Students in graduation


May 2022

Although 316 students from both the Boys Prep and Girls Prep Divisions, along with 21 faculty members, are participating in the Backing Project this Spring Phase, a lot is still going on for students at St. Benedict’s in May.

Spring Phase is fully back, and students are looking forward to it. The pandemic had eliminated the experiential learning phase of school entirely in 2020 and it abbreviated last year’s project in May. But now 15 projects are open for the boys and five for the girls; additionally, students can opt to do designated community service. Students sign up for their preferred projects late in the winter; no one is guaranteed his or her first choice but the schedulers do their best to match students to projects. 

Teachers come up with their own project ideas and spend a minimum of five hours a day directing hands-on learning and assigned reading and writing. Science Department Chair Dennis Lansang, M.D., has returned to doing Digital Photography for the first time in three years. In 2019, he took a break from his many years of teaching photography to accompany Dean of Administration Michael Scanlan and a group of students on a bus tour of Civil Rights landmarks in the South. But now he is back in his chemistry lab and transformed it into a photography studio, accompanying kids on weekly outings to New York and Newark, where they practice techniques and experiment with lighting. He doesn’t allow phones for picture taking, because the phones “do it all and the kids never learn anything technically.” He particularly enjoys the annual trip to Times Square, which is scheduled for 2 p.m. to 9 p.m. so students can catch the sunset and evening shots.

Dr. Lansang, who teaches chemistry during the regular academic terms, enjoys the freedom, the ability to think about only one thing, that Spring Phase offers. “I love the immersion,” he said, “and the opportunity to go off the property. And when he is in the school, he likes being in the lab the whole time. “The learning is not theoretical,” he noted.

When they are in the photography lab, the students can critique each other's work and explain how they revised their mistakes, learning from their peers. Teachers who are themselves photographers visit the lab and critique the entries the students select for their final portfolio.

His 15 students will compile their work in a commemorative book available at the end of Spring Phase.

In an era where trades and crafts are diminishing, history teacher Rich Gallerani wants kids to be able to use their hands for more than manipulating their phones. After 18 years leading Downtown Clowns, a project teaching kids everything from costume making to miming, Gallerani has designed Native American Bead and Leather, an introduction to Native American-inspired crafting and leather work. Students will learn skills like beading on elk skin, leather stamping, sewing with artificial sinew to create their own Native American inspired medicine bags, leather bracelets, deer bone neck pieces and more.

A skilled woodworker, Gallerani has also been doing Native American-inspired crafts for years, teaching himself bead and leather work. He said the class will be quiet and almost meditative, with Native American music in the background. Students will read An Indigenous People’s History of the United States by Roxanne Dunbar Ortiz. Gallerani wants the students to learn manual dexterity, symmetry, patience, sticktoitiveness and focus.

Find Your Roots - Genealogy 101, taught by math teacher Valerie Sampier, grew out of her love for the PBS program, Finding Your Roots, hosted by Henry Louis Gates, Jr., and her own quest to find out the truth behind family myths and stories. She has been able to go back five generations so far in her effort to find family roots. The process is not easy, but five weeks is enough time for the students to get started, she said.

They will visit the archives at the Newark Public Library to understand the meaning of terms used in genealogical searches, to understand deeds and wills and to get historical context for immigration or migration from the south to the north.

Each student, with parental consent, will get a DNA test kit. Sampier has an account with and has created sub-accounts for the students; they can also use the free service, However, more than 80 percent of their information will come from talking to their families. “I want them to hear family stories,” Sampier said. Asked about kids who may not talk to their fathers, she said she doesn't want kids to feel rejected or excluded and has enlisted Dean of Counseling, Sinclair Davis, Psy.D, to talk to the students about reaching out to family members, perhaps uncovering painful things.

But, she noted, “We are all complicated; we are all connected. And what does it mean to be an American?” These valuable insights and questions are what she hopes students will take away from the project.

Biology and Forensic Science teacher Danielle Laube does a lot of crafts. She has quilted and sewn since college. But these days, she said, kids don’t get exposed to the pleasures of these activities, perhaps because of their phones. So, she is running a class, How Things Are Made. Students will make soap, lip balm and scrubs. The boys will even learn how to knit cotton washcloths and also delve into more technology-based projects like creating little robots. They will do tie dying and compete in Lego challenges. She expects the kids to put together a Mother’s Day gift and, as a final project, they will pick one of their “homemade” items and demonstrate how they made it.

With nearly 75-percent of the Girls Prep Division participating in the Backpacking Project this year, only a few remain to participate in projects on the school property. But Associate Director of Admissions Analisa Branco and math teacher Anduela Zylyftari will put their seven students through the paces in I Am Woman, Hear Me Roar – learning things from changing a tire to renovating and redecorating classrooms and offices. They will practice cooking quick, healthy meals and develop time management skills. They will read Lead Like a Woman by Deborah Smith Pegues. And the participants will plan and organize this year’s prom.

Other projects for the Boys Prep Division include Real Men Cook Dinner, A History of Martial Arts and Anime, Art & Nature & Protest, Organic Gardening and Urban Agriculture, Critical Art and Film Practice, Brick City Rowing, Stage Rage, Art Through the Ages, Creative Content, The Business of the Gray Bee Garden – in conjunction with Organic Gardening and Urban Agriculture – and Shaping People, Shaping Business. And in the Girls Prep Division there are projects devoted to craft making, cultural exchange and art through the ages.

The Hive will surely be buzzing in May!

Noreen Connolly H’11