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Society of Skeptics Welcomes Back National Security Expert Jason Criss Howk

Returning to Blair Skeptics for the fourth time since his first visit in 2017 is national security expert in defense, diplomacy and intelligence Jason Howk. With over 30 years of experience in foreign policy, Mr. Howk is an author and speaker on Afghanistan, interfaith issues, Islam, and other foreign policy and national security topics.

Mr. Howk will visit Blair Academy to share his experiences on Tuesday, January 25 at 7 p.m. He plans to discuss his time in Afghanistan while honing in on five key moments that led to the recent fallout in Afghanistan. "I want to talk about what happened in Afghanistan by while examining what went on for the past 20 years—and how I was involved in it for the last 19 and a half,” stated Mr. Howk. 

As for what he hopes students will take away from his talk, the national security and career-advice columnist thinks it is important for students to understand what and where America’s policies are, where they fit into the world and their impact. 

Mr. Howk is a columnist at ClearanceJobs News and an Islamic and Afghan studies professor at the U.S. Air Force Special Operations School. Additionally, he works as a contributing writer for over two dozen journals and regularly appears on news outlets to discuss Afghanistan. He holds a master’s degree in Middle Eastern and South Asian studies and served as a term member of the Council on Foreign Relations. Mr. Howk is a Malone Fellow in Arab and Islamic Studies and studied Afghan Farsi (Dari) and Arabic. 

Blair students cannot help but be drawn in each time Mr. Howk makes an appearance, for students feel not only the passion behind Mr. Howk’s work, but also his desire to excite students and get them involved in global affairs. 

“I think Skeptics is perfect for high school students and I wish every school in America did something like it for their students,” said Mr. Howk. “I love how Blair keeps this focus on introducing students to things that are so much bigger than they’ll ever know if not afforded that chance. I also love the focus on helping guide students into a field of their interest.”

“Whether it’s getting the chance to sit in a Blair history class or speak to students more officially, I enjoy continuing  to connect with students.”


The 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 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.

Passion, Perspective & People: Blair's J-Term Combines Them All
8:30 a.m. Listen to original music composed by students.
9:40 a.m. See chairs built by students and learn about the environmental impact of consumerism, then run downstairs to talk with student artists in their gallery walk.
10:30 a.m. Learn about financial systems and tips for building equity as a high schooler.
12:30 p.m. Ask about the concept of "grit" and how it can be measured at a student expo.
1:40 p.m. Explore agricultural policies and learn about the Farm Bill.

Had you been on campus this past Monday, this could have been your schedule. Spread out over five sessions, this year’s J-term experience culminated in presentations, performances, installations and conversations planned and prepared by each course’s instructors. Students shared their final products while also participating in or attending those of their classmates, experiencing a snippet of the course and sharing in the learning. Participants could choose from seven courses in each time slot. The result was a conference-style day where you could learn from and about your classmates.

“Students appreciated the in-person presentations, which offered windows into what each of their classmates and friends had been studying for the J-term,” said Dean of Academics Nathan Molteni. “These final products illustrated the new lines of thinking our students took while tackling the real-world problems their courses presented, and students were proud to share this newfound expertise with their teachers and peers.” 

New Experiences Foster New Connections
Having begun last winter, J-term (short for “January Term”) started as an opportunity for students and faculty alike to dive into a topic about which they are curious. Each course was co-taught by two faculty members who found where their interests aligned in ways that may or may not correlate with their traditional course material. This year, Spanish teacher Mr. Devaney and English teacher Mr. Parauda combined their love of games to offer Diplomacy and Human Nature. Science teacher Nadia Abascal and fine arts teacher Evan Thomas brought their love of art, music and pop culture to the course Discovering the Roots of American Culture. These unique combinations, sparked by faculty interests, gave students a vast array of course offerings (listed below) that explored topics not traditionally covered by the Blair curriculum. “I loved my J-term experience. It enabled me to connect with others in the Blair community about something we were all passionate about,” shared Juliana (Jules) Zweifel ’23

Students ranked J-term course offerings and were assigned based on their preferences, which allowed community members to make connections based on common passions and cross paths with those with whom they may not have otherwise. The schedule, too, taking only one course for up to four hours each day, eliminated the constant shift in focus and interaction a normal school day provides. “J-term allows for an in-depth exploration of one topic,” explained Mr. Molteni. “Combining curiosity, interest, and focus allows our students to delve into learning in ways in which they don’t always have time. This leads both to deeper learning, but also stronger connections as they work consistently with a group of teachers and peers.”

While many chose J-terms that allowed them to explore an existing interest, other students opted to try something brand new. “I am grateful to have had the opportunity to get out of the classroom setting and try something different,” shared senior Aitalia Sharpe ’22. “I was able to build a chair from scratch and learn about the carbon emissions that are produced with online deliveries. There were ups and downs to this process, as it took time to get comfortable with the tools, but overall it was a positive experience. Not only did I build a functional object with my hands, I learned about the aftereffects of online shopping, which has become a prominent facet of many people’s lives.” 

Even for those who explored existing passions, feeling challenged was a trend. “I took Voice of an Image and the final project pushed me out of my comfort zone,” Jules continued. “I created an image that was personal to me and that sparked conversation on a struggle I’ve dealt with during my time at Blair. I felt vulnerable sharing my work at first, but the Blair community could not have been more supportive. It felt good to share this part of me and feel supported and heard by my peers, which was the best part of my whole J-term experience.”

On Campus & Beyond
While last year’s J-term courses were virtual, this year, the 10-day seminars took place on campus. Students and faculty both remarked on the improved relationships afforded by an in-person experience. Field trips, for example, allowed some classes to venture into the wider Blairstown area to enhance their learning. The Politics of Agriculture class with English teacher Molly Hoyer visited local farms while learning about the Farm Bill, the largest piece of legislation currently influencing American agriculture. Blair Puzzle Hunt students, taught by French teacher Mr. Issenchmidt and math teacher Mr. Murray, visited an escape room, evaluating the qualities of an effective group puzzle so they could create their own as a final class product. Other trips sated students’ taste buds, such as the Why Vegan? (Mr. Ryerson and Ms. Doldoorian) class visit to a Bethlehem, PA, vegan bakery and the You Are Where You Eat (Ms. Castillo and Ms. Wang) trip to a nearby Indian restaurant. Still other classes visited local businesses and service organizations. This opportunity to get off campus offered students first-person, hands-on experiences that both deepened and strengthened their learning.

Classes that couldn’t venture off-campus brought the outside world to Blair. Field experts and alumni populated almost every course, either in person or virtually, allowing students to learn from their experiences and hear their different perspectives. Students in The Power of the Artist, taught by Mrs. Pagotto and Mr. Manni, learned from singer/songwriter Anthony D’Amato ’06 about the power of purpose in artistry and the larger cultural contextualization of a composer/songwriter’s process. The course Driven by Purpose, Driven by Story, taught by Mr. Fogel, Ms. Lucas and Ms. Queally, worked with award-winning author and Pulitzer Prize finalist Rebecca Makkai on the power and purpose of storytelling. For Anti-Semitism in America, Mrs. Leddy and Ms. Klein brought in a holocaust survivor, and Ms. Raley and Mrs. Issenchmidt’s Dismantling Systemic Oppression class learned from a lawyer at Bryan Stevenson’s Equal Justice Initiative, who talked to students about the civil rights and advocacy charity featured in the book and film Just Mercy. Other guests shared their expertise on entrepreneurship, mentorship, diplomacy and more, as each teacher supplied speakers for each course’s specific needs.

Whether strengthening a passion they already had or exploring something new, students and faculty alike remarked on the opportunities to explore areas of interest, develop new connections and work collaboratively to gain new expertise. Which curiosity would you explore? What would you learn and whom would you meet on that journey? Which J-term course would you choose?

2022 J-term Course Offerings


Anti-Semitism in America
Blair Puzzle Hunt
The Carlisle Indian School: The Past & Future of Boarding Schools
Conscientious Carpentry: Building by Hand to Better Understand Buying Online
Current Events Forum in Washington, D.C.
Design for the Other 90%
Development: Mirror & Mentors
Diplomacy & Human Nature
Dismantling Systemic Oppression
Do You Want to Live in a Dystopia?
Driven by Story, Driven by Purpose: The Stories We Choose to Tell
Exploring Personal Identity Through Creative Writing
Exploring the Roots of American Culture
Financial Planning & Building Equity
Food, Culture & Community
Historical Personalities Who Altered the Course of Mathematics
How to Build a Business Plan
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks
Juneteenth in Mexico: Border Stories
Make Up Your Own Mind: Using “Simple” Data to Estimate Complex Answers
Modeling Global Change Through Coding
The Politics of Agriculture
The Power of the Artist: Examining the Intersection of Purpose & Music Making
Race & Sociology of “The Wire”
Radical Art
Rights for Women—What Took So Long?
Risky Business
The Science of Happiness
Sports & the Law
Sports Media & Journalism
Voice of the Image (Vol. II)
What Is GRIT?
Why Vegan? Benefits of a Plant-Based Diet
You Are Where You Eat
You Can’t Leave Blair without Seeing This!
 

Let ‘The Game’ Begin

In France, they call it the wolf game or “jeu du loup.” In Romania, it is “leapsa.” At Blair, it has been called many things over the last decade: Jaws, the Fifteen, the Thinning. Each year, Blair’s Senior Class Council (SCC) changes the name, but the tournament is the same: a sprawling game of tag that lasts for weeks in which Blair’s students and teachers crouch behind bushes and hurdle across fields in an attempt to “tag” another player. The final showdown in the Bowl, featuring those who have evaded tagging the longest, becomes a high-spirited battle royal of dodging, ducking and sprinting in which contestants often pull every trick in the book in their quest to be crowned champion.

Started at Blair by student Jack Januszewski ’13 almost a decade ago, the children’s game has become something of a beloved new tradition on the hilltop because it nearly always ends with laughter and shouting as players and observers alike have a good time.

Each year, Blair’s Senior Class Council runs the tournament, tweaking the rules to ensure fair and safe play for all. Some rules remain consistent: The game is open to willing participants, anyone may opt out at any time, rough play is prohibited, and tagging cannot occur during study hall, athletic practice or class time.

“Over the years,” SCC faculty advisor Andee Ryerson says, “the rules have become longer as students have become more creative.” This year, for example, students are prohibited from seeking other players’ schedules in the academic office; COVID masks cannot be combined with additional masks, thus concealing players’ faces and shielding identities.

Some Advice for the Hopeful

As one of Blair’s English, religion and philosophy teachers, David Mamukelashvili is known by his students as the type of person who likes a deep discussion. He’s been known to quote Aristotle in casual conversation. With his proclivity for measured reflection, and the fact that he towers over most people, one might assume that Mr. Mamukelashvili makes an easy target in tag or that he is disinclined to embrace the simple game. Nothing could be further from the truth. Considered by some students to be a “legend” in the game for his ability to make it to the finale, Mr. Mamukelashvili believes there are many tactics and strategies to aid one’s advancement in the game. Incidentally, he also has strong opinions about the dangers of falling victim to “treachery” during play. In the name of entertainment and intrigue, Mr. Mamukelashvili offers the following advice to this year’s newcomers: 

1. You will probably get tagged when you expect it the most, so you should expect it equally at all times.
2. Remember: There’s always a way out.
3. Time can be your ally and your biggest enemy—plan your days ahead and understand how much of it you waste.
4. Patience was never a virtue, but it is in this game.
5. Do what it takes if you’re serious about it and don’t look back.
6. Overestimate every opponent.

“Most importantly,” he warns, “do not trust any of the wrestlers. They are all amazing, but not during these weeks; no matter what, they will always outnumber you.”

Let the Games Begin

While many cultural vestiges fall by the wayside with time, the game of tag has survived millenia. Documented in the second century by Greek scholar Julius Pollux, the game continues to exist today in various forms of the original across the globe. As with all traditions, those that survive the test of time reveal something about its adherents; the traditions survive because they aid, in some way, the culture to which they belong. In Blair’s case, Ms. Ryerson says, the SCC continues to organize the game because “It is simply fun. In the middle of a pandemic, in the middle of studying, in the middle of some of the shortest and coldest days on campus, students really enjoy having an outlet, just for a few weeks, that is so simple and fun.”  

Today’s School Meeting marked the beginning of play for this year’s tournament, and SCC members announced that this year’s edition would be called “The Game.” Students made clear at the meeting that one thing, at least, remains consistent: Bragging rights for the winner are huge. That being so, Mr. Mamukelashvili advises all players to prepare by heeding Aristotle’s words: “A friend to all is a friend to none.” And, if you happen to see a teacher flattened against a tree in the next few weeks, just remember one thing: Game on.
 

(Note: Images above are from past years.)

Foreign Policy Expert Doug Bandow Returned to the Society of Skeptics

The Blair community was excited to welcome back foreign policy and civil liberties expert Doug Bandow to the Society of Skeptics on Tuesday, January 18. Mr. Bandow is a senior fellow at the Cato Institute, a Washington, D.C., public policy research organization, and writes for leading publications including Fortune magazine, The National Interest, The Wall Street Journal, and The Washington Times, and comments regularly on major news networks. Watch his presentation below:


 
While Mr. Bandow explored the 2020 election in his lecture two years ago, his most recent Skeptics presentation centered around international affairs–a topic that initially piqued his interest to pursue a career in politics–and foreign policy between the United States and China today. Having grown up on the U.S. Air Force base in the United Kingdom where his father served, Mr. Bandow has long steeped himself in foreign policy and government affairs.

 “I was interested in international affairs from a young age. The Vietnam War was going on during that time so I was fairly interested in that and also the 1972 election,” said Mr. Bandow. “I was involved in speech and debate and informed myself with my parents encouraging me to do that.”

Mr. Bandow hoped to impart one overarching piece of advice to his young audience: “My key message for high school students is to get involved in public affairs, in government, in culture and in society,” said Mr. Bandow. “People will make decisions and if they are not involved, then somebody else will make those decisions for them. The world that they are going to live in is up to them. My hope is that they recognize that they need to take charge. They can do it.”
 
Since his talk at Blair two years ago, Mr. Bandow has contributed written pieces on U.S. policy to ForeignPolicy.com, antiwar.com, 19fortyfive.com, the American Institute for Economic Research, and the Acton Institute.
 
A former special assistant to President Ronald Reagan, Mr. Bandow holds a JD from Stanford University and has written several books, including Foreign Follies: America’s New Global Empire, The Korean Conundrum: America’s Troubled Relations with North and South Korea and Tripwire: Korea and U.S. Foreign Policy in a Changed World. He has challenged the Blair community with discussions of terrorism, drug legalization, ancient Chinese culture and the 2012 presidential election in past years. 
 
With all that on his plate, Mr. Bandow continues to visit Blair because of how invaluable he believes the Society of Skeptics program is. “Society of Skeptics has always been laudable for bringing in a range of speakers, and I appreciate that attempt to share information, and more importantly, immerse students in the world,” said Mr. Bandow. 
 
“You bring in people from the Arts, Business, or Politics and attempt to help the young students look at the world around them and encourage them to do more. This attempt to get students more involved and to encourage them, by showing them what opportunities exist to go out and do those things…It’s a wonderful program.”


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.
 

Health-and-Wellness Program Helps Students Find Balance at Blair

“Take a big, deep breath—In through the nose and out through the mouth.” A soothing British voice coached Blair students in a softly lit room following lunch on a recent Monday afternoon. “Close your eyes if you’d like to,” the man instructed gently. “Relax and, as thoughts intrude, allow them to pass and return your attention to your breathing.”

Well, not quite. Having never meditated, some students’ eyes fluttered open while other students shifted in their seats, looking around at their classmates. Elsewhere in the room, more experienced students appeared tranquil, all signs of the busy school day erased, their expressions serene as they fully embraced the opportunity to meditate. 

A practice that dates back to religious sects from the fifth millennium B.C., meditation is becoming more and more mainstream, thanks in part to easily accessible and guided programs like the one called “Headspace” that Blair students sampled at the beginning of the fall semester. People have been practicing meditation and mindfulness for centuries likely because of its physical benefits. Studies show that it decreases stress and anxiety while increasing happiness, helping bring practitioners into balance. That, explains health-and-wellness instructor Cency Middleton, is the goal for Blair students. Addressing the assembled students at the first session, she asked them to consider, “How can we be more intentional about finding the balance that works best for us?”

Along with school counselor Melany Jimenez, Ms. Middleton is leading a series of discussions with Blair’s dorm and day student groups this year titled  “How to Be Well @ Blair.” The sessions seek to cultivate balance in students’ lives as well as help them develop a personal skill set so that when they are challenged over the course of the year, whether academically, emotionally or socially, they have coping skills in place. 

BeWell

Origins of the Program
Promoting students’ healthy development, as well as enabling them to reach their potential, is Ms. Middleton’s priority. “When we create opportunities for kids to be well emotionally, they have more room for academic achievement and a sense of belonging,” she says. In planning the specific curriculum for these conversations, Ms. Middleton recognized the power of peer education and looked to incorporate student voices. Started in 2019, Be Well @ Blair is a student organization that seeks to create positive change on campus by focusing on peer health education. Specifically, students, assisted by faculty, incorporate health education into curricular and co-curricular opportunities, giving seminars about topics of interest to their peers. This group was a natural fit for Ms. Middleton's goals, and within one meeting, they decided to join forces, and the program “How to Be Well @ Blair” was born.

“All idea topics are generated by the students themselves,” says Ms. Middleton, and they come from a variety of sources, not just the Be Well @ Blair student leaders. Some of this year’s topics, for example, were borne from senior exit interviews, a tool that Blair uses to gather students’ feedback about their experience on the hilltop. Others came from a survey in which students noted subjects they would like to learn more about.  

Traveling from dorm to dorm and assisted by student presenters from Be Well @ Blair, Ms. Middleton and Ms. Jimenez oversee the lessons in small groups, so that there is space for student discussion and, in the case of the first lesson, meditation practice. In his second year working with Be Well, Gabriel Ramirez ’22 believes the student leadership during these conversations is critical. “There is less translation required when students speak on these topics to other students, because the language is the same,” he says. “And something positive comes from learning information from other students. Being taught by a classmate breaks down barriers. When students see someone they know modeling positive behavior, they think ‘This guy is the same age as me and he knows so much....’ I think it makes students more willing to engage with the lesson.” 

Themes for 2021-2022
This semester’s first session, “Finding Balance at Blair,” sought to explore the science and benefits of mindfulness and meditation. It aimed to help students discover what practices work for them and to cultivate a quieter and more focused state of mind. 

Topics scheduled for later in the year include teaching effective communication skills, so that, for example, students learn how to approach difficult conversations with roommates. A subsequent session on healthy relationships will focus on what love looks like, while a lesson on social media will explore the impact that Instagram and other social networking sites have on body image. The year will conclude with discussions about how stress and pressure can build resilience and grit if processed in a healthy way.  

“This is really a preventative approach,” says Ms. Jimenez. “Rather than waiting for problems to bubble to the surface, we are creating an environment where we can have those conversations before things occur. We are connecting students to the means and tools available to them across campus.”

New student Courtney Payne ’25, for one, feels that the initiative’s efforts are working. “I had never meditated before, but I’m going to be using this before tests.” Be Well student leader Isa Dugan ’22 agrees. “Whether an underclassman or a senior, Blair students are coming into this with different levels of experience. Wherever you are at, Be Well is striving to make an impact and positively influence all aspects of life at Blair.”

Blair Students Raise over $5,000 for Children’s Miracle Network

As the winter days grow longer and the sky over the hilltop turns a snowy gray, there is at least one ray of sunshine shining brightly on Blair–Taryn Garriques. At weekly School Meetings, members of the Dance Marathon Club frequently share Taryn’s video messages with the student body at Blair, and it is clear from them that the 13 year old has much she can teach others. 
 
Taryn, the sister of Bryson ’19 and Kiara Garriques ’23, has been through a lot in her short life. Her mother, Kathleen, gave birth to Taryn at just 30 weeks, and in the newborn intensive care unit, she was diagnosed with periventricular leukomalacia, a disorder associated with cerebral palsy that would prevent her from walking. At age five, Taryn underwent a surgical procedure to address problematic nerve roots in the spinal cord and she received many weeks of intensive therapy at a Children’s Miracle Network Hospital in New Brunswick, New Jersey, beginning her road to recovery. When Taryn was nine, she endured another extensive surgery that involved breaking her legs and reconstructing her hip to improve her gait. After eight weeks, she again entered Children’s Specialized Hospital for intensive therapy. Today, Taryn is a happy and well-adjusted seventh grader, who walks with the assistance of braces and shares her story of overcoming life’s challenges with a sunny mix of grace and strength.

Since 2018, Blair’s Dance Marathon Club has held an annual dance to benefit Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals, an organization that supports medical care like Taryn’s and raises funds for almost 200 children’s hospitals across the nation. The dance marathons, held by secondary schools and universities across the nation, help students gain valuable leadership experience through the event-planning process and allow them to assist children like Taryn. “Donating to the dance marathon at Blair helps children who can’t afford these procedures get them,” Taryn explained to the student body. 
 
To date, such marathons have raised over $300 million. Dancing the night away in the Chiang-Elghanayan Center for Innovation and Collaboration on December 11, Taryn and over 200 Blair students participated in this year’s event, raising over $5,000. Dance planner Kenna Hadden ’23 was delighted when the fundraising total was announced that evening. “At that point, so many people had worked hard, creating individual fundraising pages [online], selling T-shirts and bracelets and getting the word out. To get such a big response felt amazing,” she said.  
 
While the dance marathon offered students a terrific service opportunity, it also came after a long week of studying for finals and provided the chance to relax and unwind. “This dance raises money for a great cause,” added Allie Roecker ’23, one of the event’s organizers, “but it’s also a great outlet for students.” 

In addition to packing the dance floor, students sampled a variety of activities at the event. Some settled at tables to design cards for pediatric hospital patients, relaying messages of inspiration, encouragement and hope to children facing incredible challenges. Other students crowded around Santa, snapping selfies, or faced off against friends in a “Just Dance” showdown. Meanwhile, others decorated gingerbread houses, holding the roof with one hand while nibbling gumdrop bushes with the other. “The whole night was really fun,” Allie said.   
 
The event was organized under the guidance of history teacher Joanne Brandwood and English teacher Kaye Evans, who also coordinate Blair’s Day of Service and seasonal food pantry program. They noted how amazing it was to see the students so passionate about a cause. “This is a wonderful event to do around the holidays–students raise awareness for an important cause, and they have fun while giving back,” said Mrs. Evans. “It was a remarkable night.” 

Event organizer Kiara Garriques ’23, who has seen firsthand with her sister how transformative first-rate hospital care can be, feels that the dance for the Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals is more than just another event at Blair. It has become a new tradition that brings classmates together for a marvelous cause. “We are absolutely going to do this again next year,” she promised. “It feels great to be making a difference.”

Blair’s Aidan Ward '22 Named NJ Governor’s School Scholar

This past summer, Blair’s Aidan Ward ’22 was chosen as a New Jersey Governor’s School Scholar. Established in 1983, the prestigious Governor’s School is an intensive summer program for rising seniors with an interest in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Bringing together some of the state’s most motivated and high-achieving high school students, the Governor’s School offers an enriched educational opportunity that connects students with like-minded peers and prepares them to enter high-demand fields. 

Over the course of four weeks, Aidan took four classes taught by Rutgers University faculty—in robotics, physics, material science and game design—and collaborated with teammates on a final research project. “Our team saw that there are lots of crowd-sourcing education sites for high school students, like Khan Academy,” Aidan said, “but nothing for higher levels of education.” Seeking to fill that void, Aidan’s team modeled for their final project a crowd-sourcing educational platform for tertiary education, complete with user-friendly website. Presented to invited guests at a research symposium and submitted to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Aidan’s team project was well received. 

While Aidan enjoyed the rigorous academic and immersive Governor’s School experience, what he loved most was making friendships with students as passionate about science, and game design in particular, as he is. “What I got the most from is meeting people who are interested in the same things as me. Even a year after the program, we still have discourse and it’s pretty lively. I hope I am going to work with them again.”
 

Artist Anthony Smith Jr. Unveils 'Secret Worlds' at The Romano Gallery  

The Romano Gallery welcomes award-winning painter Anthony Smith Jr. for an exhibit entitled “Secret Worlds” from January 4 to February 5. Mr. Smith’s art uses layers of paint, collage, text and found objects to create vibrant narrative works filled with whimsy, morality and a tinge of foreboding. In this exhibit, viewers are invited into worlds of play and discovery, where they might form their own connections from familiar images woven into each piece.

“I tell stories,” Mr. Smith says about his art. “I always leave a morsel that viewers can grab hold of, be it a friendly gesture, appealing color, or familiar image that, like breadcrumbs, I hope leads the viewer on a journey of discovery.” 

Describing his artistic process, Mr. Smith explains that he often starts with simple sketches and stylizes them over time with mixed media until they transform into an intense and layered final composition. “I make overwhelming work,” he explains, “because the world for me is overwhelming.” 

A graduate of Amherst College (BFA) and the University of Michigan (MFA), Mr. Smith has displayed his work at more than 60 exhibitions in museums, galleries and universities across nine states. His art has been reviewed in prominent publications including The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and The Boston Globe. When he is not painting, Mr. Smith is often in the classroom challenging students; he has taught at academic institutions that include Lehigh University, the Parsons School of Design and Princeton University. He currently resides in Allentown, Pennsylvania, and maintains a studio at the Banana Factory Art Center in Bethlehem.

All are welcome to join Mr. Smith for an artist’s talk with the Blair community on January 20 at 7 p.m. 
 

Meet Blair’s Healthcare Team

At the end of each shift, Blair’s Director of Health Services, Rosalyn Zamora, RN, follows the same routine. She checks on patients one last time and ensures they have what they need. Oftentimes, she has been on her feet since morning and has earned a rest. On any day during the cold and flu season, Rosalyn and her team have treated about 30 Blair students for acute injuries or illnesses. They have reassured two dozen worried parents and, on a typical day, administered hundreds of doses of medication needed to manage chronic conditions. She and her team have used Blair’s new, onsite PCR Cepheid machine to test for COVID, flu and the RSV virus, often providing students with the cause of their illness within 20 minutes. 

While many jobs can be “turned off” when one gets home, Rosalyn finds that patient care continues after her workday ends. While preparing dinner for her family, she often fields calls from parents or specialists needing to coordinate students’ medical care. “My boys are used to me tending to patients at night,” Rosalyn says. “They understand that sick people need care around the clock.” 

Rosalyn and her fellow nurses may be a special breed. One of her many committed and capable co-workers, registered nurse Jennifer Lusardi, possesses similar talents for multitasking—as well as a deep reserve of compassion for her patients. For almost a decade, Jennifer worked as an oncology nurse before she signed on for 12 years in Morristown Hospital’s cardiac critical-care unit. When she first considered a position at Blair, Jennifer worried about whether an educational setting would prove to be both challenging and fulfilling. Ten years into her role on campus, Jennifer now says that nothing could be further from the truth. “Once I started here, I realized that working with adolescents is a whole new layer of nursing. It’s everything I didn’t think it would be. Every day is different, and I never know what it’s going to bring.” 

We caught up with Rosalyn and Jennifer recently to learn more about Blair’s healthcare team and how these devoted individuals keep our students in top shape. 


Q. Tell me a little bit about the healthcare team at Blair. Who takes care of students when they are ill?

A. [Rosalyn] Well, there’s me, plus a team of five full-time registered nurses, seven part-time and per diem nurses, and a visiting doctor who works on site four mornings a week. The health clinic is open 24 hours a day, so we work in three eight-hour shifts, round the clock. If a student gets sick in the middle of the night, we are here to help. 

Q. Over the last year, nurses have been on the front lines of the pandemic, helping to keep our schools open while simultaneously juggling COVID cases and quarantines. What has that been like? 
A. [Jennifer] It can be rough when the volume of students coming in gets high. Especially last year, we really had to multitask and triage to do our best to keep everyone safe. 
[Rosalyn] There was a lot to do: managing isolation rooms and contract tracing, administering COVID tests and logging results. Plus taking care of sick students and coordinating getting them home. Keeping up with state and federal guidance might have been the hardest. The guidance is changing all the time.  When I look back during the challenging times that we faced, though, we always kept student health and safety a priority and checked in on each other's well being, and I’m really proud of that.  

Q. What do you enjoy most about your job?
A. [Jennifer] When kids are sick, they don’t carry the persona that they take with them on the field or that they put on when they’re with their friends. This is the place that they are just their true selves. This job is not giving out Band-aids and pills. It’s so much deeper than that. It’s about delving deep down and figuring out what’s going on with the student and helping them with it. I love seeing who they really are and figuring out how to help them. 

I also like that, when they have recovered, we get to see them at their best—on the court or stage, performing, and that is so rewarding. 

Q. What do you find challenging about working in a school’s Health Center?
A. [Rosalyn] Sometimes it’s just getting everyone to understand that, in everything we do, we must not only follow our own protocols for treatment and care, but also New Jersey Department of Health protocols—not just for COVID but for routine care as well. Sometimes, that frustrates students who just want to get back out to class or the field. But we tell them at every turn that we will get them there; sometimes, it just requires a little patience!

Q. What’s your philosophy for treating students? 
A. [Jennifer] We try to catch things when they’re small. We don’t have a philosophy of “I saw you on Tuesday, so you must be doing okay.” If a student doesn’t make another appointment, it’s up to me to follow up with them, to make sure their regimen is working. I keep a notebook in my desk, where I keep tabs on the kids. I want to follow up, just like your mom would at home. We treat them as we would our own. Parents are trusting us to delve down deep and figure out what’s going on with their child, and I love doing that.


This holiday season, we are especially grateful to Rosalyn, Jennifer and the entire team at the J. Brooks Hoffman ’36 Health Center for caring for the Blair community with compassion and skill. Please join us in thanking them for their tireless efforts to keep us safe and healthy in 2021 and in wishing them all a wonderful new year! 
 

Blair’s Powerhouse Wrestling Team Crowned ‘Beast of the East’

This past weekend, wrestlers from across the nation descended on the University of Delaware for the prestigious, two-day Beast of the East Tournament. Blair’s powerhouse wrestling program won its 21st straight team title at the tournament, crowning five champions and nine place winners and clinching first place with a final score of 269.5, 43 points ahead of the second place Delbarton. 

Coming off a win at the Ironman Tournament, Blair fielded a strong team last weekend with four No. 1 seeds and nine seeded wrestlers. Leading the way for the Bucs at the Beast of the East were Leo DeLuca ’25 (113 lbs.) who contributed 36 points to the team’s total as well as winning the Major Ray Mendoza award. Leo had four pins throughout the tournament. Other champions include Marc-Anthony McGowan ’23 (120 lbs.), Matt Lopes ’24 (126 lbs.), Danny Wask ’22 (170 lbs.), and TJ Stewart ’22 (220 lbs.). 

Third place winners Lorenzo Norman ’23 (160 lbs.) and William Henckel ’25 (145 lbs.) each wrestled in an incredible number of matches as well, with Lorenzo going 8-1 and William going 7-1. Ibrahim Ahmed ’22 (138 lbs.) placed fourth and Paul Ognissanti ’24 (138 lbs.) placed seventh.

Head wrestling coach Ross Gitomer ’05 expressed pride in the team, noting, “Beast of the East was a really good team effort. Going eight for nine in the last round showed the amount of care the kids have for their own wrestling, but more importantly, for their team’s performance. Our players will gain confidence from this, which is important, because it doesn't get any easier as we head to the Powerade after Christmas. That will be exciting and challenging for us.”

Go Bucs!
 

History Buffs, Welcome to the Library’s New Venture!

Library director Ann Williams’ excitement is palpable. Never one to miss an opportunity to help students access Timken Library’s 20,000 volumes and extensive online resources, she is also a serious history buff—especially when it comes to the history of Blair Academy. Gesturing to the room full of artifacts, her palms open wide as she points to each object. She is standing next to a Civil War drum once used to rally men in battle. Gleaming with polished wood, it is an impressive piece. “This drum was carried in the Civil War by a forebearer of [Blair Academy Board of Trustees Chairman Emeritus] Dr. J. Brooks Hoffman ’36,” she says proudly. 

The drum is one of many pieces owned by Blair Academy that the Timken Library staff displayed recently as part of a “new” museum. A work in progress, the museum is not yet complete, but Ms. Williams wants to share her vision and some fun artifacts with the Blair community even at this early stage. “Our inspiration comes from multiple requests from students, faculty and visitors to see the archives and from Timken Library’s rich appreciation for the contents after our years of toil behind the scenes,” she notes.

In addition to the Civil War snare drum, artifacts on exhibit currently include a nineteenth-century Blair uniform patch and buttons, a class ring from Charles W. Millard ’22 and Cum Laude Scholarship cups from the 1950s. Also displayed is a photo from the 1934 ACTA, showing an earlier incarnation of a museum at Blair. 

 

The Timken staff invites all Blair students, faculty and friends to view the museum’s rotating exhibit of items from School history. The display room is located inside Blair’s Timken Library.
 

Math Modeling

How do populations grow? How do viruses spread? How do you interpret what an infographic is really trying to say?

These are all questions that can be answered in Blair’s new course Mathematical Modeling & Applications.

Open to seniors, the course is designed to promote reasoning, problem-solving and modeling using basic mathematics skills, such as algebra. Replacing College Algebra, students learn critical thinking skills to formulate a real-life problem, construct an appropriate mathematical model, calculate solutions and validate the results.

Math Department chair Julia Rowny, who teaches the course, was inspired to create it with Dean of Academics Nathan Molteni after noticing an increased need for a new style of learning mathematics among students who might not be interested in advanced math courses, such as Calculus.

“When am I ever going to use this?” is a question often heard in classrooms around the world, and Ms. Rowny wanted to ensure that her course content would be relevant and useful to students’ lives.

“We knew some students needed a different way of learning math, because they've been stuck in this algebra-based trap where it’s very abstract and symbolic,” she noted. “This new way of looking at things has us teaching material in a way that’s useful to them, but not the norm of learning in regular math classes. That’s the core of it.”

The class, comprising 12 students, kicked off the year with probability, learning about decision making on topics such as taking certain bets, or picking one option over another and what those consequences would be. Students then moved into exploring statistics, including how to interpret them for accuracy.

“When someone refers to the average age of something, what does that really mean,” Ms. Rowny explained. “Is it accurate? Is it fabricated? How can you learn when you’re being lied to with numbers? All of that is explored in this class.”

Students ended the fall 2021 semester with their first signature assessment, which saw them asking statistical questions, researching data online from reputable sources and analyzing their hypotheses.

Signature assessment examples included which basketball player is the “best” basketball player, which country is the “best” in the Olympics on average, and even birth statistics, including looking at survival rates of different kinds of deliveries.

“Many students’ projects switch directions because of how easy or hard the data is to find, which is awesome,” Ms. Rowny said. “I’m seeing students have to change their question or data source due to this, and that’s exactly what we experience living life every day.”

During the spring semester, students will participate in a financial simulator, where Ms. Rowny will roll a dice to determine their financial status as they plan for college and postgraduate life. Students will need to figure out what their needs might be and what careers work with their major at the college they can attend, all of which is based on the financial status they’re assigned.

This includes determining income potential after graduating and locating an apartment based on student loans and geographic limitations. Following that unit, the course will expand to topics such as budgeting, taxes, health insurance, interest rates and credit scores.

The course is being well received, as students are thriving in the teamwork-based learning environment. Ms. Rowny noted that the class will often jump into solving a problem and ask questions along the way, rather than listening to her lecture at the whiteboard. Students were also surprised to learn that they are allowed to use any quantitative tool that works best for them, including calculators, Google Sheets and even their phones.

By offering a real-world view of mathematics, the course is key to the growth of students’ critical thinking skills and a better understanding of how important math truly is. Mathematical Modeling & Applications provides a strong tactical foundation that prepares students for key issues they will face after their time at Blair Academy is complete.

 

Blair Varsity Wrestling Clinches No. 1 at Ironman

Congratulations to the Blair varsity wrestling team, who bested the nationally ranked No. 2 and No. 3 teams in the country this weekend!

Blair Bucs clinched first place in the 2021 Walsh Jesuit Ironman Tournament in Ohio this past weekend, competing against teams from close to 30 states. Blair has traditionally chosen to compete in the Ironman because it is one of the toughest tournaments, featuring some of the best wrestlers in the nation and providing a rich opportunity for Blair’s Bucs to test their mettle. Out of a total of 98 competitive teams, this year Blair won the tournament with a combined score of 176.5, 30 more points than Malvern Prep, which placed second. 

Leading the way for Blair was Marc-Anthony McGowan ’23 (120 lbs.) and TJ Stewart ’22 (215 lbs.), who each placed first in their weight classes. Previously unranked junior Lorenzo Norman ’23 (165 lbs.), earned an impressive second in his weight class after being seeded only 10th in his bracket. Danny Wask ’22 (175 lbs.) and Leo DeLuca ’25 (113 lbs.) rounded out Blair’s performance, placing fourth, while Paul Ognissanti ’24 (138 lbs.) brought home fifth. 

Blair wrestling head coach Ross Gitomer ’05 praised the team for their focus and hard work, saying, “One of the mental techniques the coaches have been working on with the athletes has been fighting through positions, especially when you’re tired. The kids executed on that well at Ironman. Our athletes knew the Ironman was going to be a grind type of tournament, but they stepped up to the challenge, and it paid off for them.”

Blair returns to the mat this weekend, traveling to Newark, Delaware, to compete in the Beast of the East Tournament.

Go, Bucs!
 

Blair’s New Water Polo Team Makes a Splash

Head coach Mitch Towne wasn’t sure what to expect on the other side of the glass, but it wasn’t what he found. Opening the door to the Wallace Pool for the first home game of the season, the coach of Blair’s water polo team was met with a thunderous wave of sound from the stands. Blair students, packed shoulder to shoulder, filled the seating area, talking and cheering so loudly that the pool room reverberated. “I was shocked,” says Coach Towne. “I realized that the home game had drawn a big crowd and, there is no question, that gave us a huge psychological advantage.”

In the third game of its inaugural year, the Blair water polo team had already played two matches against rivals Lawrenceville and St. Benedict’s, losing one and tying the other. “We're a first-season team competing against schools that have had programs for a long time,” explains Coach Towne. “We’ve just started building a team and our players are still learning the game’s fundamentals, so I didn’t expect to win.” But at this home game, Blair did just that, rising to the occasion to upset St. Peter’s with a score of 12 to 4.

Across all sports, teams win more often when competing at home. Part of the home field advantage can be explained by comfort—getting a good night’s sleep in one’s own bed and playing on familiar turf. But those factors did not come into play for Blair’s water polo team; Blair’s athletes sleep in the same beds every night. The only explanation, Coach Towne feels, was the support of the home crowd. “The energy in the room was electric. The way the kids responded, came out and played was just phenomenal. It’s my goal to carry that over and grow this program.” 

Building a Program

With the encouragement of Blair’s administration, the water polo team first came together last year under the tutelage of Senior Associate Dean of Admission and NCAA championship swimmer Caroline Wilson. Due to the pandemic, however, competition was postponed. This year, language teacher Mitch Towne has taken the helm. As a water polo player for Williams College’s team and having trained with the New York Athletic Club, Coach Towne has deep experience with the exciting and fast-paced sport. He happily agreed to lead Blair’s new club team along with assistant coach Rod Gerdsen. To their delight, in 2021, the water polo program fielded 14 interested students, whom Coach Towne proudly begins ticking off. 

Zoe LaMent ’22 has been a leader on the team, especially outside the pool, creating a good team dynamic,” he says. “Ethan Lau ’23 is so strong—just stellar at all aspects of the game. Ohm Poonsornsiri ’23 is incredible in goal, and Chelsea Thatcher ’23 is a fearless defender. And JC Cong ’23?” he says. “He’s just got a cannon of an arm.” 

One point that Coach Towne emphasizes, though, is the importance of teamwork. Whether players are setting up a formation, passing to teammates or forcing movement to create an opening to score, the key to success in water polo, Coach Towne says, is “working together as a team. There's room for individual brilliance, to score the goal or make the block, but everyone must play their part for the offense to work.” 

It Takes All Kinds

From the outset, Coach Towne has welcomed players of all abilities to Blair’s water polo team, relishing his role as program organizer and technical coach. While water polo has a reputation for being a strenuous contact sport—players tread water during four eight-minute quarters when they are not racing to launch the ball across the pool—Coach Towne promises that the sport is not as intimidating as it looks. “Everyone can play water polo. Students have to be able to swim, but you don't have to be a superstar swimmer. Treading water is a skill that can be learned.” Practicing five days a week in the Wallace Pool and weight lifting at Blair’s gym on Saturdays, players soon acquire all the skills they need. “Almost no one on our team had ever played water polo before this year,” he says with a smile, “and look at them now!”

Initially structured as a co-ed club that played four games this season, Coach Towne didn’t know if there would be enough student interest to support two single-gender teams. Student enrollment is strong, however, and he hopes the program will continue to grow into a varsity-level sport, which means competing against 10 to 12 teams per season. “We have terrific support from our administration and fans, and if we continue growing at this pace in numbers and ability,” he notes, “there’s a good possibility that we can grow to compete at the varsity level and at MAPLs.” 

Team co-captain Ethan Lau ’23, for one, shares that goal. “We’re doing phenomenally for our first year. We started off with eight people and have grown to a team of 14 that gels really well. We’re ready for the next level.” 

Ethan notes that there is no leader more enthusiastic than Coach Towne, nor more devoted to the task at hand. “He took us to Princeton last week,” Ethan says, to learn from their collegiate team, and frequently lugs his TV to practice so that players can replay their performance in real time. “Sometimes, Coach Towne plays goalkeeper against us in practice. He’s really, really good in goal. But the day is coming when I’m going to beat him!”

When asked which team he would like to face the most, Ethan does not hesitate. “Peddie!” he says, naming a school he hopes will use their accomplished swimmers to form a water polo team.  “I can’t wait until we play Peddie. If we play them away, we’ll beat them. If we play them at home, and all of Blair shows up like they did [against St. Peter’s]?” Ethan smiles. “We’re going to crush them.”

Follow Blair's water polo team at @blairaquatics on Instagram.
 

Camara

In early December, Blair college counselor and head varsity basketball coach Batouly Camara ’15 was profiled by Yahoo! as part of its “In the Know: Next Gen” series on changemakers who are making a positive impact in the world. A Yahoo! camera crew spent a full day on campus filming Batouly earlier this fall, ultimately creating a “day-in-the-life” video and an accompanying article that document Batouly’s work with Blair students as a counselor and coach—all while continuing to mentor young girls in Guinea, West Africa, in her role as CEO and founder of the nonprofit WAKE (which stands for Women and Kids Empowerment). 

During the interview, Batouly talks about her journey as a young girl in Guinea and becoming a standout basketball player at the University of Connecticut and, later, a professional basketball player in Spain. She founded WAKE in 2017 when she traveled with her parents to their native Guinea, where she ran a basketball clinic for youths. There, she met a girl who opened her eyes to the lack of resources these kids had. “I started WAKE because of one girl,” Batouly said in the video. “I felt it was so irresponsible of me to instill hope in young girls and not give them the resources, the opportunities or the access to fight for their dreams. I felt a personal responsibility at that point to do something.” 

Today, more than 700 kids have participated in WAKE programs and the nonprofit’s facilities and offerings have grown to include two basketball courts (the second of which will be dedicated on December 27), a speaker series and workshops. Despite the busy pace of life at Blair, Batouly is still actively involved in growing the nonprofit and plans to expand WAKE’s basketball camps to 5-day-a-week, 6-week-long programs focused on the intersection of leadership, sport and education. She and her team hope to enroll up to 50 girls while continuing to run the camps for which the organization has become known. Future plans also include building an all-girls boarding school on five acres in Guinea and reinforcing the importance of secondary education, as well as developing more partnerships in New York City that would allow Batouly and her colleagues to host after-school programs for girls in all five boroughs. 

“Education and athletics are at the forefront of really providing a strong foundation and base for our kids to be successful,” she said. “I’m extremely grateful to have the opportunity to be part of young people’s lives through WAKE and being at Blair Academy as a college counselor and girls’ basketball coach. And I believe the role I serve is to be able to create these experiences in these spaces where they empower themselves and they gain the tools necessary to be their greater selves through education and through sport.”

Reflecting on her post-college basketball career in the piece, Batouly touched on some of the challenges of playing in Spain, including the fact that she was the first professional player there to wear a hijab. “But I have to say, it was such a special opportunity as a Muslim woman playing a sport to have young girls say, ‘You gave me the confidence to be myself, to feel seen, to feel worthy and to feel heard.’” 

Batouly’s own mentor and her former Blair coach, longtime history teacher Quint Clarke ’87, makes a cameo in the Yahoo! video to touch on what makes Batouly such a special person and player, noting she is inclusive, caring and has a gift for connecting with people. The two have known each other for 11 years and, now that Batouly is back at Blair, they remain close. Not only is Batouly proud to carry on Q’s legacy as girls’ varsity head basketball coach, but she has also benefited from his advice as the founder of the independent nonprofit “Blair in Kenya,” which has been doing similar work in another part of Africa for many years. 

Reflecting on her own love of basketball—which she calls a source of sisterhood and support—Batouly told Yahoo! that she looks forward to a successful season ahead for Blair on the court. “I am so happy to work at Blair; it is an incredibly supportive community, something that is constantly reiterated at every turn,” she said. “I am grateful to the Blair community and extended Blair family, and I hope alums of every class year will consider coming back and checking out some of our games!”

Ending the Yahoo! interview with her characteristic optimism, Batouly noted that she is proud of her generation. “I think it is filled with fearless changemakers who see something that is not right and feel like they have everything they need to make a difference,” she said. Part of making a difference, Batouly concluded, is dreaming big and developing in the next generation the confidence and education to foster agency in and access for others—and, as she has shown, the basketball court is a great place to start. 

To read the Yahoo! article in full and watch the video, click here.