Horace Mann Through the Ages: Longest-serving faculty members reflect on how the school has changed


Courtesy of Vivian Coraci/Art Director

Diya Chawla and Blake Bennett

“Whenever alumni come to campus, they are always amazed by what we have accomplished in the transition of the campus,” Director of Athletics, Health, & Physical Education Robert Annunziata said.

Across all departments, currently 20 teachers have worked at the school for more than 20 years. During those decades, they have witnessed changes to the curriculum, the campus, and the student body. 

The school’s environment is now much more concerned about students’ well-being, Annunziata, who is retiring this year after three and a half decades at the school, said. “From public safety to coaches who are certified in First Aid and CPR, the school’s wellness and health curriculum has evolved to make the community a more nurturing place.”

Public safety officer Jerry Weihe agrees that the school has become safer over the past few decades. “Many retired police officers have been hired, so they have experience and ensure safety with the community,” he said.

History teacher Barry Bienstock, who is currently in his 41st and last year at the school, has noticed that the school is more stable now, in terms of its administration. When he started working at the school in the 1980s, the administration was constantly changing, he said. “I think there was maybe a six-year period where there were new administrators every year, and every year there were interims,” he said. “Now, the school is stabilized by people like Dr. Kelly and Dr. Levenstein.” 

The school athletics department has also increased in size. Over Associate Athletic Director Rawlins Troop’s 41 years at the school, the department has more than doubled in size, he said. In 1988, there were only 44 athletic teams. Now, there are 87, he said. “Our students have always demonstrated great pride in representing Horace Mann and many more students participate in athletics than in the past as a result of the growth of the athletic program,” he said. 

To accommodate the larger athletic programming, the school’s campus has expanded, Annunziata said. “We’ve built an aquatics center, fitness center, with updated facilities and gym space,” he said. These new athletic spaces have provided an opportunity for curriculum, program, and teams to grow exponentially, he said 

The athletics department is not the only part of the school that has undergone changes in recent years; long-serving teachers have witnessed transformations in academic curriculums as well. English teacher Rebecca Bahr, who is coming up on her 24th year at the school, has witnessed a shift in the English department to incorporate more modern literature into the curriculum, she said. 

Head of the UD and English teacher Dr. Jessica Levenstein, who has taught at the school for 20 years, has seen similar changes in the English book selection. The English department has not only incorporated more racial, sexual, and gender-diverse novels into their curriculum but has also opened up to new genres, with a major influence from contemporary fiction, Levenstein said. 

However, Levenstein refutes the common perception that prevailing political norms are influencing the curriculum. “I would really call it more of an effort to make sure that a wider array of students could find points of connection to works that they’re reading,” she said. “I wouldn’t consider that a political act, I consider that serving our students.” 

Similar to the English department, the history department also offers a much more diverse curriculum than they did in 1982, Bienstock said. When Bienstock first began teaching in the 80s, there wasn’t much variety available to upperclassmen after they finished their required classes. The History Department only offered Advanced Placement (AP) US History, AP Modern European History, and two electives, including a two trimester Urban Studies course, followed by a one trimester course on the Kennedy years, Bienstock said.“Over the course of many decades, the electives became much more robust, and there are now more options for students to choose from.”

Beyond the curriculum, Levenstein has also noted changes in students’ behavior, she said. When Levenstein first started teaching at the school, she felt that students were constantly trying to get away with breaking the rules, she said. On one senior absurdity day, a group of students arrived in a fire truck, she said. While it was funny at the moment, it was only enjoyable for the students that could afford to rent the firetruck, she said. “Coming from a nostalgic perspective, that could be kind of fun, but I don’t think that it was a healthy environment, as it only spoke to a small segment of the student body,” Levenstein said. 

Bahr also notes changes in the behavior of the student body. With the rise of social media, students now have less time to focus on their schoolwork than they used to, she said. “During my first years teaching here, Facebook had just started, but the entire influence of social media wasn’t around, so I think that has shifted the landscape,” she said. 

Another major change to students’ behavior is decreased independence in their studies, Bienstock said. “Students have shown that they want to meet with teachers about the work that they’ve done in preparing for assessments, causing them to be less reliant on themselves.” 

None of these changes stop teachers from returning every September. Bahr comes back each year with a passion to teach and is happy to see students eager to learn, she said. “It has been very exciting to teach as I enjoy the English department’s dynamic and students’ interest in learning.” 

At the end of the day, teachers stay at the school not because of any individual curriculum but because of the passion and excitement of the students at the school, Bienstock said. “The most rewarding part about my job is that every year, students are deeply engaged in not only becoming better people but also better informed about history,” he said.

Courtesy of Coach Annunziata
Courtesy of Coach Annunziata, STILL SMILING Annunziata grins through thirty-five years.
Courtesy of Coach Troop
Courtesy of Coach Troop, THEN AND NOW Forty-one years at this school, what a trooper!