W+H Media Mashup old version
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.
As we hit the end of January and the last of the holiday decorations are put away for another year, we look ahead to 2020 to make our promises to be better at this, to do more of that and to make more time focus on this. You get my drift, so fill in the blank as needed. The one thing you should consider is: What am I doing to provide my child the best educational experience possible?
Gerard Gonnella travels to China each year to visit with international families -- both current parents and prospective families. His blog followed his recent trip there in 2019.
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.
Over the last couple of decades or so, the words diversity and inclusion frequently appear together. Yet I am not sure many of us have taken the time to parse their meanings and understand the important distinction between the two.
Early last spring, when COVID was newly-arrived and we were all just beginning to figure out how we could teach and learn remotely, I shared with students a bit of wisdom from Mr. Rogers: "Look for the helpers.”
As the calendar is about to turn to October, I continue to marvel at the swift passage of time. It’s already been three weeks since our 139th Convocation Ceremony, which represents another example of the many positive logistical changes the school has made during the pandemic. Weather permitting, W+H should hold this event outdoors on the turf field every year. September features some of the best weather of the year and being outside in the fresh air beats cramming into the stuffy confines of Laidlaw Gym.
Three weeks into the school year, there have already been many highlights, beginning with the Convocation Ceremony. Coming together as a community on a beautiful September morning kicked off the academic year in style. The seniors in the Class of 2022 marched in led by their president, Shiv Tickoo ’22, who led the Pledge of Allegiance and later made a speech during which he encouraged his peers to support each other and find ways to enjoy every moment of the school year. He also urged the student body to “take advantage of every opportunity and don’t be afraid to try something new.”
In many ways, Shiv’s words represent what W+H has done to weather the storm of a pandemic that has now affected us all for 18 months. We have taken advantage of opportunities to try new things and connect in different ways, mostly out of necessity of course, but some of the changes also represent improvements.
The outdoor classroom has become a staple for many teachers, who have found innovative ways to run their classes in various spaces on our campus. The tents located around our 36-acre campus should be here to stay. Being able to hold a class or meeting, or enjoy a meal outdoors under a tent is a real plus. The Parents’ Association has taken advantage of the tent in the front courtyard to hold in-person meetings. The tents near the athletic fields and adjacent to the AP Room have also proven useful.
Students are embracing many opportunities they did not enjoy a year ago. Vocalists and musicians are able to sing and play their instruments. Middle School athletes are competing against other schools. The senior peer leaders were able to connect in person for their retreat. Almost every student is attending school in person.
Fall Fair and Homecoming Day is returning after a one-year hiatus on Saturday, October 9. This year’s event will be held outdoors, but there will be activities for everyone in our community to enjoy. Most of our Middle and Upper School athletic teams will be competing throughout the day. The Parents’ Association is working hard to provide entertaining options for all ages and the Booster Club is putting together a tasty menu for its outdoor grill. Let’s hope for fantastic weather!
Last Thursday, May 27, was one of those special, memorable days on the Wardlaw+Hartridge calendar. Although I spent an exhausting 15 hours on campus that day, it was my favorite school day of the 2020-2021 academic year. Two signature events highlighted the final day before a much-needed and well-deserved long Memorial Day holiday weekend – Lower School Field Day and the 12th annual Cookin' Cabaret. If you love games and live entertainment, May 27 was a great day to be a Ram.
Two of our finest teachers and departmental leaders deserve an enormous amount of credit for leading two events that rank among my annual favorites on the school calendar. Lee Nicholls, whom Head of School Andy Webster called the "benevolent deity of Field Day" in a social media comment, orchestrated another outstanding Field Day. Sharon Byrne, Performing Arts Department Chair, introduced our community to the Cookin' Cabaret 12 years ago when she arrived at W+H and it has become a popular staple ever since. She and the students took it to another level this year.
What some folks may forget is that Mr. Nicholls and Mrs. Byrne are full-time teachers who work with students most of the day. Planning and executing these events are additional duties that they consistently fulfill with style and substance.
Our Lower School students had a blast playing with their classmates and friends on the rear athletic fields. It was great to see the camaraderie and friendly competition in person, while remote students also participated in challenges from home. Mr. Nicholls absolutely thought of everything to make this an awesome day for the Lower School. He even found a way to get the faculty involved in the final event, an egg and spoon race, which was very competitive and a little controversial.
Field Day ended with the traditional large group photo, which provided a challenge for me this year. Instead of taking a few small steps up the sideline bleachers to snap a photo of the participants on the turf field, I had to climb to the top of the tower to capture a wider angle of a socially distanced group of students and teachers. Although I was a bit winded and overheated, I'm proud to say I made it up and back without any pulled muscles.
After working up a sweat during Field Day, I'm grateful that Mrs. Byrne provided me with a new Cookin' Cabaret T-shirt for the evening performance. It was wonderful to see parents join students live and in person at the Cookin' Cabaret, which was held outdoors for the first time since its inaugural performance in 2010. And what a show it was!
All the performers were impressive and it was great to see the seniors who have endured a difficult final year of high school enjoy one final chance to shine before a live audience. Ensemble performers Simone Erachshaw '21, Brian Machado '21, John Papetti III '21, Leila Hernandez-Webster '21 and Neil Shah '21 and smooth saxophone player Nicolas Hernandez-Webster '21 left the W+H stage in style under the stars on an absolutely perfect weather evening.
From the warm sun of the afternoon on the fields to the comfortable cooler conditions of the evening in the amphitheatre, the W+H campus was alive with excitement. Although people wore face coverings, it felt like the good old days to see our community come together again.
The end of any school year is filled with many events such as graduations, awards ceremonies and final presentations, yet some of my annual favorites at this time of year are not at all related to receiving a diploma, trophy or grade. This is the time when creativity takes center stage.
You’ll see creativity everywhere in the W+H classrooms, hallways, stage and athletic fields. Students, artists and athletes, along with their teachers, directors and coaches, are showcasing a virtue that’s among the most important within the field of education.
Creativity is defined as “the use of the imagination or original ideas, especially in the production of an artistic work.” Albert Einstein said, “Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world.” Many years later, Einstein has been proven correct. In a digital age during which knowledge is at everyone’s fingertips, the elements of creativity and imagination stand out as more important.
I’ve seen countless examples of creativity on display recently at W+H. Earlier this week, I watched a group of eager fifth graders build a coin drop for the school’s India COVID relief fundraiser. They worked together under the guidance of STEM teacher Erin Maciorowski but conducted their own collaborative problem solving skills to build the structure.
In the Middle School, creativity is infused in many activities and one of my traditional favorites in the sixth-grade cell project. Students are asked to prepare a model plant cell but to use items for the organelles that resemble the function of that cell part, rather than focus on its appearance. This year’s students continued that tradition with another round of stellar presentations in classes taught by Andrea Barnett.
One of this year’s most interesting Upper School projects was offered to AP Human Geography students in Jean Castellano’s classes. The students literally “cooked up history” in a three-week partnership with City Labs in which they explored culinary history, shared their family recipes and created their own cookbook. I can’t think of too many better examples of creativity than cooking.
I started my scroll of creativity examples with academic projects from all three divisions for a reason. Creativity is most typically associated with the fine and performing arts, as exhibited by the definition listed earlier. However, at W+H, creativity is not confined to artistic works.
Our singers, musicians and visual arts students have been working hard in a year that has been particularly challenging for performing artists and their teachers. Despite the many restrictions imposed by the pandemic, the shows have gone on for our choir and band ensembles. Last week’s combined Middle and Upper School Virtual Spring Concert was a real treat. The creativity of the sound and video professionals who edited more than 500 individual recordings to put together a one-hour concert was amazing. Kudos to choral director Sharon Byrne and band director Rick Fontaine for their work in delivering the next-best thing to a live show. Their creativity and vision yielded a wonderful final product.
The exclamation point and culmination on our recent splash of creativity will come next Thursday night, June 3, when W+H unveils its first-ever All-School Art Show. This virtual showcase of fine art will include work from all students in PreK-Grade 12. I’m really looking forward to what the students of our fine arts teachers, including Middle School veteran and Department Chair Tanda Tucker and newcomers Sara McDermott (Lower School) and Andrew Sullivan (Upper School), have in store for us.
Our students have even found a way to combine fine art and athletics in their creativity. Claire Lu ’24, one of the stars of our state championship girls’ golf team, won the American Society of Golf Course Architects (ASGCA) Great Junior Golf Design Challenge in April. Claire and her talented teammates have also shown lots of creativity on the course, leading to many impressive scores and championship trophies.
While trophies and accolades are wonderful to receive, creativity is a vital part of any successful process. Wardlaw+Hartridge students and teachers are displaying creativity every day.
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.
The Wardlaw+Hartridge Performing Arts Department celebrated its return to the stage with a fabulous fall play production of These Shining Lives. The show enjoyed an impressive two-day run with in-person performances on Nov. 12-13 in the Berry Performing Arts Center. The play is based on the true story of four women who worked for the Radium Dial Company, a watch factory based in Ottawa, Illinois. It dramatizes the danger women faced in this workplace and highlights the wider lack of concern companies had for protecting the health of their employees.
The four women were remarkably portrayed by Rose Kassam ‘22 as Catherine Donohue, Naischa Puri ‘23 as Charlotte Purcell, Krishna Patel ’22 as Frances O’Connell and Giselle Lee ’23 and Pearl Payne. The other cast members were Jack Silver ’23, Charlie Silver ’24, David Flatau-Jones ’23, Carter Huang ’22, Timothy Oligino ’24, Sasha Chernyak ’23, Aarya Patel ’25 and Kamila Franco ’25.
Students performed wearing masks before restricted audience sizes to maintain safety protocols, but the production was a successful and rewarding experience for the cast and crew.
“I honestly could not have asked for a better final play,” Rose Kassam said. “It was incredible being up on stage again after a hiatus due to Covid-19. Returning to the PAC with such a serious play as These Shining Lives felt risky, but ultimately paid off. It felt as if we had never left. As sad as I am that this was my last play as a part of the W+H Upper School Performing Arts Program, I am excited to see what the future holds for those still in the program. It's getting better and better each year, and I am excited to return as an audience member and a fan.”
Rose also expressed gratitude for the director-producer team of Becky Randazzo and Liz Howard, crediting them with creating such a successful performance and for giving her the opportunity to embody Catherine Wolfe Donohue.
“This play will forever hold a close place in my heart,” Rose said.
Grace Lu ’22 started playing golf at age 9 and joined the First Tee program in Plainfield at the encouragement of her father. She improved throughout her middle school years while growing up in Edison but wasn’t really in love with golf until she joined the Wardlaw+Hartridge team after enrolling at the school as a freshman.
She recalled that initial season as the beginning of a special bond with her fellow W+H teammates that has led to some amazing things, including a state team championship last spring. More importantly, being part of the team has continued to deepen her passion for the sport.
Grace practiced hard, played well and improved throughout her high school years and is prepared to continue her academic and athletic career at The College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia next year. Joined by her parents Ming Lee and Zhigang Lu, sister and teammate Claire ‘24, W+H administrators, coaches and friends, Grace signed a National Letter of Intent during a ceremony in the school’s Admission Conference Room on Nov. 12.
“I’m extremely excited,” Grace said. “I’ve always wanted to play college golf and D1 has definitely been one of my goals. To be able to play D1 golf is incredible.”
Grace loved the beautiful William and Mary campus during her visit and clicked with her future teammates. She said the atmosphere reminded her of W+H, a small and close-knit environment where people know each other.
A committed student in the classroom, she’s considering majors in Business or Education and is excited for the many opportunities William and Mary will offer.
Grace credited W+H veteran golf coach Jim Howard for helping build her confidence to excel. She recalled a time when Coach Howard watched her hit three balls out of bounds but “he still believed in me and gave me an opportunity.”
“When I came in freshman year, being able to play golf for the team and represent Wardlaw+Hartridge definitely helped grow my love for the sport,” she said. “Without that experience, I don’t think I would have loved it as much as I do now. Just being on a team is great. It’s been extremely meaningful.”
While she’s looking forward to playing college golf, Grace still has goals for the remainder of her senior year at W+H. She’s determined to avoid senioritis and finish with As in her classes. She wants to help the Rams repeat as state champs and also play better as an individual.
Grace humbly offered thanks to many people for guiding and supporting her on this exciting journey. She expressed gratitude to her parents for their unconditional love and support, and also thanked her golf coaches, W+H college counselor Sarah Honan and William and Mary coach Ed Tear.
Just how did a 55-pound Aldabra Tortoise from the island atoll in the Seychelles float and arrive on the shores of Dar es Salaam, Tanzania some 450 miles away? What makes ocean currents? Middle School STEM students started their two-day after school program last week with these focusing questions.
Under the guidance of Mrs. Andrea Barnett, Middle School science teacher and Science Department Co-Chair, students took to Google Earth to follow the tortoise's journey and then completed tasks at three different stations to see how currents are caused by differences in salinity, temperature and polar vs. tropical extremes in water. Students used the globes to locate places in the world where the oceans meet and show these phenomena. Finally, they were challenged to make miniature density columns in straws with colored water of a variety of densities and colors.
Students in the Global Scholars Program participated in an interactive learning session led by Amal Stefanos, an Eritrean researcher, writer and educator who approaches her work and teaching through the lens of global citizenship. She was born and raised in Nairobi, Kenya and her studies have specialized on the Horn and Eastern Africa.
Her session for students focused on the intersection of Food Insecurity and Water Scarcity on a global scale. After learning about the causes, effects and types of food insecurity and water scarcity, students worked collaboratively in groups as "non-profit organizations." Their task was to develop a marketing pitch to raise awareness and money for these causes from "donors." After each group developed their plan, they presented to the larger group.
“My fellow global scholars and I enjoyed the presentation on food insecurity and water scarcity. We defined what it meant to be food insecure, who these issues affect, and how we as students can make a change as global citizens,” Nicole Sandrik-Arzadi ’22 said. “My breakout group and I designed a program to combat these issues entitled “Health On-the-Go.” The program entailed a mobile health food service with traveled to areas facing food scarcity, also known as food deserts, powered with the support of investors and grocery corporations. I was shocked to hear how prevalent this issue was in my own communities and was inspired to learn and volunteer more.”
“I learned a lot from Ms. Stefanos,” Shiv Tickoo ’22 added. “We talked about different ways to combat food and water scarcity and how those issues affected people in many different communities across the globe. During our breakout activity, we split up into groups and discussed plans that could be implemented to reduce both food and water scarcity. Our group came up with the idea to make a center to grow organic and nutritious food in urban settings. This would provide large and major populated cities with healthy and organic food. An urban setting would allow us to transport the food long distances and allow us to have a larger outreach.”
Students in the Global Scholars Program study Global Citizenship in depth in their junior year focusing on issues, such as the ones presented by Ms. Stefanos in her presentation. To learn more about the Global Scholars program for students in grades 10-12, please contact Nicole Nolan, Director of Global Scholars and Community Outreach, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Emily Brogan ’22 entered The Wardlaw+Hartridge School as an athletic freshman who excelled in soccer and basketball but also played baseball and other sports growing up. She never dreamed that she would soon become an accomplished javelin thrower who someday would compete at the Division 1 college level.
The W+H senior made it official Wednesday by signing her National Letter of Intent during a ceremony in the school’s Admission Conference Room. Emily will continue her academic and athletic career at Bryant University, a Division 1 school located in Smithfield, Rhode Island which competes in the Northeast Conference. Emily was joined by her parents, Rich and Maureen, W+H coaches, school administrators and friends.
“I am beyond excited. I honestly never thought I’d be able to commit D1,” Emily said. “Just having the opportunity to do this in incredible. It’s a feeling you can’t describe.”
Emily first picked up a javelin in the spring of her freshman year and recalled the immediate thrill of hurling it into the air. As she continued to improve her form, longer distances made her more competitive. After losing her sophomore season to the pandemic, Emily continued honing her craft and enjoyed a breakout junior season during which she finished fourth in the State Non-Public B Championships to advance to the Meet of Champions. Her personal-record throw of 95 feet, 3 inches left her just over seven feet shy of the W+H school record, something she aspires to break in her senior season.
“I didn’t know I had the skills. I came in freshman year and just picked it and threw it and ended up throwing it pretty far,” she said. “It really is my outlet. It brings me so much joy. Throwing it is like getting all your anger out.”
Emily expressed gratitude to her parents, teachers and coaches for supporting her and providing the opportunities to excel in a variety of areas. She’s an extremely active member of the community far beyond the athletic fields, particularly within the realms of leadership and service. Emily is the school’s representative on the Greater Middlesex Conference Advisory Committee, which meets with athletic directors to share students’ views and work on student led initiatives, including the creation of an athletes’ code of conduct. She has accumulated 10 varsity letters in her scholastic athletic career.
“I’m really honored and I’m blessed to have the opportunities,” Emily said. “A lot of kids don’t have the same opportunities. Being here at Wardlaw+Hartridge is a blessing, so I’m really grateful, especially for my parents, for giving me all the opportunities and resources to be the person I am today.”