Grades 6-12; Boarding 8-12

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Faculty Spotlight

Bonnie Cusack, Faculty Member, Edmund V. Cervone Center for Learning

Ms. Bonnie Cusack has decided that, after ten years at The Pennington School, it is time to retire from full-time teaching. Considering that this academic year was also her fiftieth year of teaching—and an impressive half century at that—it’s safe to say that Ms. Cusack is well-deserving!

A proud graduate of Beaver College, now known as Arcadia University, in nearby Glenside, PA, Ms. Cusack holds a bachelor’s degree in psychology and elementary education, and also completed graduate work in special education at Kean College and The College of New Jersey. Ms. Cusack also holds numerous teaching certificates, due in part from having taught in Massachusetts, a state that required a separate certificate for each kind of learning difference.

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Mark DiGiacomo, Teacher of History

Mark DiGiacomo has traveled a most interesting path on his way to becoming a mentor to many teachers here at Pennington and beyond, as well as earning a reputation as a “mover-and-shaker” in the world of AP US History.

Even the road to earning his BA in religious studies at Westmount College in Santa Barbara, CA, was not without a detour. While working for an insurance company in California, Mr. DiGiacomo responded to a tip from a friend that Axl Rose, lead singer of Guns N’ Roses, needed a new personal assistant. For the next four years, Mr. DiGiacomo would serve in this capacity while finishing his bachelor’s degree. Since much of Rose’s touring days were behind him at that point, Mr. DiGiacomo acted primarily as a liaison between Rose and his lawyers, agents, and property management. His schedule was such that he was able to attend classes and finish his degree. Mr. DiGiacomo then traveled to Princeton where he attended Princeton Seminary, later earning a Master of Divinity.

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Jerome Russo, Teacher of Spanish, Class Dean, Class of 2024, Administrator on Duty, Scheduler

Although Mr. Jerry Russo is one of our most tenured teachers, currently serving in his 36th year at Pennington, he maintains that working with Pennington students daily, as a Spanish teacher and in many other capacities, helps to keep him young.

Mr. Russo joined Pennington after having completed a Bachelor of Science in psychology at Swarthmore College. It was during his undergrad program that he first traveled to Spain, spending a semester in Madrid. Within his first 10 years at Pennington, Mr. Russo would then go on to complete an MEd in Curriculum Instruction and Supervision in order to work at a summer program in Salamanca, Spain through the TASIS school system, and to chaperone an environmental science trip to Puerto Rico.

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Susan Wirsig, Director, Applied Science Certificate Program, Teacher of Computer Science and Engineering, Teacher of Mathematics

If we, as teachers, strive to inspire our students to continue doing good work once they’ve left Pennington, Ms. Sue Wirsig certainly lives this axiom. Although she has only been with us for about a dozen years, Ms. Wirsig has quickly passed along her love of research and product development to current students and alumni alike.

After earning a bachelor’s, then a master’s degree in education at Queen’s University, Ontario, Ms. Wirsig first taught math at a high school in Canada. Following a desire to learn more and do research, Ms. Wirsig worked with professors at Cornell to design elementary science curricula. Shortly afterward, she pursued a master’s program at Harvard University that focused on curriculum development. While at Harvard, she worked for a research project called, “Teaching for Understanding,” and through this work, she has developed curricula with educational leaders all over the world including Canada, Namibia, and Jordan.  

Read More about Susan Wirsig, Director, Applied Science Certificate Program, Teacher of Computer Science and Engineering, Teacher of Mathematics
Zuyi Wang, Teacher of Mandarin, Teacher of English as a Second Language, Hall Parent

When listening to Ms. Zuyi Wang speak about teaching and engaging with students, there’s a sense of excitement that is truly infectious. Pennington’s one and only teacher of Mandarin Chinese, and also a teacher of English for second-language learners, Ms. Wang has quickly made her mark since joining Pennington in 2021. 

Ms. Wang studied English linguistics and the teaching of English at the Education University of Hong Kong, earning a bachelor’s degree. Interestingly, after taking her entrance exam, Ms. Wang had been placed in the elementary education program. As Ms. Wang explained, “I didn’t have a choice because I would have chosen secondary education.” However, despite completing her student teaching in an elementary classroom, Ms. Wang has only ever taught high school students and adults. With some dozen universities and colleges located in Hong Kong, Ms. Wang thoroughly enjoyed the exposure to all the activities and cultural offerings that such a large university city had to offer.

Read More about Zuyi Wang, Teacher of Mandarin, Teacher of English as a Second Language, Hall Parent
Lisa Houston, Director of Advisory and Student Activities

Fresh out of college, Ms. Lisa Houston was working as an interior designer in her native Princeton when she saw a newspaper advertisement from one of Princeton High School’s sports rivals, The Pennington School. They were looking for a part-time Middle School drama teacher.

“I ended up directing all of our shows,” says Ms. Houston, “and the very next year, I was hired full-time and invited to live on campus.” Graduating from Barnard College with a Bachelor of Arts in English and technical theater, Ms. Houston certainly was qualified to teach and direct. And because of her kind, understanding nature, Ms. Houston was also ready to mentor the young people living on her hall.

Read More about Lisa Houston, Director of Advisory and Student Activities
Nick DeRosa, Teacher of History

Nick DeRosa, who joined our history department in the 2022-23 school year, is doing what he loves, both in and outside the classroom. His journey to the classroom, though, was certainly an intriguing one. After earning his B.A. in government, law, and international affairs at Lafayette College, DeRosa took his knowledge of the law into a different direction. His first full-time job was as an operations manager of a New Jersey security firm. Instead of assigning homework and grading quizzes, DeRosa was responsible for the placement of armed guards and other security personnel in five states and helped lead the special operations unit in the fields of private investigation, security penetration testing, workplace violence, financial fraud, loss prevention, and other sensitive areas.

Although this kind of work was very rewarding, DeRosa found that after three years of working on some tough cases, he yearned for the security found in schools and in books. Deciding that teaching was what he wanted to do, DeRosa returned to school while teaching, and earned his M.S. in education from Saint Joseph’s University. A few years later, he arrived at Pennington, where he and his wife, Amanda are also part of our residential community.  

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Jamie Moore '03, Teacher of Middle School Social Studies

Parents are often right and certainly for Mr. Jamie Moore, this was the case. When he was looking for opportunities to substitute teach after graduating from Lebanon Valley College, his parents suggested that he give Pennington a try. Armed with a bachelor in Citizenship Education: Social Studies, he quickly became a prime teaching candidate.

As an alumnus from the class of 2003, after spending grades 8 through 12 at Pennington, Mr. Moore already knew his way around the halls. He recalls realizing very early on in his undergraduate program that Pennington had thoroughly prepared him for college-level work. In particular, he remembers that his critical-thinking skills were sharp, and he knew how to advocate for himself when he had questions about the material covered in his courses.

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Dr. Don Dolan, Teacher of Music

In 2008, when Dr. Don Dolan began offering piano lessons to Pennington students, he had no way of knowing that what was meant to be a short-term gig would develop into a nice career at Pennington.

Dr. Dolan had just completed his doctorate at Rutgers University; he had earned a master’s degree in music from the University of Michigan and spent about ten years playing piano in numerous concerts. These performance opportunities also included international competitions. Dr. Dolan performed in such beautiful locations as Lisbon, Portugal; Locarno, Switzerland; and Belgrade, Serbia. It was actually in Serbia where Dr. Dolan didn’t mind getting knocked out of the competition a bit early; the country was still engaged in civil conflict, so his departure to the airport was more like fleeing for safety than anything else!

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Lida Castro, Teacher of Spanish

In winter 2022, when Dr. Lida Castro began packing for her sabbatical in Spain, she had two choices: pack a lot or pack sparingly. She’s happy to say that she decided to do the latter.

“Guillermo (her husband) and I left each with a carry-on bag, and that’s exactly what we came back with!”

Not only has Dr. Castro gathered a great many material items, as one does over the course of 11 years in one place; she also collected a nice list of accomplishments.

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Elysia Price, Department Chair and Teacher of Mathematics

When Elysia Price joined Pennington in 2016, she knew what kinds of courses the Math Department offered. What she might not have known, however — our math teachers love their math and their costumes!

Coming from a public school where her class sizes averaged around thirty students, Price was very happy to have the opportunity to work with students on a more individual basis. Because the department likes to rotate teaching assignments, Price has taught several courses at Pennington. Most recently, she teaches Algebra I, Geometry, and Calculus, all of which she readily handles while serving as department chair, a role she has filled since 2019

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Dr. Nate Van Yperen,  Department Chair and Teacher of Religion

For the past four years, Dr. Nate Van Yperen has been combining his love of nature, travel, and religious studies to improve the curriculum of Pennington’s religion offerings.  

Before joining Pennington, Dr. Van Yperen, who hails from the village of East Washington, New Hampshire (population: 70!), studied and worked on both the Pacific and Atlantic coasts, as well as the upper Midwest. His journey began with his undergraduate work which he divided between the Pacific Northwest and New England.

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Samantha Stern-Leaphart, Director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion and Teacher of English

Over the last dozen years, Ms. Samantha Stern-Leaphart has worn several hats at Pennington and, in doing so, has played an important role in making the School a stronger institution.

Since joining us in the fall of 2011 as a member of the English Department, Ms. Stern-Leaphart has taught many interesting courses. These include her current Grade 10 Honors English course, American Identities, as well as Gender & Sexuality, Hyphen-American Literature, Film & Visual Media, Finding Identity, and Creative Writing.

As the names of some of these courses suggest, it is no surprise that Ms. Stern-Leaphart, often called “Ms. S.,” was named and has been serving over the past several years as the School’s Director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. In this role, Ms. Stern-Leaphart espouses a commitment to creating a community in which every person, from a student in the sixth grade all the way to the members of our Board of Trustees, is seen and feels included.

Read More about Samantha Stern-Leaphart, Director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion and Teacher of English
Holly Jones, Teacher of History and Economics

Holly Jones is a longtime member of the History and Social Studies Department at Pennington. We often refer to her as the economics teacher, and--behind the scenes-- Jones has carved out quite a niche for herself in the world of economics education in the United States.

Before economics became “her thing,” Jones, currently in her thirty-first year on Pennington's faculty, taught a slew of courses since she began in 1992. These have included various history courses such as the history of the U.S., modern Japan, specific periods such as the post-WWII era, and colonial Latin America. For a number of years, Jones was the chair of the History Department. And for several years, Jones has taught courses in both AP Micro- and Macroeconomics as well as Introduction to Economics.

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Peter Secrest '13, Teacher of Latin and Grade 9 English

Who teaches three levels of Latin in the Middle and Upper Schools as well as Grade 9 English? Who is a dorm parent, serves as the costume director for the Fall Play, and as the advisor to the Middle School Play, and then says that he’s up for a challenge — so he starts a master’s degree program? 

And who, after all of this, then feels that he still isn’t doing enough, so he takes on a new role of assistant director of residential life?

That would be our very own Peter Secrest '13, a true “home-grown” product. Peter first joined The Pennington School as a sixth-grader and was a “lifer,” graduating in 2013. He then majored in classical studies and drama at Tufts University, joining the Pennington teaching faculty soon after finishing his degree.

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Dr. Margo Andrews, Teacher of Environmental Science

A student who takes the environmental science course with Dr. Margo Andrews is in for an experience – and it happens to be an experience that mirrors what environmental scientists do in the real world. And Dr. Andrews should know – her first job out of college was as a watershed ecologist in Baltimore City, Maryland.

In 2017, Dr. Andrews began taking her students occasionally to the Lewis Brook, a stream located on the north side of campus, for water-based labs. In 2020, when the entire School rediscovered the Lewis Brook stream after several Pennington staff members and students cleared paths in the woods, Dr. Andrews saw not only a chance to incorporate even more lab work into her course, but also it was the type of lab work that she herself had done as a professional in her field.

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