Upper School Students Explore Summer Opportunities

It was a summer of discovery for many upper school students as they tackled research projects, internships and experiences that involved active participation, deep understanding and meaningful connections.

Head of Upper School Peter Newcomb noted how “wonderful it is to see so many of our students pursuing passions beyond the classroom and giving back to their communities in myriad ways.”

Sophie Moussapour ’25 worked with first grade students in academic and enrichment classes through the GO Project, a nonprofit organization that provides support to underserved students from the Lower East Side, Chinatown and Brooklyn. “I loved playing with the kids, leading them and teaching them, but also feel that my work building emotional connections was impactful,” she shared.

Moussapour credits Masters with cultivating her love of volunteerism: “I have been passionate about education and equity, and the professional development paired with this program focused on social justice which also drew me into this kind of work.”

After traveling throughout the East Coast playing Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) tournament basketball, Adam Bello ’24 transitioned from player to coach at the SkyHawks Youth Basketball Camp in Tarrytown and Harrison, New York. “I worked with kids from age 4 to 10 and it was so heartwarming,” Bello said. 

Bello, a guard on the varsity boys basketball team, discovered coaching was more challenging than he anticipated. “We had days dedicated to dribbling, shooting, passing and defense where we played various games and did drills to try to get them to elevate their skills,” he said.

But sharing a bond with children by playing a sport he loves was a great experience. “I try and work with kids as much as I can,” he said. “When I get to teach on top of it, it just makes it all the better. Their faces lighting up as they finally make their first shot is one of the things I love most.”

A passion for theater and community drew Xavier Rolston ’25 to Arc Stages in Pleasantville, New York, where he taught acting classes and worked as an assistant director with two different groups of kids to help put on musical productions. 

Rolston, who volunteers at Arc Stages year-round with box office and stage crew needs, enjoyed the summer work with the budding thespians in grades 2 through 8. “Whether it was designing light cues and running lights or sound during the show, or helping with choreography from time to time, each age group is so different and I’ve loved changing my lessons and approach to teaching for each group,” he said. 

Classmates Leo Horton ’24 and Shawn Pichardo ’24 started Beats for Justice, an initiative sparked by their shared love of hip-hop and music production. Horton was inspired by a trip to Jackson, Mississippi, with his father, who works with community organizations to help with water reservoir systems. 

Horton came up with the idea to support underserved young people in the Jackson community with music production instruction. He received donations of computers from a host of individuals and companies and raised nearly $1,000 for the rest of the equipment he needed to get started: microphones, speakers and audio software.

With lesson plans and videos in hand from music producers Wheezy and Metro Boomin, the two seniors spent four days in Jackson working with 30 middle school teenagers. “We taught sampling, how to make beats, and how to program the drums, and we had a section on recording music and a lyric-writing session,” Horton explained.

Horton and Pichardo are meeting via Zoom with kids in Jackson, and hope to expand their project in the future. “The kids were so engaged and that brought Shawn and me so much joy,” Horton said. “The most powerful thing was the music, which helped us bridge both the cultural and age gaps. Music is a great way to connect people.”

Working in a lab also provided meaningful connections for Masters students. Some junior science research students took a deeper dive into the award-winning projects they started last year.

Serena Sharma ’25 worked in Dr. Binyam Mogessie's biology lab at Yale University. She teamed up with two Ph.D. students “to see if using a certain mutant called KIF5B-360 will allow Dr. Mogessie to see microtubules better, which would therefore affect how scientists study these microtubules.”

“Science is something where even in a bio lab, other elements of science like chemistry and physics will come into play,” Sharma explained. “My project is going well, but science is finicky and it will take time to truly know if this will be a better method.”

Aaron Weinberg ’25 spent the summer in a cardiology lab at Columbia University Medical Center. The Marks lab, under Dr. Andrew Marks, examines the ryanodine receptor, an important protein that regulates muscle contraction and neuronal function. Mutations and dysfunction of the ryanodine receptor can cause diseases in the body such as heart failure. 

“I became interested in this topic during my science research class taught by Dr. Gremski,” Weinberg said. “My focus this summer has been analyzing how a faulty receptor impacts the cardiovascular system of mice and hamsters infected with COVID-19.” 

Alyssa Wang ’25 worked remotely on an astrophysics project with the help of scientists at Case Western Reserve University in Ohio. “I worked on creating visualizations of potential topological models of the universe with my mentors, Pip Petersen and Quinn Taylor.”

Wang spent her days learning the “new-user unfriendly” Unity engine and coding program. And as she put it, “perseverance and problem-solving (both the wit and the grit)” helped make the process go smoothly.

As she completes her results paper and starts to prepare for upcoming science fairs, Wang reflected on her joy of learning about science and how things work. “Problem-solving proves to be an essential aspect of my personal life and enjoyment,” she said. 

“So many of our students and faculty participate in works that allow them to engage their curiosity and/or be powers for good,” Newcomb added. “We are lucky to be at a school where intellectual discovery and serving others is part of the fabric of our community.”