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An Unprecedented Year in Review

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An Unprecedented Year in Review
Rudy Brandl

Many people will look back on 2020 and remember it as the most problematic, uncertain and uncomfortable year of their lives. While COVID-19 dominated the local, state, national and global headlines, it wasn’t the only story at The Wardlaw+Hartridge School in 2020. The pandemic certainly affected most of the school’s operations and programs, but our community rose to the challenge, stuck together and showed amazing resilience during some very difficult times.

Let’s take a monthly journey through 2020 and put this year in the books. I’m confident that if you keep reading, you’ll agree it was a great year to be a Ram.

January– No post-holiday blues around here as recent graduates appeared for the Young Alumni College Panel and Pizza Party on our second day back from the winter break. The young alumni panelists impress me every year with their confidence and poise as they speak with current students and parents about their experiences. The annual Alumni Basketball Game was followed by a well-attended reception in the Oakwood Room after the Winter Games, which were highlighted by our boys’ basketball team’s exciting victory. At the end of the month, the Parents’ Association hosted International Family Fun Night, one of our best community events of the year. As always, the food and cultural performances were outstanding!

February– Logan D’Amore ’20 capped his record-setting swim career by capturing two more State Prep gold medals. Middle School swimmers collected 17 medals in a dominant performance at the Ranney Invitational. The school celebrated Black History Month with a series of events and presentations and recognized Lunar New Year with an assembly in the Berry Performing Arts Center. Longtime math teacher and golf coach Jim Howard was honored at the USGA for 40 years of excellence coaching golf.

March– Things began to change as we approached Spring Break, but not before the Upper School thespians staged a wonderful performance of Mamma Mia!Our Middle School quiz bowl team won the Middlesex County title. Our eighth graders enjoyed an abbreviated trip to Washington, D.C. and members of the 10thand 11thgrade Global Scholars Program visited the United Nations just before the pandemic shutdown. It soon became apparent that we were not returning to in-person instruction, so the faculty, staff and administration worked hard during Spring Break to facilitate a smooth transition to distance learning.

April– Everyone in the W+H community made adjustments during this month as teachers, students and parents transitioned to the demands of distance learning. Zoom sessions became the norm as faculty and students became accustomed to new ways of teaching, learning and connecting. There were many challenges to navigate, but W+H found a way to maintain its programs in the arts and athletics. The school held a wonderful virtual Spring Music Recital and an excellent virtual Earth Day. Students also found creative ways to get involved in service during the pandemic.

May– The community continued to remain connected as the shutdown was extended a few more times before it was finally determined that we would not be returning to in-person instruction during the 2019-2020 school year. While that news was disappointing, it did not stop W+H from holding virtual concerts and art shows in all three divisions. Sahil Mulji ’20 and Mayah Nissim ’20 also won the equivalent of an Oscar with Montclair State Theatre Awards for their roles in the fall play. Students also interacted with celebrities such as Dikembe Mutombo and Rob Resnick on Zoom. At the end of the month, the Lower School ran an amazing virtual Field Day that was one of the highlights of the school year.

June– Virtual events truly took center stage during what is typically the busiest two-week stretch of the school year. All graduation ceremonies were held virtually, including a modified version of the Upper School Commencement that was renamed the Senior Ovation. That event ran on June 12, the scheduled date for Commencement, four days after a wonderful virtual version of the Senior Dinner. Other June highlights included a virtual Cum Laude ceremony and an enlightening webinar on racial inequality with Alvin Gilmore, Jr.

July– One event dominated this month and it took place Friday, July 17. The Class of 2020, which had missed so much during the final three months of their senior year, returned to campus for an in-person graduation ceremony. The 138thCommencement Ceremony was held outdoors on the front field with social distancing, face coverings and other safety protocols in place. Congratulations again to our most recent W+H graduates!

August– Typically one of the quietest months when many in our community enjoy vacation time, this August proved to be like no other. Preparations for a return to in-person learning consumed the lives of administrators, faculty and staff members. Ryan Oliveira was appointed Pandemic Response Coordinator, the Reopening Task Force continued its hard work and the school presented a Reopening Plan that inspired confidence in a safe return to campus. 

September– Preparations continued for the start of the 2020-2021 school year and its many challenges. The W+H faculty and staff attended virtual safety training sessions and opening days were pushed back and staggered to ensure a smooth transition to the new normal. As students began to arrive September 10, it was heart-warming to see the excitement and anticipation of the new school year. By September 17, all students who elected in-person learning were back on campus and we held a virtual Convocation Ceremony and the school year was underway!

October – Lots of good news this month began with the announcement of five seniors being named Commended Students by the National Merit Scholar Corporation. A week later, W+H received the No. 1 ranking among all Middlesex County high schools in the annual listing published by Niche. The installation of Owl camera systems in most W+H classrooms further enhanced the school’s high academic marks. Teachers took advantage of beautiful autumn weather by conducting classroom activities outdoors. Among the most notable of these was the sixth-grade Autumn Exploration Day on campus that replaced the annual class trip to Frost Valley. 

November– Bella Wysocki ’21 signed a Division 1 National Letter of Intent to continue her soccer career at Wagner College a few days before her final high school game, a tough loss to Oak Knoll in the state tournament. The W+H girls had finished the regular season undefeated. The Middle School ran an after school STEM workshop that focused on aerodynamics and allowed students to fly parachutes off the old football tower. The virtual fall play, One Stoplight Town, entertained an online audience of more than 300 viewers and represented yet another example of how the school has continued its fine traditions despite many obstacles this year.

December– The three-week sprint between Thanksgiving and the Winter Break included some highlights despite the bad news that the winter athletic seasons had been put on hold until the middle of January. A handful of seniors received good news with Early Decision college acceptances. Upper School students participated in a Diversity Leadership Conference and Teen Hunger Summit. The Parents’ Association hosted a series of interactive events and fundraisers to bond the community. Students found ways to help those in need around the holidays and student ambassadors helped promote the holiday spirit throughout the school.

While so much changed in 2020, many things at W+H remained the same. The stories may contain different details, but the positive news has continued despite much uncertainty. Our community remains safe, connected and strong.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this trip down memory lane. Read it once in a while to remind yourselves that 2020 wasn’t such a bad year after all. Happy Holidays and here’s to a healthy and prosperous 2021 filled with more good news!