Admission Foreword

Welcome to Admission Foreword - a blog about trends in education by Gerard Gonnella '89, Director of Admission and Financial Aid.

Wardlaw+Hartridge: Now More Than Ever

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.

Some educators frown on the term ‘family’ to describe a school setting, but I disagree. We spend an exorbitant amount of time with our students and with our colleagues, more so than in many other industries. In an independent school like W+H, you chose to belong to the community. You investigate the school, do your own deep dive of the website, read over dry curriculum guides, see fancy admission collateral pieces, read the school’s mission statement, have a day visit and an interview with an admission officer.  All of this is done in hopes of what? Finding a home for your child and quite frankly for your family. At W+H you will find a place of common and shared values and one of mutual respect of individuals, character and beliefs. It’s a wonderful environment in which to shape your child. 

This current crisis continues to demonstrate the high quality of education, innovation, community, character, personalized attention and commitment our school provides. As an alumnus, as an educator, as a former coach, as the admission director and more importantly as a father of two W+H students, I say with absolute certainty that we provide all of those things and more! Now more than ever I am so happy to have W+H in my life and more importantly in the lives of my children. 

The personal experience offered in a W+H education is tried and true and also expected, but to find that in our distance learning program is quite amazing. To see our small classes at work, the extra attention given to each student by the teachers, which includes the specials in subjects like art, music and physical education, is extraordinary and highly appreciated as a working parent. The sharing of screen shots and a quick message of “I wanted to share with you…” just goes a long way and reaffirms my wife and my decision to send our children to this school. 

There is a family feeling here. Parents have been reaching out to one another to check on them and their kids. Board of Trustees members have been reaching out to say, “Are you OK and how can we help you?” That personal outreach goes beyond what a community is; it more resembles what a family does to make sure everyone is being cared for academically, socially and mentally. I challenge anyone to say they feel they haven’t been connected with or not checked in on. To me this goes beyond the tuition dollars and cuts through the growing negativity in our society. Where you send your kids to learn and experience, will shape them for the rest of their lives. That’s why it is so important to vet and scrutinize the schools before enrolling your child in them. Look for the hand extension, how faculty truly work with your child and you, not just the college placement list when evaluating a school. How is that school going to extend itself to your child, to you, to your overall family experience?

I personally invite you to look over our website and see what an amazing community, school, family, Wardlaw+Hartridge is. Don’t just take my word for it. Hear from parents in our community. 

Check out

When you are ready, please give us a call so we can engage with you about our admission process and just how affordable this extraordinary education can be. Let’s make this a reality for your family this fall. Especially now with public schools furloughing teachers and the average class sizes swelling beyond an acceptable number. Our average class size of 14 lends itself to social distancing easily. 

Stay healthy, stay strong!

My very best to you,
Gerard Gonnella
Director of Admission


Posted by ggonnella on Tuesday June 16 at 12:03PM
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COVID-19 Creates International Admission Challenges

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: Reflections from Admission Directors.

Admission directors from all over the country shared insights and answered questions on how to change international student recruitment and admission policies and marketing strategies, how to work with school leadership, and how schools should plan for the future during this unprecedented time. We discussed what schools are planning to do to recruit new international students and retain current students.

My presentation focused on five main topics, which were broken down into some enlightening sub-discussions: 

1. How will international student recruitment change post COVID-19? – Will we travel and if so, where and when? What kind of school events and visits do we envision? How does this pandemic affect recruiting homestay families, financial aid and working with agents?

2. Adjusting Admissions Policies post COVID-19 – pertaining to visa delays and denials, addendums to enrollment contracts, credits and refunds, and language testing and other application waivers.

3. Marketing to International Families post COVID-19 – includes -key messaging and working with small teams and budgets, and leveraging talented faculty and online teaching methods.

4. Projecting the Future with your Leadership Team – How many opening scenarios should we have? What do they look like? What are enrollment scenarios and financial implications?

5. Looking Ahead – Opportunities & Challenges – What have been the silver linings? What can we learn? What should we keep doing?

The NAIS recognizes that as we all work to manage the COVID-19 crisis at our schools, we are seeing more than ever the power of shared knowledge and support in our independent school community. Wardlaw+Hartridge is proud to be an active member of the NAIS network and I’m happy to share my experience with colleagues who are working hard to navigate these uncharted waters.

Posted by ggonnella on Wednesday May 6 at 02:20PM
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Fostering Inclusivity at Wardlaw+Hartridge

This month I have invited Angela Pellegrino, ELL instructor and international student mentor, to share first-hand about inclusivity in our classrooms. She has a unique perspective on witnessing cultural competency unfold before her very eyes. Domestic and international students are working together as one student body. 

Best regards,
Gerard R. Gonnella
Director of Admission and Financial Aid
Director of the International Student Program

Here at The Wardlaw+Hartridge School, the word inclusivity means that you are given the opportunities to simply be yourself. It means that despite you not always conforming to society’s standards, you are unapologetically you. Inclusivity means feeling safe, being supported, and celebrating the treasure that you are. 

While there are many variations of this word and a plethora of individual definitions, I find that oftentimes a single commonality focuses on differences. Inclusion means accepting others’ differences and simply being “okay” that they don’t match yours. People are often intimidated by this as differences are, well, different. But rather than focus on the “scare factor” of differences, why not shift our mindset to the idea of celebrating them? To do this, however, we must take a look inside ourselves, have a difficult but honest conversation, and determine our own biases or hesitations. Only then can we see others’ differences as a gift to be celebrated. 

At Wardlaw+Hartridge, inclusivity is ever-present and is something we, as a school, encourage. In working and interacting with our international students daily, I am not only able to hear about inclusion but can witness it first-hand. When our students, both international and domestic, come together on class assignments, during lunchtime discussions, or special days of celebration, I can witness inclusivity at its finest. Just a few short weeks ago, while celebrating Lunar New Year, we had students from many backgrounds come together, put aside their differences, and focus on learning from one another. Observing in classes, I am also able to experience the wonders of students, who come from many different walks of life, work together to reach a common goal. 

There are many ways in which we can foster inclusivity and break down the walls of intimidation and here at W+H, we strive to teach them through example. For one, creating a safe and supportive environment helps everyone feel they are welcome. By simply providing a space where someone feels comfortable has the potential to change the dynamic of an entire day. Secondly, focusing on questions such as “What can I teach others about myself, my culture, my way of life?” or “How can I contribute to the idea of including others?” goes a long way in attending to the need of being inclusive and breaking down any barriers that we have created. Finally, communicating with others and taking the time to get to know their true selves helps to foster inclusion. The more you take the time to get to know others, the more in-tune you become to what they need in terms of support. Scary, yes but worth it? Absolutely. 

As I ponder my thoughts on inclusion, I reach out to you with some final questions for reflection. What are you doing to allow others to see you? How are you able to overcome the differences among people in your own life? Furthermore, how will you continue to foster inclusivity and be an example for generations to come? By talking, people learn; by teaching, people understand; by modeling, people do. If your goals include future generations putting words into action, our school might just be the perfect place to practice and witness inclusivity.

Posted by ggonnella on Tuesday March 10 at 09:43AM
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The Gift of Education, Wrapped in Rigorous Inquiry

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?

Gifts wrapped in fancy paper come and go but the gift of a personalized educational experience will last a lifetime with everlasting ROI. Whether it is The Wardlaw+Hartridge School or another one of our fine sister independent schools, do your due diligence and find the school that is right for your child. The quality of the teachers, the sophisticated academic program, the global experience and travel opportunities are more significant and life-changing than the trendy toy of the season or the big family trip. Having young people experience active learning is the path forward. Honing writing skills and identifying top-notch study skills and time management practices will serve a child far better than material possessions. 

Finding the best educational option for your child requires rigorous inquiry, one of the most important values we instill in our own students. A vital part of this process is to do in-depth research to discover what each school can provide your child. Yes, there are good public schools in our area or parochial alternatives who will wow you with how much scholarship money their students receive. But it boils down to the quality of the program and the expertise of the faculty coupled with the collaboration of the students in an atmosphere of positive reinforcement. Having a top-notch college counseling team at the ready (yes, even for those families that are inquiring about Kindergarten, they are here to answer your questions, too) to answer questions and to partner with you to lay out a plan of action that is thoughtful and truly reflective of the child. 

I often hear from parents say they have time to send their children to a private school when they get older. I politely disagree. The time is now! The building of a strong educational foundation should begin as soon as possible. Here at Wardlaw+Hartidge, we are building a community based on shared values and beliefs, with common goals to lead and succeed, not only now but to be the leaders of tomorrow; to be the leaders of occupations that have yet to be discovered, created or needed. The preparation needs to start immediately. 

I encourage you to do your own investigation into our W+H family by exploring our website, reading about our approach, learning about our dynamic faculty and getting to know our diverse and talented student body. I am confident you will conclude from your investigation that W+H is providing a world class experience in our classrooms, on our playing fields and in our greater community. 

A wonderful recent example of our students diving deeply into world cultures took place during the Lunar New Year celebration, as our entire student body participated in group songs, dances and presentations. Activities and opportunities like these truly distinguish a Wardlaw+Hartridge education from the rest.

Some may see the tuition as untenable, but please be aware that need-based financial aid is available from Kindergarten through Grade 12. We also offer scholarship opportunities for students entering grades six and nine. To learn more about financial aid and our scholarship opportunities please visit or call the Admission Office for a personal explanation. 

I hope I have the pleasure to welcome you to campus in the next few weeks for your personal tour. As a reminder, the priority application deadline is February 1 for a March notification; thereafter, we will move to rolling admission. 

I hope you take the time necessary to see if your child can be the face in the lower right corner of our banner pictured at the start of this blog. 

Best regards and have a great year,


Posted by ggonnella on Wednesday January 29 at 09:26AM
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Greetings from China

Hello from the flight deck…

Yes, it is that time of year when I travel to China to visit with our current parents and have the opportunity to meet prospective families. I look forward to sharing in person the school news that has transpired since my last visit a year ago. Our young pioneering thinkers have been busy growing their minds, experiences and relationships in our community. The maturity and understanding of this generation makes me hopeful for the future. Put aside all the political wrangling and media commentary and what it boils down to is people caring and working collaboratively with one another. 

At Wardlaw+Hartridge, students and teachers work together, side by side, to dissect issues and learning to gain a better and deeper understanding of issues and community. It is that quintessential experience to allows everyone to rise above the fray. I see every day in our classrooms, in the hallways, on our stage and on the athletics fields – STUDENTS – not international, not domestic, but students. Their ability to learn from one another and to share their cultures so effortlessly is truly transformative. I guess this is one of the reasons I enjoy making this annual trip. The opportunity to meet new families and to share the hope and what a W+H education means and how it will uplift their child to unimaginable heights is a high in itself. Did I mention how much I enjoy the food? I digress.


Convening the Beijing and Shanghai WHISPAs (Wardlaw+Hartridge International Student Parent Association) is always a wonderful experience. Taking the time to listen besides sharing news from the school is so important. I sit in awe of their confidence in their children, our school and our country to take in their most precious possessions. I am humbled by them and take this responsibility seriously. Parents, whether domestic or international, want the finest education and learning environment for their child. I am proud to represent W+H year after year to families knowing that their investment in their children and in the school will reap benefits beyond their wildest imagination.


Post blog note:

I’m now continuing my blog from the highest library in the world. I just enjoyed a successful evening with our Shanghai parents. I was joined not only by current parents but recently by parents whose child graduated from W+H. It proves my thought that joining a community like Wardlaw+Hartridge is not merely for the duration of one’s education at the school but for a lifetime connection for both the graduate and the parents.

I leave China tomorrow with great pride in both countries, parents, students, and the educational experience for the coming year. Thank you for your wonderful hospitality and most importantly your friendship and trust.

Posted by ggonnella on Thursday November 21, 2019 at 01:40PM
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Welcome Back!

Hello friends! Welcome back to another school year. Our 137th school year is well underway, with all three divisional Back to School Nights in the books. 

The Admission Office is pleased to announce we have 474 students enrolled for the 2019-2020 academic year. We’re especially excited to welcome the record 135 new students and their families who have joined the W+H community this year. We hope everyone is off to a wonderful start.

Many of our new families will enjoy another welcoming introduction to our community at the annual New Parent Reception on Oct. 3 in the Berry Performing Arts Center. While the warm late September and early October weather conditions had many longing for the summer, I always enjoy the early autumn buzz of a new school year. It’s refreshing to see so many new smiling faces walking through our halls, studying in our classrooms, performing on our stage and competing on our fields. 

As the crisp air begins to descend on New Jersey, we’re gearing up for our annual Fall Fair and Homecoming Day on Saturday, Oct. 12. I encourage all families associated with the school to come and invite their friends to join us for this longstanding tradition. It truly is one of the annual highlights of our extended community of students, parents, alumni, faculty and friends. 

I’ll most likely be writing my next blog post from 37,000 feet in the air on my annual trip to China to meet with current and prospective families. My itinerary includes stops in Beijing and Shanghai, where I always enjoy visiting with our Wardlaw+Hartridge International Student Parents’ Association (WHISPA) representatives. 

Please follow us on social media and encourage your family, friends and colleagues to keep an eye on our school. Great things are happening here in our 137th year!

Upcoming Admission Information Sessions

Saturday, November 2 program begins at 9 am

Thursday, November 7 at 9 am

Thursday, November 7 at 7 pm

RSVP to:

Posted by ggonnella on Wednesday October 2, 2019 at 02:34PM
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The Value of Rigorous Inquiry

As Admission officers, we are always seeking bright students who ask insightful questions. We love meeting students who demonstrate a curiosity and a passion for learning and who are seeking an academic challenge beyond what they are currently experiencing.

For parents, it’s about asking questions about a school’s programs so they can identify if a school is the best fit for their child. Insightful questions lead to more than just answers, but also an ongoing discussion that is constantly evolving. At W+H, students are provided the tools necessary to stimulate rigorous inquiry, in depth research and writing skills so they can express themselves thoughtfully. 

While this type of education is common among independent school, we believe Wardlaw+Hartridge offers a unique experience. We seek students who desire this approach to learning.

W+H will provide a wonderful opportunity for all PreK-12 students at our upcoming Family Science Night on April 11. Students of all ages will be challenged to test their theories and ask questions that will lead to scientific discovery. Lower School students enjoyed a sampling of the projects on display at a recent demo session in our amphitheater. Excitement was in the air as our youngest students watched Upper School students show how things happen and why they happen. 

Learning how things work is part of the educational foundation of our school. Please join us April 11 from 6:30 p.m. to 9 p.m. and watch rigorous inquiry lead to discovery.

Posted by ggonnella on Thursday April 11, 2019 at 08:38AM
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E-Mentoring Empowers Global Engagement

The theme for this month’s blog is Global Engagement. I could spend a fair amount of time highlighting examples throughout the curriculum but I would like to turn the bully pulpit over to one of our pioneering and distinguished faculty members, Dr. Olga Pagieva, who is transforming long-distance learning here at W+H. Dr. Pagieva, ELL Support Instructor, explains the newly formed E-Mentoring program that we launched just a few weeks ago.

Take it away Dr. OP!

At Wardlaw+Hartridge, a multicultural community of life-long learners, we strive to keep abreast of innovative practical approaches to meaningful global engagement. As educators in a constantly changing global society, we seek responsible learning experiences for our students. We want them to better understand the continual transformations of the world we live in. This world - multifaceted and interconnected - is becoming more and more complex.

How can students learn to become globally engaged citizens? How do we teach a sense of personal and social responsibility in a shared world?

Clearly, there’s no simple answer. Previous experiences and acquired knowledge differ from person to person, and traditional approaches may be inefficient to fully equip our diverse student body with the skills needed to become effective and responsible global citizens. 

The International Student Program at W+H has recently launched E-Mentoring, an online learning support project that aims at empowering students with their learning. And THEIR learning starts with THEIR heritage, cultural experiences, and THEIR awareness of differences in schooling and expectations worldwide. 

To some extent, our international students are acquiring a multitude of new skills across cultural contexts and beyond the limits of their native customs, habits, and traditions. The moment they enroll in our school, these students sign up for the social, cultural, and academic responsibilities unlike those of their home countries. 

Drawing on knowledge from traditional and non-traditional educational formats, we hope that E-Mentoring can become a useful part of the W+H school fabric, supported by faculty and staff. We view it as a timely expansion of the in-house international student services, a key additional platform for a continual, skillful, and careful guidance to the international students. E-Mentoring @ W+H is extra help for the international families who are prepared to enhance the well-being of the school community while trying to figure out and map out unique paths for their children’s academic successes, social accomplishments, and responsible global citizenship.                                            

Posted by ggonnella on Thursday February 14, 2019 at 08:11AM
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Cultivating Character and Conduct

Right is right, even if everyone is against it, and wrong is wrong, even if everyone is for it.” William Penn

Happy New Year.

As a working parent, I know firsthand that nagging fear that I am not going to be there when my child faces a big moral dilemma. While in my heart, I believe our family has equipped our children with the skills, characteristics, and attributes to inform the right decision, my mind reflects on all those moments I haven’t witnessed that may have (mis)shaped their young and still forming values.

It’s a little heavy, I know.

Today, as more and more of us work, we can’t help but wonder, and maybe worry, who is modeling behaviors for our kids when we aren’t there. In society’s well-documented and never-ending bad news cycle, social media blizzard, and omni-present and accessible Internet, our sons and daughters are bombarded with ideas and pseudo-ideals.

Many of us look for help from our own parents (thanks, Grandma!), from siblings, from nannies (with their shelf life of four years before they go to college), and from our child’s school. 

It does take a village, or small city, when you are driving one child to dance, one to gymnastics, and another to her enrichment classes. Oh - did I mention sometimes driving their friends, too? Egads.

With respect to grandmothers everywhere, I do believe your child’s school environment is fundamental. In fact, I believe it makes an enormous difference. Yes, it sounds self-serving given my own job, but hear me out. You must choose a school wisely.

A school’s culture and curriculum should directly and unwaveringly align with your family’s values. Your child’s teachers should uphold your own approach to discipline and model what it means to be a compassionate and thoughtful adult. While we strongly encourage diversity in every form, the other families in your school should be there because they love their children and they want them to grow and succeed. If all the other parents in your school are there because they want their child to become a professional athlete or because they want them to graduate from Harvard Law School – and this is a Kindergarten – you may be in the wrong school. 

Many independent school admission offices are accepting the EMA (Enrollment Management Association) Character Skills Snapshot assessment test to evaluate the quality of student they are enrolling into their communities. EMA explains, “The Character Skills Snapshot is an online assessment tool that provides schools with a holistic view of your child. It measures your child’s own view of his or her character skill development and is meant to complement more traditional cognitive assessments such as the SSAT. The Character Skills Snapshot gives admission teams richer information and illuminates areas where their schools can help your child grow, thrive and shine.”

Here at Wardlaw+Hartridge, we have an evidence-based record of intentionally cultivating a student’s morals and ethics inside and outside our classrooms. I think about our Middle School, led by Dr. Corinna Crafton, and their championing of Mission Skills. Her students, faculty and families are inspired daily about ethical and moral behaviors by reading key characteristics and attributes like Resilience, Empathy, and Citizenship headlined and highlighted in the Middle School’s hallways and stairwells. It’s awesome. 

Every teacher and staff member is here to help you raise your child into the best possible version of themselves. In addition to developing as a student, your son or daughter will continue to learn right from wrong, and to not blindly follow the herd, as referenced by our friend William Penn. Please know that when your child walks into our buildings at W+H, they are not just coming to school – in many ways, they are coming home.

If you remember anything from today’s blog entry, please remember this: the choice of your child’s school matters far beyond median SAT scores, college matriculation records, and state championships. As much as you consider the type of student they will become, please remember to consider the type of human being they will become, too. 

I invite you to our campus to learn more about what makes W+H a wonderful environment. I’m pleased to announce reduced tuition fees for our Early Childhood program and hope you will take advantage of this wonderful opportunity.

Contact the Admission Office to schedule your tour. We look forward to meeting your family.

Posted by ggonnella on Wednesday January 23, 2019 at 08:28AM
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Ni Hao from the Flight Deck

There are no better words to hear over the speaker on the plane after a successful trip visiting with family and meeting new friends than, “This is your captain, hello from the flight deck, we just reached our cruising altitude of 39,000, so sit back and enjoy the 14-plus hour trip back to the United States.” I’m physically exhausted, yet excited and renewed at the same time, knowing what a great trip I just had visiting our international parents and meeting new prospective Pioneering Thinkers. My trip to China is always a mad dash to hit as many cities as possible to meet current parents, whom I consider family, and to interview potential new students, but this year I pushed to spend a few hours to take in more of the rich culture and amazing history that China has to offer. 

After landing in Beijing and interviewing students on day one it was time to meet with our Beijing Wardlaw+Hartridge International Student Parents’ Association (WHISPA). We have several WHISPA chapters started in China (Beijing, Qingdao, and Shanghai) and new ones (such as Xi’An) forming each year. Taking the time to meet with current parents is crucial to cultural understanding besides the obvious opportunity to exchange ideas and thoughts about the school experience for both the parents and students who are currently attending. This year our international parents truly enjoyed our new International Student Video, which clearly demonstrates the full experience their children receive as W+H students. I always walk away with great insight on how to enrich the experience for both international and domestic students because W+H is a global educational experience; it’s no longer just an American perspective. 

Learning and understanding how international families look, view, and see issues is so important in level-setting expectations for all parties. Our course, one of my favorite things to do while visiting in China is to break bread with families, not just because I love food so much but for the stories that parents share with me about their children. Mealtime is so important with so many interesting and new delicacies to try. It truly is a time of personal growth for me. Never did I expect to be flying between major Chinese cities or navigating my way around a train station to take bullet trains across an amazing and beautiful countryside. It reminds me of one of my favorite books from growing up, To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee when Atticus Finch said, “Never judge a man until you walked a mile in his shoes.” What an incredible statement and so true when you can get a taste of what it must be like for our international students living here in the United States. Seeing issues and sharing experiences from many different angles or vantage points is so very important, especially in today’s climate. 

Here at The Wardlaw+Hartridge School we strive daily to make not just the learning powerful but the overall experience meaningful to all. Knowing our ABC’s is just one approach we take when working with international students. 

Acculturation: cultural modification of an individual, group, or people by adapting to or borrowing traits from another culture; a merging of cultures as a result of prolonged contact.

Assimilation: the process of taking in and fully understanding information or ideas.

Belonging: be a member or part of a particular group, organization, or class. A sense of belonging is a human need, just like the need for food and shelter. Feeling that you belong is most important in seeing value in life and in coping with intensely painful emotions.

Communication: a means of connection between people or places, in particular.

Community: a feeling of fellowship with others, as a result of sharing common attitudes, interests and goals

I know since I started coming to China many years ago, I have always felt safe, welcomed, and included in a family setting. I’m proud, as are my colleagues are, to return the favor to our international parents by treating their children the same way while they are attending W+H. I’m honored to have these new lifelong connections in my life. I know as a school we are making a difference in so many lives. As I so often hear in meetings today, “Do you have a datapoint that can back up that statement?” 

We have not only current parents attending WHISPA meetings but past parents as well. We have alumni who are seeking out former faculty and staff to catch up on life since W+H. This is a clear indicator (or datapoint) worth sharing. In our mission statement, we talk about how The Wardlaw+Hartridge School prepares students to lead and succeed in a world of global interconnection. We provide an educational atmosphere characterized by academic challenge, support for individual excellence, diversity, and a familial sense of community. This is one school that truly does live its mission statement on a daily basis and I know 460 students are better off for it. 

Well, I will leave it here for now as the battery life on my laptop is just about depleted and it’s time to settle into a movie before hopefully getting a little shuteye on the journey home. Wheels down in 13 hours and 55 minutes.
Posted by ggonnella on Wednesday January 23, 2019 at 08:26AM
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