Allison Leddy joined Blair’s academic office in 2018 as director of academic support, charged with supporting and advocating for Blair students as they learn key organizational and study skills that will help them in college and beyond. Although she is new to the faculty this year, Ms. Leddy is already well known in the community as mother of Jake ’19, who came to Blair as a freshman in 2016.
Having spent her career as a certified rehabilitation counselor (CRC) working at two New Jersey universities and in private practice, Ms. Leddy notes that Blair takes exactly the right approach to student support by looking at individuals “as a whole, in a range of contexts” instead of just as “kids sitting in a classroom.” Whereas some institutions focus exclusively on academics, she notes that Blair emphasizes good citizenship as well as good scholarship.
After earning a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Tulane University (1992) and a master’s degree in rehabilitation counseling from New York University (1996), Ms. Leddy worked as a disability specialist before moving to the academic sphere at Fairleigh Dickinson University and Drew University. After working for five years at Drew as the disability specialist and tutoring coordinator, Ms. Leddy started a private practice, Academic Connections, in Morris County, New Jersey, through which she continues to support the academic and personal growth of students of all ages. A longtime resident of nearby Allamuchy, New Jersey, she is enjoying the opportunity to be closer to home as her daughter, Mia, prepares to begin high school next year.
At Blair, Ms. Leddy embraces the high degree of collaboration among faculty members and departments and relishes in her work of supporting and advocating for students and introducing them to important executive skills. In what follows, she shares more about her background, her love for Blair and the difference she’s making, inside and outside the classroom.
Q. With a few weeks of school under your belt, is there one thing about Blair and Blair students that has stood out to you most as you acclimate to your new position?
A.The Blair community as a whole has been especially warm and welcoming to me in taking on this new role. Knowing what I know of the School, that’s hardly a surprise. Blair kids are really proud of this community, and I know my husband, Steve, and I have been thrilled to be a part of it since Jake became a student here in 2016. I have always been active as a parent and, when I saw this opening last year, I thought to myself “wow, that describes me to a ‘T’!” It was a perfect fit.
Q. What advice would you offer Blair students to help them thrive in their academic careers?
A. Always ask for help when needed and be willing to accept help. Students who are successful are the ones who aren’t afraid to say “I need help.”
It all goes back to confidence, really. Although people sometimes don’t think about confidence when it comes to academics, it can be life-changing to go into a test feeling you are going to ace it. When a student who is really struggling comes to see me, I immediately work to help them build confidence. When they come back the next week to tell me they did well on a test, it is incredibly gratifying.
I also regularly remind students that high school and college are times in life to explore different options. You don’t have to know what you want to major in or what you want to do for a living. Again, confidence is so important. If you go into a school experience confidently, looking at it as a series of endless opportunities, you will feel free to explore what you enjoy and are passionate about. If you are anxious or feel locked into a certain path, you are going to miss out.
In addition, I help kids to manage their time and plan ahead. These can be game-changers. For those facing specific challenges, having the perspective to identify those challenges and address them is invaluable. With a strong background in learning differences and managing academic accommodations, I hope to be able to allow students with learning differences to become their own best advocates.
If I can help students gain the perspective to see that I am teaching them skills that will benefit them for the rest of their lives, then I will have accomplished something.
Q. Your undergraduate work was in psychology and your graduate work in rehabilitation counseling. How have those two disciplines helped you in your career?
A. My entire career has been focused on working with individuals who may have learning challenges, need help with executive skills or just need someone to help them get organized. I have used my background in psychology and counseling to put students at ease and make them feel comfortable when working with me. I also try to use my sense of humor to make working with me appear less serious and more fun.
Q. How is executive coaching different at Blair than other places you’ve worked?
A.My role at Blair crosses every discipline and department and, by the end of the year, I will have worked with every faculty member and hundreds of students. I love the collaborative atmosphere at Blair and the fact that working with my colleagues and students is a constant conversation. Our teachers have embraced the support I can offer in teaching teenagers to be effective students, not just participants—something that should be taught in middle school, but somehow isn’t addressed until you hit high school.
Q. How can being prepared and organized help students with work outside the classroom, such as navigating the college process as juniors and seniors?
A. I am one of many Blair faculty members who are really vested in students’ college process, and I help kids see how approaching it in an organized and well-thought-out manner can make it a lot less stressful. Blair does a fantastic job of lessening the college process anxiety that most high school seniors face at one point or another by answering questions as students progress across grades, instead of waiting until a certain point in their high school career.
Q. Given that your role as director of academic support is a new one at Blair, how do students typically find their way to you?
A. Most often, I am talking with an advisor or a monitor, and they mention a student who could benefit from my help. I then reach out to them and set up a meeting, sort of a “get-to-know-you” that helps me assess whether they need help with general organization or study skills or specific learning challenges. I always tell students: “If you are really organized, things are a lot easier.” I encourage kids to have a daily to do list but also to plan ahead and think about what is coming down the road. Compartmentalizing is good at times, but your forecasting skills are also important.
I hope the office becomes a resource for students, and they see that my job is to make their lives easier, not harder. I hope kids will feel a sense of comfort and realize that I am here to help them. It’s free help; take it!
Q. Being an organizational expert, which is superior: The paper planner or Google Calendar?
A. A good hardcopy planner is everything. I tell students, make sure you write in pencil, never in pen. Electronics are ubiquitous, but they are not a substitute for true organization and can’t be a catchall for everything.
Q. What advice do you offer your own kids, as they finish high school and middle school, respectively?
A. I give them advice that we can all benefit from, which embodies my line of work: Be prepared. You can’t feel comfortable if you are not prepared.