Happenings at Princeton Friends School

Angela DeGraff
It is an exciting time in the 2019-2020 academic year! The Princeton Friends School community is engaged in progressive educational practices that develop students, from our youngest to oldest, into leaders of their own learning. Our days have been filled with activities that inspire deep learning, develop and amplify each voice, and provide service to the community here and abroad.

We launched 2020 with our annual support of the Trenton/Mercer Continuum of Care-sponsored Mercer County Homeless Count. This count is essential to ensuring our county is equipped with the appropriate resources to serve all members of the community. To support the Count, PFS students, faculty, staff and parents participated in a robust food drive, which resulted in more than 500 bagged meals being distributed to people without homes. A glimpse into the Great Room during the culminating day allowed one to see how our annual sandwich-making extravaganza was a great reminder of the commitment within our PFS community to service for all mankind.

In addition to these school-wide efforts, our middle school students are cultivating their group processes and research skills through student- directed, service learning projects. In groups of eight, our students identified targets of their volunteer efforts, researched the targets’ needs, identified a community partner to collaborate with, and devised projects they will be conducting throughout the month. The projects range from those that make a difference to individuals with inadequate housing to supporting the sustainability efforts of the Mercer County Parks Commission. While conducting the projects, our students were challenged to raise their group collaboration skills to a higher level as they sought to understand the needs of others before providing service.

Service goes beyond our local Mercer County community. Our eighth graders traveled to the Bahamas to take responsibility in the world by caring for marine and animal life during our annual Island School adventure. While there, the students engaged in hands-on experiences working with marine biologists to discover and care for new species, explored the deep ocean, worked in the local primary schools to enhance literacy, and participated in sustainability projects. In addition to providing service opportunities, this voyage emphasized our commitment to place-based science education and exploration, while providing an amazing set of connecting activities for our oldest students to bond.

Our commitment to the global community continued at home, as our Chinese Language program led the community in the celebration of the Chinese New Year. During our celebration, we discussed the role of zodiac signs, practiced Chinese greetings, introduced the year of the rat, enjoyed a hearty Chinese buffet lunch, and facilitated learning through peer presentations. Our Chinese New Year performances included songs, skits, demonstrations and recitations from our B-School through 4th grade Chinese classes. We are looking forward to continuing our examination of Chinese culture when the 5th-8th grade Chinese students present a program on the Dragon Boat Festival in May.

Since arriving at PFS almost two years ago, I have come to value the strength of our students voices in conversation, in writing, and in their public speaking. As I write this letter, at PFS we are immersed in poetry season, where instructional time is dedicated to advancing these skills. This year we began our season, with what I hope will be an annual tradition – a poetry slam. The poetry slam was an opportunity for our students to experience a diversity of perspectives and to hear from new voices. Professional poets, alumni, and our students all shared work. We were thrilled to have PFS parent Donia Salem Harhoor, an Egyptian-American bibliophile, poet, choreographer and dancer, join us to share her works along with John Timpane, the former Books Editor and Theater Critic for The Philadelphia Inquirer and co-author of Poetry for Dummies. PFS poet-in-residence and professional storyteller, Luray Gross, returned to support the development of our poetry writing work. A peek into our 1st through 8th grade writing classes will show the inspiration the slam offered. Under the guidance of our educators, and in collaboration with our visiting poets, students are engaging in the process of brainstorming, drafting, revising, editing and publishing a set of poems. Our yearly anthology will be available on March 25th, shortly after we hear each student’s voice during Poetry Night.

In addition to all the experiences above, our students are deep in the exploration of literary works that reflect our time, are solving complicated math problems that stretch their critical and creative thinking, and can be seen simulating the universe in science class on the battlefield. It is the total
ity of our hands-on education that makes PFS the learning community we are.
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A progressive, Quaker day school welcoming students in Pre-K through 8th grade to our historic Princeton campus nestled in the woods.