spanish 3. Impressed to find energized, attentive, and interactive students, she never looked back. 

"I have a lot of flexibility in course design, and I'm able to apply my training in second language acquisition to the courses I teach here. My colleagues and I are very much open to injecting new ideas into the curriculum," she says. "And Pingry has allowed me to do professional training workshops with other faculty on various aspects of teaching, learning, and diversity and inclusion. My ongoing goals are to be an impactful, engaging, teacher and a lifelong learner. Professional development at Pingry allows me to grow in these areas. It's a tremendous blessing."

Frances Mecartty Pingry scholar


Leo Xu

Class of 2023

Last spring, Leo Xu '23 became the first Pingry student ever to qualify for the U.S.A. Junior Math Olympiad, a prestigious, invitation-only exam that determines the country's top math students in Grades 10 and below. He also took the American Math Contest for middle school students—of the 100,000 students who took the test nationwide, he had one of 45 perfect scores.

A turning point in Leo's love of math came in the Lower School, when Math Specialist Verna Lange encouraged him to join the school's Math Team. "That's when I really saw more of math, more than just what's taught in classrooms," he recalls. "The problems really interested me. They were problems I never saw before, and it really showed me different ways of solving them."

A Pingry lifer, he helped co-found, with three friends, the Middle School Math Center, a place where he can tutor peers in the subject he's so passionate about. "I remember teaching a student how to expand x plus y squared. They were making the same mistake I used to make, so I told them to use the FOIL method—first, outer, inner, and last. I learned that trick in sixth-grade algebra. It felt good to be able to share it."

Leo plans to continue playing tennis and basketball for Big Blue when he transitions to the Upper School, and looks forward to competing in the Upper School Math League (he has competed with them three times already, as an eighth-grade student). "I think Pingry offers a lot of opportunity to do different things," he says. "I doubt that a lot of other lower and middle schools would have a Math Team. If I didn't join that team, I don't know where I would be."

Leo Xu '23 Pingry scholar


Aaron Kellner

Grade 4 teacher

Grade 4 teacher Aaron Kellner has taught at schools in New York City, Virginia, and Massachusetts, but what struck him most when he arrived at Pingry was the freedom and respect given to its faculty. "We have a framework of curriculum, but we're given the freedom and trust to approach the material the way we feel is best. It's what makes this school exceptional rather than just a great private school." 

Which is why, when he was hoping to redevelop the fourth-grade language arts curriculum to explore a more diverse canon, he was met with complete support by Lower School faculty and administrators alike. Among the many books students delve into now, two works of long-form poetry about a Sudanese girl who is struggling to gain literacy; and another, complementing it, about a young boy—an immigrant from Darfur—and his acclimation to life in Minnesota.  

"Curriculum should be a living organism, it shouldn't be set," he says. "It needs to live and change as the time changes, and as kids need exposure to different things. It's great that we're having these conversations at Pingry and that we're given the flexibility to make these changes." 

Make no mistake, with a background in theater—outside of school, he still works in community theater—Mr. Kellner is not all serious. He enjoys "doing the voices" when he reads to his classes, assuming the characters and bringing them to life. In particular, his students were hysterical over his rendition of The Secrets of Ms. Snickle's Class, in which her classroom transforms into her home, and her desk into a cat. "I think of every day as a performance," he says. "My students are my captive audience."

Aaron Kellner Grade 4 teacher


Kaley Taylor

class of 2021

Kaley Taylor’s “go-to teacher” in Middle School—the teacher whose classroom was always open and “joyful,” who she could talk to about anything—also happened to be her advisor and wrestling coach. Yes, wrestling.

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 didn't bother her a bit. “I kind of liked that I was different from everyone else,” she says. “In the end, I was part of a team, so, boy or girl, it didn't really matter; we were all in it 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, rising Upper Schooler, it’s hard to pinpoint what she loves most about Pingry.

“There are so many things,” she says. “It's diversity, the teachers, all the activities. I just love it here."

Morgan D'Ausilio

Upper School science teacher
How does a biochemistry PhD student—one who was just wrapping up her tongue-twisting dissertation, FMNL3 FH2-actin structure gives insight into formin-mediated actin nucleation and elongation—end up in a high school science classroom? For Morgan D’Ausilio, the reasons were many.

First, there was the influence of her mother, a lifelong elementary school educator. Then, there was her natural love for teaching. Dr. D’Ausilio had always enjoyed the instructional requirements of her graduate and postdoctoral work, but knew she didn’t want to run a lab, so university teaching out. Finally, at a hiring conference in Boston in 2012, Pingry presented her with a singular opportunity: design a class, however you wish, that introduces students to the process of scientific research.

“I didn’t even realize such a class was possible in a high school. I interviewed at other schools and they didn’t have anything like this, or the resources to support it,” she says. “With Introduction to Scientific Research, I have the freedom to teach whatever and however I want. I feel like I get to teach kids everything I wish I had learned before grad school.”

And so she does. Far from a traditional exam-based course, the class is open-ended, by her design, so students are forced to figure out a lot on their own. At the start of the semester, she assigns them a pool of proteins, whose functions are all unknown, and asks them to work together to identify what they do. “This is novel research,” she explains. “My students really learn that science is a process and you fail a lot. The ability to be a good scientist is the ability to bounce back from your failures. That’s something many of my kids are exposed to for the first time in this class. They have to trouble shoot and repeat the experiment, that’s not typically something you see in a high school.”

By all appearances, her students are equally enthusiastic about their own freedom to investigate. Her first year at Pingry, when she had to defend her dissertation, one of her students drove all the way up to Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire to watch. “Their genuine excitement for learning is so impressive and motivating,” she says. “From the beginning, I knew if I taught them cool and interesting things, they would be just as excited as about them as me.”

The Puzzlemasters

with Kindergarten teacher Judy Previti

It all started in January, with a 200-piece puzzle featuring American presidents. When the five industrious Kindergartners blew through it—and nearly 20 just like it—in a matter of four short months, their teacher, Judy Previti, knew it was time to up the ante. The five “puzzlemasters,” as they like to call themselves, asked for—and Mrs. Previti supplied—a 500-piece puzzle. Nicki, Colton, Rishi, Max, and Lucas finished it within a week. Next up: 1,000 pieces. Done in two weeks. The 1,500-piece Mickey Mouse puzzle they polished off just before the end of the school year, in about three weeks.

“I’ve been teaching for over 40 years and I’ve never seen a Kindergartner tackle a 1,500-piece puzzle,” said Mrs. Previti. “They begged us to let them do puzzles instead of go out for recess. They were like ants!” (As a point of comparison, she adds, 100- to 200-piece puzzles are more the norm for this age.) Every day after lunch, during activity time, the boys worked, calmly, cooperatively. First they sorted the pieces into containers by color, each student took a color, and they got to work assembling the borders. The brain-bending interior soon followed. At one point, without uttering a word, Colton and Max switched places so they could better access their parts of the puzzle. Pieces were readily exchanged, as needed. Arguments never broke out. When a comrade expressed interest in joining the group, he was quickly absorbed, and made a “puzzlemaster-in-training.”

A longtime puzzler herself, Mrs. Previti related easily to her students’ passion. When her grandson received a holographic puzzle as a gift and found it too challenging, she spent days staying up past midnight to finish it, and surprise him.

Each year brings a new crop of Kindergartners with new interests and infatuations. Mrs. Previti won’t soon forget her Puzzlemasters. “It all started with a single puzzle, but it evolved into an enrichment class,” she mused. “It was just an activity, and then it became so much more.”

Meet More Pingry Scholars

Brad Poprik

Upper School math teacher

Making math relatable is a strategy that Brad Poprik has employed since he began working at Pingry, when he taught Intermediate Algebra. A back-to-students, blackboard lecture wasn’t going to help them to learn the material, he knew. He had to speak their language. “A couple of kids in the class ran track and I used rate of change and slope to explain how fast they were running. A few other students were in drama, and I remember introducing the topic of conditional probability by discussing the likelihood of them getting selected for a specific role both before and after a callback,” he recalls. “If I make it a concept that that they experience in their daily life, suddenly their eyes sparkle, and you know they understand.”

It’s a strategy he spent several years perfecting, even before he arrived at Pingry. Mr. Poprik’s first career was on Wall Street, as an early trader of credit derivatives. Their arrival on the financial markets scene coincided with Mr. Poprik’s. As a recent business school graduate, he was called upon to explain them—to graduate students at NYU, Columbia, and Wharton (his own alma mater) as well as to new hires in the firm he worked at. “I liked being able to break down a complex subject to the level of the people I was speaking to, so that they wanted to learn about it and could understand and relate to it. That’s what you do when you’re a teacher.”

Naturally, it wasn’t long before Mr. Poprik found his way into the classroom. By emphasizing applicability and logic over straight mathematical theory, he prefers to start with the problem, only then layering in the math and leading his students to the answer. So, it’s not surprising that many of them find connections to math in their other courses. Take, for example, the boy who passionately explained to Mr. Poprik a conceptual framework he designed to apply calculus to history, and analyze troop movement during wartime.

“I feel unbelievably fortunate for the kids we teach at Pingry. They have such an innate intellectual curiosity that is so refreshing to be able to engage with on a daily basis. You never know what kinds of questions they will ask or observations they will make,” he remarks. “It can make your day because the next thing you know, you want to know the answer!”

Brad Poprik Pingry scholar


Thomas Yanez

Class of 2024

Thomas Yanez ’24 was eager for the school day to end, but not for the reasons an average student would have. He had 20 more pages of Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH to read and notate for his language arts class with Dr. Joan Pearlman P ’89, ’92, ’96, and he was impatient to dig back in.

He wanted to wrap up a project on conflict dialogue that he was working on for Dana Sherman’s writing class (banter with his older brother Daniel ’22 provided ideal fodder). Then there was an expository essay on character traits that he was ready to dive into, also for Mrs. Sherman’s class. When those assignments were complete, he could settle in to Jon Krakauer’s 1997 bestseller Into Thin Air, the gripping account of the 1996 Mt. Everest disaster. He had begun the 400-page book three days earlier, and only 150 pages remained.

Thomas, who began Pingry as a fourth-grade student, has always enjoyed reading and writing. But, he admits, if it weren’t for Mrs. Sherman’s writing class—a new offering in the Lower School, and part of the students’ comprehensive language arts curriculum—he probably wouldn’t write on his own.

It also helps that Pingry teachers collaborate, with intention. So, when Dr. Pearlman began reading Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH with Thomas’s class and discussing the concept of character traits, Mrs. Sherman segued into a related creative writing assignment, asking Thomas and his classmates to describe, in detail, a character of their own imagining.

“Every year, with every teacher, my writing improves,” he remarks. “Every teacher is different, and I learn so much.”

Meet More Pingry Scholars

Jason Murdock

Middle School history teacher, Admission Counselor, Head Coach of Boys' Varsity Basketball

As a high school student, Mr. Jason Murdock remembers visiting local elementary schools, speaking with students about the importance of leadership and lessons learned through hard work and dedication. “I knew then, as a high school basketball player, that the combination of sports and education was a field I wanted to pursue,” he recalls.

A two-time all-state selection and Central Jersey Player of the Year in high school, Mr. Murdock would go on to a successful collegiate career at Providence College, including an appearance in the Elite Eight in the NCAA Tournament, followed by six years of professional play overseas. When he broke his foot on Yao Ming’s size 22 shoe during a game in China, which required three surgeries over the course of a year to correct, he was forced to rethink his future.

“It was the end of my professional career, but it was an opportunity to pursue a different career in education,” he remembers.

Now a Middle School history teacher, Admission Counselor, and Head Coach of the Boys’ Varsity Basketball Team, Mr. Murdock has been making an impact on Pingry students, in various capacities, for a decade.

“I’ve always viewed education and coaching in terms of developing young students or athletes, providing them with a set of life skills that will take them beyond the walls of Pingry—how to be part of a team, how to work hard through adversity and demonstrate resilience, how to be proud of accomplishments and appreciate those moments. It’s gratifying to see young people develop into their full potential,” he says.

Indeed, he shares the story of a prospective Middle School student he met with in the Admission Office many years ago, who, along with his family, voiced concern that Pingry would be too difficult for him. Sitting with the student, allowing him to share his strengths and weaknesses and discover that he had more to give than he thought, is what Mr. Murdock cherishes most in his work.

“Six years later, seeing that same student walk across the stage at graduation, knowing that he had challenged himself and grown every day, that was special.”

Mike Coakley

Middle School Dean of Students

Despite early interest in pursuing teaching, when Mr. Coakley was a senior in high school, an English teacher and mentor dissuaded him from formally pursuing education, advising instead that he choose a course of study that fed him artistically. By this teacher's reasoning, if Mr. Coakley later landed in education, his experiences would make his teaching that much richer.

So, after college, he headed West, where he earned a master’s in Creative Writing from the University of Arizona while serving as editor-in-chief of their literary review. He then worked for a year at Johnson & Johnson, where he served as Quality & Compliance Communications Specialist. In 2015, Pingry’s Office of Institutional Advancement was looking for a writer to help wordsmith its many communications, from donor impact stories to Campaign appeals. He landed the job, and delighted in working in an educational environment. Not a year later, when the Middle School was looking to fill a vacancy, the “front lines,” as then-Headmaster Nat Conard has called it, beckoned. In the fall of 2016, he had his own classroom, as a Grade 6 and Form I English teacher.

“When I transitioned from Advancement to teaching, it was an opportunity to go from writing about Pingry's best qualities—its emphasis on community, inquiry, and collaboration—to actually rolling up my sleeves and doing the work of engaging students,” he says. He was on the front lines indeed, and he was loving it.

What does he enjoy most about being a Pingry teacher and dean?

“Pingry provides not only an education—any school can do that—but also a space for teaching students how to be stewards of that education,” he replies. “It’s not just, ‘Here are the tools to succeed in the world,’ but also, 'How are you going to brandish those tools to better your community?' As an English teacher, you get to push students to step outside themselves and imagine the lived experience of others. You get to remind them, and yourself, that before we are students and teachers, we are world citizens and human beings.”

Meet More Pingry Scholars

Rebecca Sullivan

visual arts teacher, middle and upper school

In 2012, when Ms. Sullivan arrived on Pingry’s campus, what struck her most wasn’t what was inside the building, but what existed outside. “I was so excited by its physical place, the land, the forest, the overall surroundings. For a visual arts teacher, Pingry inhabits this incredibly rich space.”

Fittingly, Ms. Sullivan is co-director of the Green Group and Outing Club, and she teaches Pingry’s Environmental Art class, one of the only K-12 schools in the country to offer such a course. Her task? Attuning students to the wonders of nature, and the ways in which their nearly 200-acre campus can serve as their palette. A few years ago, Pingry supported her participation in a summer residency in Italy on “best practices” for environmental artists. Not long after, she spearheaded the construction of Pingry’s first outdoor classroom, and worked with other members of the faculty and students to create a multi-purpose campsite in the woods, complete with five tent platforms, which can sleep up to 20 people, and a hiking trail, four-tenths of a mile long.

More recently, she traveled with a group of Pingry faculty to Santa Fe for the Independent Schools Experiential Education Network (ISEEN) conference, exploring additional techniques for applying experiential teaching and learning to the classroom. The conference advanced her ability to incorporate STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, and math) initiatives into the classroom. (She already teaches technology—digital filmmaking, Adobe Design programs, and 3D printing—in many of her arts classes.) This support of professional growth, and the school’s flexibility in allowing for cross-disciplinary collaboration and experimentation with curriculum, fuels her passion as a teacher, and as an artist.

“Pingry is a ‘yes’ school,” she notes. “If you have a good idea that you’re passionate about, you are given the tools you need to realize it.”

Meet More Pingry Scholars