All In The Campaign for Blair Academy 2018-2025
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Team Howard wins the 2023 Headmasters' Societies Games.


Blair Academy’s annual Headmasters’ Societies Games kick off this week, marking the 21st installment of this spirited School tradition. Over the years, this late-February competition has become a favorite event among students and faculty alike, evolving to feature over 60 competitions spread across six action-packed days. While the challenges have changed over the course of two decades, the format remains the same: participants are sorted into four teams, each bearing the name of a former Blair headmaster—Breed, Howard, Kelley and Sharpe—and engage in a delightful variety of both silly and serious contests. The week always concludes with a spirited talent show during which one team is crowned the victor. 

Please continue to check this page for photos of the games throughout the week. Updated daily, these snapshots from Director of School Photography Tyson Trish and Video and Marketing Specialist CJ Palanca offer glimpses into the camaraderie, competition and joy that define this beloved Blair tradition.

Click the video below to watch a few of this year’s fearless competitors share their thoughts on the upcoming showdown!

 
Nonprofit Visits Skeptics & Reminds Students Speaking Up Saves Lives

On Tuesday, March 5, the parents who founded the nonprofit “I Have The Right To” will visit Blair for a Society of Skeptics talk focused on creating an ecosystem of respect and support for students and survivors of sexual assault. 

The organization, which is a “hub for middle and high school students, parents, and educators looking for information, support and avenues of action against sexual assault,” focuses on promoting awareness, understanding and community action. In speaking to Blair students, “I Have The Right To” co-founders Susan and Alexander Prout hope to educate and empower the school community with the goal of inspiring students to be change makers and amplifying support of survivors. 

“We envision a future where every student receives an education free from sexual assault,” said Susan. “We feel morally obligated to shine a light on what we have learned as parents, as a family and through our nonprofit.”

The most important thing is for students to grow in empathy, understanding, and to use their voice for good in the world, she continued. “We hope that students are empowered and the community at large can understand the issues and embrace the importance of creating a culture of consent.”
 
“As a graduate of a boarding school, I am eager to share what I have learned from my children and through our experiences about the importance of being an upstander and how it can change lives,” Alex added.

The presentation will take place in the Forum of the Chiang-Elghanayan Center at 7 p.m.


History of Skeptics
 
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, which is funded in part by the Class of 1968 Society of Skeptics Endowment Fund, is 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 and his successor, history department chair Jason Beck, Skeptics has featured a wide variety of speakers who are thought-provoking, engaging, accomplished in their respective fields and often controversial. For a listing of upcoming Skeptics programs, please visit Blair’s website.
 

womens symposium thumbnail graphic

In the American Psychological Association’s (APA) 2023 Stress in America survey, women continue to report feeling higher levels of stress than men. Women were also more likely to report feeling like they could use more support. “This data underscores the…need for tailored wellness interventions for targeted demographics,” licensed psychologist Taisha Caldwell-Harvey, PhD, told the APA, and their research shows that a strong network of support can help combat the physical and mental health issues that are associated with prolonged stress.

This Women’s History Month, Blair Academy will host the fourth annual Women’s Symposium in three virtual sessions to build that stronger network. The goal of the symposium is to motivate, uplift and connect through conversation and to learn from diverse, insightful speakers around topics that affect women today. This year’s virtual symposium will consist of dynamic dialogue with Blair faculty, alumni and staff on the topics of wellness, mindset and health.

“Moving the Women’s Symposium to a virtual format allows us to meet the greater Blair community where they are with the tools to help take control of their health and well-being,” Director of Alumni Relations Courtnay Stanford ’95 explained. “We are hoping to connect more alums who can relate to one another’s experiences.”


Nutrition & Fitness with Rosalyn Zamora MSN, APN, FNP-C 
March 6, 2024, 12:00-12:30 p.m.

rosalyn zamora headshot

Blair’s Director of Health Services, Rosalyn Zamora MSN, APN, FNP-C, is a family nurse practitioner with more than 10 years of experience as a registered nurse in emergency room trauma nursing, and she joined Blair’s Health Center staff in 2020 as the nursing supervisor. Prior to coming to Blair, Rosalyn served as operations manager of the emergency department at Geisinger Wyoming Valley in Wilkes-Barre, a registered nurse at Morristown Medical Center, and a clinical nurse supervisor at Pocono Medical Center in Stroudsburg. A certified family nurse practitioner with experience in management, customer service and leadership training in the healthcare setting, she holds a master’s degree in nursing leadership and administration from Capella University, a bachelor’s degree in health science from Mercy College and a bachelor’s degree in nursing from the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey.

In this first session, Rosalyn will be speaking about her challenges and how facing them with improved mental and physical health empowered her to better not only her health but also herself in the long term. “I joined a running group that jump-started my weight loss journey, and I have raced in two marathons and several half marathons, competed in the bodybuilding bikini division and continue to reach many goals and milestones,” Rosalyn said. She has received her yoga instructor certification and loves to teach, train and help others with their health goals. During the symposium, she will discuss her motivations and the importance of tailoring your journey to individual goals and health.
 
Mindfulness & Meditation with Sarah O’Neil
March 13, 2024, 12:00-12:30 p.m.

sarah oneil headshot

Sarah O’Neil came to Blair in 2005 after teaching for two years in AmeriCorps and completing her undergraduate work at Wesleyan University. Sarah earned a master’s degree from Middlebury Language Schools in 2009 and taught Spanish for 13 years before bringing her language expertise to the English department in 2018. She currently teaches English 1 and a mindfulness elective in the religion and philosophy department. Sarah coached field hockey and lacrosse at Blair for 15 years before earning her yoga teacher certification in 2020. She now runs a yoga and mindfulness program available to all varsity athletes in the afternoons, and she offers two meditation sessions each week to the entire community. Sarah is currently studying with Tara Brach and Jack Kornfield in the Mindfulness Meditation Teacher Certification Program, due to graduate in January 2025.

Sarah’s intention for the symposium is to offer an introduction to mindfulness and share a bit about how the practice has transformed her life, particularly in many of the areas where women typically suffer—confidence, self-esteem, body image, etc. “Mindfulness can help us transform our relationship with ourselves, which can be the catalyst for lots of positive change elsewhere in life,” Sarah said. She will lead a guided meditation practice, and then open the session up for questions or discussion. 

Work-Life Balance with Tara Prezioso ’96
March 20, 2024, 12:00-12:30 p.m.

tara prezioso headshot

A proud graduate of the Blair class of 1996, Tara (Williams) Prezioso returned to Blair in 2022 as school counselor. On the hilltop, she advises the Healthy Relationships Committee and provides support to health and wellness programs like Project Ally and Be Well @ Blair. A licensed clinical social worker in New Jersey and Pennsylvania, Tara previously worked as director of Children’s Services at Allies Inc. In this role, she oversaw the program directors and clinical teams who treat at-risk youth through residential programs. Her experience includes performing diagnostic evaluations via telehealth and working as an in-patient clinician for behavioral health as part of the Atlantic Health System in Newton, New Jersey, clinical coordinator of Morris County Juvenile Services in Morristown, New Jersey, and an in-patient clinician at Trinitas Regional Medical Center in Elizabeth, New Jersey. Since 2017, Tara has supervised independent contractors providing in-community therapy to at-risk adolescents and their families through an LLC in her name. A 2005 graduate of Kean University, she earned a master’s in social work.

To conclude the symposium, Tara seeks to foster a deeper dialogue around the idea of work-life balance, which looks different to every individual. “We always talk about finding balance and I want attendees thinking, ‘What is it and what can we do to achieve it?’” Tara explained. The counseling team at Blair is committed to providing individualized care aligned with students’ unique needs and the goal of this session is to help uncover a path to one’s own sense of balance.


Each session will be via Zoom and registration is at www.blair.edu/virtual-womens-symposium. Please plan to join us for one or all three 30-minute sessions from 12:00 to 12:30 p.m. EST. 
 

Social Entrepreneur Yasameen Mohammadi ’16 Returns to Blair for Skeptics

At Blair, Yasameen Mohammadi ’16 was not known as the loudest student in the classroom. Yet when she spoke, she commanded attention with her insightful, succinct remarks. Now, eight years later, Ms. Mohammadi continues to command attention, captivating audiences with her voice and her entrepreneurial endeavors such as creating a library for the visually impaired, which she plans to cover at her upcoming, inaugural Skeptics talk on Tuesday, February 27. 

After graduating from the hilltop eight years ago, Ms. Mohammadi went on to earn her bachelor’s degree in business administration and management at Bucknell University, before she enrolled in the University of Pennsylvania to study international education development and obtain her master of science in education degree.

Though she hadn’t grown up knowing exactly what she wanted to study or pursue professionally, Ms. Mohammadi was always drawn to work that would make a positive impact in the international setting. So it came as no surprise when her first few positions involved serving as a research data analyst for the Afghanistan Holding Group and volunteering as a refugee handler for Save the Children International. At her upcoming talk, she plans to share her journey navigating  through uncertainty and  anxiety and toward her professional opportunities. 

“Most young people are anxious. I know I was,” said Ms. Mohammadi in a pre-event interview. “Many young students are unsure of the future and their role in it,  which often affects their present and their relationships with their peers. I hope that my stories will alleviate some of their anxiety and help them be more confident in themselves and trust that everything will be all right.”

Part of the answer to alleviate the students’ pressures and concerns, she notes, is to celebrate the present moment on the hilltop. Simply by engaging with diverse subjects  and immersing themselves in learning,  students are already on their way, she says cheerfully.

“Blair and the teachers at Blair have had an important role in helping me get to where I am today,” said Ms. Mohammadi. “I definitely have learned a lot of lessons,” she said, giving credit to her peers and mentors. “I learned to be kind to yourself and not compare yourself to others. Also, that it is okay and rather important to ask for help.”
  
All are welcome to hear Ms. Mohammadi speak in the forum of the Chiang-Elghanayan Center next Tuesday at 7 p.m. 


History of Skeptics
 
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, which is funded in part by the Class of 1968 Society of Skeptics Endowment Fund, is 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 and his successor, history department chair Jason Beck, Skeptics has featured a wide variety of speakers who are thought-provoking, engaging, accomplished in their respective fields and often controversial. For a listing of upcoming Skeptics programs, please visit Blair’s website.
 

students walking with Kenyans students

As Blair graduates continue their journeys beyond the hilltop, they are encouraged to enter the world with curiosity, empathy, respect and humility. Ethical community and civic engagement are hallmarks of our transformative education, and the development of strong intercultural learning skills in our students is in alignment with our five fundamentals. That is why it is no surprise that Quint Clarke ’87 and Kelvin Serem ’13 have achieved remarkable feats worlds away from the Academy—and their work isn’t done.

An Idea Takes Shape

This story unfolds in 2005, when Mr. Clarke founded the independent nonprofit Blair in Kenya to partner with local communities in rural Kenya to support the educational and medical needs of area children. Central to his vision was not merely providing aid but also fostering a collaboration between Americans and Kenyans. “Projects like this work best when there is a shared goal and shared responsibility,” he reflects. Back in those early days, in meetings with community leaders in a small village overlooking Lake Victoria, they identified the need for a school as a top priority. Soon, the team secured a land donation and ensured that construction and management of the school were organized locally. In January 2013, their efforts culminated in the opening of the Blair Educational Center, a private elementary school providing education as well as an on-site health clinic and nursing care to children in Kisumu, Kenya. Mr. Clarke vividly recalls, “The school was run by volunteers who shared our goals. Because we had no overhead—everyone working on this project from both America and Kenya was a volunteer—we were able to provide the services at a greatly reduced cost.”

Despite more than 7,000 miles separating Blairstown from his hometown in the western highlands of Kenya, Blair student Kelvin Serem remained deeply committed to the needs of his community. One day early in 2013, Kelvin approached Mr. Clarke at lunch. He hoped to join his teacher’s mission and bring Blair in Kenya to his own village to open a second school. With the help of Mr. Clarke and many others on a school committee that quickly formed at Blair, a five-room primary school emerged before long in Kelvin’s village of Kibargoiyet, catering to grades one through eight. Equipped with a kitchen and well, the school would soon provide daily breakfast and lunch to its students. Like the Blair Educational Center, the local community spearheaded construction efforts and continues to oversee the school’s day-to-day operations.

Today, the Blair Educational Center and Blair-Serem School educate more than 1,100 students from nursery school to ninth grade and sponsor 300 students’ educational expenses, and a new generation of Buccaneers are experiencing Blair in Kenya’s intercultural learning environment.

Returning with a New Generation

joyce lang quote

During this year’s J-term, 15 students traveled to the two schools—accompanied by Mr. Clarke, fine arts department chair Kate Sykes and Spanish teacher Alex Cullen—for a cultural immersion in western Kenya with their host, Kelvin. While their school visits were punctuated by wildlife excursions to experience the beauty of Kenya firsthand, the group spent the majority of their time getting to know the children and adults of these communities and learning about the challenges and opportunities in their lives.

“This trip was an educational adventure, and the education we provide at Blair is not just in the classroom but in life,” Mr. Clarke said. “It’s understanding the planet we live on, human nature and social issues. I believe the students on this trip returned more worldly and educated than when they left.”

Throughout the course, Kyle Douglas ’24 created a video blog of the group’s daily activities that he shared with the world through social media. Putting in the effort to edit and upload his work on site gave the travelers the ability to enlighten the Blair community back home on their experiences. With the help of classmates Carsten Viravec ’24 and John Izard ’24, Kyle composed a documentary-style video with interviews of Mr. Clarke, Kenyan students and school teachers during J-term. The interviewers asked the important questions of the village community: what were the needs and wants for the school to succeed? Blair in Kenya was able to utilize the video on their website and provide the nonprofit with an update they can share with their supporters.

“When you open the door and create these opportunities for our students, it’s amazing what they can learn,” Director of Experiential and Intercultural Learning Joyce Lang commented. “We don’t know what our partner communities aspire to. We can’t imagine it, nor can we appreciate in advance the ways in which we will grow from the experience. We need to enter new places with humility and open ears. The first step of community and civic engagement is listening in order to partner in a way that is mutually beneficial.”

Quint Clarke quote

Kyle described the trip as a once-in-a-lifetime experience. He went into the J-term with enthusiasm, eager to assist Mr. Clarke in updating media for Blair in Kenya. While Mr. Clarke travels to Kenya yearly, it has been several years since Blair students joined him on the trip. “My biggest takeaway was not to take anything for granted. It was incredible to see how people on a whole different continent live and how different their daily lives were from us,” Kyle reflected.

Kyle’s sentiments are echoed by Mr. Clarke, who underscores the significance of bridging communities and recognizing shared human aspirations. “It always feels special to pull my two worlds together—Blair and Kenya. We bring our students, who are so talented and thoughtful, to another community full of talented and thoughtful students who come from a very different background,” Mr. Clarke explained. “What strikes most of us is, although there are many differences between us, our similarities are more important. At the end of the day, we all as humans want the same things and strive for the same goals.”


To view videos from the trip, visit @blairinkenya on Instagram.

footloose cast seated
nathan bo footloose quote

He might not be the new kid in town, but the music was on Machua Muchugia ’24’s side, all right! At Convocation in September, Machua promised a full DuBois Theatre to embrace new things this year and asked his fellow classmates to join him in stepping out of their comfort zones to enjoy all Blair has to offer. True to his word, he joined the larger than life cast of Blair Academy Players for the winter musical, Footloose. Premiering last Thursday, February 15, at 7:30 p.m., the show ran for three nights only and offered a can’t-miss event.

Machua wasn’t the only one stepping onto the musical stage for the first time. Choreographer and Dean of Students Andee Ryerson pointed out that this year’s cast had several new actors, following in the footsteps of last year’s brave seniors who jumped into the limelight. With such a large cast, she admitted one of the biggest challenges with Footloose was choreographing to accommodate the entire ensemble on stage.

“It’s exciting to have so many new faces join the familiar players in the cast,” Mrs. Ryerson said. “They bring an easy, positive and fun energy to the stage, especially when dancing.”

Adapted for the stage by Dean Pitchford and Walter Bobbie, this year’s musical stayed true to the original Footloose of the 1980s, and cast members loved the throwback on set. “We got to wear ’80s inspired clothes and sang and danced to songs from the ’80s, and the show really brought you to that fun and exciting time,” Leilah Elkholy ’25 shared.

For a few veteran castmates, like Emma Clavel ’24 and Chris Couri ’24, Footloose was not only fun and exciting, but also provided a meaningful opportunity to connect the roles to their own lives. In the musical, Emma played the preacher’s daughter, Ariel. “I honestly related to some of the struggles and aspirations that Ariel experienced,” Emma explained. “I related to the feeling of wanting to ‘escape’ small-town life.” Like Emma, when Chris was cast as the Reverend Shaw Moore, he reflected on his own personal experiences for the role. 

craig evans footloose quote

“I drew inspiration to play this character from the different people in my life who play the mediator in most scenarios—my dad, advisor, etc.,” Chris admitted. “This show was definitely fun to put on and the cast consisted of a handful of seniors, which has been great.”

As one of those seniors, Machua was delighted to see the Blair community to come out and support the tremendous effort they put into this year’s musical. “The audience saw a fun and diverse cast accompanied by incredible vocals and energizing choreography and dance,” he says. Everyone, he noted, really “CUT (FOOT)LOOSE!” 

Josie & Genesis talk with Doug

For the fortunate students attending this year’s All In & Finance Event: The Power of Energy & Philanthropy, the evening at the Yale Club of New York City was a rare opportunity to experience the true magnitude of the Blair community. Hosted by former Head of School and current Trustee T. Chandler Hardwick III and his wife, Monie Hardwick, former Director of Advancement and Strategic Planning, the evening brought together current students with an interest in finance, energy or philanthropy and Trustees, alums, parents and friends of Blair for a lively discussion about the happenings on campus and around the world.

Casey Gottlieb ’25 came away from the event reflecting upon Blair’s remarkable ability to connect students with alumni and foster learning. “Through these events I have formed friendships, networked and been given internship opportunities. I am super grateful for the advancement office and all of their efforts to make Blair a better place.”

After All In campaign events around the world, the New York City launch in January was combined with the fifth annual finance summit to bring together the power of energy and philanthropy as Blair heads into the campaign’s final year. The evening opened with a warm welcome from Mr. Hardwick before Head of School Peter G. Curran P’27 ’27 shared the current state of affairs at the School with attendees, surrounded by the students who were there to share in the memorable moments. 

Mr. Curran then introduced the evening’s keynote speaker, former Board Chair Doug Kimmelman P’12 ’13 ’15 ’22. Josie Tetteh ’26, who is undecided about her future pursuits, found inspiration in Mr. Kimmelman’s insights into the energy industry. “As someone who is not completely sure what field I want to pursue after Blair, it was an amazing opportunity to hear Mr. Kimmelman speak about his career path and the many avenues that exist in the energy field,” Josie explained. “All students should take advantage of events like this to meet the extended Blair community; there is no other opportunity like it where you’ll be more comfortable networking.”

During his speech, Mr. Kimmelman shared his knowledge and perspective on energy as senior partner of Energy Capital Partners, a private equity firm dedicated to investing in North America's energy infrastructure, with over $20 billion of assets under management. Prior to founding Energy Capital in 2005, he was a partner with Goldman Sachs, where he spent 22 years in the firm’s investment banking and J. Aron commodities divisions. Mr. Kimmelman spoke of the importance of reliability, affordability and security in the world of energy, and he stressed the importance of education and energy literacy when it comes to powering our country and our world.

“Between our alumni, parents and Trustees, we have an incredibly deep bench of resources at your disposal,” Board Chair Maria Vinci Savettiere P’17 advised the students in attendance at the conclusion of the presentations. “No question is too small, and no problem is too great to tap into those resources.”

female students in class
advanced curriculum infographic

After a redesign of its advanced curriculum offerings to more closely align with the School’s vision for its graduates, Blair Academy has released the 2024-2025 Advanced Course Catalog. Advanced coursework at Blair best positions students to develop rich relationships with both their learning community and the ideas with which they engage. With the goals of giving students a greater sampling of college-level work and ownership of coursework with room to explore with their teachers, starting in fall 2024, Blair will offer advanced survey and advanced seminar courses in all disciplines, focused on fostering deep understanding and meaning making.

 “We are excited to release the advanced course catalog for Blair’s 2024-25 school year,” Associate Head of School for Academics Nathan Molteni shared. “The Advanced Curriculum initiative has significantly expanded the options available to students and each course will challenge students to make deeper meaning of their classroom learning.” 

The School’s advanced curriculum embodies the best of the academic experience at Blair: In partnership with the academic office, faculty members design and develop courses based on their passions and areas of expertise. As with every aspect of the Blair experience, relationship-based learning and feedback are paramount. Whether students pursue advanced survey courses equivalent to a first-year college class or advanced seminar courses that hone in on particular topic areas or disciplines, both are designed to give Blair students the time, space and opportunity for deep investigation of ideas, questions or themes.

“Students will encounter both broad surveys and deep dive seminars in the program, designed by faculty members experienced with  what works best for Blair students,” Mr. Molteni explained. “We can’t wait to get started on this new chapter of Blair’s academic program in the fall.”
 
The faculty members who create and teach these classes go through a rigorous proposal, regular evaluation and annual audit process led by the School’s academic team, in which they outline how the design of their curriculum aligns with Blair’s overall vision for advanced coursework. Assessed for conceptual complexity, cultural responsiveness, student-centered learning experiences and meaningful reflection, Blair’s advanced courses measure student learning outcomes through assessments designed to capture mastery of major concepts and skills, as well as the ability of students to apply these to real-world problems and issues. Every advanced Blair course aligns with the department’s vision and “portrait of a graduate.”

“There has been so much internal anticipation around the launch of the program; we are thrilled that students and families are finally able to see the forty plus advanced course options offered at Blair,” Director of Advanced Curriculum Shelly Mantegna said. “It feels really exciting to be part of this growth!”

To help everyone better understand and navigate the new courses Blair has to offer, the School has created a website that allows you to visualize your academic journey through the School’s curriculum. For further details about how to use this page as a resource, please take a few moments to watch the video below. The academic office will also host a Zoom meeting on February 13 at 8 p.m. for families to ask questions and better understand Blair’s Advanced Curriculum.

Tom Balsley

When thinking about architecture, the mind often conjures images of towering buildings, soaring skyscrapers or, perhaps, iconic structures such as the Eiffel Tower or the Washington Monument. Seldom do individuals turn their thoughts to landscape architecture such as Central Park, overlooking just how influential the profession is. On Tuesday, February 20, students will get to hear Blair parent and principal landscape architect Tom Balsley P’25 share his experiences building some of the world’s most renowned parks and recreational urban areas, shedding light on the wide-reaching impact of landscape architecture.

Located less than a two hours from Blair’s hilltop, SWA/Balsley, the organization Mr. Balsley leads in New York City, is best known for their vision and expertise surrounding landscape and urban design in public parks, waterfronts and plazas throughout the United States and abroad. He and his team have accrued over 35 years’ worth of experience reshaping social and cultural spaces all across the globe. 

In a pre-event interview, Mr. Balsley shared that he and his accomplished team at SWA/Balsley have completed “over 100 such spaces in New York City alone, including the highly acclaimed Hunter’s Point South Park, dual-winner of the National ASLA’s Honor Award in 2014 and 2019 and selected for exhibition at MoMA this year.” Other notable projects include Nelson Mandela Park in Rotterdam, Paveletskaya Park in Moscow, Samsung’s Leeum Museum of Art in Seoul, World Trade Center in Osaka, and 'Whale Plaza' in Sao Paolo, as well as many throughout the United States. Others in New York City include Riverside Park South, Gantry Plaza State Park, Chelsea Waterside Park and Rockefeller Plaza. His contribution to the quality of New York City life can be found in over 60 of his small urban parks and plazas that touch lives daily in virtually every precinct of Manhattan, including Balsley Park on 57th Street, named in recognition of his contribution to enhancing the livability of the city. 

A graduate of both Syracuse University and the State University of New York’s College of Environmental Science and Forestry, Mr. Balsley holds bachelor’s degrees in science and landscape architecture and credits “the genius and acumen of Peter Walker and the tenacity of Paul Friedberg,” for inspiring his work to create rich and vibrant public spaces.

Due to the impending snow, Mr. Balsley's visit to Blair has been rescheduled for Tuesday, February 20. All are welcome to hear Mr. Balsley speak in the forum of the Chiang-Elghanayan Center at 7 p.m.


History of Skeptics
 
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, which is funded in part by the Class of 1968 Society of Skeptics Endowment Fund, is 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 and his successor, history department chair Jason Beck, Skeptics has featured a wide variety of speakers who are thought-provoking, engaging, accomplished in their respective fields and often controversial. For a listing of upcoming Skeptics programs, please visit Blair’s website.
 

Kathleen Webb

In the World Happiness Report, an annual survey that uses Gallup poll data to assess life satisfaction and citizen well-being in 150 nations, Denmark consistently earns top ranking. In fact, the Danish prioritize health and well-being to such an extent that they have coined a single, dedicated word for it: “hygge.” Within Danish culture, the concept of “hygge” holds deep significance, embodying the feelings of warmth, security and contentment arising from moments shared with close companions in a cozy setting. 

Denmark isn’t alone in valuing health and well-being so much that they designate a single term to describe it. The Bantu-speaking nations of Zimbabwe and South Africa embrace “ubuntu,” which focuses on compassion through humanity to neighbors. Croatia uses “fjaka” to encapsulate the state of distraction-free tranquility and inner peace that comes with downtime, while Germany has “Waldeinsamkeit” to encourage citizens to seek the serenity that comes from solitude in nature. Each term reflects how each culture envisions the means to wellness differently and, in turn, reflects a unique facet of the many and varied ways that people across the globe pursue health and wellness.

Defining Health & Well-Being at Blair
Though English lacks a single, resonant term to encapsulate health and well-being, at Blair, we highly prioritize these values. Ensuring health and well-being for students encompasses a wide variety of initiatives that include supporting spirituality and fostering a culture of inclusion, so that every member of the community feels a sense of belonging. It means promoting healthy nutrition, sleep and time management habits, as well as providing regular opportunities for all community members to exercise meditation and mindfulness practices, which reduce stress and anxiety while boosting self-awareness and joy. Of course, Blair’s team of full-time counseling professionals also serves as a confidential resource where students can talk through different stressors, support them with problem solving, interpersonal skills, and help them to develop tools to deal with the challenges that will inevitably arise. 

Blair’s Director of Counseling, Ally Thomas, LCSW, underscores the importance of student involvement in informing the School’s holistic approach to well-being: “Student organizations, like Project Ally and Be Well, bring attention to themes that students want to learn more about. School counselors often hear themes in the conversations we have with individual students as well. There are also various adult spaces where we discuss areas of need when it comes to supporting students, like our student focused Health and Wellbeing Committee.” In addition, she says, Blair gleans insight from the data collected from its Authentic Connections surveys. “All of those factors help refine our strategies for supporting students’ health and well-being.” 

This year, Blair has also increased educational and programmatic offerings to help students, families, and all those interested in learning how to support children’s wellness. “We know parents and guardians are an important part of a student's team. We want to ensure parents are equipped with information and tools to help their student,” Mrs. Thomas says. “The more informed parents are with the issues teens are facing—and the better they know how to support their student—the better the outcome for the students.” 

Empowering Parents & Guardians
As Mrs. Thomas knows, many of the issues that parents find children facing today are not ones with which they have deep experience. Social media, she says, is just one example. “The online interaction that exists today is nothing like what existed when most parents were teens. In many ways, our kids are navigating things that we, as parents, aren’t always fully familiar with. It is so important to give information that is current and also try to help parents navigate those situations with their kids.” 

Through Blair’s new Adolescent Health & Well-Being Series, speakers have visited the hilltop throughout the year for all-School presentations about topics related to adolescent health and well-being. These programs are paired with parent education sessions so Blair can better partner with parents. 

Max Stossel

Expert Perspectives
The first to occur this year featured Max Stossel, founder and CEO of Social Awakening. Recognized by Forbes as one of the best storytellers of the year, Mr. Stossel, a former social media strategist who once designed notification structures in social media apps, now advocates for disconnecting from social media devices to lead happier, healthier and more fulfilling lives. During an all-School presentation in September, Mr. Stossel spoke to Blair students about the impact of technology on their lives and encouraged them to prioritize real-life connections, which bring much greater fulfillment. 

In subsequent sessions, Blair welcomed pediatrician and adolescent medicine practitioner Dr. Monique Nickels who offered a medical perspective and discussed substance use and the effect on the teenage brain. On the evening of Monday, February 12, clinical psychologist Dr. Kathleen Wawrzyniak Webb ’95 will speak to the various ways that anxiety can present in young adults and how parents can support adolescents dealing with anxiety. Dr. Webb is the founder of Greater Hartford Wellness in Avon, Connecticut, and specializes in anxiety and trauma in adolescence. 

“All these speakers are about giving kids the tools for taking care of themselves and giving parents the tools to support their children,” Mrs. Thomas notes. The Adolescent Health & Well-Being Series will continue to bring expert perspectives to campus next year with the aim of educating and empowering students to make healthful changes in their own lives.

Building a Wellness Lexicon
Like the nations of Denmark and Zimbabwe, Germany and Croatia, over time, Blair has cultivated its own unique lexicon to capture health and wellness that reflects an informed, holistic approach and that recognizes there is no one way to be well. Rather, we provide different opportunities for our students—exposing them to academic coursework, spaces for spirituality, prevention wellness education, exposure to mindfulness practices and resources to meet individual needs, through our health center and school counseling teams. In addition to the comprehensive support we offer students, we know it is imperative to also equip the adults in their lives with information and tools. Blair intentionally does this through faculty training and is now providing this opportunity for parents and guardians. We’re excited to be partnering with parents in this new way.

All those wishing to tune in to Dr. Webb’s presentation on February 12 can do so here

Liana Kardaras

If you ask an artist, inspiration for their work can come from seemingly anything: a snowy day, a passing stranger or a drop of dew. An artist’s job lies in taking inspiration and letting it run as wild as their imagination. For the up-and-coming artists set to be featured in Blair’s Romano Gallery, childhood memories serve as a common thread among their work, drawing from moments, symbols and experiences that shaped the people they are today. In this unique gallery exhibition, they will showcase their skills and talents as they embrace the beginning of their careers to inspire Blair’s budding artists. Each artist’s work will be featured in the “Emerging Artists Trio” exhibit in Armstrong-Hipkins Center for the Arts from February 13 to March 9.

Liam Fitting

Liam Fitting uses a variety of media while employing historical research and psychological concepts as he explores surrealistic narratives deeply rooted in his Pennsylvania upbringing. A 2023 graduate of Moravian University, Mr. Fitting studied both studio art and psychology and is currently involved in museum work in the Lehigh Valley. His art, which can be found in The Permanent Collection at Moravian University as well as the Coopersburg Library Exhibition, is driven by a desire to convey emotional intensity and thought-provoking themes.

“I seek to create a mental impact on viewers by incorporating subtle narratives and emotional tones into my work,” Mr. Fitting explains. “I aspire to create a lasting emotional impression, challenge preconceptions and offer a gateway to a world where history, psychology and surrealism collide.” 

Liana Kardaras

Liana Kardaras captures brilliant shots, expertly printed on fabric and photo paper alike, that symbolize creative photography and celebrate dreamlike nostalgia and glorious use of color. After earning her BFA at Mason Gross School of the Arts at Rutgers University in 2023, Ms. Kardaras has focused her career in portrait and fashion photography. Progressively throughout her artistic practice, Liana continues to further discover her sentimental relation to both narrative and editorial-based work. Grounded in her experiences in adolescence and early adulthood, she constantly returns to nature, a key element that has remained with her throughout life.

“My work is a sentimental reflection of the complexities that occur when growing up, which is why I have accepted that creating imperfect photographs contribute to my life experience and the imperfect process that comes along with it,” Ms. Kardaras shares. As she delves into the nuance behind each artistic choice, she finds “the more emotional value I hold toward my work.”

Ava Luzzi

“​​I am fascinated with the idea that, for many of us, our first experiences with fine art were in a religious context,” multimedia artist Ava Luzzi says. In the upcoming exhibition, she showcases her painting techniques and vibrant color palette as she explores the beauty and distinctive nature of religious rituals and worship. ​​Inspired by her immersive and spiritual experiences in nature, Ms. Luzzi employs an array of media to depict her profound connection with the natural world. A graduate of Mason Gross School of the Arts at Rutgers University, Ms. Luzzi has used her BFA in studio arts to find joy and purpose teaching art at several schools in New Jersey. 


All are welcome to attend an Artists Talk featuring the trio of emerging artists on Thursday, February 29, 2024, at 7 p.m. in the Romano Gallery.
 

Chef Jet teaches students

As acclaimed chef, entrepreneur and Food Network star Jet Tila prepared to arrive at Blair’s campus this week, even Mother Nature seemed excited. An overnight dusting of snow frosted the trees and grounds, casting a beautiful display on to the hilltop for the chef’s arrival. With a community of more than 500 hungry diners for lunch, beating Bobby Flay might seem less daunting than the pending lunch service, but with a bright and early start, the Los Angeles native got to work.

After meeting with Head of School Peter G. Curran P’27 ’27 and gearing up in his new Blair wear for a quintessential Arch picture, Chef Tila joined Blair Academy’s dining team to tour the Romano Dining Hall’s facilities and discuss the menu of some of his favorite recipes. Each station featured a special recipe—like ​​Vietnamese Banh Mi and Papaya Salad Thai—that can be found in Chef Tila’s cookbooks, 101 Asian Dishes You Need to Cook Before You Die and 101 Thai Dishes You Need to Cook Before You Die. Before the doors opened for the lunch rush, Chef Tila gathered the dining hall employees for a team huddle and shared that before he reached celebrity status, he was once in their shoes as a food service chef.

“I know what you do, I’ve done what you do and I appreciate all the hard work,” Chef Tila said. “I’m here, but the hundreds of hours to get here were because of you. Know that it is very much appreciated.”

As lunch commenced, the dining hall filled with the smells of tang mein, Mongolian beef and sticky wings fresh out of the oven. Students lined up eagerly to sample it all and meet Chef Tila. He slipped effortlessly from the role of celebrity—honoring every request for a photo in a sea of students, faculty and staff—to teacher, as he educated a crowd that gathered for a cooking demo on aromatics, cooking techniques and foundational flavors before serving up a sampling of his Thai pineapple fried rice.

After the Blair community got their fill of tantalizing cuisine, Chef Tila graciously devoted time to meeting with students one on one. Oracle writer Gray Beall ’26 and Blaircast podcast members Gerald Negvesky ’26 and Gavin Santoro ’24 had the opportunity to interview him for their respective publications about his career and passion for cooking. During these quiet conversations, Chef Tila candidly shared the story of his professional rise, recounting the challenges he faced in school and how the time his grandmother spent imparting traditional Asian cooking techniques to him ultimately changed his life. He offered insights into how he manages the pressures of competition cooking, the challenges in the culinary industry and his approach to infusing his tradition and culture into modern cooking.

Alongside collaborations with Blair’s food service provider FLIK Independent School Dining to visit schools like Blair and partnering with Pei Wei Asian Kitchen to share his vision of cooking as storytelling, Chef Tila boasts an impressive career. His television appearances include Iron Chef America, Chopped, Guy’s Grocery Games and many more. He is also the host of Ready Jet Cook and hosts his own radio show on KLAA in Los Angeles. Click here to view student photos with Chef Tila and catch him next time on Food Network’s Tournament of Champions February 18!
 

digital music course during equity lab day
equity lab day course offerings

Bisa Butler. Lewis Latimer. Marsha P. Johnson. Robert Smalls. They may not be household names, but that doesn’t make their tremendous impact any less significant. During Equity Lab Day and Black History Month Seminars at Blair, the community examined the stories of these influential figures and others, learning from some of the voices they learn from best—one another.

“In this community, we nurture strong relationships and genuinely care for one another, and this day is a celebration of that,” Dean of Equity, Inclusion and Belonging Evan Thomas explained. “Today is a day for acknowledging the richness and importance of Black stories and honoring community learning. It requires a great lift from all of us to put this event together, but it equally benefits all of us as well.”

The “lift” Mr. Thomas refers to began in the early morning, when faculty and staff assumed the role of students in classrooms around campus, taking part in seminars led by their fellow colleagues. A host of topics were offered for conversation, including “Ethics & AI,” “Systems & Drivers of Behavior” and “IQEE: How to Respond to Everyday Prejudice, Bigotry and Stereotypes.” The seminars offered a valuable opportunity to discuss topics and issues unique to our community with others who could empathize, fostering greater understanding and collaborative learning in the process.

“The personal development piece serves as a reminder of the work we commit ourselves to in creating a more diverse, equitable and inclusive community,” Mr. Thomas said, “but it also models to students that we are constantly learning as humans. I am grateful to the leaders who stepped up to present and those that supported student sessions.”

Following the morning session of faculty and staff seminars, the entire School gathered in DuBois Theatre to engage with minister, activist and scholar Dr. Nyle Fort. In a thought-provoking discussion, he impressed upon students the never-ending fight toward justice and leaving the world a little bit better than we found it. Dr. Fort shared that love is the moral force of what he described as the “long freedom struggle” and only love can eliminate the difference that oppression makes between us.

From the assembly, students broke out into an array of Black History Month Seminars led by their peers and supported by the faculty who know them well. Conversations of music, dance and cultural appropriation versus appreciation fostered dialogue and co-learning throughout the hilltop. In Naomi Limann ’26 and Josie Tetteh ’26’s course about the “roots” of black and textured hair, the co-leaders shared the history of different hairstyles, their meanings and how Black experiences influence hair culture before breaking into groups to experiment with styling.

“We wanted to share the history and teach our peers about textured hair,” Josie said. “Talking about it isn’t as effective as actually doing it.”

Upstairs, brothers Richard ’24 and George Gimbel ’27, supported by U.S. naval veteran Brian Antonelli’93, shared with their peers many of the notable contributions Black Americans made to their country through military service. They shared stories of heroism as well as the enduring reality of prejudices that still exist today. Challenging their classmates, the Gimbels asked students to reflect on the stories learned today and apply them in their everyday lives. “How do you intend to develop a new perspective on racial justice in your own life based on what you’ve learned today?” Richard asked. Food for thought for the entire community as Equity Lab Day came to a close.

Bisa Butler. Lewis Latimer. Marsha P. Johnson. Robert Smalls. As Blair honors and learns from the past, we lift these stories. But there are other names as well. Naomi Limann. Josie Tetteh. Richard Gimbel. George Gimbel. “These are dark times,” Dr. Fort told the community. “But it is precisely during the night in our history that we must dream.”

A group of students climb an obstacle at Orientation.

It was enchanting to stop into the Sharpe House Saturday night, where seniors participated in a beloved Blair tradition: refreshments and photos at the home of Head of School Peter G. Curran P’27 ’27 in anticipation of the Winter Ball. The annual event marks the first of many second semester occasions to commemorate students’ time together at Blair and share in the purposeful joy that is evident within our community.

The night was sparkling as students gathered in the Romano Dining Hall, wonderstruck by the transformation of the space into an enchanted forest for this year’s Winter Ball. The flawless efforts of the parent committee were evident as students posed for photos before a fairytale backdrop, seemingly plucked from the pages of a storybook. A lavish meal marked only the beginning—not where the story line ends—of a memorable night filled with dancing, laughter and an extravagant dessert spread. The evening culminated with a sing-along of seniors circling the dance floor, cherishing the moment together and knowing all too well that graduation will be here before they know it.

For more photos of the evening, please check out Blair Academy on Photoshelter.

winter ball decorations
 
coed sharpe house pic
three boys at winter ball
 
three girls pose at winter ball
 
three boys winter ball sharpe house
boys up the staircase at sharpe house
four girls pose at winter ball
6 boys at sharpe house winter ball
 
girls at winter ball seated
four girls at winter ball
 
large group of students at winter ball
2 boys at winter ball
 
large group of girls on stairs at sharpe house
students pose at winter ball with fairy wings
sharpe house steps winter ball five girls
 
Winter Ball table decor
 
8 boys pose at sharpe house for winter ball

For more photos of happenings across campus and beyond, please check out Blair Academy on Photoshelter, where we regularly post images.

Learning Lessons in St. Louis

The close of 2023 proved enlightening for many of Blair’s faculty, staff and students dedicated to issues of diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging. In late November, a team of 10 from Blair, comprising six students and four faculty members, departed campus for two conferences in St. Louis, Missouri: the National Association of Independent School’s People of Color Conference (POCC) and the Student Diversity and Leadership Conference (SDLC). The annual conferences serve as meeting places for stakeholders in independent schools, offering seminars, classes and workshops aimed at exploring equity and justice in teaching and equipping educators and students with the tools to foster healthy intercultural climates in their communities. 

This year’s conferences witnessed an impressive turnout with over 8,000 attendees. Distinguished speakers included the likes of filmmaker and producer Lacey Schwartz Delgado, who spoke to student attendees about using storytelling to bridge societal divides, and Simon Tam, an author, musician and activist well known for winning the landmark Supreme Court case Matal v. Tam in 2017.

Each day, the SDLC’s student participants broke out into groups to develop cross-cultural communication skills, design effective strategies for social justice practice and learn the foundations of allyship and networking. For Blair’s Genesis Medina ’25, who studied the U.S. Supreme Court’s Brandenburg v. Ohio with her peers, the exercise proved eye-opening. “There are limits to the First Amendment’s protections of free speech,” Genesis learned, “and they are when that speech threatens ‘imminent lawless action.’” Genesis recognizes the real-world applications of these lessons, especially in the largely wild world of social media frequented by many of her peers. “It’s really important to understand those boundaries.”

Beyond just studying legal precedents and their impact on social justice over time, Genesis and her fellow participants found great value in the conference’s ability to connect students from all over the nation on a deeper level and learn from one another. “It was a wonderful experience,” she recalls. “I came away feeling empowered to break barriers in my own educational journey and to raise awareness.”

Dean of Equity, Inclusion and Belonging Evan Thomas, who organized and led the Blair delegation, also emphasized the impact of making connections with fellow educators on the trip. “There’s a real power in the personal connection of being with other educators who are going through a similar experience,” he says. “We came away with a great deal of affirmation of what we’re doing well at Blair and what is working well in other independent schools.” 

The conferences not only provided valuable insight into social justice practice and effective teaching strategies but also helped fulfill part of Blair’s mission–to prepare our students to thrive in a diverse and complex world, one they are poised to make better.