Meet Ms. Papanikolaw!

Varsha Bhargava ‘23

The exuberant English teacher, Ms. Papanikolaw (pronounced pap-an-IK-ohl-ow) is known as a “chill”, yet enthusiastic teacher! Two contrasting adjectives, yet both appropriately describe the wonderful teacher of literature. When Ms. Papanikolaw was asked to be interviewed by RDA’s Varsha Bhargava ‘23, her eyes lit up, and her smile got even bigger (if even possible, given her bubbly personality). She agreed eagerly and went on to say that her life just comprises of her and her dog. However, RDA was able to get a more intricate look into the daily life of Ms. Papanikolaw as a teacher.


Students sit at their computers, composing articulate essays and contemplating the meaning of an Epic Hero as it relates to Odysseus in The Odyssey. The room is alive with the silent sound of a controlled horde of teenagers put to work as they create masterpieces. In the midst of the engrossed teens, Ms. Papanikolaw’s smile shines brightly as she prepares to be interviewed. Atop her head balances a Tinker Bell-esque bun. She pairs this hairstyle with a stylish, colorful outfit to complete the look. Her rainbow of Papermate pens shines on papers laid out before her, and her laugh radiates through the hallways of Ridge High.


Ms. P is known for allowing her students to relax during the end of class, when her “teacher senses” detect high levels of stress in her Honors English 9 and English 11 (British Literature) students. She can also be flexible on small assessment dates and presentations, as she knows there can be an overloaded schedule of tests on her students. Her understanding personality and open mindset make her very well-liked by students!


As a child, Ms. Papanikolaw played tennis and basketball, the latter mainly due to her height. When she was six, her soccer coach suggested that she try out dance. Ms. P has always wanted to be a teacher, ever since elementary school. This dream persisted throughout her middle school and high school years. After graduating high school, she attended The College of New Jersey. Now, Ms. Papanikolaw enjoys life with her five-year-old shih tzu, Lillie. Lillie is a big part of Ms. Papanikolaw’s life and is frequently referred to in class. 


She started teaching at Ridge High School in September of 2006 and has stayed here ever since. Initially, she taught 9th, 11th, and 12th grade English classes, but now she teaches Honors English 9 classes and English 11 (British Literature). To her, the biggest difference between the two classes she currently teaches are the different stages of life that each group of students are in. The freshmen are new, deer-caught-in-headlights, scared and curious of everything around them. Contrastingly, the juniors are preparing for college. They still have a lot to learn in high school, but they have a lot of upcoming adventures to look forward to as well. 


One trait all of Ms. P’s students share, however, is the penchant for diverse connections that students make with the material learned in class. Discussions about different topics pop up in the middle of class, relating to details from class readings. These discussions often take unexpected but intriguing turns, and everyone ends up learning from them, whether it be more literature facts or more about their classmates. These conversations also make great stress-relievers for students that work all day. 


The Romeo and Juliet unit is Ms. P’s favorite in her Honors English 9 classes. She describes the student casting experience to be lively as classmates argue enthusiastically and playfully over which parts to act out. To her, she cherishes seeing her students’ eagerness to complete an academic assignment.


Out of all the class readings in her English 11 British Literature classes, Macbeth is Ms. P’s favorite play to read because of the life lessons it teaches. The message of Macbeth’s thoughts as he determines his future is an important guide for eleventh graders, Mrs. Papanikolaw believes. 


As for Ms. P, she dabbles in “beekeeping” as well. All students in Ms. Papanikolaw’s room 406 English classes have witnessed these flying insects, even in the off seasons. A frequent pastime of the students in the classroom was watching a dazed bee fly around the ceiling. It would then, unfortunately for it, land on the window, only to be squashed by Ms. Papanikolaw’s flying book (the same one every time- it has been mentioned that she has “Windex-ed” said book). Ms. Papanikolaw is very afraid of bees, but believes it is her “responsibility for the welfare of [her] students” to eliminate the flying creatures in class.