Ralph Recounts Important Math Memories

Ralph Reinwald is more than just your average math teacher, with interests spanning from linguistics to literature to complex calculus. Ralph is an untapped resource, a member of the community who is full of wisdom and history. After almost 50 years at FSS, Ralph has many stories to tell. 

Ralph began teaching at FSS in 1971. In his first few years, he inspired many students to pursue careers in mathematics, but he says that as a new teacher, he learned just as much from his students as they learned from him. “They taught me that, sometimes, you need to push beyond the scope of the classroom,” Ralph explained. “Not all students fit into the set curriculum.” 

To accommodate these advanced students, Ralph pioneered math independent studies and, subsequently, brought the first-ever math electives to Friends Select. If a student came to Ralph with a question or an interest, he did what he could to provide them with the best answer and education as possible.   

In the 1980’s, students came to Ralph wanting to learn about projected geometry, a fairly obscure branch of mathematics. Without knowing anything about the topic, he took on the project of creating a projective geometry elective for interested students. Ralph remembers, “the course involved too many theorems. They didn’t all fit on the chalkboards in my classroom. We had to roll these long sheets of paper down the hallway to write all the theorems out on. We got so invested and distracted that we forgot about meeting for worship.” While the class may have gotten Ralph in a bit of trouble, he’s so glad to have had the opportunity to teach these students about topics that fascinated them. 

As chair of the math department in the 1990’s, Ralph was integral in the hiring of both Herb Kerns and Jim Brubaker. He recalls that they hired Herb from Swarthmore and, when he met Herb, he thought, “Yeah, this is the right guy for the job.” While students may remember Jim Brubaker as a physics teacher, Ralph says he started at FSS in the math department.

This year, Ralph enjoys teaching a variety of electives and required classes and is even in the process of developing a new economics course. Though decades have passed, he still strives to create an environment where he can inspire students by pushing the boundaries of the classroom and set curriculum.