Core Values of Honor, Virtue, and Humility Continue to Guide The Pennington School
Dedicated to educating students for nearly two centuries, The Pennington School is one of the oldest private schools in the United States.
Founded in 1838 by the New Jersey Conference of the Methodist Church, it opened its doors in 1840, and was originally known as the Methodist Episcopal Male Seminary. That first year, the school was housed in one building and enrolled three students under the tutelage of one teacher.
Fast forward to 2014. Today, 487 day and boarding students in grades six through 12 attend the school, which is located at 112 West Delaware Avenue in Pennington. Four academic buildings (a new humanities building, named for alumni Kenneth Yen, is expected to open in 2015), library, campus center, dining hall, health center, wellness center, fitness center, indoor swimming pool, outdoor tennis courts, and sports playing fields are all fixtures on the school’s 54 acre campus.
One hundred faculty members (half of whom live on campus) lead a rigorous college preparatory program. Honors and advanced placement courses are available in many disciplines, and The Pennington School students typically have a 100 percent college admission success rate.
“I think what attracts most families to private school education is the intimacy of our education,” notes William S. Hawkey, PhD who became headmaster in July. “The largest classes here have 16 students, and the typical class size is 13. The relationship that develops between faculty members and students brings about the best learning experience.”
As it has evolved over the years, the school has remained true to its guiding principles, he adds. “Our roots are in the John Wesley Methodist tradition, which speaks to inclusivity. We believe we are the school with a soul. It comes from our being a religiously-affiliated school that celebrates all denominations. It gives the kids an opportunity to explore spirituality. This is a distinguishing feature of our school.”
When the New Jersey Conference of the Methodist Church founded the school, it identified three guiding principles: “The education of the physical, the training of the mental, and the grounding of the soul in character.”
These principles reflected the vision of John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, who envisioned schools as places that cared for the whole individual. Central to this philosophy was the belief that the real purpose of education is not just to fill students with information, but to enable them to think, points out a school information statement.
Such beliefs were reinforced by Dr. Francis Green, one of The Pennington School’s most influential headmasters. It was he who emphasized the importance of “Honor, Virtue, and Humility,” three words which have become a focus of The Pennington School experience.
“We work hard to make sure that our students become ethical and well-educated young adults: people who are globally aware, work collaboratively, think critically, and communicate effectively, and who are engaged in their communities. Ours is a community built on mutual responsibility and trust, where personal ethics and moral behavior are emphasized. We also have a robust global studies program,” points out Dr. Hawkey.
In The Forefront
The school has been in the forefront of social and moral innovations in many ways over the years, he adds.
Originally enrolling boys only, in 1854, it became a co-ed institution. “The school was empowered by the New Jersey Legislature to confer the degree of Mistress of English Literature and Mistress of Liberal Arts upon young ladies who had finished their course of study,” notes a school statement.
In 1910, however, it reverted to educating boys exclusively, and then girls were admitted again in 1972. Now, boys and girls are enrolled in equal numbers at the school.
“Our admission standards are in line with our roots,” says Dr. Hawkey. “We have traditionally been diverse, and we continue to be broadly diverse.”
Indeed, currently, students representing 16 countries and 12 U.S. states are enrolled at the school.
“We also have a small college preparatory support program for students with learning differences,” adds Dr. Hawkey, “It includes high-ability kids who are dyslexic and those with ADHD.”
This innovative Center for Learning program was introduced in 1975, well before many other schools began to identify and offer programs for these students. It has been very successful, and the students in this program have gone on to college.
Dr. Hawkey, who has been at The Pennington School for more than 30 years as a teacher and coach, is very proud of the school’s focus on each individual student. “This is a place that cares about kids and treats them as individuals. Our mission is to develop individual excellence.
“It’s very much about educating the whole person,” he continues. “We believe in balance, which includes the most challenging academic program, but also trying out for the school play, the sports teams, etc. It makes for happy and healthy students.
“With 487 students, there are many varieties of kids with different make-ups and personalities. We offer them a place where they can find balance.
“They also get a feeling of balance from the adults here, on the playing field, in the residences, and at meals together with the faculty. That all helps to emphasize that this school community really takes care of the people here. We have a guidance program, and the kids meet every week with their advisor. They talk about courses, studying, and discuss what’s on their mind, what’s going on.”
A variety of student leadership programs is offered, and students can serve as proctors, peer leaders, and also hall prefects for boarding students. Opportunities to participate in student government and community service are also available.
“The students are involved in many service and volunteer programs,” says Dr. Hawkey. “There are many opportunities to do this, ranging from weekly tutoring of elementary school kids to trips over the holidays to such places as Haiti and Kentucky, where help is needed in various areas.”
They are also involved locally with the Crisis Ministry and HomeFront, he adds. The students plan a holiday party every year with gifts for the HomeFront families.
An engaging arts program at the school includes drama, music, fine arts, with plays, concerts, and exhibitions frequently presented.
Extra curricular activities are abundant, with many clubs — from chess, to languages, to technology, to the environment — all available, as are opportunities to contribute to the school’s literary magazine, year book, and newspaper.
A full sports program includes teams in a variety of sports, such as football, baseball, soccer, tennis, lacrosse, etc. for boys and girls.
“We have had a Pennington School football team for 138 years, one of the oldest of any private school,” reports Dr. Hawkey. “We take the whole issue of injuries very seriously and have a concussion testing protocol. It’s a distinguishing factor of our athletic program.”
Honor, Respect, Trust
Honor, respect, and trust are important at the school, and the students adhere to an honor code, which governs their behavior in all areas of their life, including honesty regarding academic exams, papers, etc.
In addition, as has been mentioned, spirituality is a significant focus at the school, and is deemed to be an important factor in fostering character and morality among the students.
Over the years, the students and their religious beliefs have diversified, and in turn, the school’s chapel services have changed, points out Dr. Hawkey. Today, students at the school come from many faiths and traditions, including Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Islam.
A school information statement notes that “Chapel services are a peaceful time for reflection and thought about life and love, friendship and community, right and wrong — themes that are important in every religion and in every country in the world.”
Dr. Hawkey looks forward to continuing The Pennington School tradition of excellence and service, at the same time focusing on the particular educational challenges of the 21st century. His long association with the school places him in a unique position to lead and build a school community while continuing to teach psychology and public speaking, and coach girl’s soccer.
“As a member of the faculty, I fully embraced the Pennington philosophy. I love being in the classroom and working with the kids, helping them get to that point of discovery and understanding. It is very gratifying.”
Dr. Hawkey’s position as headmaster is a dream come true, he adds. “As headmaster, I have a vision of a school community, and I hope to be able to implement that vision. My job includes overseeing the entire school program. That’s every aspect of it — from the grounds and housekeeping to academics.
“One of the biggest challenges for a school like Pennington is meeting the fund-raising challenge. It’s a number one question for independent schools to provide the resources you need. First and foremost, you need a top-notch faculty. I want Pennington to grow, to push the envelope academically school-wide. I want our program to be second to none. I see myself as a steward of The Pennington School’s image and mission.”