Come In, Iceland!

14-9_Julia-in-Iceland As our students progress through our Lower School program, they are given more and more opportunities to learn about other cultures and new ways of thinking about the world. Last spring, our fourth graders had a unique opportunity to connect with a current Rutgers Prep student who was studying as an exchange student in Iceland. Students were encouraged to come up with their own questions, and then a time was set for Julia Castner ‘14 to Skype into their classroom. Our fourth graders had some great questions, which Julia was of course quite happy to answer:

What kinds of animals are there in Iceland? Iceland only has one native mammal, the arctic fox, but now there are more, including reindeer. And bees, which at one point were unknown in Iceland, are now here.

Is there a lot of farmland? Yes, although there is lots of uninhabited land as well.

Why did you go to Iceland? Mostly because I wanted to explore the world and challenge myself.

What kinds of landmarks are there in Iceland? Volcanoes, glaciers, and lots of cool waterfalls.

How much sunlight do you get? Well, that depends on the season… in the winter we only got 4 or 5 hours of light a day.

What are the towns there like? Most of the towns are quite small, with only a few hundred to a few thousand people, at the most. People seem quite friendly, in general, and there is a lot of strong town pride. Every town has a public pool and hot tub, and people go to them all year long.

Why is Iceland called Iceland if it’s not that icey? Well, Iceland is about 11% ice, so it does have ice, but it’s weird that Greenland, which has SO much more ice, is called Greenland. The story is that the famous Viking explorer Erik the Red, who lived for a time in Iceland, was at one point banished to Greenland… which he knew was very icy, but he called it Greenland in part as a way to get people to come over with him, so he wouldn’t be alone.

What is school like there? For the most part, pretty similar, but with more of a focus on languages… everyone takes English, and Danish, and then one other language as well.

How has learning Icelandic been? It seems that Icelandic people are quite proud of how difficult it is to learn their language! The most important thing is to not think too much about how hard it is, and just to keep trying. I live with a host family, so I have lots of time to practice.

What is the currency called? It’s called the Icelandic krona.

What types of medicine are used in Iceland? Pretty much the same, just with different names… it took me quite a while to figure out that “eebufren” was exactly the same as “ibuprophen”

What about sports? People here are really “into” handball, which is a sport I had never heard of before I got here. People also play volleyball, soccer, and some of them play basketball.

What do you remember about 4th grade here at RPS? I remember learning more about different cultures and looking for articles or books about my own family’s background (which is Swedish). And I remember the Appalachian project and helping to paint one of the murals that went on the wall.

What are your plans after Iceland? I’m going to attend Bryn Mawr College, where I hope to study archaeology… they have a really strong program in that.


It’s fun to think that someday one of these inquisitive young people might themselves be fielding questions from a Rutgers Prep classroom! We are committed to maximizing opportunities for connection for all of our students, and our Skype guest program is just one of the many ways in which we realize that commitment.

Making A Difference

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Aidan Rico ‘27 joined the Rutgers Prep community last year as a student in Mrs. Papa’s Pre-K class. He had a great first year, and is a serious fan of a piece of playground equipment known by Rutgers Prep Lower School students as “the ship.”

Our physical plant team at Rutgers Prep is made up of an extraordinarily dedicated group of professionals, but they’re (mostly) too big for actually playing on our playground. Little Aidan had the advantage of perspective; he could see things that the grownups couldn’t. And one day he came home from summer camp (also here at Rutgers Prep) and excitedly sought out his mother.

“Mom!” he said, “I have an idea about the ship at school.””What’s that?” his mother asked. “I want you, Daddy and me to paint the ship, and clean out the cobwebs and the spiders too.” “What do you mean, Aidan?” “I want us to go to school on a weekend when the kids are not there so we can clean out the ship with the cobwebs and spiders. We can get the Rutgers Prep colors, red and white, and we can go over and clean the ship and paint it so that it looks beautiful. We aren’t going to ask the kids to come and help because we have to use ‘cautious,’ it will be dangerous for the kids to be around the paint, Mom.” “Oh, I see. Will you actually be doing the work, Aidan, or will it just be your Daddy and me?” “Oh no, Mom, I want to paint and help. And we could even put RPS in white on the ship!!”

Hoping that she could somehow support her son’s idea, Aidan’s mom reached out to our Lower School Principal, Mrs. Rusyn, who quickly made it clear that Aidan had found another adult who was ready to help bring his idea to life. After checking in with the Headmaster and other appropriate people on campus to work out logistics, we were able to let Aidan’s family know that his dream was taking shape. Over the course of two summer days, Aidan put a lot of effort into cleaning the interior of the ship, painting the whitewash and putting on the ship’s steering wheel. His parents both helped. And when the ship was finished being painted, he exclaimed, “Ma, the ship is so beautiful now! I am so lucky to be going to a good school with a beautiful campus. The kids are going to love the ship even more now.”

We are so proud of Aidan for putting in long hours of hard work for his school. His mom concludes, “It was great that he recognized that with perseverance, his initial goals could be achieved. His father and I were glad that we could participate in this project. It was a pleasure to contribute to a school which has broadened and enriched our son’s life in one short year.”

If any one ever expresses any doubt that one student could make a difference here at Rutgers Prep, we hope you’ll send them to Aidan. We’re thinking he could probably set them straight.

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Music and Crayons

The Rutgers Prep Upper School Sax Ensemble played a mini-concert for the first grade and then they all got on the floor and colored a picture together. From the perspective of music department faculty Mrs. Hill and Mrs. Peterson, the benefits are both musical and community-centered.  Seeing the expressions on the Lower School students’ faces as they listen to their Upper School peers play their instruments energizes the musicians to play even better, which in turn makes the audience even more excited. Maybe some of those first graders have discovered the instruments that they’ll soon call their own. That’s the musical part.

The community building happens when they are all on the floor coloring together. Imagine going from hearing the hesitant chatter in the room as they shyly begin to talk about crayon colors to listening to the volume increase as the banter becomes more energized as they all learn each other’s names, favorite sports teams and the like. Weeks later, there may be a chance encounter that results in shared and slightly shy smiles of recognition. It’s the unifying nature of music and crayons, and the beauty of a community that values building bridges of all kinds.