Q&A with Ryan Hews, Upper School Head of The Hun School of Princeton

Tell us about The Hun School’s history and current campus location. 

The Hun School was founded by Princeton University math professor John Gale Hun as a tutoring school over a century ago. Dr. Hun was renowned for his ability to inspire a passion for learning in each individual student, and that philosophy remains at the core of our mission today. We are the only boarding school located in downtown Princeton, New Jersey.  Our campus sits on 45 idyllic acres overlooking Stony Brook. It is easily accessible from New York and Philadelphia as well as several major airports and train stations. Being The Hun School of Princeton is more than just a name to us. We aspire to be and to inspire our students to be responsible leaders and members of the Princeton community.

What grades does The Hun School serve and how do the staff and faculty promote joyful learning? 

The Hun School serves boys and girls in grades six through 12 and post graduates.  We’re proud that our faculty have helped us become a leader in student-centered education. Focusing on the skill development of each student, our faculty understand that students need to be more than just consumers of information. They lead by allowing students the opportunity to do rather than just listen, to achieve deeper levels of understanding because they are fully engaged and having fun. Students are also able to connect better with their teachers if they can laugh and explore together in a hands-on environment. Therefore, our faculty make joyful teaching and learning a priority in and out of the classroom. They do this through their own impassioned approach and by encouraging students to find a personal interest in every learning experience. Academic excellence and joy aren’t mutually exclusive, and our faculty have helped establish a community of learners that is both kind and vigorous and we hear from current, past, and prospective students that this environment is what sets us apart.

Describe the boarding experience. 

Our boarding program is essential to life at The Hun School. It brings together a highly-diverse student population from 30 countries and 18 states. All of our students, boarding and day, Middle and Upper, benefit from the diversity of our collective experiences as well as the 24-hour learning environment.

Programming, activities, faculty, and of course meals, are available on nights and weekends. We enjoy cultural celebrations, wellness programs, films, and guest speakers in a relaxed, familial environment. In addition, Princeton University, Central New Jersey, New York, and Philadelphia offer innumerable cultural and education opportunities that our students and faculty readily enjoy. We are uniquely a day and a boarding school and offer the benefits of both to our students and their families. Our day students may not sleep here, but they mix with and enjoy the community of our boarding program as if they lived here with us.

Give some examples of The Hun School’s vibrant student life, including any school traditions. 

When students enter Hun, whether it be in sixth grade or ninth, they are assigned to a Raider House, and they remain a member of that House for life. Throughout the year, the Raider Houses compete across grade levels for points, which determine the winner of the Hun Cup. These spirited contests — athletic, artistic, and academic — allow mentoring across grade levels and have their roots in Hun School history. One of my favorite Hun moments is seeing senior House leaders hoist their sixth grade teammates in the air to celebrate a dodge ball victory. The peer leadership and character development of each student is reinforced through this important tradition.

How does The Hun School prepare students for college and beyond?

The Hun School is a pioneer in skills-based education. While many schools talk about the importance of this approach, very few systematically impart theses skills across grade levels and disciplines, offering students assessment of their skill development and meaningful opportunities to demonstrate mastery. By prioritizing the development of these skills over content, our graduates possess an agility that gives them an edge in college and in their careers. Hun alumni report being well prepared for college and life across traditional disciplines, but more importantly as collaborators, leaders, and innovators.

What are The Hun School’s plans for the future?

In a world of constant change, Hun will continue to lead the re-imagination of education for our students and the world they will help create. In recent years, we have focused much of this effort on developing student-centered classrooms, to facilitate hands-on and skills-based learning over lecture-style teaching. Moving forward, we plan to continue Dr. Hun’s philosophy of individual attention to students’ needs and give our faculty all of the tools they need to be exceptional mentors. Additionally, we will have some exciting news to share soon about a new experiential program that will allow all of our students to have real-world, inter-disciplinary experiences as part of their Hun School experience.

On an administrative level, we will be working to bolster our endowment and philanthropic support, to ensure that our facilities grow to match our educational approach. As an example, this fall we are opening a newly renovated Middle School building, which boasts classrooms designed specifically to facilitate Harkness discussions and innovative learning projects.