W+H Media Mashup
A true test of an individual or an organization really comes to light in a crisis. COVID-19 is certainly one of those times when individuals, groups, communities and our Wardlaw+Hartridge family are being tested.
Schools with international students are facing many challenges because of the COVID-19 crisis, and these challenges may continue into the recruitment and admission seasons for the next year or two. Last Friday, I was honored to represent Wardlaw+Hartridge and make a presentation during the National Association for Independent Schools (NAIS) webinar titled Recruiting International Students During and Post COVID-19.
Here at The Wardlaw+Hartridge School, the word inclusivity means that you are given the opportunities to simply be yourself.
When I was a senior in high school, I missed eight weeks of classes - two months - starting in late September. Actually my entire public school district and many others in the Wilmington, Delaware area did not have school because our teachers went on strike.
As Upper School Head, I have the privilege of witnessing acts of care, joy, selflessness, support, giving and love, to name a few, every day from students, parents and faculty. Let me share a few from the past several weeks that keep me encouraged and demonstrate the indomitable W+H spirit.
“I just want to say thank you. I had a good time. I would still rather be at school for Field Day, but I had fun dressing up my dad and playing the fun games. So, I just wanted to say thank you.”
Quotes and verses help us find words when we don’t have them ourselves. Rumor has it country singer Dolly Parton is quoted as saying, “Storms make trees take deeper roots.” Though, recently I found another reference that it was the poet George Herbert who deserves the original credit saying, “Storms make oaks take deeper root.”
Personal attention has long been one of the hallmarks of a Wardlaw+Hartridge education. It’s an important strength of small schools like ours. Students know their teachers and, perhaps more importantly, teachers know their students. These connections lead to relationships that help guide our students, not only during their W+H years but often long after they graduate, attend college and embark on successful careers. Many of our students genuinely appreciate these connections, not only while they are here on campus, but also later in life as alumni who come back to visit us.
Imam Khalid Latif, a W+H graduate from the Class of 2000, spent the day here on April 14 for the Upper School Symposium as a keynote speaker and panelist. Imam Latif is one of our most accomplished graduates and a recent recipient of the W+H Distinguished Alumnus Award. He is the Executive Director and Chaplain for the Islamic Center at New York University. In 2005, Latif was appointed the first Muslim chaplain at NYU. In 2006, he was appointed the first Muslim chaplain at Princeton University. His accomplishments and accolades are too vast to list in this blog post – Google him if you want to learn more.
Several times during his contributions on the morning panel and keynote address in the afternoon, Iman Latif mentioned how fortunate he felt to have been educated at Wardlaw+Hartridge and how it set him up for future success. He offered words of motivation to the students in the audience and challenged them to take advantage of their similar educational privilege and be active participants in the solution: “When you graduate from this place, you take your degree and you go and change that kind of foolishness. You can hear stories all day but if you treat them just as stories, you’re going to sit back and be a part of the problem.”
Iman Latif clearly believes in the Wardlaw+Hartridge education, but his warm feelings for our school go beyond the fact that he has become an enormous success in life. Walking through the halls with him during Symposium Day, I had the pleasure of watching him reunite with several former teachers. Latif met with Gerard Gonnella ’89, our current Director of Admission and Financial Aid, who taught him history in the late 1990s. He ran into Jim Howard, who has been teaching mathematics for more than 40 years at our school, and Tanda Tucker, a Middle School art teacher for more than two decades. Finally, Latif reconnected with Lower School veteran teacher Ellen Ritz as he was departing campus. Latif and his two older siblings were W+H lifers.
Clearly, the personal attention Latif received during his years as a student made an impact on him. He dropped dozens of names of teachers and classmates throughout the day as we walked past the science labs, art displays and athletic fields.
At the conclusion of his keynote, Iman Latif generously offered to help any W+H students who needed assistance and provided permission to contact him via email. This personal connection will be a valuable resource for students wishing to pursue it.
The word Community is often overused and has become somewhat trite and cliché, especially during these challenging times. Community is one of our school’s Core Values and certainly represents a strength of our institution. I have survey data to support that claim – many Wardlaw+Hartridge students, parents, faculty and alumni say that our community is one of the things they love most about the school.
The description of Community as one of our Core Values reads as follows:
When faculty members, students, parents, or graduates walk through the doors of Wardlaw+Hartridge, they have entered a home. Our community is distinguished by an ethos of care and mutual respect, and a strong partnership with families.
Our Community, along with the rest of the world, has been put to the test in the past 10 months. When COVID-19 changed the world last March, it forced us to live differently and sacrifice many things to remain safe.
The 2020-2021 school year has been much different from any other in the 138-year history of this fine institution, but it has not stopped us from living our mission and embracing the one Core Value that is most significant now more than ever. Our community has found safe ways to move forward, stay together and lead productive lives.
Our Parents’ Association has been faced with the impossible task of replacing live gatherings and fundraisers with virtual events. They have re-imagined and re-invented just about everything on the typical WHPA school calendar, including the most recent International Family Fun Night Dinners. Honestly, I think six nights of food is better than one and I could never eat that much on one evening in a jam-packed AP Room! Kudos to WHPA president Marci Bowman and her eager, spirited band of parent volunteers for doing yeoman’s work on these initiatives. Their partnership with Chef Anibal Rodriguez and the Sage Dining Services crew has been productive and spectacular.
The Admission Office has not been allowed to host prospective families and students on campus. Instead, they are running Virtual Admission Information Sessions almost monthly to boost enrollment. The assistance of our community, including parents, student ambassadors, faculty and administrators, has been critical to the execution of these events.
Our Lower School Virtual Paint Nights were a huge hit during January. Parents are not permitted to come to campus so they met on Zoom with art teacher Sara McDermott and learned how to paint. Some parents, and many faculty and staff members, attended multiple grade-level sessions. While much of the work created was amazing, these evenings were more about connecting our community.
We’ve all been forced to adjust on the fly during this pandemic and the W+H community has even found a way to make things work within the realm of service. Most recently, with about a week’s notice, W+H converted its annual Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of Service into a schoolwide food drive. Families donated more than 3,000 items to support two local food pantries during a time in which food insecurity numbers in New Jersey are hitting record highs. We could have canceled the event, but instead, our community found a way to make a difference.
That’s what strong communities do, and at W+H, it’s not overused. It’s who we are.
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!
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