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 Blair community members participate in The Leadership Stories Project.

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Even though Blair’s fall athletes did not compete interscholastically this year, they dedicated time and effort to their teams and continued to strive to become the best they could be in their respective sports. In order to give special recognition to the seniors who helped lead their teammates through the challenges of the fall, Blair’s athletic department created a video highlighting each athlete with a photo taken by photography teacher Tyson Trish and student photographers during the fall athletic media days. To view the video, press “play” below:

“The leadership demonstrated by our seniors made this fall season a positive experience for everyone,” said Director of Athletics Paul Clavel ’88. “I am very proud of these senior athletes. Faced with adversity, they continued to make the best of the situation, displaying tremendous grit and positivity. These seniors truly embody what the Blair athlete is all about.”

During their time participating in fall sports at Blair, the members of the class of 2021 won numerous awards and Mid-Atlantic Prep League championships. Blair Academy thanks them for their hard work and wishes them much success in their future endeavors. 
 

Blair Bids Farewell to Head of School Chris Fortunato

Amid preparations for Thanksgiving break, Blair community members took time to express heartfelt thanks to Head of School Chris Fortunato for his dedication to the Blair family and for all he has accomplished during his seven-plus years at the School. Mr. Fortunato will end his Blair tenure at the end of December and return with his family to their New England roots next year, when he will become Head of School at Thayer Academy in Massachusetts. In the meantime, School Meeting on November 20 offered the perfect opportunity for faculty and students to share a moment of gratitude with the departing Head of School.

The Senior Class Council created a special video for Mr. Fortunato and his wife, Blair’s coordinator of health education Erin Fortunato. Set to the Blair Symphony Orchestra’s rendition of the “Star Wars” theme, a nod to Mr. Fortunato’s well-known love of all things “Star Wars,” the video captured well wishes from Blair family members all over campus. In addition, several vocalists serenaded Mr. and Mrs. Fortunato with “The House at Pooh Corner,” acknowledging Mr. Fortunato’s favorite literary character, Winnie the Pooh.

As Head of School since 2013, Mr. Fortunato has focused on leadership, communication and service, and partnered with faculty, Trustees, alumni, parents, staff members and friends of the School on numerous forward-thinking initiatives designed to position Blair students for success. These initiatives include building projects that enhance every facet of school life, such Lakeside Hall and Kathryn Hall, the modern upper-school dormitories that opened 2015, and the Chiang-Elghanayan Center for Innovation and Collaboration, the technology rich and highly adaptable home to Blair’s fine arts and technology departments, Society of Skeptics lectures, and myriad programs across the curriculum. 

Concurrent with the 2017 construction of the Chiang-Elghanayan Center, Weber Hall was repurposed for the teaching of mathematics, and two years later, at the start of the 2019-2020 school year, the Blair community celebrated the reopening of the fully renovated Bogle Science Center. Blair enhanced its top-notch athletic facilities during Mr. Fortunato’s tenure, as well, with the 2018 completion of the J. Li Golf Training Center and seasonal winter sports complex.

Over the past seven years, a slate of enriching new programs and opportunities has complemented these dynamic campus facilities. Chief among these programs is Blair LEADS, the School’s cross-curricular leadership training initiative that helps students develop a suite of leadership skills through their participation in The Blair Leadership Stories Project, hands-on project work and community service endeavors that have taken them from Blairstown to points around the world. Mr. Fortunato also led the way in establishing Head of School and alumni roundtable discussions, an evening seminar series, the research fellows program, Blair’s annual Day of Service and more, all of which have served to broaden students’ horizons and foster the deep and meaningful relationships that are at the heart of the Blair experience.

During Mr. Fortunato’s tenure, Blair’s admission and fundraising efforts achieved record-setting results. On the admission front, the number of applications increased each year as families across the globe came to know the School and appreciate all that it offers its students. Financial support for Blair was strong, as well, with the endowment growing from $75 million in 2013 to $104 million in 2020, and the School recording its two best fundraising years ever in 2015-2016 and 2019-2020, with a total of $11.3 and $11 million contributed, respectively.

In 2018, Mr. Fortunato helped to launch Blair’s 2018-2025 Strategic Plan, which charts an ambitious course to amplify the School’s “all in” culture and commitment well into the future. And, amid all of this important work, he has continually championed to students the importance of remaining optimistic, building bridges, expressing kindness, and remembering—as Christopher Robinson said to Winnie the Pooh—“you are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, smarter than you think, and more loved than you will ever know.”

The Blair community wishes Mr. and Mrs. Fortunato and their children, Matt and Katie, all the best in their exciting next chapter!
 

College Counseling

A major part of committing to a college is taking a campus tour and experiencing the atmosphere of college life. Although the coronavirus pandemic has curtailed opportunities for this in-person right of passage, it has opened the door for seniors to conduct their college search in a new way: through virtual visits.

College officials have been working throughout the health crisis to come up with safe and creative ways to give campus tours to prospective students. This fall, quality virtual tours of colleges have become available at the click of a button.

On nearly every college website, prospective students can click through a web-based virtual tour of interactive photos and videos designed to be compatible across all devices. Tours consist of videos of campus facilities, Powerpoints, pre-recorded interviews with faculty and students, and one-on-one talks with college representatives.

"Virtual visits have been so helpful,” said Julia Thompson ’21, who is wrapping up her college search. “I've really been able to figure out the type of school that will best suit me, and I'm super excited to see where I end up for my next chapter."

Another Blair senior, Tess Whitehead ’21, noted that the virtual tours have allowed her to see so many different aspects of schools without even leaving her dorm. Although Tess is still conducting her college search, she, too, is confident that she will find the right fit.

Kevin Parsons, Blair’s associate dean of college counseling, noted the convenience that virtual college tours offer Blair students. Students can join in from any location that has Internet access, though most are in their dorm room or at home. Blair’s college counseling team has made it simple for students to access tours by listing upcoming virtual visits on its website. College admission representatives create their own Zoom links, so on the day of the visit, the students simply click the calendar link to join the virtual tour. 

“I think students really like this virtual alternative, even though it will never be able to replace real in-person visits,” Mr. Parsons said. “To the best of our knowledge, our students are doing a great job of participating in these virtual visits. I would say attendance is close to the same participation rate as in a regular year.”

Mr. Parsons noted that without virtual visits, students would have little-to-no opportunity to learn detailed information about colleges and to make connections with admission representatives. So, while virtual college visits are certainly not ideal, they are extremely helpful and a great way to help Blair students find their next chapter.

Academy Talk Show Podcast Features Conversations with Skeptics Speakers

Every week, the Society of Skeptics lecture series offers Blair community members the opportunity to learn from a fascinating speaker. Sometimes, however, the hour-long presentation and Q & A leave the audience wanting to know even more. To help shed additional light on guests and issues, four enterprising students have founded The Academy Talk Show, a podcast of one-on-one interviews that bring listeners deeper into Skeptics speakers’ lives and work.

Since last spring, Daniel Dai ’21, Ethan Rackleff ’21, Jack Weber ’21 and Dong Bin (DB) Won ’22 have produced six episodes of The Academy Talk Show, each featuring an intimate conversation with a guest who especially piqued their interest. Their goals with the interviews are to learn more about Skeptics speakers and to share what they learn with a wide audience via their podcasts. In addition, they hope their interviews will serve as a condensed version of Skeptics for those who don’t have time to tune in for entire lectures.

The four club members have each played a role in bringing The Academy Talk Show to life. Jack has helped write interview questions, DB and Daniel usually conduct the interviews, and Ethan edits and produces the podcasts. Their advisor, history department chair and Society of Skeptics director Jason Beck, connects them to the Skeptics speakers they want to interview and facilitates their meeting, but otherwise, he says, his role is minimal.

“It’s really been a team effort on the part of the club members, and I think it’s great that they are interested in speaking individually with so many of our guests,” Mr. Beck said. “The speakers they have interviewed, both in person last year and online this semester, have really enjoyed their questions and the conversation. And, I've been quite pleased that they've been processing and publishing a number of the conversations they have worked on over the past year.”

When asked which podcast has been his favorite so far, DB noted that it was a great honor to interview Raymond Seitz, former U.S. ambassador to the United Kingdom, on the importance of bipartisanship during Brexit. Daniel especially enjoyed talking to award-winning author Sergio Troncoso about coming from an immigrant background and “what our lives mean for those in generations after us.”

“In working on The Academy Talk Show, I’ve realized that there are so many more stories to be heard and things to be learned from different people,” Daniel reflected. “It is important, especially in the current sociopolitical climate, that we listen to what others have to say and process that before we make our own opinions.”

DB also shared a larger lesson he has learned through The Academy Talk Show. “Every issue or problem portrayed to the public is not as simple to resolve as many people may think it is,” he said. “There is no simple solution to solving any significant issue. Even within a seemingly straightforward problem of illegal immigration, no clear solution can be agreed upon because each proposed solution compromises a significant intricacy or issue within the wider issue of immigration.”

The club members plan to continue interviewing Skeptics speakers and, hopefully, other guests as the year unfolds and creating podcasts to share their work. Their catalogue of podcasts is available here.

Violinists perform during fall 2019 concert

Blair’s annual fall showcase of musical talent took place on November 20 when more than 70 student instrumentalists and vocalists performed in the virtual Fall Concert. Featuring four instrumental ensembles, the Singers and numerous small vocal groups, the online event was a celebration of the performing arts department’s determination to keep making music amid challenging circumstances and to share some joy with audience members around the world. To view the concert, please click below:

A Different Kind of Fall
The musicians began preparing for the Fall Concert when they returned to campus in late August, but this year, with health-and-safety protocols firmly in place, those preparations looked quite different than they have in the past. For instance, instead of full-ensemble rehearsals in Armstrong-Hipkins Center for the Arts, vocalists and instrumentalists practiced in smaller groups, often outside under tents, where they could maintain extensive distance from one another amid the fresh air. They recorded their parts for the concert repertoire individually, and, instead of singing during class meetings, vocalists used that time to focus on active listening skills, as well as the foundational skills necessary to create original covers of songs.

“It was definitely  a challenge to manage multiple rehearsal spaces and for students to adjust to new rehearsal routines,” said performing arts department chair and director of instrumental music Jennifer Pagotto, who has been teaching almost a dozen fully remote students this fall in addition to those who are on campus. “Nonetheless, I was truly impressed with the way our musicians worked through every obstacle. Everyone was rolling with our ‘for-now normal’ and doing their best to keep learning and making music.”

Director of vocal music Ryan Manni was proud of the way vocalists have adapted, as well. “Students jumped into our new procedures with aplomb,” he said. “They were enthusiastic about finding creative ways to continue to engage with music making at Blair—they inspire me every day!”

Ava Roche ’21, who serves as president of the Singers, said she would love to have all the Singers together in one room, but, for now, she was happy that they can work in small groups. “We were using GarageBand to combine recordings of our individual voices,” she said. “It was difficult to learn at first, but I’m thankful that we have the technology that allows us to make music together and that connects us as one.”

Four-year Orchestra member and cello section leader Nathan Tung ’21 described how health-and-safety protocols that required string players to sit farther apart than usual and practice separately from brass and woodwinds made learning his own parts a little more difficult. But he also noted a silver lining. “We moved at a slower pace this fall,” he said. “Having more time to work through each piece allowed me to become much more familiar with my music.”

Varied Repertoire
Mrs. Pagotto and Mr. Manni chose a varied repertoire for the Fall Concert that included both familiar works and numbers that were new to listeners. Among the pieces performed by the Orchestra is Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9, mvt. IV, an arrangement created by Mrs. Pagotto just for this year’s musicians. “This movement starts out quiet and understated and finishes pretty robust and exciting,” she said. “I think audience members recognized and enjoyed it. We were excited to honor Beethoven’s legacy with this work, since December marks the 250th anniversary of his birth.” 

The Wind Ensemble played Jennifer Higdon’s “Rhythm Stand for Wind Ensemble” and the beloved classic, “Amazing Grace.” Meanwhile, the String Orchestra regaled the audience with Leroy Anderson’s “Plink, Plank, Plunk,” which Mrs. Pagotto described as a “super fun piece to play and listen to,” and “Lyric for Strings” by George Walker, the first Black composer to win a Pulitzer Prize.

On the vocal music side, the Singers presented “Sisi Ni Moja” by Jacob Narverud, a work that extols a message of hope, joy and unity. Mr. Manni gave special thanks to Ethan Rackleff ’21 for his care and expertise in recording, mixing and producing this piece for the Fall Concert.  

In addition to the Singers’ number, small groups of vocalists performed covers of popular works by a wide range of artists, including The Beatles, Adele, Owl City and many others. “The covers are so well done, and they are completely the products of our students,” Mr. Manni said. “I think the audience was especially impressed by the creativity and uniqueness of these pieces.”

Making Music & Making Memories
For Nathan and Ava, who performed in their fourth Fall Concert at Blair, making music with their peers has been an experience they will long remember. Nathan counts the off-campus opportunities to attend and perform in concerts among the greatest moments he has experienced with the Orchestra. “I especially loved our trip to England my freshman year and our trip to see the New York Philharmonic my sophomore year,” he said. “Being together with those groups of fellow musicians forged unforgettable memories for me.” 

Ava considers her four years in Blair’s vocal music program a gift. “The Singers, Chamber Choir and A Cappella have all become a part of me,” she said. “Through each of these organizations, I am constantly given the chance to meet and connect with new people who I probably never would have connected with otherwise. Blair music has given me such a strong sense of community and love, which I will always remember and hold dear to my heart.”


 

Blair Enters Virtual Gaming Arena with Esports Club

Interscholastic competition entered a new realm at Blair in 2020 with the launch of the School’s first-ever esports club. As part of a national high school esports league, more than 25 Bucs will compete in online games such as Counter Strike, Super Smash Brothers, Valorant and more for national championships and potential college scholarships. 

The mission of the esports club is to offer organized competitive gaming to Blair students while promoting physical, mental and social health and helping them to develop 21st-century skills such as critical thinking, communication, collaboration and creativity. Throughout the fall, club members have met in person about every two weeks to get to know one another, discuss gaming strategies and plan for upcoming competitions. Participants also communicate remotely through a Discord channel, an instant-messaging platform designed to create community. Players are grouped together in small teams in certain games and play individually in others.

Blair’s esports team is part of the High School Esports League (HSEL), a national organization offering opportunities for students to engage in healthy esports competition. The HSEL also offers a STEM.org-accredited curriculum that emphasizes career-ready skills and social-emotional learning. Students have the opportunity to compete in national HSEL tournaments in each game, in which they could earn a championship and possible college scholarship money at the end of the season.  

Esports have now entered the college space, and teams have been established at a host of schools, including Rutgers University, The Ohio State University, the University of Missouri, the University of Oklahoma and the University of California-Irvine. For students who excel at esports, thousands of dollars in scholarships are available, as well as roster spots on collegiate teams. 
 
Robotics teacher Mike Garrant, sports information director Rhett Moroses ’13, science teacher Joseph Wagner and math teacher Chadd Clairmont ’09 serve as advisors of Blair’s esports club. “Studies have shown that organized esports provide tremendous benefits for students,” Mr. Moroses said, citing Pew Research Center data showing that students who join esports programs have better attendance and earn better grades. “Thus far, we’ve been impressed by the amount of interest and participation we have in our club. It is exciting to see students collaborate on a team focused on a common goal.”

The esports club’s student leaders include Petra Csanyi ’22, Chris Tung ’22, Max Coblenz ’24 and Jack Cong ’23, and they are all enthusiastic about their participation on Blair’s newest competitive team. “The most exciting things about starting this club are getting together with classmates who share a passion for gaming and competing in a real team environment,” said Petra. “It’s also nice to socialize with the team while playing together and having fun.”

“I enjoy playing video games at Blair because it brings the community together in a fun and inclusive way of meeting and bonding with people,” said Chris. “Moreover, I've made several friends and have grown undoubtedly closer to them because of video games.”

“Video games relax me when I am stressed out or tired,” said Jack. “But my favorite thing about gaming is the competitiveness and the cooperation between teammates, whether or not we know each other.”

Even though this is the first year of Blair esports, the club leaders aspire to grow the program and eventually compete in all the available games. “I never imagined that we would successfully establish an esports club and face off against other high schools,” said Chris. “My goal for the club is to bring the joy that video games give me to kids who want to build relationships with others. The esports club can create a camaraderie unmatched by any previous video game club because, similar to sports teams at Blair, we can grow together as we train together.”
 

Camelia M. Valdes

Passaic County prosecutor Camelia M. Valdes joined the Society of Skeptics virtually on November 17 to discuss “Pathways to Success.” Ms. Valdes is the chief law enforcement officer for the northern New Jersey county that is home to half a million residents and encompasses more than a dozen municipalities, including the cities of Paterson, Clifton and Passaic. To view her presentation, please click below:

Appointed to her current role in 2009 by Governor Jon Corzine and re-appointed in 2015 by Governor Chris Christie, Ms. Valdes is the first Latina county prosecutor in the state, the first woman to serve as a Passaic County prosecutor and the first lead prosecutor of Dominican ancestry in the United States. Her career in government service also includes stints as municipal prosecutor in the City of Newark, as a deputy attorney general in the New Jersey Attorney General’s office, as an assistant governor’s counsel to two New Jersey governors and as an assistant U.S. attorney in Newark.

Ms. Valdes’ extensive experience covers everything from investigating and prosecuting municipal offenses to complex federal crimes that include human trafficking, health care fraud, financial offenses and violent crimes. As county prosecutor, she manages approximately 185 employees and oversees 16 municipal police departments, the police departments of William Paterson University and Montclair State University, and the Passaic County Sheriff’s Department.

During her Skeptics presentation, Ms. Valdes shared her life story and discussed ways that students can go from Blair to the next level. Born in the Bronx, New York, to Dominican parents, she is a graduate of Newark public schools, Seton Hall University (1993) and Rutgers Law School-Newark (1996). She earned her LLM in trial advocacy from Temple University in 2001. Ms. Valdes is a past president of the County Prosecutors Association of New Jersey and the Hispanic Bar Association of New Jersey, and her many professional accolades include having been named the Hispanic National Bar Association’s Latina Lawyer of the Year (2016). Her community service work includes advocacy for autistic children, and she is the proud mother of two autistic daughters.

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, 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 and his successor, history department chair Jason Beck, 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.

 

"Belonging at Blair" text on blue background

By members of the Inclusivity Committee

In this essay, three members of Blair’s Inclusivity Committee—history teacher Dr. Hannah Higgin, language department chair Joyce Lang and Dean of Strategic Initiatives Leucretia Shaw—share how the Committee is working to expand Blair’s focus on diversity, equity and inclusion work.

This time things will be different, right? That’s the question May 25, 2020 inspired as the Black Lives Matter movement resurged with fervor, with the coronavirus pandemic in the backdrop, and backed by more than just the care and concern of Black people. On that horrific day, even though there had been so many others like it, the killing of another unarmed Black man in America by law enforcement appeared to become just too much. Many took to the streets to stand up for justice for George Floyd, for countless others and the whole Black community, which has been dehumanized for centuries in this country and around the world. Taking notice and moving out of a state of neutrality or denial became imperative. We all had to take stock of the racism that has plagued society and come to grips with our own part in a very flawed system. Blair was no exception.

Compelled by the global movement for improving and protecting Black lives and in response to community feedback, the Blair Academy Inclusivity Committee, at work since its inception four years ago, has a renewed sense of urgency to expand the School’s diversity, equity and inclusion work. In building a foundation for active and radical kindness that engages with the realities around us, as a School, we knew we had work to do.

Providing a clear public statement to the entire Blair community acknowledging the racism that exists on our campus was the necessary first step to approaching things differently. Since that time, throughout the summer and into the start of the school year, faculty, staff and students have engaged in thinking and training about diversity, equity and inclusion, particularly along lines of race. Between the discussion forums and conversations in which we heard from alumni, parents and students and read the stories shared on social media, self education and professional training have stood out as key areas for Blair on the journey of improvement.

In that vein, various members of the faculty took up Dr. Eddie Moore’s 21-Day Racial Equity Habit-Building Challenge, engaged in group study of Ibram Kendi’s How to Be an Antiracist, and ongoing diversity, equity and inclusion training for faculty and staff began. We will also continue participating in diversity, equity and inclusion–related conferences and offering the yearlong Seeking Educational Equity and Diversity (SEED) seminar professional-development program. Many of the courses Blair is planning for the all-remote academic session in January 2021 will have a social-justice focus, and Martin Luther King Jr. seminars will now be Black History Month seminars. In assessing policies and programs, language in our student handbook has been updated and a statement on diversity, equity and inclusion has been added. School rules and the expectations for reporting on incidents of bias have been adjusted and made more clear as well.

Right at the outset of the 2020-2021 school year, all students were reminded of Blair’s commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion work during orientation in the form of large-group presentations and small-group discussions. We look forward to our curriculum audit and ensuring that students have exposure to and facility with diversity, equity and inclusion matters, inside and outside of the classroom. Diversity, equity and inclusion are as essential as the academic courses we teach in preparing our students to operate in the world effectively, compassionately and successfully. As an educational community, we are obligated to provide students with knowledge, skill and understanding of diversity, equity and inclusion topics. Competencies related to identity, human dignity and difference are and will continue to be as core as those in math, history, English, language and science.

As classes resume, the weather cools, and the realities of adapting to life during a global health crisis set in, the Inclusivity Committee promises to continually recenter diversity, equity and inclusion work in all of the School’s endeavors. Engaging our 500-plus member campus in establishing community norms to adhere to and hold one another accountable for has been a gratifying exercise in making sure we conduct ourselves in ways that we, as members of the Blair community, are capable of being on our best days. At the end of the day, diversity, equity and inclusion are interwoven into the fabric of every system, including the Blair system, because it is about treating people right—with respect, care and empathy.

Neutrality, inertia or lack of awareness around the realities of racism, ongoing dehumanization and injustice have no place in an educational environment. Regardless of the other pulls and necessities that come our way, the Inclusivity Committee will remain steadfast in making sure Blair is part of making things different this time. This must be the case if we are going to honor and do right by the Black students, alumni/ae and parents who reported stories that have spotlighted times when Blair has fallen short while we also stand in solidarity with those beyond Blair who suffer at the hands of injustice. Things have to be different if we want to live up to the critical responsibility of educating and empowering our students to lead in and mold a better world. So, are we all in, all together? ■

About the Inclusivity Committee

Charged, in part, with the execution of the diversity, equity and inclusion–focused strategic priorities of Blair’s 2018-2025 Strategic Plan, the Committee comprises 12 members, including School administrators, faculty and Trustees. The Committee exists to promote a sense of belonging in the community, build on the momentum of diversity, equity and inclusion work around campus, and serve as a resource to adults and students for that work.

Key responsibilities of the Committee include serving as a discussion forum and a planning and advocacy group for diversity, equity and inclusion matters. The Committee also supports the development, execution and steering of diversity, equity and inclusion programs and initiatives, including Black History Month seminars (formerly Martin Luther King Jr. seminars), invited speakers, diversity and sensitivity trainings, and evaluation of the campus climate. The Committee meets regularly with the Head of School and now also acts as a body with which members of the community can discuss any incidents of bias. The administrative team will also call on the group for input when considering official school responses to such incidents. Inclusivity Committee members include:

• Dave Facciani, International Student, Academic Monitor

• The Rev. David Harvey, Blair Trustee

• Hannah Higgin, PhD, History Teacher

• Joyce Lang, Language Department Chair

• Joe Mantegna, Associate Dean of College Counseling

• Sharon Merrifield, Mindfulness Teacher/Health & Wellness Teacher

• Nathan Molteni, Dean of Academics

• Ryan Pagotto, Associate Head of School

• Andee Ryerson, Associate Dean of Students

• Maria Savettiere, Blair Trustee

• Leucretia Shaw, Dean of Strategic Initiatives (Chair)

• Ally Thomas, Director of Counseling
 

It's Peddie Week 2020!

Peddie Week 2020 is well underway! Activities and competitions have taken place throughout the week in the lead-up to Saturday, November 7, when the Buccaneer athletic teams will take on the arch-rival Falcons in a series of livestreamed events. The winning school will earn the 2020 Cup at the conclusion of Saturday’s contests. 

Peddie Week has been a little different this year as both schools endeavor to keep community members healthy and well. Nevertheless, students and teachers have celebrated the 117-year Blair-Peddie rivalry with many traditions that have reminded Blair family members why it’s great to be a Buc. 

Associate Dean of Students Andee Ryerson hopes that this week will help students feel a sense of normalcy. “Having familiar events like Peddie Day can be so great for our students’ morale,” she said. “I hope it brings good energy and spirit to our campus as we move into November.”

Throughout Peddie Week, students and teachers showed their spirit during themed dress-up days that featured beachwear, “dress to impress,” pajamas and more. They made lots of “Beat Peddie” banners to hang around campus and took part in new traditions, including a senior celebration, a Soccerfest contest on the turf and flag football. 

Friday will be the most action-packed day of the week, with the annual pep rally, senior torch parade and bonfire. Be sure to check Blair’s website, where we will continue to share photos and videos.

Election 2020

Blair community members who wanted to dive deep into the U.S. presidential race this fall came together online every Friday evening for the 2020 Election Seminar. Hosted by Head of School Chris Fortunato, the virtual sessions featured commentary from Blair’s scholar-in-residence, Harvard Kennedy School professor Timothy Patrick McCarthy, PhD, and insight from numerous guest speakers. Students, faculty and staff members logged on to discuss and debate a different topic each week.

“Throughout the fall, we’ve explored everything from the strategies, successes and missteps of each candidate’s campaign to the multitude of policy issues at play in the election,” Mr. Fortunato said. “The outcome of this election will be felt for generations to come, and we wanted everyone to participate in the discussion so that all voices and ideas were heard. Dialog across different backgrounds, ideologies, experiences and value systems makes learning and our community stronger.”

The seminar began on September 18 with a session devoted to framing the issues and exploring the stakes of the 2020 presidential election. This was followed on September 25 with “Pandemic Politics—Engaged Citizens & Healthy Publics,” during which participants took part in a conversation about voter registration and emergency medicine during the coronavirus pandemic. That evening’s guest speakers were Dr. Alister Martin and Aliya Bhatia, executive director and chief operating officer, respectively, of VotER, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization whose goal is “to provide patients the opportunity to register to vote because much of our healthcare system and healthcare experiences are determined by the policies our elected officials implement.”

The Election Seminar’s third installment, “Win Some & Lose Some—From the Grassroots to the White House,” brought three guest speakers into a wide-ranging conversation on political campaigns. Students and teachers discussed the topic with Steve Jarding, a communications expert, educator and political consultant to campaigns on both sides of the aisle, Richard Parker, a Harvard Kennedy School professor and senior fellow at the school’s Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy, and Robin Parker, a political consultant and organizer.

This was followed on October 9 with a conversation on voting rights, race and policing, and Black Lives Matter protests. LaTosha Brown, founder of Black Voters Matter, and Khalil Muhammad, a Harvard Kennedy School professor of history, race and public policy, joined Blair students, faculty and staff members that evening. On October 16, a discussion on “The Long Arc of History—Press and the Presidency” brought Harvard Shorenstein Center director and former Time magazine editor Nancy Gibbs and former secretary of state for the Commonwealth of Kentucky Trey Grayson to the virtual seminar. Mr. Grayson served as chair of the Republican Association of Secretaries of States and as president of the National Association of Secretaries of State, and he is the former director the Institute of Politics at Harvard’s Kennedy School.

The final two pre-Election Day seminar sessions took place on October 23 and 30. The focus of the October 23 meeting was “Civil Rights, Communications and Culture Wars,” with Anurima Bhargava, former deputy in the Department of Justice civil rights division and president of Anthem of Us, and Karen Finney, former communications director for Democratic National Committee. Finally, on October 30, CNN contributor David Gergen joined Blair participants to talk about the election. Mr. Gergen served as an advisor to Presidents Nixon, Ford, Reagan and Clinton, and he is currently a professor of public leadership at Harvard’s Kennedy School.

Throughout the fall, Mr. Fortunato encouraged students, faculty and staff members to bring their authentic voices, perspectives and ideas to each conversation. “As a School, we are committed to engaging with one another and those outside the community to learn about and from each other, to discuss and debate, and to embrace the learning that comes from respectful disagreement and exchange of ideas,” he said. “The more we can tactfully and effectively create brave and smart spaces in which people can share their views, even and especially when they are different from our own, the better a learning community we and all schools will be.”

Mobile app
Mobile app

In early November, Blair launched a new mobile app that allows users from the School community and beyond to access the latest School news, photos, videos, calendars, athletic events, athletic scores and more. 

In addition to offering users a more functional, intuitive interface to view these resources in just a few clicks—as well as easy access to dining hall menus, class-day schedules and social media channels—logged-in members of the Blair community can easily access school directories with student, parent and faculty/staff contact information. Prospective families can also use the app without logging in to learn more about Blair faculty as the public directory includes titles, email addresses and bios for most Blair employees.

When Buccaneer athletic teams resume regular competition, the app will also include easy access to schedules and scores. Families can select the teams they want to follow and remain up-to-date on all upcoming athletic events and the latest scores.

Unlike previous versions of the School’s app, the new app is designed for both iOS and Android devices. New users can download the updated app by searching “Official Blair Academy App” in Apple’s App Store or Android’s Google Play Store. Anyone who has the old app on their phone should delete it and redownload or simply update to the latest version. 
 
For members of the Blair community who wish to log in to the Official Blair Academy app, credentials are the same as they are for logging into the School’s website. Although the app provides easy access to Blair’s mobile website, users should note that, when they leave the app to visit those pages, they are automatically logged out and would have to re-enter their usernames and passwords should they want to visit password-protected website pages, including parents who navigate to pages related to enrollment contracts, Magnus Health and tuition/billing. Blair’s single-sign-on to those systems would require re-authenticating on the mobile site. The same is true for students and faculty/staff wishing to access those password-protected portals.
 

Peddie Day 2020 Brought New Competitions

With 116 years of history behind it, the annual Blair Academy-Peddie School fall athletic matchup was not about to be stopped by a pandemic. The 117th meeting of the New Jersey prep school rivals took place as scheduled on November 7—but the contests had a completely different look as both schools endeavor to keep community members healthy and well.

For starters, athletes were not the only Bucs and Falcons who went head-to-head this year. Throughout the week of November 2, students from both schools took part in virtual non-sporting events, including a spelling bee, and robotics and e-sports competitions. 

On Saturday, all eyes were on Blair and Peddie athletes, who competed from their home fields on their respective campuses. Each team participated in a series of livestreamed contests designed to test athletes’ skills, strength and speed. The virtual contests showcased the friendly spirit of competition and the strong foundation of care, respect and sportsmanship that exists between the two schools.

At Blair, all Buccaneer athletic competitions took take place on the Hampshire Field turf. A fun and festive, blue-and-white atmosphere was guaranteed, as students and teachers (physically distanced and masked, of course) surrounded the turf to cheer on the Bucs and enjoy game-day refreshments from food trucks and fun faculty tailgates.

Although no outside visitors were be permitted on Blair’s campus during the athletic competitions, alumni and parents were able to watch the Bucs and Falcons compete via livestream on November 7. Anyone interested in how each team fared should visit www.blair.edu/scores or click the "Peddie Day scores" button in the main menu of Blair's app. The livestream concluded with closing remarks from Blair’s Head of School Chris Fortunato and Peddie’s Head of School Peter Quinn at day’s end.

Blair Buccaneer

It’s game on for the classes of 1989 through 2020 at Blair Academy and Peddie School: The annual Peddie Challenge is underway! From today through Friday, October 30, the rivals are competing to see which school can achieve the highest participation in its annual fund among alumni who once competed for the Kelley-Potter Cup. The winner—to be announced on Peddie Day, November 7—not only realizes a boost to its annual fund, but also earns bragging rights for the year.

Director of Annual Giving Colleen McNulty and Assistant Director of Annual Giving Kristine Scialla are spearheading the Peddie Challenge, which began in 2011 as a way to help alumni experience the excitement that precedes the schools’ fall athletic competitions. “We’ll share photos and reminiscences of past Peddie Days with alumni this week, and graduates from each decade will recognize some familiar faces and relive the fun of Peddie Day,” Mrs. Scialla said.

Noting that Blair Fund gifts help fund traditions like Peddie Day activities, Society of Skeptics lectures and much more on Blair’s campus, Mrs. McNulty encouraged Blair alums from the past 30 years to consider participating in the Peddie Challenge. “Every gift we receive this week will support the unique experiences that make a Blair education truly life-changing for our students,” she said. “Participation is key to winning the Peddie Challenge, but even more importantly, it is key to giving our students outstanding educational opportunities.”

To make a Blair Fund gift, click here or donate with Venmo @BlairAcademy.

Amy Liss Brings an ‘Attitude of Gratitude’ to Blair LEADS

Each year, Blair students endeavor to develop critical 21st-century leadership skills through their participation in Blair LEADS, the School’s cross-curricular leadership initiative. This fall, a special leadership consultant is accompanying them on their journey to becoming service-minded leaders, and she is imbuing that journey with a spirit of positivity and gratefulness.

Amy Liss has had cerebral palsy since birth, but she does not let her disability define her, nor does she let it stop her from living a life of service. Embracing her personal motto—“live each day with an attitude of gratitude”—she works as the relationship coordinator at Easterseals DuPage & Fox Valley in the suburbs of Chicago, mentors students at her former elementary school, and serves as an inspirational speaker for college athletic teams and the Julie Foudy Sports Leadership Academy (JFSLA).

It was through JFSLA that Blair’s Dean of Campus Life and Director of Leadership Programs Carolyn Conforti-Browse ’79 connected with Ms. Liss—they have been JFSLA staff members for 13 and eight years, respectively. Mrs. Conforti-Browse invited Ms. Liss to speak to students on Blair’s 2015 Day of Service, and she annually shares Ms. Liss’s inspiring life story with her LEADS classes. 

“I engaged Amy to work with LEADS students this year because of the tremendous work she’s done with kids from elementary school through college age,” Mrs. Conforti-Browse said. “Whether she is chatting with Robin Roberts or the Seton Hall basketball team or the Chicago Cubs or the youngest of JFSLA girls or Blair kids, she offers the best lessons in living a life of gratitude and the importance of networking to ‘build your team.’ Her key message to LEADS is that continually expanding the team is what leads to a full life. She is an amazing life coach.”  

JFSLA owner and founder Julie Foudy couldn’t agree more. “Amy is such a gift in our lives and our JFSLA family,” said the Olympic gold and silver medalist, World Cup winner and former USA women’s soccer national team captain. “She has this wonderful ability to connect with people and make you smile, think, reflect and, in the end, know your life is richer for having met her. She also lives as she preaches: with an attitude of gratitude. I wish everyone could have an Amy Liss in their lives.”

This year, Blair’s sophomores have the privilege of working with Ms. Liss as she helps 10th-grade LEADS classes with their community service projects and mentors individual students who are developing and executing a personal challenge. To date, she has virtually attended several LEADS sessions and begun one-on-one interviews with the students to whom she is assigned—and this, she says, is the best part of her role so far.

“I love meeting new people and building relationships!” she said enthusiastically. “Working with Blair students has been a wonderful opportunity for me to meet kids from all over the world, and I enjoy finding out about their lives and their interests. Their questions have been really thought-provoking—these students are wise beyond their years, and Blair should be very proud of that.”

Brian Liu ’23 enjoyed his first interview experience with Ms. Liss and felt inspired and motivated by her life story. “Some days, no matter your upbringing or your circumstances, it's hard to find gratitude, but the video about Amy’s life really puts your struggles into perspective as you realize how fortunate you really are,” he reflected. “The part about her twin sister really connected with me on a personal scale, as I have a little brother of my own.”

Whether she is with a group of students or an individual, Ms. Liss emphasizes two important messages: there is great power in positivity and anyone can be a leader. “Positivity is especially important during the pandemic—everyone can use some positivity and cheering up right now,” she observed. And she speaks from personal experience about leadership, sharing how she never thought of herself as a leader until she got involved in JFSLA. “JFSLA teaches kids that there are lots of ways to be a leader, and I want to help students realize that. It’s not just about being the loud one! You can observe quietly and then speak up, and I’ve learned to speak up for myself.”

Of course, Ms. Liss also shares her determination to live with an attitude of gratitude, a message she feels is especially important for kids to hear, since they are at such an impressionable age. All in all, she says that in her work with Blair LEADS, she is taking everything she has learned and putting it into action and process.

“I love serving others, and Blair kids are serving others, too. I want to encourage them to make a positive difference,” she said. “I hope I can be helpful to them this year and that we can learn and grow together. I’m looking forward to the opportunity.” 
 

Blair Academy Players Presented ‘Once Upon a Midnight Dreary’

Halloween weekend provided the perfect spooky backdrop for the Blair Academy Players’ fall drama, Once Upon a Midnight Dreary. Written by director Craig Evans and featuring a cast of nearly two dozen students, the production centered on the works of Edgar Allan Poe and included a puppet show of Poe’s life and career and performances of 12 different works. To view Once Upon a Midnight Dreary being performed in Blair’s Robert J. Evans Open Air Theatre on October 29, 30 and 31, click "play" below.

The Blair Academy Players looked forward to mounting a live production this fall after two virtual productions in the spring. Since the School opened in late August, the cast rehearsed outdoors, and Mr. Evans devised some clever workarounds to ensure that health-and-safety protocols remain firmly in place. “The suffocation in ‘The Tell-Tale Heart’ was one of the scenes that presented a blocking challenge, but using a pillow kept the actors from breathing on each other,” he said. He also noted that some of the actors joined the audience during performances in order to maintain physical distancing backstage.

Mikey Richardson ’21, who played Edgar Allan Poe and acted out “The Black Cat,” described how rehearsing during the pandemic had taken a great deal of patience. “There was a lot more to worry about than your lines, costumes and how tech week was going to turn out,” he said. “Performing now does not have the same feeling as performing without restrictions and social distancing, but it is something my cast mates and I got used to so we can put on a great show.”

“Rehearsing during a pandemic was different but definitely interesting,” agreed Sid Mehta ’21, who plays Detective Dupin in “The Murders at Rue Morgue.” Nonetheless, he and Mikey were both thrilled with the opportunity to act in a live production this fall.

“I am so happy and feel so incredibly lucky to have had the opportunity to partake in a play during COVID-19, especially a play directed by the awesome Mr. Evans!” Sid said. “I was excited to show the audience what this awesome cast had been working on!”

Mikey was grateful for the chance to end his high school acting career “with a bang” by performing in Once Upon a Midnight Dreary. “I’m excited to see the next line of Blair Academy Players carry on the torch of our great theatre program, too,” he added.

A longtime fan of the horror genre, Mr. Evans encouraged Blair community members to attend one of the Halloween weekend performances. “Poe is still the master of the creepy horror story,” he said. “The show included everything from a biographical introduction and a monologue to a graveyard opera and, of course, a performance of ‘The Raven,’ from which our production gets its title. It was such a varied evening, there’s a bit of horror in it for everyone.”

The cast of Once Upon a Midnight Dreary:

  • Maria Andrinopoulos ’23
  • Sammi Antonelli ’22
  • Sadie Donnelly ’22
  • Richard Gimbel ’24
  • Angela Han ’24
  • Carson Honor ’21
  • Lindsay Juge ’21
  • Nikki Kirkwood ’22
  • Marc Lui ’23
  • Sid Mehta ’21
  • Temi Ogunyomade ’24
  • Julian Perello ’24
  • Mikey Richardson ’21
  • Alex Schamberger ’22
  • Amalia Scripsick ’22
  • Vivien Sheridan ’22
  • Annele Sipols ’21
  • Julia Starikoff ’24
  • Cece Sturman ’21 (student director)
  • Linda Thomas-Galloway ’21
  • Dust Wang ’24
  • Hanna Wilke ’23