At the beginning of each school year, Rutgers Prep celebrates an opportunity to welcome the newest members of our community. At this year’s New Parent Orientation, Student Council President Arjun Ahluwalia ’16 shared his thoughts with a roomful of parents, and it occurred to those who were fortunate enough to hear him that it wasn’t just the newcomers who might benefit from hearing the perspective of this young leader. Our Headmaster Dr. Loy likes to remind us that each fall represents an opportunity for a fresh start; here, Arjun takes a few minutes to remind us of the unique nature of the Rutgers Prep community:
“Good morning everyone,
My name is Arjun Ahluwalia, I am a senior, and I serve the Upper School as the Student Council President. Welcome to New Jersey’s first independent school and congratulations on joining our Rutgers Prep community that many students like me have learned to call our second home.
As I begin my senior year here at Prep, and having been a student here for over six years, I can confidently say that Rutgers Prep serves as a place of learning which aims to educate beyond the scope of just academics. What do I mean by that?
Over the course of my time here at Prep, one aspect that I am very proud to boast about is our cultural diversity. I am always taken aback when I notice the number of people who are willing to participate in cultural activities that they don’t necessarily have an obvious connection with. On the day of Diwali, you will see that the number of people who wear authentic garb is evenly split between Indians and non-Indians. On Chinese New Year, you will see everyone joins in on the fun of moon cakes with community members wishing each other a jubilant Gung Ho Fat Choi! Not to mention, you can listen to keynote speakers during our annual banquet in February when we celebrate Black History. We celebrate all backgrounds, not only to make everyone feel welcome, but in order to embrace and learn more about the diverse community around us in this school, and in the world beyond.
At Rutgers Prep, we take pride in our ever-so-many traditions—our annual Lower School Family Day when there is literally a fair set up on campus, our Middle School Auction, sponsored by the 8th grade to raise money for the annual 8th grade trip, the Freshman Camping Trip, where students learn to overcome obstacles by working in collaboration… the list continues. Whether it be in an organized event, or even attempting to end sentences with an “argh” or “aye matey” on the annual Talk Like a Pirate day (kudos to Mr. Cohen), you will see students partaking and enjoying the many opportunities Rutgers Prep has to offer.
We are a small but growing microcosm of different cultures, opinions, and interests. Whether your child is a math prodigy, a future athletic stand-out, an up-and-coming poet, or an undiscovered actor, he or she will most definitely find his/her voice and niche here at Rutgers Prep. But, I also guarantee that your children will be motivated and challenged by students who think like them them but also by students who don’t. To reference a famous proverb “though we be small, we are mighty.” With a student body of 625 students, each student at Rutgers Prep constitutes a unique facet of our community.
Now, some of you may have noticed that I tend to use the word “community” as opposed to school, quite often. I don’t say community because I like the way the word sounds, or because I am attempting to minimize the word “school” from my vocabulary. Rather, I believe that there is no other word that can accurately describe our school’s functionality, our dynamic, and the way we operate. Rutgers Prep isn’t a series of cliques barred from interacting with each other socially. There are no jocks, there isn’t one cohort of nerds. Here at Rutgers Prep, we’re one all-accommodating community, one that we all find ourselves grown proud to be a part of.
With that being said, I would like to welcome you all, once again, to this community. I hope you enjoy the rest of your year.”
– Arjun Ahluwalia ’16
Here are some of Ms. Turlish’s thoughts about the genesis of her adaptation:
“When I first came to Rutgers Prep, I taught seventh-grade English, and I used to read a lot of Young Adult fiction as part of that. Sara Solberg, a then-colleague in the Middle School here recommended Ella Enchanted to me – her daughter had raved about it, so then Sara had read it and then she raved about it to me, and justly so – it is an amazing book, one that I’ve re-read many times since.”
“Moving forward to 2012, to another story I found enthralling: I saw Peter and the Starcatcher on Broadway, and I loved the show – I found the script and staging inspiring. But there was a catch: as much as I loved the play and wanted to direct a show like that at RPS someday, I knew it wouldn’t be that particular show, which had only one female actor in the cast. But after I read the Young Adult novel that play was based on, I started thinking about trying to find a YA novel to adapt that would feature female characters more prominently.”
“I immediately thought of Ella Enchanted, but while it’s a story I would love to see on stage, I don’t think I could cut it down enough in length – there’s so much I would be crushed to lose. So I started taking a look at Gail Carson Levine’s other books, and the plot description for The Two Princesses of Bamarre immediately jumped out at me. I have one sister whom I’m extremely close to, and she is also much braver than I am – she is the Princess Meryl to my Princess Addie. And after reading the book, I decided I was just brave enough to try my hand at adapting it – although in the past I’ve directed some plays I’ve written with the Upper School students, each time it feels like a huge challenge: exciting, certainly, but also a little scary. I was even intimidated about approaching Ms. Levine’s agent to ask for permission to write the script, but not only did she approve the project but she then agreed to visit the school and attend a performance!”
“Aside from the appeal of the Princess sisters, one of the things that really struck me about The Two Princesses of Bamarre was the passages of epic poetry it featured. The novel includes verses written by human poets but also by elves and dragons – and naturally they have different perspectives on things. This idea of speaking a story, and how these spoken stories reveal truths about the tellers as well as the tale, seemed very theatrical to me. The play has a group storytelling style, and we have a large cast or students, each of whom tells part of the tale and portrays characters both human and not. There are a lot of elements that need to come together for this production, but the effort and the effect have been extremely rewarding.”
When Ms. Levine came to campus, she spent time in all three divisions at Rutgers Prep, visiting with the fourth grade, participating in Q&A with the fifth and sixth grade (some of whom had read her book in their Reading Club), and attending a special performance of the Upper School’s spring drama production alongside students in our Middle School. She also held a workshop session for Upper School students in the English Club and members of Excelsior (the Upper School literary magazine), during which she read an excerpt from the draft of her upcoming novel, a prequel to the novel adapted by the drama department this year.
About the special performance, Alyssa Finfer ‘15 (Princeton ’19), who was cast in one of the two title roles, shared, “We actually had an extra rehearsal after the regular run, just to make sure we were ready. The idea of performing for the author was a bit nerve-wracking beforehand, but then once the curtain went up it was just a regular performance.” The students were all very pleased when the lights came back up and it was clear that Ms. Levine had enjoyed the play.
In addition to appreciating the talent of the actors, Ms. Levine specifically shared that she enjoyed the special effects and the narration passages performed by a student rapper. She also volunteered that her favorite scene was when two passages of epic poetry were woven together to compare and contrast two perspectives on the same event. Earlier in the day, she had expressed surprise after one of the actors drew a parallel between the hero and the villain of the story each clinging possessively to another person — another example of two perspectives combining. The students who were able to connect with Ms. Levine in person were very appreciative of the opportunity. “I hope she’s coming out of this with lots of new fans,” shared Alyssa.
Throughout her visit, Ms. Levine was met with enthusiasm, curiosity, and enchantment by those who interacted with her, and we are so grateful for Ms. Turlish’s vision, our students’ talent and dedication, and for Ms. Levine’s time with Rutgers Prep’s students and faculty!
(For more “behind the scenes” glimpses into the creative process, please see Gail Carson Levine’s blog at http://gailcarsonlevine.blogspot.com.)
To initiate the conversation and activity, students were given a few framing questions: “Rutgers Prep was founded almost 250 years ago. What was happening 250 years before that? What happened in the 250 years since? What will happen in the next 250 years?”
Mr. Mitchell and Ms. Gantz showed students posters displaying significant events in world history. Randomly selected students tried to place them in the correct chronological order. When the order was set, “lifers,” students in 8th grade who have been here since kindergarten, were assigned the responsibility of putting events related to Rutgers Prep where they belonged.
When students realized that Ludvig van Beethoven was born after Rutgers Prep’s founding, a ripple of amazement moved through the crowd. Middle School Principal Mr. Marotto’s lengthy tenure at Rutgers Prep threw the students off; the “Mr. Marotto starts working at RPS” poster had to be moved back in the timeline multiple times!
As students settled on what they thought might be their final positions, they looked to their teachers and continued to make adjustments based on that feedback. Finally, the human timeline became an accurate reflection of the historical record. Our Middle School students now have a much clearer understanding of Rutgers Prep’s place in history… just in time to join in our celebrations!