In keeping with its designation as New Jersey’s oldest independent school, a group of 8-12 graders at Rutgers Preparatory School have been immersed and engaged in an Innovation Program entitled “Hands On History.” Under the guidance of teachers Tim Cohen and Arika Easley-Houser, The Hands-On History Innovation Program gives students an opportunity to engage with various subjects within the field of history. The program’s aim is to help students take the skills they’ve been learning in the classroom–critical thinking, analysis of facts, and interpretation of multiple points of view–and apply them to real situations. These could include investigations of local history, family history, architecture, digital history, archiving, historical reenactments, etc.
Recently, four first-person historical interpreters and historical re-enactors came to campus to connect with our Hands on History students, who in turn had some great questions for our visitors.
During their visit, the roles of John Adams, Harriet Beecher Stowe, a local civil war soldier, and NJ colonial Gov. William Franklin were taken on, respectively, by Peyton Dixon, Kim Hanley, Scott Saunders, and Kurt Epps.
After interacting with the historical figures in character, students asked the interpreters and re-enactors, “What drew you to play the particular characters you were playing today?”
Kurt Epps answered, “William Franklin and his father, Benjamin Franklin, wound up on opposite sides of the revolutionary war, one of the defining struggles of our nation. I do think that an understanding of history is essential to any understanding of our current situation, so I’m happy to have an opportunity to bring this history to life, especially for young people.”
Kim Hanley (the Executive Director of the American Historical Theatre) said, “I went to school for ballet and history, and was very involved in theater. I found my way to this work through a couple (the Summerfields) who had been portraying George and Martha Washington and who thought I could probably be a creditable Abigail Adams, and then once I started doing it, more characters kind of found me as a need or outlet arose.”
Peyton Dixon shared: “I have a friend who plays Thomas Jefferson, and in learning about my friend’s process, I found that no one seemed quite as invested in John Adams. Because I’d always been interested in Adams, I decided to try to get to the point that I could try to do him justice.
I also play Theodore Roosevelt now, which happened through a call for look-a-likes. I saw the notice and thought, ‘Could I look like Theodore Roosevelt? Probably?’ and sure enough, I was able to get close enough that it seemed like something worth working on.”
Finally, Scott Saunders explained that with re-enacting, “different people select different regiments, depending on what period of history they’re interested in, or what they feel they have a connection to. I met a group that was portraying a regiment in Georgia, but it included some guys from New Jersey and Connecticut. So of course I called them traitors, but we all hung out afterwards.”
Students were also curious about what advice the guests would give to someone who is interested in getting started in this kind of work?
“Research, research, research,” said Peyton Dixon with a smile. Of course only time will tell if the next great living embodiment of Abigail Adams or Alexander Hamilton will be a Rutgers Prep graduate!
Rutgers Prep’s Innovation Program offers students in grades 8-12 an opportunity to engage deeply in an area of interest for them in ways that go beyond a typical classroom approach. This year’s Innovation strands are giving Rutgers Prep students a chance to engage an impressively diverse set of topics, ranging from Business and Entrepreneurship to the [st]ages project, which will connect students with elders in our community, both in person and through the creation of a work of art. The Sports Analytics group will be coordinating their own conference, while another group of students has been in the process of auditioning prospective speakers for their upcoming TEDx Conference. The Hands on History group, along with all the other Innovation Program strands, will culminate in an Innovation Capstone event in May, which will give members of the Rutgers Prep and broader community a chance to marvel at just how much these students have learned.
At Rutgers Prep we take pride in the level of support we provide our Upper School students in their college search and application process, but even our College Counseling Team was a little surprised by the apparent readiness of this year’s graduates. In a typical year, somewhere between 65% and 85% of Rutgers Prep’s graduating class will file at least one application by November 1st, a common deadline for both binding Early Decision programs and non-binding Early Action programs. This year, in the face of ever-increasing selectivity, members of the Rutgers Prep’s Class of 2017 brought their “A” game and completed early applications in record numbers; a full 92% of this year’s graduating class had filed at least one application by November 1st!
According to the National Center for Educational Statistics, total undergraduate enrollment in US colleges and universities increased 31% from 13.2 million in 2000 to 17.3 million in 2014. By 2025, the total US undergraduate enrollment is projected to increase to 19.8 million students. It is within this increasingly competitive context that Rutgers Prep students are rising to the challenge. Since in many cases filing an early application can improve a student’s chances of being offered admission, Rutgers Prep provides both opportunity and personal support to each of our students as they embark on their college application process.
As of this writing, although many students have yet to receive the results of their early applications, some good news has started to trickle in. At least one member of the Rutgers Prep Class of 2017 has received an offer of admission from the following schools (this list is not comprehensive, and is growing by the day!):
Carnegie Mellon University
University of Delaware
University of Denver
Indiana U of Bloomington
Johns Hopkins University
University of Mississippi
New Jersey Institute of Technology
New York University
University of Pennsylvania
University of Pittsburgh
University of Rochester
University of Texas at Austin
In addition to some exciting offers of admission, several of our students have been fortunate enough to be recruited Division I athletes, or have received substantial merit scholarship awards. The combination of Rutgers Prep’s excellence in education combined with our students’ own hard work means that our graduates are presented with some extraordinary opportunities. We are pleased and proud to support the Class of 2017 as they prepare to join some exciting academic communities next fall, and we look forward to hearing more good news as admissions committees continue to meet.
As a Co-President of our Tend To A Friend program, John has helped recruit new volunteers, plan activities, and just generally make sure that things are running smoothly. (Tend-To-A-Friend provides parents raising a child with special needs some respite in an otherwise chaotic and challenging world, while at the same time offering special needs children and their siblings an exciting and fun “night out” here at Rutgers Prep.) John has also served as a “One on One” buddy for Hop, Skip, & Jump, a program for special needs children that helps teach social skills and motor development. “I am committed to continuing to work to support special needs young people,” says John of his many hours of service.
In addition to his significant service commitments, John has also been an honors student throughout his time with us; he has consistently sought to challenge himself as a learner, with impressive results. John has also been involved in music through our Men’s Choir and Madrigals group, business through our Entrepreneurship program, and athletics as a two-sport varsity athlete and starting second baseman for our 2016 Prep B. State Championship Baseball Team.
John’s devotion to helping make other young people’s journeys a little easier has been inspiring to witness, and we wish him every success as he prepares to study Engineering in college next year.