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Blair appreciates who you are,

what you stand for & all that you can achieve.

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The Blair experience is transformative.

Find out how it can change your life.

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Blair academics inspire a lifelong love of learning.

Our robust curriculum invites you to explore your passions.

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At Blair, students explore artistic interests & discover new passions.

Vibrant fine & performing arts opportunities abound.

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Athletics are part of the fabric of our community.

Bucs compete on 30 varsity & 22 JV and thirds teams.

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Experience the highlights by taking a virtual tour.

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All together we boldly write Blair’s next chapter.

Our Strategic Plan highlights our “All In” philosophy.

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Our faculty members are passionate about education.

They care about & know our students exceptionally well.

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Blair community members participate in The Leadership Stories Project.

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No matter what your interests or where you are from,

you will find your place at Blair.

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Curran family
Peter Curran headshot

Peter G. Curran became Blair Academy’s 17th Head of School in January 2021. He brings to this role 20 years’ experience in independent-school education, gained during an expansive career that has taken him to institutions across the globe. He and his wife, Sarah, found a home at Blair nearly a decade ago, attracted by the School’s vibrant, student-centered culture and flourishing reputation in the boarding-school world. Peter has since been involved in every facet of school life, and, with a deep understanding of Blair’s diverse and close-knit community, he has shared his love for Blair with students, families and alumni around the world.

Appointed to Blair’s faculty as a dean in the student life office and English teacher in 2011, Peter later became dean of admission. He soon rose to assistant head of school for enrollment and communications and, most recently, associate head of school, as he took a leading role in the architecture and execution of our 2018-2025 Strategic Plan, All In.

Throughout his Blair tenure, Peter has traveled extensively and engaged enthusiastically with families, students and alumni of every background and experience. As he has shared with them the transformative nature of a Blair education, he has also strengthened the global Blair community and elevated the School’s name and reputation. Under his leadership of the admission team, Blair has enjoyed a record number of applications year after year, and admission to the School has become increasingly selective. 

Peter is a 1997 graduate of Milton Academy and a 2001 graduate of Bowdoin College, where he majored in art history and minored in French. After college, he began his career in independent-school education as a history teacher at St. Andrew’s Episcopal School in Potomac, Maryland, and he then taught and worked for one year on the Fort Apache Indian Reservation in Arizona. 

Upon earning his MEd at Harvard University’s Graduate School of Education in 2005, Peter accepted a position at The American School in Switzerland as dean for 10th and 11th grades, as well as a teacher and soccer and lacrosse coach. He returned home to the United States each summer during his two years abroad and spent one summer working at Harvard University as assistant dean of the secondary-school program.

Peter furthered his experience in boarding-school administration as dean of students at Fountain Valley School in Colorado. There, he also taught and coached for four years before returning to his East Coast roots when he joined the faculty at Blair in 2011.

In addition to the many roles he has held at Blair, Peter has been active professionally outside of the School, too. He regularly presents at national conferences focused on education and co-founded The Deans' Roundtable, a nonprofit that promotes best practices among independent schools. Peter serves as a trustee at Oldfields School in Sparks Glencoe, Maryland, and is a former trustee of North Country School in Lake Placid, New York.

Peter and Sarah met at Bowdoin College and married in 2004. Sarah holds a master’s degree in public health from Johns Hopkins University and is a registered dietitian. She currently works as a program associate for Rutgers Cooperative Extension’s Family and Community Health Sciences Department. The Currans are parents to 11-year-old twins, Toby and Grace, and they have a beloved yellow lab, Bowdoin.

Exploring the Earth: Julia Booth Redesigns Environmental Science Course

When Julia Booth arrived on Blair’s campus in 2019 she brought more than just a passion for teaching, she brought a passion for the environment and its importance in our lives. Ms. Booth, who graduated from Hamilton College in 2019, came to Blairstown prepared to change the lives of science students for years to come.

This year, Ms. Booth was put in charge of running the environmental science course at Blair, taking the reins from science teacher Caroline Chamberlain. According to Ms. Booth, she pulled from her own learning experience to craft a brand-new course dedicated to firsthand experience of environmental science and its impact on the environment worldwide in 2020.

The course prepares students to deal with the complex environmental problems that confront society by providing a broad, basic understanding of the interactions among the physical, biological and human components of the environment. Students are learning about topics including energy, earth systems and resources, the living world, population, land and water use, energy resources and consumption, pollution and global change.

“The course is project-based, and students investigate basic principles behind climate science, with the goal of understanding how our changing climate will impact the global economy, society, international relations and the physical environment,” Ms. Booth explained. 

When Ms. Booth was asked to teach this course, she was also asked to redesign its structure. With creative liberty, she knew exactly what experience she wanted to create for students.

Rather than taking tests, students work to create their own case studies for issues affecting them personally in the world. She noted the first half of the year has been spent learning the basic foundations of climate science and connecting its impacts to our society.

The second half of the year will be dedicated to solution-based group projects in areas such as renewable energy, pollution and environmental justice. Ms. Booth explained that her students will have the opportunity to dive headfirst into hands-on learning projects to investigate topics about which they care deeply.

“As climate continues to change at an unprecedented rate in human history, so much of what students are studying is changing just as rapidly,” she said. “It’s been really challenging, but this class structure is working well for them.”

During the signature assessment for environmental science, students choose an issue facing either the Blair community or their own community at home. They then collect data on their chosen issue and create an awareness campaign, which includes custom websites, videos or flyers. Topics will include the plastic and water use on Blair’s campus, renewable energy and more.

Ms. Booth’s students are enjoying the investigative nature of the class and the connections drawn between the real world and the practical classroom knowledge. “They’ve told me that it’s really interesting to take a class that explores so much practical and relevant knowledge they’ve already learned in the classroom,” she said.

Selena Sanchez ’22 chose environmental science as her science elective because she hopes to learn about the environment and ecosystems around us, as well as the impact of humans on the world.

“My favorite thing about our class this year is our debates, where, instead of presenting traditional arguments, it is more of a sharing of ideas by two opposing sides,” she said. “This allows for our best discussions and makes the class a lot of fun when we're able to work on presentations and research as a group.”

When asked about her favorite part of teaching the course, Ms. Booth had one answer —students’ curiosity. She noted that students often bring in background knowledge or interests from other classes or experiences and that these interests vary across the class. She has enjoyed watching students build connections between their Blair education and the real world and can’t wait to see how the class will evolve over the years as new environmental issues come to light.

As students and faculty take a break this holiday season, Ms. Booth is looking to next semester when students will enter the exploration phase. She is most looking forward to seeing what students choose to explore.

“There are so many issues including energy, pollution or environmental justice that students can pick as their topic, and each of these issues is very important in the world,” she said. “I’m excited for them to explore energy options, propose solutions for non-renewable energy sources or even understand the impact of pollution. The spring looks bright for many reasons, and I’m excited to see what change these students will seek to make.”

 

 

 

Aligned English 1 Curriculum Keeps Freshmen on the Same Page

At the Sigety Faculty Summer Institute in 2019, veteran members of Blair’s English faculty came together to review the philosophy and align the curriculum for English 1, the foundational course for their department. The result is a course that provides a consistent English 1 experience for every freshman regardless of who is teaching, while still allowing Blair’s expert faculty members to teach in the ways they find most effective.

English department chair James Moore explained how the aligned curriculum works: Each of the five English 1 teachers teach the same unit—whether it be on Macbeth, short stories, poetry or a novel—at the same point in the year, for approximately the same amount of time, and with similar assignments and assessments. However, the teachers all have the ability to make the class their own by customizing their approach and choosing specific literary works from a course-wide list. “We never go so far afield, though, that students in different classes get a fundamentally different experience,” Mr. Moore said.

To date, the aligned curriculum has proven beneficial to teachers and students in several ways. Students who have to switch sections due to a schedule change find themselves in approximately the same place in their new class as they were in the old one. Teachers can easily cover for one another if they have to miss a class. And, best of all, according to Mr. Moore, “faculty members are constantly sharing ideas. I’ve got a terrific team teaching English 1, and we are all great resources for one another.”

Robert Brandwood, who has been teaching English at Blair since 1985, concurred that faculty collaboration has been key to keeping the course experience consistent for all freshmen, and he enjoys being able to turn to his colleagues to gauge his plans for the week, assignments and more. “The great thing about the aligned curriculum is that even while we teachers are all on the same page, we still have the scope for our pedagogical personalities to prevail,” he observed. “I’m still the same person I’ve always been in the classroom, and I still have the autonomy that I truly value as a Blair teacher. But it’s great to know that I’m asking the same things of students as my colleagues—in past years, that wasn’t always the case. Now, the student experience is the same across the board, and that’s the important thing.”

Dean of Teaching and Learning Amanda Lucas, a veteran English teacher with more than 15 years of experience who joined Blair’s faculty last summer, has found the aligned curriculum helpful in her first semester of teaching at Blair. “Different schools have different ways of teaching and different expectations for their students, but this curriculum and the strong collaboration among Blair’s English 1 teachers have given me an immediate sense of the expectations for my students,” she said. “And from a teaching-and-learning point of view, I especially appreciate the fact that teachers can grow in the areas they wish while still relying on the experiences of others.”

Mr. Moore noted that the English 1 curricular alignment was especially helpful last spring, when the pandemic necessitated that the School pivot quickly to remote learning. “We were able to do a really good job through that period by working closely together, teaching the same book, Toni Morrison’s Home, and giving the same assessment to every freshman,” he said. 

In coming years, Mr. Moore hopes to bring the same principles of alignment and consistency to the English curriculum for sophomores, juniors and seniors. “It’s already starting to happen organically,” he noted, “and it’s especially good to have the stability that it brings to our curriculum as everything else shifts under our feet.”
 

Blair Community Shares Holiday Greetings

Just before winter break began, Blair community members shared some holiday cheer when they came together virtually on December 16 to enjoy traditional readings, recordings of musical selections performed by members of the Orchestra and Singers, and a video of celebratory greetings from around the world. 

Students, teachers and staff members submitted short recordings of themselves and their families wishing everyone the happiest of holidays, while performing arts department chair and director of instrumental music Jennifer Pagotto and director of vocal music Ryan Manni coordinated the musical selections. Dean of Students Carm Mazza and communications specialist Brittany Rockenfeller created the fun and festive video. History teacher Joanne Brandwood welcomed everyone to the virtual event and a reading of Clement Moore’s “A Visit from St. Nicholas” by English teacher Robert Brandwood was part of the festivities. 

Click here to view holiday greetings from Blair. Happy holidays!
 

Blair football alums face each other as collegiate opponents.

November 28 was a great day for the Blair football program, as recent Buccaneer alumni competed at the national level in college football. In the Big Ten Conference, two featured games included former Bucs on the field. During the Penn State vs. Michigan game in Ann Arbor, Penn State’s Jayson Oweh ’18 recorded a tackle and two tackle assists against Michigan, which contributed to the Nittany Lions’ 27-17 win over the Wolverines. David Ojabo ’19 contributed to Michigan’s efforts on special teams.

When Rutgers University took on Purdue University in Lafayette, Indiana, another reunion of former Blair teammates occurred for Rutgers’ Victor Konopka ’20 and Purdue’s Sanoussi Kane ’20. Victor is a freshman tight end for the Scarlet Knights, and Sanoussi takes snaps at safety for the Boilermakers. Rutgers prevailed in the contest, 37-30.

Since 2018, the Blair football program has helped produce 17 current college football players, six of whom are members of the class of 2020. 

“We have been very blessed to have some very talented student-athletes in our program over the past few years,” said Greg Bowman, Blair’s head football coach. “They have earned these opportunities, and it is very rewarding to see them being successful at the next level, and to know that they all had to work extremely hard and make sacrifices to get to this point.”

English 4 Capstone Students Research & Write on Personally Chosen Topics

Seven seniors are enrolled in “English 4 Capstone” this fall, a writing-intensive course that is giving them the opportunity to delve deeply into a topic that holds strong personal interest. By the end of the course, each student will have completed a substantial written project related to his or her chosen topic, and these projects will range from focused research papers to chapters of larger creative works. 

English department chair James Moore teaches “English 4 Capstone,” a course that he says has been exceptionally well suited to the fall’s hybrid teaching-and-learning experience. “These are ambitious, motivated students who have done a great deal of research and writing independently and outside of class time,” he explained. “We use our time together, whether virtually or in person, for individual conferences and coaching, and for students to workshop and help one another with their writing.”

Students Tap into Blair Connections
One of Mr. Moore’s goals for this year’s Capstone students is to help them feel comfortable speaking with outside experts. He has accomplished this by connecting several students with members of the Blair community, who have shared their expertise and offered advice and insights.

Corrine Wilm ’21, for example, spoke to law student and animal rights advocate Amanda Devine ’11 as she conducted research for a thriller based at a marine theme park. “Amanda was very helpful sharing information about her work with manatees and suggestions for my work, as well,” Corrine said. “Her interest and passion for protecting manatees was evident. She told me that they have distinct personalities and so much more!”

Corrine’s project stems from her childhood fascination with dolphins and having learned over the years that animals such as these may not necessarily thrive in captivity. In her long short story, she incorporates her research on the pros and cons of marine parks into a tale of an investment analyst who learns about a baby orca that is being mistreated while in captivity. “The story also delves into what it really means to love what you do in life,” Corrine added. “It will reach an audience beyond animal rights advocates to people who are interested in finding meaning in their work and knowing that what they are doing is meaningful.”

For Hagen Shook ’21, a conversation with emergency room physician Katharine Miao, wife of former Trustee Hyun Seok Hwang ’93, helped him in his quest to explore the effectiveness of emergency medicine around the world. In his Capstone project, he aims to compare the efficiency of different countries’ emergency medical care for patients who break a leg in terms of cost, quality and satisfaction of the overall experience.

“Dr. Miao was kind enough to help connect me with her contacts in the emergency medicine field,” Hagen said. “From there, I was able to schedule a call with an emergency doctor resident who provided a unique experience within the United States healthcare system and continue to network with citizens and medical residents in other countries I am including in my study. While researching my project, I found that I enjoy talking with emergency medicine doctors as they emphasize the real issues at hand and provide a unique perspective through their personal experiences.”

Learning the Craft of Writing
Corrine has learned some key lessons about the writing process this fall, including the fact that small details—in her case, things like proper business terms and the temperature emperor penguins prefer—are vital to forming a believable story. “I also learned the importance of planning ahead and having an end goal,” she said. “That gives your project much-needed focus and gives you something to work toward.”

Hagen learned that structure and outline make the writing process much more enjoyable, and that getting words on the page and gaining “traction” for writing a large paper is extremely important to staying focused on the end goal. “I found it easier to go back and review bad sentences than think about what each sentence should sound like before stringing the words together,” he said. “This technique made the process easier for other forms of writing this year, such as my supplemental essays for college applications. As a result, I am more confident in writing large papers for the future.” 

As Mr. Moore looks to the future, he envisions “English 4 Capstone” becoming a course that students aspire to take, much like the science department’s “Integrated Science Research” course. “’English 4 Capstone’ is far more than an independent study, as students help one another improve their writing through in-class workshops and feedback,” he said. “At the same time, it’s a great opportunity for motivated students to really go in-depth on a subject about which they are passionate.”
 

Pandemic Serves as ‘Ready-Made’ Case Study for Epidemiology Course

With the number of coronavirus cases continuing to rise across the United States, Blair’s epidemiology class needs no textbook to learn about the process of disease identification, spread control and treatment. “With the greatest public health crisis in our nation’s history unfolding around us, we simply have to read the news or watch TV to see epidemiology in practice,“ said Michael “Doc” Sayers, PhD, a veteran Blair faculty member who is teaching the course virtually this year from Bogle Science Center. “We have spent a lot of time looking at the pandemic, acknowledging that we are in a mess. But we have the ability to think and execute our way out of it, if we pay attention to the right things.” 

That is the focus of the course, which examines a wide range of public health issues by first assessing what scientists know and what they are testing for, and then ascertaining whether or not something is true and identifying a course of action. Through that process, Blair’s epidemiology course introduces students to basic vocabulary, ideas and methods used in the discipline of identifying and tracking health-related events and the populations they impact. In that way, the course largely centers on medical or social detective mystery-solving, as well as data collection and statistical analysis, scientific modeling and recommending future policies to protect public health. Another theme interwoven throughout the course is disparity of disease effects and healthcare access for different populations across the United States and world. 

“Students have different levels of concern about the pandemic, but I try to remind them that there is hope and that it will end because of our collective work,” Doc explained. “We’ve spent a fair amount of time looking at vaccine development and how it can be compressed into months instead of years, which naturally takes us to how studies are designed to find the information you want. In the next few weeks, we will look at the logic and statistics of clinical trials and how we know what is being studied is safe.” 

Throughout the curriculum, Doc reminds students that epidemiology requires scientists to make value judgments about how to apply science and that there can be consequences of those decisions. “At the heart of it, I ask our class, ‘What story does this data tell you? Don’t depend on media or political figures to tell you what they think it means.’ When making difficult technical decisions, we must be data-driven. We can control our fates if we use our heads.”

Recent class assignments have included studying the biology of viral action and disease outbreaks in both urban and rural areas. Admitting that students can get a little tired of all things COVID-19, Doc notes that epidemiology and public health go well beyond the current pandemic. “We’ve looked at situations that seemed like they’d be the end of the world but weren’t,” he said. “It is reassuring to know that we will also get through this.” 

Looking to the second semester, Doc is excited to possibly incorporate a curriculum developed by former student Elizabeth Meiselman ’12 into the class. Throughout the winter, the course’s focus will increasingly turn to clinical trials and deciding the meaning of study results. “Every day, we are reading or watching videos where folks are presenting data and viewpoints,” Doc explained. “We analyze that as objectively as we can. What are the stakes of the study? Are conclusions based on data and standards of validity? These considerations apply well beyond science, and our students will have to make those decisions throughout their lives about non-scientific topics, so these are important skills to practice.”
 

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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