Zaiya Gandhi '20 Reflects on the Impact of Princeton Day School
"I came in Eighth Grade from a small Catholic school, and one of the first things I noticed at PDS was the community. It was so diverse and everyone was incredibly kind; they helped me find my classes, they reached out to me to sit with them at lunch. Within the first days, I made a friend who helped me with everything, and as the year went on, we became really close. That spring she convinced me to do figure skating with her, and by the end I didn't have to cling to the railing anymore!
Opportunities Are There for Everyone
"Something else I immediately noticed was the opportunities. I wanted to join everything. I was interested in math clubs, I wanted to learn how to take care of the chickens. In the Upper School, freshmen can and do participate in everything, and anything that you are interested in, you can either find it or start it. If you are willing to pursue an idea and put in the work to organize it, the teachers will help you make it happen. I've participated in helping develop everything from a beach sweep to a PDS-hosted climate conference for high schoolers throughout the state to a boy's volleyball match just for fun.
"In my first year at PDS, I took Spanish, and at PDS they use the immersion method, so we were expected to only speak in Spanish in class. I was really interested, but in the beginning I was not doing too great, so I told my teacher and she met with me multiple times each week outside of class time to help me catch up on grammar and get better. Spanish became my favorite subject, and it still is now. As a result, I worked with a friend to revive the Spanish Club, which I now co-head, and I volunteered with a local organization to translate documents into Spanish. In 10th Grade, I met with my Spanish teacher so I could learn more about the history and linguistics of Spanish, and she helped me find a summer internship in linguistics at the University of Pennsylvania.
"I had done community service before, but PDS gave me the opportunity to use my experience to be a leader at school. Through service I also met teachers and students with similar interests; I met my best friend and I connected with a teacher who would become my advisor. I became co-head of Service Learning in the Upper School and had the opportunity to work with the Dean of Students and Head of Upper School to put together a day of service. It took place during a school day, so we planned meaningful events for all 400 upper schoolers. I'm also involved in Energy and Climate Scholars, which is a program that helps students learn about climate change through a partnership with Princeton University graduate scholars. Each month we meet with a handful of Princeton grad students to discuss their research related to real-world issues around climate change. In addition to participating in these groups, one of my main goals this year has been empowering underclassmen in these groups so they can continue to grow after I leave for college.
Teachers Who Really Care
"What makes the PDS experience so unique is teachers who really care about what they are teaching and about you as a person. It makes such a difference to have teachers that ask you what you need and who genuinely care about you. They want to help you learn in the way that works for you and it makes you excited to learn what they are teaching.
"The classes at PDS are challenging, but they push you to learn and develop a genuine interest in what you are learning instead of focusing on the grade. And your teachers really want to help you succeed. Some of the most interesting classes I've taken include industrial design, where I learned how to use Adobe photoshop, designed 3D objects on SolidWorks, built a recycling bin using the laser cutter and took apart and put back together headphones and speakers. I also love PE skating because it gave me a time in the day where I could go up to the rink, get some exercise and skate around with a few friends. And as a person who loves math, I was really interested in taking Advanced Topics, which is a post-AP calculus class where we use number theory to prove formulas and concepts.
"If I could give a key piece of advice to new students, I would say, 'Don't be afraid to get involved and ask questions. If there is something that seems interesting, get involved. And most important: People are really willing to help; just reach out!' "