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.
The last few days have been a bit of a whirlwind for this year’s Girls Basketball team here at Rutgers Prep. After an extraordinary season leading into a big win over Manasquan HS last weekend, the team has been attracting increasing attention at the national level. We took a few minutes today to catch up with some of the team’s senior leaders… and their coach, Mary Klinger.
When asked to reflect on her experiences with the team, Senior Captain Olivia Dabney ’17 shared, “Being a member of the Rutgers Prep Girls’ basketball team is most definitely an honor. Throughout my four years on this team I’ve become a dedicated and hardworking athlete, and even a better person. Much of that we owe to Coach Klinger. She has shown every player the value of working hard and the importance of teamwork. From early morning practices to the late weeknight games, we’ve all learned to strive for the same goal; to improve and succeed as a team. I would not trade this experience for anything!” (Olivia has signed to play for Sacred Heart University in college.)
Maddy Stanley ’17, a senior who joined Rutgers Prep as a sophomore and who will be playing for Fairleigh Dickinson next year, explained, “We had a great season last year, but we lost Nikki (Nikki Metzel ‘16, who was recruited to play for Drexel University’s Dragons), so we weren’t sure how it was going to be. When we lost that one time, in the game against Franklin, we kind of all pulled together in this spirit of, ‘Well, we don’t want to do THAT again!’ and it’s been just great ever since. I can’t believe we’re ranked 13th in the country now! If you had told my third grade self – I was actually really short when I first started playing – if you told me then that I would play on a team that was nationally ranked, I would NEVER have believed it.”
A proud Coach Klinger shared that in addition to the national ranking the team has recently received, three recruited senior players have now each been offered an opportunity to play in the highly selective NJSCA “North-South All-Star Game.”
“This is just a great opportunity for Olivia, Maddy, and Gabby. And so well-deserved. I knew that this was a special group two or three years ago, because of the athleticism, the unselfishness, and the talent. After winning the state title last year, we have been so focused on getting there again… it has been clear that they all brought the same level of commitment to being the very best team.”
In closing, Gabby Redden ‘17, who will be continuing her basketball career at Marist College in the fall, shared, “It’s pretty exciting to be ranked #1 in the Tri-State, and number thirteen in the nation by ESPN-W, so this Sunday’s game, against The Patrick School, is going to be really big. They’re going to be coming for us extra hard now. So come out and support, everybody!” the highly selective NJSCA “North-South All-Star Game.”
(For information about results and upcoming games, see the team page here.)
As Rutgers Prep sprang back into action after our winter break, many of our recent graduates were still at home visiting. Most college’s academic calendars don’t start back up until later in January, which tends to result in a warmly welcomed group of former students streaming back on to campus to reconnect with faculty members and each other. This year, one of these returnees was invited into a few of our Lower School classrooms, and so it was that our fifth graders found themselves learning new vocabulary and new concepts with a new teacher.
Like her brother Andrew Parr ‘12 before her, Sarah Parr ‘16 is a Rutgers Prep “lifer,” having spent her entire academic career prior to college here with us at Rutgers Prep. As a first-semester freshman at Case Western Reserve this fall, Sarah enrolled in a course entitled “Women in the Ancient World,” and when some of her former teachers heard about it, they invited her to spend some time in their classrooms while home on break. Sarah learned that Rutgers Prep fifth graders were studying Hatshepsut, Egypt’s first female pharoah, and used that as her starting point.
“There’s a lot of new vocabulary to learn when you study Ancient Egypt, so I decided to start there. I hadn’t actually read the book the students had, so I truly didn’t know what they knew; I decided to use that to my advantage. I was learning from them, they were learning from each other, and then we expanded on what they knew, which was a lot. To drive home some of the most important terms, I divided the class into groups of two or three and gave them each a key term for them to create a skit for. Their creativity with props and ideas was amazing.”
Thinking back on her time at Rutgers Prep as a student, Sarah shared that she had learned some of the exercises she drew on – like brainstorming key words and taking a few minutes to write down everything you know about them, and then organizing your thoughts and remembering even more information – from her Advanced Placement World History course.
Not surprisingly, our fifth graders were very enthusiastic about their time with Sarah. Zachary’s favorite part was presenting, while Abbigail was delighted to have a chance to do some acting. Vikram liked that the students worked together to do the charades, and Phillip was happy to learn some new vocabulary.
Mrs. Vinchur added, “The students were definitely engaged. They were up and out of their seats, moving and learning.” As the students headed off to their next class, one boy turned to Sarah and said, “Good luck in college! You did great. I hope you get a good job – you deserve it.”
These kinds of unique cross-divisional opportunities are part of what make the Rutgers Prep experience a special one, and we’re always happy to see our faculty leveraging the talents of their students… even the ones who have graduated!