Don't Let Fear Hold You Back: Chaplain Lisa Durkee Shares Encouragement at Chapel

Speaking at Blair's first Chapel of the 2017-2018 academic year, the Rev. Lisa Durkee shared stories of her baseball-playing youth and slightly rebellious middle-school years to bring home an important point for the School community: Don't let fear of failure or embarrassment keep you from trying something new or taking action when action is needed.

Ms. Durkee, an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ, is Blair's newly appointed chaplain and chair of the religion and philosophy department. She brings a wealth of pastoral and teaching experience to her role at Blair, including 10 years as pastor of two churches in Massachusetts and 15 years as an independent school educator. The mother of two daughters (college freshman Keira and Emma '20), Ms. Durkee is also a writer, guitarist and singer, who opened Chapel with a few bars of spiritual song. And, as luck would have it, her coming to Blair brings her back to her New Jersey roots.

Opening her Chapel with a quote from Julia Sorel, "If you're never scared or embarrassed or hurt, it means you never take any chances," Ms. Durkee told faculty and students about her childhood experience as the first girl to play little league baseball in Metuchen, New Jersey, and her mini-rebellion against wearing a gym suit in middle school. "There wasn't any thought about equality or rights in what I did. I simply wanted to do—anything that was in front of me," she said of her desire to play baseball—and despite some initial nervousness and a few comments from those who objected to girls in the little league, she enjoyed a good four-year run in the league.

The gym suit rebellion came about when she took a stand against the "injustice" of girls having to wear a specific (and highly uncomfortable, non-breathing polyester) one-piece uniform for gym class at Franklin Middle School, while boys wore a T-shirt and shorts. Sent to the principal's office for reporting to gym class in her own T-shirt and shorts, Ms. Durkee's case for gender equity in gym attire won the day, and school policy was thereafter changed.

"I earnestly hope that when you have the idea to do something that interests you, you will go for it!" Ms. Durkee urged students as she concluded her talk. "Don't let naysayers or convention keep you from it, and especially don't worry about embarrassment or hurt. Trust me. Those memories don't last as long as the effects of your actions."

To watch a video of Rev. Lisa Durkee's Chapel address, click "play" below.

NJ State Assembly Candidates Talk Civic Engagement at Society of Skeptics

At the Society of Skeptics on September 26, Blair's own Gina Trish will be joined by New Jersey State Assembly running mate Kate Matteson and fellow Blair Buc and New Jersey State Assemblyman Dr. Timothy J. Eustace DC '74 to share with the Blair community their experiences with civic engagement and running for political office. Their presentation, which will take place at 7 p.m. in the Chiang Center for Innovation and Collaboration, will focus on why they respectively chose to run for office, why they felt they could have the most impact in the state legislature and why civic engagement is so vitally important in today's politically divided world.

Civic-Minded & Engaged Candidates

Mrs. Trish is no stranger to Blair students—they know her as the School's Leadership Stories Project coordinator who films their narratives about challenges and choices they have made while staying true to their values. Having heard so many students' stories over the years, Mrs. Trish is excited to have the opportunity to share her own beliefs with students and explain why she felt compelled to run for office in an effort to make a difference in the lives of her students, colleagues and neighbors.

"It is really important to identify what is important to you in life and stand up for what you believe in," said Mrs. Trish, an adjunct faculty member at Centenary College whose interest in public service led her to log many hours as a campaign volunteer over the years and run for Blairstown Council in 2012. "Running for office—whether on the student-council, state or congressional level—is an experience that makes you a civically minded person who wants to be part of the solution rather than complaining about the decisions others are making on your behalf. As a political candidate, you can no longer be a critic; you are a change agent."

Local Roots & Community Pride
As New Jersey natives, both Mrs. Trish and Mrs. Matteson have deep local roots and take great pride in their efforts to positively influence their local communities and hometowns. "I realized it was time for me as a woman, a mother and a member of our community to step up and be an example of the change I want to see in our society," said Mrs. Matteson. "It became clear that the perfect forum to do that is right here in my own backyard. There is so much we can do to encourage prosperity in northwest New Jersey that I felt the time was right to get involved."

At Skeptics, the running mates will talk about the highlights of their campaign—receiving the endorsement of their party, winning the primary, helping to organize the first pride parade in Sussex County, meeting government officials, and participating in campaign events, phone banks, team runs and fundraisers. They will touch on the importance of the business of legislating and taking pride in the place in which you live, as well as how much young people can do in the political sphere, regardless of age or political experience.

Dr. Eustace, who is chair of the Assembly's Environment and Solid Waste Committee, will be on hand to answer questions from the audience. He is in his third term and currently running for his fourth and, prior to the Assembly, Dr. Eustace was the mayor of Maywood in Bergen County.

Getting Involved & Being an Example for Others
"Most of all, we want students to leave our talk knowing that they must not be deterred by people who don't believe in them," said Mrs. Trish. "Especially as a female candidate who has never held office, I will have to respond to critics who say I may not be qualified for state assembly, when that simply isn't true. I hope Blair students realize that serving in a political office is something anyone can do well if they work hard, stand up for what they believe in and want to be on the right side of history."

"It is important that we encourage young people to understand that they can make a difference by getting involved in a cause they are passionate about," added Mrs. Matteson. "Gina and I realized that the best thing we could do to be examples for our own children was to show that getting deeply involved in civic engagement, though it can be daunting, is completely worth the effort. The satisfaction that comes from knowing you are taking the best actions you can to bring forth positive change is very rewarding."

The Skeptics Tradition at Blair

The Society of Skeptics was established as a forum for students and faculty to discuss and debate important global issues; it has grown to become one of the premier high school lecture series in the United States. Each week, speakers from the political, social, scientific, economic and literary arenas share their unique perspectives with students, who are encouraged to engage with presenters, asking questions and debating points of view.

The program was an outgrowth of the Blair International Society, begun in 1937. Forty years later, former history department chair Elliott Trommald, PhD, Hon.'65, established the modern Skeptics program as a regular forum for student discussion and debate; history teacher Martin Miller, PhD, took over in the mid-1980s and molded the program into a weekly lecture series, one that has since continued without interruption. Under the tutelage of Dr. Miller, Skeptics has featured a wide variety of speakers who are engaging, accomplished in their respective fields and often controversial. For a listing of upcoming Skeptics programs, please click here.

Soccerfest & Super Sunday Highlight First Community Weekend

Every year, new and returning Blair students arrive at the School's gates, hoping to expand their horizons within their new home. However, the true Blair experience does not begin on the first day of classes—it begins during the first Community Weekend.


This year, Saturday, September 16, marked the date of Soccerfest, the cutthroat battle between the varsity soccer teams of Blair and North Warren Regional High School, our local rival. On this day, school spirit is discerned through a united and exuberant group of Buccaneers—the "Blue Crew"—cheering and blasting music from North Warren's bleachers.

This year, Blair's boys' varsity soccer team had a strong kickoff to their season, once again seizing victory over North Warren's team with a crushing final score of 10-0. Among the goals were those scored by Michael Stockley '18, Timothy Johns '18 and Pierce O'Malley '18, who hustled in front of the goalie during corner kicks. As remarkable as these players were, good teamwork and a well-developed offensive strategy, which completely prevented the other team from scoring, were certainly indispensable to this deserved victory.

Super Sunday

Following what already seemed to be a hectic Saturday came Super Sunday on September 17. Several activities were held within the main campus including volleyball, tie-dyeing, an egg toss and Frisbee. However, two more activities that should be added to everyone's bucket list at Blair also took place: the grease slide and the Kon-Tiki race!

The grease slide was set up during the afternoon. A smooth tarp, covered in grease, was blanketed over a hill, and students penguin-slid down to the bottom. If grease was not your thing, you could try a special alternative, the soap slide.

Students also participated in the Kon-Tiki boat race, which featured a friendly inter-dorm competition at Blair Lake. Students attempted to paddle from one side of the lake to the other with the help of their cardboard boats and their peers. This is personally my favorite event. This year, Flight Deck and Annie Hall came in first place, barely finishing before the others. Ultimately, all of these events weave students together into a close-knit community, and they will continue to do so in the years to come.

Senior Naratorn Sereeyothin will cover a number of campus events this year in his role as intern to Blair's communications department.

Meet the Class of 2021!

Blair Academy welcomed its 460-member student body to campus in early September, including 92 freshman in the class of 2021. Comprising 48 girls and 44 boys, the ninth-grade class hails from 14 states (California, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas and Virginia) and six foreign countries (China, Hong Kong, Korea, Saudi Arabia, United Kingdom and Vietnam).

"This was the most competitive admission cycle in School history, and each of our new students should be proud of his or her acceptance at Blair," said Assistant Head of School for Enrollment and Communications Peter G. Curran, who got to know many of the new students and their families through the admission process. The School received more than 1,200 applications for admission in 2016-2017 and recorded a 20-percent acceptance rate. New students also entered this fall as sophomores (29), juniors (14) and postgraduates (11).

Mr. Curran anticipates a great year ahead for the diverse and talented class of 2021 in academics, athletics, the arts and campus life. "I hope our freshmen challenge themselves to step outside their comfort zones and become involved in anything that sparks their interest and passions here at Blair," he said. "By engaging in all the School has to offer, each of our new students will soon begin to feel that Blair is his or her second home."

Welcome, class of 2021!

For the Latest Campus Happenings, Go to Flickr.com & Vimeo.com

To keep parents and alumni connected to life on the hilltop, Blair posts a steady stream of photographs and videos to Flickr and Vimeo, respectively, throughout the school year.

"There aren't many events that our school photographer doesn't capture and, in addition to posting a selection to our website every day, all of the high-resolution files are easy to download on Flickr.com, which I know our parents in particular really appreciate," said Associate Head of School Ryan Pagotto. "Seeing their children in action makes it a little easier to get used to their boarding-school lives, especially at the start of the year, so we are happy to provide parents with that view through photos and videos."

Although the communications office has regularly posted videos of campus events for many years, in 2017-2018, Blair's videos on Vimeo will have a distinctively student feel, thanks to the admission office's team of student video interns. These students will film a wide variety of campus happenings, ranging from weekend activities and community events to Chapel and Society of Skeptics. Many of those videos will be embedded across Blair's website and in individual news stories on the homepage and in the mobile app, as well as being posted in albums on Vimeo.com.

Paralympic Medalist Opens Skeptics with 'Resilience: How to Make the Impossible Possible'

Author and leadership expert Dr. Bonnie St. John has achieved success in "impossible" ways her entire life. She joined the Blair community for the opening 2017-2018 Society of Skeptics lecture on September 19, where she spoke on the essential quality of resilience and offered audience members insight and practical tips on "how to make the impossible possible." Dr. St. John was the inaugural speaker in Blair's new Chiang Center for Innovation and Collaboration; her presentation took place in the facility's signature Collaboration Forum.

Named "one of the five most inspiring women in America" by NBC Nightly News, Dr. St. John has lived a life of achievement and helping others. Despite having her leg amputated at the age of five—and living in San Diego, where there is no snow—she became the first African-American ever to win medals in Winter Olympic competition when she earned a silver and two bronze medals in downhill events at the 1984 Paralympics in Innsbruck, Austria. She graduated magna cum laude from Harvard University, earned a Rhodes Scholarship, and has enjoyed career success at the highest levels of business, government and leadership. The author of seven books and CEO of the Blue Circle Leadership Institute, Dr. St. John travels the world as a keynote speaker, leadership expert and international conference facilitator.

Noting that resilience is very personal for her, Dr. St. John was eager to share thoughts on the topic with the Blair community. "People often ask me how they can have more resilience, and it makes me happy to help them find answers to that question," she said. At Skeptics, she offered practical suggestions to help audience members look at their future with positivity instead of fear. "Students at Blair are frequently encouraged to follow their dreams and do great things in the world, but that can sometimes feel like a lot of pressure," she continued. "I wanted to share some 'life hacks' that make an extraordinary life seem more attainable."

Read more about Dr. Bonnie St. John at www.bonniestjohn.com.

The Society of Skeptics was established as a forum for students and faculty to discuss and debate important global issues; it has grown to become one of the premier high school lecture series in the United States. Each week, speakers from the political, social, scientific, economic and literary arenas share their unique perspectives with students, who are encouraged to engage with presenters, asking questions and debating points of view.

The program was an outgrowth of the Blair International Society, begun in 1937. Forty years later, former history department chair Elliott Trommald, PhD, Hon.'65, established the modern Skeptics program as a regular forum for student discussion and debate; history teacher Martin Miller, PhD, took over in the mid-1980s and molded the program into a weekly lecture series, one that has since continued without interruption. Under the tutelage of Dr. Miller, Skeptics has featured a wide variety of speakers who are engaging, accomplished in their respective fields and often controversial. For a listing of upcoming Skeptics programs, please click here.

Jayson Oweh '18 Named to 2018 Under Armour All-America High School Football Game

Senior Jayson Oweh '18 is one of just over 90 football athletes nationwide selected to play in the 2018 Under Armour All-America Game, the premier high school football game in the U.S. A 6-foot, 5-inch, 236-pound defensive end, Jayson is the first Blair Academy student to achieve this honor. He is currently ranked fifth overall among New Jersey football players and seventh in the nation among strong side defensive ends.

The Under Armour All-America Game Selection Tour presented by American Family Insurance visited Blair Academy on September 13 to present Jayson with an honorary game jersey. His parents, Henry Oweh and Tania Kachikwu, Athletic Director Paul Clavel '88 and head varsity football coach Jim Saylor joined Jayson at the podium, and the Hardwick Hall performance gym resounded with the cheers of football teammates and the many fellow students, teachers and staff members who attended the mid-afternoon event. To watch the ceremony in full, click "play" below.

"Being selected to play in the Under Armour All-America Game is one of the highest honors a high school athlete can achieve," said Blair head varsity football coach Jim Saylor. "Jayson is a stellar young man whose leadership, overall athletic ability and strong values have made him a role model for our team. He works hard in sports and academics and is a great member of the Blair community. I'm proud to be a part of his life."

Jayson's selection to the 2018 Under Armour All-America team is a result of his outstanding performance at an Under Armour regional camp last spring, as well as the positive comments he has garnered from college and university coaches and scouts. The three-sport varsity athlete is undecided about his college plans, but Coach Saylor noted that Jayson is being heavily recruited; his current top-three prospective schools are Pennsylvania State University, The Ohio State University and the University of Notre Dame.

The Under Armour All-America game will be played at the Citrus Bowl in Orlando, Florida, on January 4, 2018. Kick-off time is 6 p.m., and the game will be televised on ESPN2.

Your Next Great Book: Blair Community Reviews Summer Reads
Jim Moore

The long, unhurried days of summer gave many members of the Blair community an opportunity to indulge in a favorite pastime: reading. English department chair James Moore once again invited students, teachers and members of Blair's extended family to review works of fiction and nonfiction they read over the break, and he compiled their thoughts as part of the English department's ongoing commitment to making literature a part of the daily conversation at Blair.

"It's important to maintain a strong, visible and School-wide literary community, and one of the ways I like to do that is to bring books out of the library and into our everyday discussions," Mr. Moore said. "I was delighted with the enthusiastic response my call for reviews garnered not only from current students and teachers, but also from former faculty, alumni and Trustees. It's great that they all want to share their reading experiences with the larger community."

Click here to read the reviews and perhaps find your next great book!

Traditional Convocation Ceremony Sets Tone for Blair's 170th Year

Blair students and faculty came together on the evening of September 11 to ceremoniously begin the 2017-2018 school year at Convocation, which included an all-school, bagpipe-led procession across campus, performances by Blair musicians, and remarks from the chaplain and Head of School. To watch the program in full, click "play" below.

A Shared Experience

The annual event sets the tone for the year and generates among the community a sense of camaraderie and belonging that comes from sharing the experience with current classmates and teachers as well as the thousands of Blair graduates who have participated in Convocation since the School was founded in 1848.

"Convocation is an opportunity to celebrate each other, Blair and all of the incredible things we will accomplish in the coming year," said Katie Peacock '18, a senior from Dallas, Texas who welcomed her classmates as one of the Senior Class Council speakers alongside Luke Corrado '18. "Walking shoulder-to-shoulder with your class, seeing international students march with their countries' flags, and hearing the whole school cheer each other on gives students a sense of belonging. Moreover, when you march in the Convocation procession, it is hard not to think of those who have marched before you and impossible not feel their presence around you."

For international students like Alvin Fan '18, who hails from Hong Kong, starting the year off with a traditional ceremony that brings the whole community together underscores just how much Blair values relationships and connection. "Marching alongside 460 laughing, cheering students makes you feel welcome," he said. "During Convocation my freshman year, I was initially reserved and kept to myself a bit. But the ceremony helped me to realize that I was now part of the incredibly kind and supportive community that only exists at Blair."

Steeped in History

With the bagpiper playing and flags of the 28 countries represented by Blair's student body fluttering, freshmen, sophomores, juniors and seniors embraced the "grand, historic feel" of the ceremony as they marched from the Arch, down the front hill, past the new Chiang Center for Innovation and Collaboration and into Armstrong-Hipkins Center for the Arts as the entire faculty applauded their arrival.

"I always feel the strongest sense of history and tradition while walking under the Arch," said Sydney Walters '18, whose family resides in East Hampton, New York. "It has always been a special experience, but I think during senior year it feels uniquely special because it is the last time we will walk together as a class before baccalaureate and graduation. Convocation reminds us to value the time we have at Blair and to make the most of the year that will soon fly by."

A Community of Enlightened Learners

Following the procession and faculty ovation, the Rev. Lisa Durkee welcomed the community and offered a prayer before introducing the Blair Singers (led by director of vocal music Ryan Manni) and then Head of School Chris Fortunato, who delivered the evening's keynote address.

As he officially opened the School's 170th year, Mr. Fortunato urged students to forge their own unique paths in the coming year while remaining authentically true to themselves and treating others as they would like to be treated.

In remarks that focused on what has always made the Blair community so special—"light, curiosity, courage and an adventurous edge"—he asked students and faculty to continue to be "enlightened learners" who are ready to explore, learn, connect and be joyful.

"We have the incredible opportunity to be beacons of light who guide and inspire others," Mr. Fortunato said. "I want you to find ways to let your light shine, discovering new talents and passions. Act as a lighthouse for those around you and, in turn, let others do the same for you. And I encourage you to shine a spotlight on what really matters—let's spend the year focusing on the people and ideas that mean something to us."

Following his speech and distribution of custom "Blair Academy" flashlights, the community gathered outside of Armstrong-Hipkins Center for the Arts for a ceremony marking the 16th anniversary of the September 11 terrorist attacks, shining their flashlights on the American flag as Grace Wilkey '20 sang "God Bless America."

Renewed Goals & Hopes for the Year to Come

As the evening wound to a close and students prepared to head back to their dormitories, Sydney reflected on Convocation and her time at Blair. "At Convocation, students look toward the future and new memories yet to be made, while also honoring Blair's rich history," she said. "The speeches made tonight motivate us to work hard, have fun and to enjoy our time together while renewing our goals and hopes for the year to come. We are so fortunate that Blair has consistently honored its motto, 'Come, Study, Learn,' while giving us amazing memories along the way."

Students & Teachers Start the Year at Orientation

Blair students and teachers spent their first weekend on campus at Orientation, an action-packed event that brought the community together after the long summer break and set the stage for a successful year ahead. Associate Dean of Students Andee Ryerson planned and managed Orientation activities, which included a variety of class-specific and school-wide happenings, all geared toward helping students feel at home on campus and ready to start the busy academic year.

Saturday brought plenty of opportunities for classmates to get to know new students in their grade and reconnect with old friends, too. Freshmen, led by senior-class orientation leaders, took part in a scavenger hunt and other on-campus games, which helped them become familiar with their new surroundings. Sophomores enjoyed team-building activities and took part in service projects during a class retreat at nearby Camp Johnsonburg and Princeton Blairstown Center. Juniors and seniors, meanwhile, traveled to Pennsylvania's Pocono Mountains, where the class of 2019 began their junior year—which can be intense—with a purely fun day at Split Rock Water Park, and seniors enjoyed a chance to relax, regroup and try some new challenges at Pocono TreeVentures.

An outdoor concert brought the entire School community together on Saturday night, and then teachers and students turned their focus to the year ahead during Sunday's Orientation activities. Service to others was an important part of the day for sophomores and juniors, as they took part in projects to support "Blair in Kenya," the independent nonprofit founded by history teacher Quinten Clarke '87 that works to improve the lives of Kenya's rural poor. These two classes also had the opportunity to review some of the individual service projects that the juniors had completed as part of their Blair LEADS classes last year, which gave sophomores ideas on projects they may pursue in 2017-2018. Harvard professor Timothy Patrick McCarthy, PhD, who has served as Blair's scholar in residence, was also on hand to share insight with sophomores on how to discern a cause about which they are passionate.

Seniors met with college counselors on Sunday and took advantage of some "down time" to review their goals for the year, while freshmen attended a presentation by Dr. McCarthy on being true to yourself and continued to learn to navigate boarding-school life. The classes of 2018 and 2021 connected during the afternoon at a Big Brothers/Big Sisters event that paired each freshman with a senior buddy who will help him or her continue to settle in at Blair in the coming weeks.

Orientation drew to a close with a Sunday-evening barbecue that featured great food, music and lawn games and gave community members a chance to just enjoy one another's company. Then students headed to their dorms to make final preparations—and get a good night's sleep—before classes began on Monday morning.

New Opportunities Develop for Blair's Student Photographers

Blair athletes weren't the only students to attend preseason this week: Eleven fine-art students participated in the School's first-ever photography preseason, during which they honed their picture-taking skills by capturing thousands of images, both on campus and farther afield. The three-day photo shoot was one of several new opportunities developed by photography teacher Tyson Trish to help Blair's student photographers create and share their art.

"Students got the year off to a strong start at photography preseason as they practiced taking some unique shots," Mr. Trish said. In addition to photographing their peers in action on the athletic fields, the photographers captured cityscapes during trips to New York City and Jersey City and images of nature during an "epic photo shoot" at the Siegel Property adjacent to campus. The group also enjoyed a one-of-a-kind shoot at the Sussex County Sunflower Maze, thanks to Liberty Farm owner Raj Sinha '90, who arranged a special sunrise opening of his Sandyston, New Jersey, property.

The preseason photographers will showcase their work at a start-of-school exhibit, after which Mr. Trish will select several photos for display on campus. This is part of his new initiative to make student photography more visible throughout the Blair community. "I hope to hang collages and individual mounted-and-framed photos in campus offices and buildings," he said. "Digital is the default photo-sharing medium today, but it's important for students to share their work as printed, framed art. Amazing photography is happening at Blair—I'd like to give everyone in the community a chance to appreciate it."

More than 50 students typically enroll in Blair's photography classes each semester, which start with photo 1, a course in traditional analogue photography, and progress through digital and advanced digital courses to Advanced Placement (AP) portfolio. Mr. Trish revamped the photography curriculum to create the three-step progression to AP, but he noted that students can delve even more deeply into the subject by taking an advanced darkroom option or an independent study.

The new displays of student photography throughout campus complement Mr. Trish's ongoing efforts to showcase photographers' work outside of Blair. He regularly encourages students to submit their work to area galleries and exhibitions, assigns student photographers to shoot campus events for Blair's website and, last spring, helped advanced students launch the Blair Academy Photography website, an online platform where they can share their portfolios with the world.

"I feel strongly about giving students opportunities to show others what they can create," he said. "People create art for an audience, not for themselves. When students display their work, they have a chance to make an impression, to receive feedback and learn from it. Most of all, they have a chance to feel good about what they have accomplished."

Coach Mantegna Shared Expertise at US & International Basketball Events

Blair head varsity boys' basketball coach Joe Mantegna participated in several prestigious basketball events over the spring and summer months. In April and May, the veteran coach shared his nearly three decades of team-leadership experience with fellow coaches and basketball administrators at USA Basketball Coach Academy, and, in August, he partnered with former Blair player and two-time NBA All-Star Luol Deng '03 for the fourth-consecutive year, serving as lead clinician at Deng Camp USA and Deng Top 50 Camp in London.

Coach Mantegna traveled to Boston and Mount Vernon, New York, to participate in Coach Academy, a new initiative established by USA Basketball to help train and certify coaches by providing education on wide range of basketball topics. A guest speaker at both events, Coach Mantegna shared insight with nearly 100 Boston attendees about practice planning, and, a month later, he discussed culture building with an even larger group in Mount Vernon.

In August, Coach Mantegna reunited with his former player, Mr. Deng, at basketball camps funded by the Luol Deng Foundation, Mr. Deng's global nonprofit that uses basketball as a tool to give hope to those in Africa, the U.S. and the U.K. Coach Mantegna led the coaching staff at Deng Camp USA in Omaha, Nebraska, where the 40 most-talented South Sudanese immigrant students who attend high school in the U.S. and Canada were invited to participate, and at Deng Top 50 camp in London, attended by the 50 best 16-to-18-year-old basketball prospects in the U.K. The goal of these camps is to bring attention to these leading athletes and assist in their development as college or professional basketball players.

As the Deng Camps' lead clinician, Coach Mantegna led most of the large-group skill and tactics instruction and coached a camp team. As in past years, he and the other instructors also worked with players on test preparation, nutrition, strength and conditioning, and mentorship. "We have helped dozens of British kids procure scholarships to U.S. colleges and prep schools, and we are beginning to raise awareness of South Sudanese players in North America and Australia through this and other initiatives," he said.

Deng Camp will add a third week next summer, during which the organization will serve South Sudanese immigrant teens in Australia. Coach Mantegna plans to be there, as well, assisting Mr. Deng in creating opportunities for young athletes. "Luol's continued success as a professional basketball player and a humanitarian serves as a beacon of hope to these kids," Coach Mantegna said. "In him, they see that they can achieve anything they put their minds to."

An NBA player since 2004, Mr. Deng was inducted into the Blair Academy Athletic Hall of Fame in 2017. He currently plays for the Los Angeles Lakers and continues to assist those in need worldwide through numerous philanthropic pursuits.

Photos courtesy of USA Basketball.

Faculty Summer Institute Focuses on Project-Based Learning & Collaborative Work

To maximize the number of teachers benefiting from professional development opportunities, Blair created a Faculty Summer Institute in 2017. During two week-long, on-campus programs focused on project-based learning, collaborative work and innovation, faculty members created more than 10 projects to be incorporated into the curriculum across disciplines.

Fifteen-plus teachers and administrators participated in the pedagogy-focused Institute during its first year, all with the goal of designing, individually or in teams, curricular projects that benefit students—important but time-consuming collaborative work that is often difficult to accomplish during the busy school year. Teachers at all junctures of their careers attended the inaugural Summer Institute, from a music instructor just a few years out of college to a veteran PhD scientist with decades of professional experience.

Projects included:

A multidisciplinary collaboration between the fine & performing arts
Video studies teacher Wendy Schiller and English and theatre teacher Micki McMillan collaborated on a lesson plan for their Introduction-to-Video and Theatre I classes, respectively, laying the groundwork for students to produce a script, stage a production and film it. "Our project is designed to marry the two classes and add another dimension to theatre and video," said Ms. McMillan. "With the direction in which technology is moving and the fact that our class councils are doing more videos as opposed to live performances, anything we can do to help our students enhance their skills is a good thing."

Ms. Schiller appreciated the chance to "put some extra steam" directly into her curriculum and was "jazzed about the opportunities for specialization" offered by the Institute's seminars. "It's also exciting to be recognized for a lot of the work already being done collaboratively and to be given the extra time to team up with talented colleagues," said Ms. Schiller, who attended both summer sessions, collaborating with Ms. McMillan in June on creating a better supply of talent for her film students and partnering with Mr. Parauda in August to design a board game experience for her functional design students.

Independent research, design & cross-department collaboration
Science department chair Kelly Hadden spent the June session working to make independent scientific research and presentation part of every biology students' Blair experience. While this has traditionally been the case for Honors Biology classes—which have annually presented a capstone project—Mrs. Hadden used her week at the Summer Faculty Institute to create a framework that will allow science teachers to scale or expand this model to other science classes. "I envision such independent research as an immeasurable part of the 'freshman experience' at Blair," she said. "Our ninth-graders will gain a sense of ownership, confidence and analytical and communication skills that they will build upon. I see creating this infrastructure as an opportunity to let kids shine."

Science teacher Chris Thatcher joined Mrs. Hadden at the June session, where he developed a project-based learning module for his honors physics classes. This year, his students will learn conceptually how and why a roller-coaster works, design their own roller-coaster, build it with K'Nex-style toy model kits and test it to compare predicted-to-actual results. "The step-by-step process of learning, building, testing, rebuilding and experiencing each phase are important topics in physics and everyday life," Mr. Thatcher said. "I hope to add another hands-on element by having our class visit a local amusement park to experience the ride specifications, forces, velocities and accelerations similar to these variables that their own model rollercoasters specified and encompassed."

The concept of hands-on and computational project development was certainly nothing new for veteran Blair science teacher Michael "Doc" Sayers, PhD, who has developed a handful of such lessons over the years and had been talking with fine arts department chair Kate Sykes for a long time about a joint science-art course tentatively titled "The Art of Science; the Science of Art"—with only a hazy idea of what would come next (namely, a project where chemistry students produce glazes of certain textures and colors for the sculptors).

The Institute gave him time and resources to fully flesh out the outline of the course, select the deliverables and milestones for students, a method of student self-assessment and a means of giving viable grades, and feedback for the project. Although Doc Sayers noted that he could have done some of this work alone, he credits the Institute with generating questions and answers that may not have occurred to him and noted that his work greatly benefited from his colleagues' insights. He will introduce the project in his regular chemistry classes shortly before spring break 2018.

Harnessing cross-disciplinary technologies
As she anticipated the opening of Blair's new Center for Innovation and Collaboration, Mrs. Sykes wanted to make sure she was adequately prepared to learn about the CIC's new technologies, including laser cutters and garment printers, understand their cross-disciplinary implications and work them into her department's curriculum.

She also sought to identify which software would help students as they jumped between technology classes and 2D and 3D fine arts courses. "We want to foster in our students a common understanding of the programs we'll use in design and prototyping, and ensure that we allow for the most fluid user experience," she said.

Considering her curriculum goals most broadly, Mrs. Sykes will ask her students in the coming year to consider how they can enhance 3D objects with 2D design. Obviously, this has implications for some of her specific project-based work, such as teaming up with computer science teacher Michael Garrant last spring to pilot her Summer Institute project: planning a lesson in which robotics students create a lighting component to 3D artwork produced by her own classes. She envisioned her classes cutting out lampshades with the laser cutter and creating pieced wood designs, something that will be much easier this year with the opening of the CIC, which will allow students to work at a much larger scale and expand their repertoire to more varied media, including wood, acrylic, fabric and plastic.

Calling the Institute "extremely hands-on," Mrs. Sykes embraced its "maker mindset," which is what she espouses to her students. "I like to make things, and it is exciting that the possibilities are so tangible," she said. "To model that kind of making will be fun for me, and I love that there will be a physical outcome to our demonstrations and classroom work."

Most of all, she is excited for the broad horizons that the CIC engenders in project work—especially the fact that cross-department collaboration and the proximity of fine arts classes to other disciplines in the new space means that projects won't be so class-specific. "When kids have an idea, they can implement it if they have the appropriate tools," she concluded. "The CIC gives them free rein to express their ideas."

CIC technology as biggest draw
Having the opportunity to spend time working with new music production software that will be available in the CIC's media lab and recording studio was also a big draw for performing arts faculty member Ryan Manni. The director of vocal music was excited to learn about equipment and software, take away project ideas for his new digital music class and design projects that will soon have his students writing, recording and producing their own music. "The Institute allowed us ample opportunity to create the best possible curriculum that we can offer, one tailored to the technology and CIC facility, which will provide so many new and wonderful experiences for our community," he said. "I also loved the opportunities to collaborate with my colleagues, and the spirit of working together has already transferred to my classes."

Translating Shakespeare & game design
Mr. Parauda's projects fell on opposite ends of the spectrum. In June, he worked on a Shakespearean "re-creation project" that fits comfortably in the traditional realm of an advanced literature class, while in August, he designed a more avant garde board game that he expects may find a home as a new course or part of an existing design-centered class.

For his Advanced Placement literature students, Mr. Parauda designed a "translation" project of various Shakespeare scenes meant to provide a hands-on opportunity to understand the language the author used in his plays by re-creating these passages. The lesson asks students to work in small groups to write their own versions of these passages, posting their working drafts in a Google Doc so that their classmates can consider their work and offer insights.

"Given that the Bard's language is categorized as modern English, the term 'translate' is a bit of a misnomer," Mr. Parauda explained. "More accurately, it is a rewriting that keeps much of the original intact. Changes to the text are a product of pushing students to understand the original rather than some misguided attempt to improve it."

In August, Mr. Parauda shifted his focus to game design, partnering with video studies teacher Wendy Schiller to create a lesson in which teams of students are asked to explore thoroughly various mechanics, systems and themes to collectively create a board game. This work requires thinking critically, considering various choices, examining the interplay of parts, and then applying their conclusions to the coherent whole as a class. Of course, as students produce the physical prototype, they will harness new technologies available in the CIC, including large-scale color and 3D printing and computer-design programs. "If done well, the project will provide an absorbing gaming experience that belies the great amount of work involved in the logistics, problem-solving and details of each part," said Mr. Parauda.

Recreating Art & Using Image Analysis as a Historical Tool
At the June session, history teacher Jay Jenkins worked on creating a framework for projects to be executed by his AP art history and AP comparative government classes.

Over the course of the week, he mapped out project work that will have his art history students recreating the work of specific artists and designing exhibits of replica art to be showcased in high-traffic campus spaces. Although he has assigned similar art history projects in recent years, the Institute gave Mr. Jenkins the chance to refine his plans for 2017-2018 and create a more formal framework for executing the projects.

His AP comparative government students, on the other hand, will learn about the leaders, historical events, and foreign and domestic policies of six nations through a series of case studies. As part of a yearlong project that Mr. Jenkins calls "a work in progress," each member of the class will identify, analyze and compare images that depict the leaders, events and policies of the United Kingdom, Russia, China, Mexico, Nigeria and Iran from different points of view and in different contexts. Students will then build websites where they will archive and caption their images for posterity.

"I want my class to understand that images can be used to better understand people, places, events and policies—and, in fact, can be more powerful than words and just as easily manipulated," explained Mr. Jenkins. "The main takeaway is that images can have an agenda that shapes perception and historical record."

Things will get really interesting, he added, when the class studies events like the Opium War or the construction of the Berlin Wall, which involved more than one of the six core countries, and students can see how those events were portrayed differently by each state.

A History Course's Contributions to a Consequential Project
During the June session, history teacher Hannah Higgin, PhD, created a project for her western civilization class that will contribute to the U.S. Holocaust Museum's "History Unfolded," an initiative that aims to create a massive database of contemporary, local American press coverage of the Holocaust.

"One of the project directors explained the resources available to participating teachers and students and the fact that they currently have very scant information from New Jersey," said Dr. Higgin, who created a project plan and rubric for a New Jersey newspaper content analysis and identified ways for students to become involved inside and outside of class. "Beyond providing an excellent lens for understanding an important topic, this project also gives students a taste of the work that historians actually do, while at the same time connecting it to civics, journalism, and their limitations and strengths."

A Jumping-Off Point to Explore Concepts in Multi-Variable Calculus
Math teacher John Padden collaborated with computer science teacher Michael Garrant to design a project that will help calculus students overcome one of their biggest challenges: visually and tangibly grasping integral calculus and what it means to rotate or build upon two-dimensional graphs into three dimensions. "This could provide a jumping-off point to explore some concepts in multi-variable calculus that many of them will see in college," said Mr. Padden. "The project asks students to make 3D models illustrating various concepts in integral calculus, learn the fundamentals of a software that could link our mathematical graphs to a 3D printing model and then build those models." Mr. Padden envisions the fruits of their labor being used in math videos students will create during the 2017-2018 school year.

Examining Grammatical Mood in Creative & Fun Ways
At the August Institute, language teacher Tim Devaney focused on improving language learners' understanding of the present subjunctive, which he calls an "elusive concept." His project gives students hands-on opportunities to examine grammatical mood and to hone their ability to use it in creative and fun ways. "In the coming year, my class will employ the Chiang Center for Innovation and Collaboration's green screen and media production suite to make two-minute soap operas.They'll learn how to insert people into existing music videos and work with video cameras and editing software to create videos that emphasize the subjunctive."

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