Flash Features: October

District launches Alumni Association to connect past and present PHS students:

graphic by John Liang

This month, the Princeton Public Schools district announced the creation of a new Alumni Association. Designed to build a sense of community with PPS alumni, the association aims to create links not just amongst alumni, but between alumni and current PPS students.

The initiative began when Brenda Sewell; the district’s communication manager,  Lew Goldstein; the PPS Assistant Superintendent for Human Resources, and three PHS alumni: Mia Sacks, Peter Thompson, and Bob James saw the need for connection amongst PPS graduates.

“[I was talking with some colleagues] when we realized that what the district really needs is an alumni association. It’s something that we have been looking into as a district, and it was something that we were thinking about [seriously]. We were all really excited, so we decided to try it out and see how it went,” said Sewell.

Sacks notes the association is centered around taking advantage of resources that each alumni provides based on their individual talents and abilities.

This is not just about alumni getting together once a year. It’s about creating a framework for support for the existing students and for alumni in different fields, both in terms of role models but also guidance and support. If you look at what Princeton High Alumni are doing around the world, it is extraordinary. To not make that resource available for the existing students was just a shame,” said Sacks.

The association currently stands at 1700 members, but it is trying to build a larger network and be able to contact a greater range of alumni. It encourages existing members to reach out to their former classmates, and hopes that increasing awareness for the association through programs and initiatives will prompt current students to join upon graduation.

A major goal among the creators of the Alumni Association is to reach more alumni of color, and make the organization more diverse.

“We know that representation is [highly] important. We often talk about that in terms of equity in the classroom, so we talk about representation in things like making sure that we have teachers from different and diverse backgrounds in our classrooms. This is so that students can see teachers [and alumni] that might look like themselves, or who might [have] backgrounds similar to theirs,” Sewell said.

By increasing student input in regards to the association, the association believes it can strengthen the impact alumni can have on students.

“If one of our students says, ‘I want to go into this field,’ whatever field it is, we could have an alumnus who would let them job-shadow for a day. Things like bringing in [alumni] guest speakers to our high school or community can be really inspiring,” said Sewell. “[They can meet] people who walked the same halls, went to the same classes, and sat in the same classrooms as they did.”


Computer and Robotics Club learns about new technology at Maker Faire:

Elena Hertel ’19 tinkers with an Arduino in the computer lab for PHS’s Computer and Robotics Club.
photo by Aaron Wu

On September 23, the PHS Computer and Robotics club attended Maker Faire in New York City, a festival that celebrates creativity and innovation. At the event, “makers” go to share their work observe the ideas of others. Maker Faire invites experts in the fields of arts, crafts, engineering, and science to showcase their expertise on the work they have produced.

“There are also lectures from popular people in the technology field, as well as celebrities from YouTube. [One year, representatives] from Google were there. Other big companies of that genre have been to the fair as well,” said Graciela Elia, a Computer Science teacher at PHS.

As this is the club’s third trip to Maker Faire, students are becoming increasingly interested in robotics and computers. PHS students involved in Maker Faire believe that events like these are part of what keeps people engaged in science and technology.

“Seeing new technology keeps everyone interested in what’s going on. Maker Faire [had demonstrations like] augmented reality and 3D printing, which can inspire people to learn more about science. They can also be incorporated into computer and robotics programs,” said Lincoln Roth ’19, a member of the club.

According to Roth, each year that he has been to Maker Faire, the event managed to amaze the Computer and Robotics club, as well as the other attendees of the event.

“We go to show the members of the club some of the things that are happening in robotics, why robotics is cool, and how they can apply what they learn at Maker Faire to what they’re doing in the club. If someone wants to build a drone, now [after attending the fair,] they’ve seen a drone, [and] can apply what they’ve learned to their project,” Roth said.

Shravya Nandyala ’20 was a first time attendee at Maker Faire, and the event provided insight into the technological world that makes her want to attend the fair in the future.

“I would go again, because each year has different focuses in the computer science and robotics community. [This] year it was oriented towards 3D printing. It will be interesting to see how Maker Faire progresses as trends change,” said Nandyala.

One of the club’s goals in going to Maker Faire was to see what was new in 3D printing, as the club is looking to purchase another 3D printer for PHS.

“We met the manufacturers [of the 3D printers] so we could ask questions and learn more gabout them. We’re trying to get a grant from the Princeton Education Foundation for another 3D printer. The people at the fair helped us make our decision, so if we get the money from the grant, Maker Faire [will have inspired our choice] of the school’s new 3D printer,” said Elia.

If the PHS Computer and Robotics Club is to receive a grant for the new 3D printer, approval for the purchase will be announced in the spring of 2018.


Therapy dogs: the next step in PHS’s mental health and stress reduction initiative:

graphic by Caroline Tan

As part of a long-term plan to decrease student stress and increase wellness, multiple mental health-focused initiatives have recently become available to PHS students including therapy dogs at break and the availability of stress and anxiety workshops offered by Trinity Counseling.

On October 6, therapy dogs were brought in from an organization called Attitudes in Reverse, or AIR, during break. Due to a large student turnout, AIR may be returning to PHS, depending on how helpful students believed the session to be.

“Petting dogs just has [a calming effect] on you, and distracts you from all the other things you have to worry about in your day, even if it’s just for a few minutes,” said Renée Mellman ’20.

Integral Yoga has also reached out to the school offering their services for students. PHS guidance counselors went to visit the counseling center in person, leading Principal Gary Snyder to tweet on the subject, encouraging students to take advantage of the community resource.

Kristina Donovan, the head of the PHS guidance department, has also taken initiative in the attempts to limit student stress, having been a leader in working with organizations to establish student wellbeing.

“It’s hard to pinpoint one person [who has organized the attempts to decrease [mental health issues], but within school, a leader of the mental health projects has been Mrs. Donovan. AIR reached out to us and offered their services, [allowing] Donovan [to] work with them to get them here,” said Snyder.

Snyder stated that the recent initiatives are only a portion of what the school is doing to ensure the health of all students.

“We’ve been working on the issues of stress and student wellness for a while now, and so these are only two examples. We’re trying to change the bell schedule, as well as [the quantity of] homework. These approaches all offer services to the community that assert our goals in different ways,” said Snyder.

The PPS administration also plans to combat mental health issues faced at PHS by making changes to the bell schedule.

“This year we put a twelve minute break in the morning. We’re doing some [additional] experimenting with the bell schedule, as we’re looking at a longer break. Feedback has shown that some students prefer a longer break to the extra twelve minutes break in the morning. We just want a learning environment that isn’t necessarily so fast-paced, and an environment that supports healthy learning,” said Snyder.

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