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Blair Academy Players Present ‘Once Upon a Midnight Dreary’

Halloween weekend will provide the perfect spooky backdrop for the Blair Academy Players’ fall drama, Once Upon a Midnight Dreary. Featuring a cast of nearly two dozen students, the production centers on the works of Edgar Allan Poe and includes a puppet show of Poe’s life and career and performances of 12 different works.

Once Upon a Midnight Dreary will be performed in Blair’s Robert J. Evans Open Air Theatre on October 29, 30 and 31 beginning at 7:30 p.m. (In case of inclement weather, the production will move indoors to Armstrong-Hipkins Center for the Arts’ Wean Theatre.) Limited seating is available for on-campus members of the Blair community only and must be reserved in advance by emailing director Craig Evans at evansc@blair.edu. Due to health-and-safety protocols, no reservations from those residing off campus can be accepted. Mr. Evans hopes to livestream a performance, and a link to the Zoom webinar will be sent to Blair community members when it is available.

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

Mikey Richardson ’21, who plays Edgar Allan Poe and acts out “The Black Cat,” described how rehearsing during the pandemic has taken a great deal of patience. “There is a lot more to worry about than your lines, costumes and how tech week is 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 have gotten used to so we can put on a great show.”

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

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

Mikey is 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 includes 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’s 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

Photojournalist Alison Wright Showcases Pandemic & Protest Photos at Skeptics

Award-winning photojournalist Alison Wright returns to the Society of Skeptics on October 27 to share timely images in her virtual presentation, “Pandemic to Protest: Photos of New York City.” Ordinarily a global traveler, Ms. Wright took advantage of the past several months spent at home in New York to record her daily observations of city life amid the coronavirus pandemic and protests against racism. History department chair Jason Beck will share a link to the private webinar on the morning of Ms. Wright’s presentation. Blair will post a recording publicly on its website the following day.

“Speaking at Blair Academy has become an opportunity that I look forward to every year,” Ms. Wright said, expressing gratitude to retired history teacher Martin Miller, PhD, for inviting her numerous times during his tenure as Society of Skeptics director. “As a documentary photographer, I am constantly working on various projects, so there is always something new to show and speak about. I cover many disaster and conflict situations, and this year, a crisis came to my own city of New York. My presentation includes my global coverage, as well as images from pandemic to protests.”

Writing about her “Pandemic to Protests” project on her website, Ms. Wright notes that as she documents her observations in New York, she does so well protected and at a safe social distance from people. “This distance is a departure from how I usually work,” she writes, “but finding some story or connection with those whom I meet has been a universal theme throughout my photography projects around the world. This photo journal is simply my own musings of the people and places I encounter on my daily walks.”

Ms. Wright has published several books of photography, and her work has appeared in publications including National Geographic, National Geographic Traveler, National Geographic Adventure, Time, Forbes, O: The Oprah Magazine and The New York Times. She was named a National Geographic Traveler of the Year in 2013 for her purposeful travel to places like Ebola-ridden Liberia and war-torn Congo and Afghanistan. She is a recipient of the Dorothea Lange Award in Documentary Photography and a two-time winner of the Lowell Thomas Travel Journalism Award. 

Gravely injured in a bus accident in Laos in 2000, Ms. Wright documented her long rehabilitation and struggle to regain her life in Learning to Breathe: One Woman’s Journey of Spirit and Survival. This experience, and her extensive work as a photographer for humanitarian organizations led her to establish the Faces of Hope Fund, a nonprofit that globally supports women and children’s rights by creating visual awareness and donating directly to grass-roots organizations that help to sustain them.  

A graduate of Syracuse University with a bachelor’s degree in photojournalism, Ms. Wright completed her master’s degree in visual anthropology at the University of California at Berkeley. 

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.
 

Giving Together: Seniors Create Class of 2021 Scholarship

Members of the class of 2021 came together for the annual Senior Fund Drive kickoff event on October 12. Students gathered on Hardwick Commons lawn, where they enjoyed a socially distanced pizza party and spent quality time with friends, all while learning about the importance of giving back to Blair Academy as they become alumni.

As in previous years, seniors and their parents have joined forces on a shared fundraising endeavor, setting their sights on funding the Class of 2021 Scholarship. “The Senior Fund Drive will help to support the Class of 2021 Scholarship,” said Colleen McNulty P’18 ’20, director of annual giving. “This scholarship will help to provide a Blair education for a future student, and, in turn, will help keep seniors connected to Blair long after graduation day.”

Students heard from Thomas Walker ’21 and Kara Henry ’21, who spoke to their classmates on the importance of giving back to their beloved Blair. The speakers’ words resonated with seniors, 86 of whom made contributions or pledges to the class gift during the event, representing 71 percent of the class according to Kristine Scialla P'20 '22, assistant director of annual giving,

Seniors will present their class gift to the School during the Class of 2021 Assembly next year.

Fall on campus

Family Weekend is a much-anticipated event for Blair Academy students and parents every fall. The coronavirus pandemic has necessitated that the School move the program online this year, but, nonetheless, the event offers parents myriad opportunities to connect with their children’s teachers and get a close-up view of life on Blair’s hilltop campus.

The virtual Family Weekend experience begins on October 24 at 8:30 a.m. EST. Throughout the day, parents may tune into online sessions covering everything from college counseling to student life to academics and more. The various webinars will feature panel discussions with teachers and administrators, and participants will be welcome to ask questions.

Although actual classroom visits are not possible this year, parents can still get a glimpse of their children’s academic classes through faculty-produced videos. Teachers have created brief recordings to introduce their courses and describe the fall experience in their classrooms. Parents will receive a “virtual schedule” to view the videos on October 24.

Finally, Blair is offering parents the opportunity to meet their children’s teachers and connect face-to-face via individual video conferences on October 27, 28 and 30. These five-minute conferences are similar to the traditional Family Weekend meet-and-greet, and teachers are looking forward to sharing a brief word about each of their students, whom they have gotten to know over the fall semester. Blair’s academic office will email parents about signing up for the video conferences on October 21.

“Life on campus looks different this year as we observe health-and-safety protocols, but so many of the traditions that make for an extraordinary Blair experience remain as strong as ever,” said Head of School Chris Fortunato. “The entire faculty is looking forward to sharing the details of campus life with our parents during our virtual Family Weekend experience.”
 

Emmanuel Bello ‘04, Trustee

It is clear from the many ways Blair Trustee Emmanuel Bello ’04 gives back to Blair that he deeply appreciates the experiences he had during his student days. In fact, he attributes much of his professional success in finance and investing to the School’s exceptional faculty and programs, specifically how they foster deep relationships, as well as students’ intellectual curiosity, analytical thinking and ability to communicate clearly. These skills, he has discovered again and again over more than a dozen years in a dynamic and ever-changing field, are more important than ever. He looked forward to sharing more about his personal journey and how Blair gave him a solid foundation for all of his future endeavors at his virtual Society of Skeptics presentation on October 20. To watch his presentation, please click below:

“Blair has helped lead me down the path I am on right now,” said Mr. Bello, who is Vice President at Owl Rock Capital, a leading alternative asset manager with deep expertise in credit markets. “My career development simply wouldn’t have happened without Blair, and I am all about paying that forward, while also getting into the weeds a bit about the ins and outs of my business and profession for those in the audience who were interested in data and details.”

In 2020, Mr. Bello was reappointed to Blair’s Board of Trustees after having served an earlier term from 2013 to 2019. In the years since he graduated, he has often returned to campus to speak to retired history teacher Martin Miller’s economics class and shared his story and expertise with the broader Blair community at the School’s Young Alumni Skeptics.

Solving for Skills
Mr. Bello looked forward to talking to students and faculty about the importance of relationship-building and communication in succeeding in an extremely competitive, fast-moving and dynamic industry. 

“What’s hot and relevant now might change in 5 to 10 years,” said Mr. Bello, who began his career as an analyst at UBS Investment Bank’s Financial Institutions Group after earning his undergraduate degree from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, from which he graduated with distinction and highest honors as a Morehead-Cain Scholar. “If you think you might want to pursue a career in financial services, the best thing you can do is to avoid solving for a particular job and instead focus on the skills that will make you successful at any job in the field.”

Curiosity, a desire to learn, an ability to adapt and openness following transitions in business are all things that Mr. Bello says has led him to where he is today at Owl Rock, a position he accepted after almost a decade at Goldman Sachs Asset Management, where he served most recently as Vice President in the high yield and leveraged loan business. 
 
Connection is Key
As is true of so many industries, finance is definitely a people-oriented business and the ability to connect with others and nurture relationships are essential to moving ahead. “From a functional perspective, Blair started me along the path of all the skills that I would need to be successful,” Mr. Bello said. “In addition to fostering intellectual curiosity, Blair taught me how to have good, meaningful relationships. We were always talking to teachers and peers in the classroom and on the sports fields and it is amazing what you learn about faculty and friends on those long van rides to games and matches. Blair gave me the opportunity to see, understand and connect to people from different angles, which has helped me immeasurably in business.”
 
Looking back at his student days, Mr. Bello says returning to Skeptics even virtually was a special experience. “I recall a lot of great moments when I was in the audience at Skeptics and someone talked about something I didn’t really understand and illuminated that topic and made it more tangible for me,” he concluded. “Like I said, it is all about paying it forward.”

The History of Skeptics
The Society of Skeptics was established as a forum for students and faculty to discuss and debate important global issues; it has grown to become one of the premier high school lecture series in the United States. Each week, speakers from the political, social, scientific, economic and literary arenas share their unique perspectives with students, who are encouraged to engage with presenters, asking questions and debating points of view.

The program, 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.

Amanda Lucas

Amanda Lucas is the newest member of Blair’s academic office, having begun her tenure as dean of teaching and learning in July. In this role, she supports faculty as they work to implement innovative and research-based teaching practices; implements resource-sharing opportunities for teachers; and supports curricular development with a focus on student-centered practices across departments.

A veteran of education since 2005, Mrs. Lucas has taught and chaired English departments at both middle and upper levels, and she has been recognized for her outstanding work with several awards. She earned her bachelor’s degree in English and her MEd in curriculum and instruction from Texas A&M University. Next summer, she will complete her master’s degree in English from the Bread Loaf School of English at Middlebury College. In addition to her work in the academic office, she teaches English 1 at Blair.

Mrs. Lucas and her husband, Derek, are enjoying life in rural northwestern New Jersey, which has been a big change from life in Houston. Hiking and taking walks with their Hungarian Vizsla, Toby, are among their favorite activities, and Mrs. Lucas also spends her free time reading and watching an occasional low-key film on Netflix.

We invite you to get to know Mrs. Lucas by reading the Q&A below.

Q: Why did you choose to major in English at Texas A&M, and what inspired you to pursue a second master’s degree in the subject at the Bread Loaf School of English?
A: I consider myself an avid reader. My mother read to me every night when I was a child, and we would escape together to faraway lands through Grimm’s Fairy Tales. A book could solve any problem I ever had. Ironically though, I didn’t begin undergraduate studies in English; I began as an opera performance major. Now that I think about it, opera is not too far from reading in that it provided me the same escape on stage that I found on the pages of a book. Seventeen years later, I went back to study English at Bread Loaf out of a pure passion to deepen my understanding of the craft of writing and literature, something only glossed over in many undergraduate programs, so that I could offer my students more depth and breadth as we began to work as co-creators of thought around our discussion table.

Q: As a strong proponent of neuroeducation teaching strategies, please explain what they are and why they are important for teachers and students.
A: The first sentence of Whitman and Kelleher’s book NeuroTeach states “Teachers are brain changers,” to which I emphatically reply “Yes!” Teachers grounded in neuroeducation teaching strategies are those who apply strategies at the intersection of cognitive science, neuroscience and education science. For so long, the research community looked at these as separate fields of research. Now, we’re finding out that when we apply strategies at the intersection of mind, brain and education science (MBE), we truly are brain changers. A teacher who strategically incorporates these strategies seeks to transfer information in a student’s short-term memory storage into their long-term memory storage. We look at how the brain receives input of information and incorporate research-based strategies into our curriculum. For example, did you know that in the span of a 60-minute class period, there are two times when the brain is primed for receiving new information? What MBE science would suggest is that we build our lesson plans around those two strategic places in the lesson cycle so that our students’ brains are more likely to receive and hold new information. 

Q: At previous schools, as well as here at Blair, you work closely with students in the classroom and with colleagues to help implement best practices as educators. What do you enjoy most about both aspects of your work?
A: One can’t happen without the other. That’s what is so special about the learning experience and that experience begins with us. It begins with our curiosity, which spurs us into the professional growth cycle. We learn and grow as experts in our content and in the craft of teaching, collaborating to create transferable experiences from the classroom to the real world for our students. As our excitement builds, it overflows into the classroom environment, causing our students to ponder a thought more deeply or take a risk when otherwise they might not have done so. In turn, they develop as learners, and we are inspired to continually refine and reflect on the practice of teaching. 

Q: As you prepared for the challenges of the year ahead with Blair’s teachers, what advice did you share with them? How will you continue to support them in the coming months?
A: We are in a constant state of flux this year, more so than we have ever been, so it is really important to me that I help faculty reignite the flame under the visions they have created for themselves around education, whether it be one year ago as a new teacher or 20 as a seasoned educator. Those visions are tied to our authentic selves; they tap into the core of who we are and who we want to be. And, perhaps most importantly, they are tied to our calling as educators and as human beings. My aim is to help faculty align their vision with their goals and then to provide them with the tools and resources to step into that calling fully and with passion and perseverance.

Q: What have you and your husband enjoyed most about becoming a part of the Blair community?
A: I mentioned authenticity earlier, and that word most resonates with us here, too, since becoming a part of the Blair community. Whether the situation is related to COVID-19, facilities, academics, student life or just simply being welcomed into the fold as a new faculty member on campus, it is clear that authenticity and intentionality is situated at the heart of who we are, and I’m so grateful to be a part of it!
 

Clinton Hall

At the foundation of living and learning at Blair have always been the deep and meaningful relationships students forge with faculty members in their roles as teachers, advisors, monitors, dorm heads, coaches and college counselors. But what really makes the Blair experience extraordinary is the fact that all of these areas of support are carefully layered and interwoven—and the end result is that students have multiple options should they need to turn to an adult in the community for advice or counsel about how to get the most out of their time at Blair.

Among the most influential academic supports are grade-specific monitors, who are assigned by the academic office and often serve as the first “point person” for students as they consider their choice of advisor and get to know other faculty members. Charged with taking action to best position students for academic success, monitors work with 25 to 30 students each year doing everything from helping kids develop successful study strategies and stay on top of their workloads to checking in about current classes and ensuring future course loads are appropriately balanced. 

Although monitors’ duties include many granular, day-to-day tasks, they also approach their work from a 40,000-foot view as they help individual students better understand themselves as learners and explore and discover their interests. And, of course, their role as a conduit of information for parents, teachers, administrators, dorm heads, coaches and advisors across campus is critical to Blair’s mission.

A Holistic & Intentional Approach 
“Monitors’ understanding of and approach to supporting students’ academic experience is holistic and intentional across the board,” said Dean of Academics Nathan Molteni. “They see how the different puzzle pieces fit together and can provide context that gives other Blair administrators and faculty members a much clearer picture of who needs support and how we can best provide it in any given situation.”

The academic monitor role benefits students and teachers alike. “If I have a concern about a student, I can share that with the monitor, who then gathers information and asks how he or she can help to ensure the student benefits from every learning opportunity,” said Dean of Teaching and Learning Amanda Lucas, who helps organize the quarterly student review meetings at which monitors present on individual Blair students and discuss areas of strength and challenge. Working closely with the academic and student life offices, monitors also meet weekly to discuss how to best support students.

Sharon Merrifield, a freshman monitor who also teaches French, mindfulness, health and wellness, says that the benefit can go both ways. “Being a monitor provides a much broader perspective on the wider academic experiences of each student or grade-level class. That, in turn, impacts how I choose to approach my classes.” 

Monitors also serve as the official voice of the School in communications with parents, acting as a bridge for any academic issues and providing updates several times a year. How frequently a monitor touches base with a particular student really depends on grade and the individual: Typically, freshmen and sophomores benefit from more proactive regular contact from their monitors, whereas juniors and seniors are often more independent and comfortable in navigating resources at Blair without as much monitor involvement. 

Empowerment & Advocacy 
For many monitors, the most meaningful part of the role is student advocacy, both on an individual basis and as a whole. “We provide critical support to our students in ways that empower them to succeed academically,” said Ms. Merrifield. “I have learned how to communicate with parents well and to partner with colleagues on issues that greatly impact our students inside and outside the classroom.”


Once students become seniors, it is fitting that their monitors are college counselors who can support them in a very specific way as they apply to college. As for junior monitors, they support students with the transition to senior year and the beginning of the college process in mind. 

“My level of involvement with those whom I monitor can really depend on the student and what’s happening in his or her world at any given time,” said English teacher Tom Parauda, who has been a junior monitor for more than 25 years. “Juniors in particular have a lot on their plate at different times throughout the year, especially as they begin the college process in earnest. But the job really comes down to listening, encouraging, balancing and setting students up to get what they want from Blair.” 

Mr. Parauda calls the role “a wonderful opportunity” for connection and communication with students he might not otherwise have known well. “It is very helpful to know at what points different roads are converging for kids, especially when those students are also in my classes or on my team. The monitor role is a great way to get a sense of what Blair is about in that it provides another avenue for knowing students well.”

Ms. Merrifield agrees. “The role of monitor offers a larger perspective on the School as a whole, allows you to lend your voice in shaping policy, and enables you to gain a greater understanding of and appreciation for the inherent challenges of prioritizing and deciding what’s best for our students’ overall growth.”

First Point of Connection
Senior Belle Laxer ’21 found her monitor especially helpful as she transitioned to Blair, offering advice about teachers and classes, which helped her thrive academically. “During the spring [2020] when we were completely virtual, Mr. Gerdsen helped me stay organized and on top of my schoolwork, even though it was challenging during distance learning,” she explained. “He made a point of checking in frequently about how I was doing in my classes. Even though he is no longer my monitor this year, he is my marine science teacher and asks often about my academics, which says a lot.” 

For someone who admits she can be “overly ambitious” when it comes to academics, Belle also appreciated her current monitor’s attention to creating a schedule that will not only fulfill her graduation requirements, but is balanced. “By helping me to create a schedule that challenges me academically and allows me to enjoy the parts of Blair outside the classroom, I am able to make the most out of my time here,” she concluded. 

Sophomore Amos Debah ’23 is grateful to his freshman monitor, Dean of Strategic Initiatives and Associate Dean of Admission Leucretia Shaw, for not only providing exceptional academic support, but also offering encouragement and instilling confidence at every point along the way, socially and otherwise. 

“She made sure I got all of the support I need to be a great student and a better person, while also making me feel more connected to the community,” he said. “Mrs. Shaw is a special person, and she has become one of my best friends on campus. She continues to be the first person I go to with a problem and is always there to help. Thank you very much, Mrs. Shaw, for making freshman year a great year!” 


 

Batouly Camara

In five short years since graduating from Blair, Batouly Camara ’15 has played in the NCAA women’s basketball Sweet 16 with the University of Kentucky, made three trips to the Final Four with the University of Connecticut, earned a master’s degree in sports management and founded a nonprofit with international reach. This summer, she added “author” to her resume with the publication of her delightful and touching children’s book, A Basketball Game on Wake Street. And even with all of the dream-come-true moments she has experienced to date, it’s clear she is just getting started.

WAKE
Currently playing for team Benbire in Spain’s professional women’s basketball league, Batouly is also working full time for Women and Kids Empowerment (WAKE), the nonprofit she established in 2017. That year, she traveled with her parents to their native Guinea in West Africa, where she ran basketball clinics for youngsters that inspired her to do even more to share her belief in the power of education and sports to transform lives. Thus, WAKE was born with a mission to empower girls through education, sport and social entrepreneurship.

Batouly, then a student at the University of Connecticut, wanted to impact as many people as possible around the world through WAKE. In 2018 and 2019, she organized basketball clinics, professional development workshops, and health and safety classes that touched the lives of hundreds of women and girls in Europe, Africa, Asia and the U.S. As she got deeper into her graduate studies, however, she realized that she needed to narrow her focus to make WAKE’s program sustainable. 

“Today, we are working to create a mini-Blair in Guinea’s capital city of Conakry,” she said. There, 25 girls, ages 12 to 15, will receive basketball training and an education in partnership with local schools to prepare and equip them for prosperous and fulfilling adult lives. “School and basketball are the passions that drive us.”

Batouly & Blair
The fact that Batouly describes the soon-to-be Wake Academy as a mini-Blair speaks volumes to her love for her alma mater. “I always tell people Blair transformed my life,” she said. “Blair taught me that everything is possible.”

She recalled a moment when, as a new sophomore, she doubted her ability to succeed at Blair. “I told [varsity boys’ basketball coach] Joe Mantegna, ‘I’m nothing but a basketball player!’ and he assured me that I never would have been accepted at Blair if that were the case,” she said. When she brought up the same worries to varsity girls’ basketball coach Quinten Clarke ’87, he shared advice that still rings in her ears: “Batouly, I want you to try everything that scares you.”

“That was a perfect moment of freedom,” said Batouly, who went on to become a prefect, an admission tour guide, a soccer player and a cast member (a tree!) in the Blair Academy Players’ production of Radium Girls. “Blair provides space where it is safe to fail—you have lots of structure, but you also have many challenges that give you the opportunity to step up and step into who you are. I learned how to manage my time and balance sports and life, and that helped me to be successful in college, where I had to do the same thing at a higher level. Blair taught me that I could confidently fail and continue dreaming.”

Dream Team
Writing A Basketball Game on Wake Street over the past year was something of a manifestation of one of Batouly’s many dreams as it exemplifies the kind of world in which she would like to live and demonstrates the power of sport and unity. The charmingly illustrated 24-page book tells the tale of a pick-up basketball game that brings girls of many different backgrounds and unique abilities together for friendship and fun. It’s a story, Batouly says, inspired by her global travels and Blair basketball.

“I loved every bit of writing it—processes like these make you do some soul searching,” she reflected. “I had to go back to my childhood to remember what it was like to be a kid.” Her first draft of the script came together quickly last October, but she acknowledged that it took a lot of work to bring it to life. She consulted with 20 educators and nearly as many athletes, including Paralympic athletes, to ensure that the book was sensitive to all the details. Finding an illustrator and a publisher were also part of the process, and 10 drafts later, the book was published in July.

Sales have been going well so far, Batouly reported, and all proceeds go directly to WAKE programs in Guinea and across the U.S. The book was recently released in Spanish, and a French version is in the works, along with a social-emotional learning curriculum to accompany it.

While Batouly is excited about the funds A Basketball Game on Wake Street have already generated for WAKE, she is especially thrilled—and deeply moved—by the response she has received from readers. “So many people have said the book makes them feel connected and makes them feel seen,” she said. “They say ‘thank you for telling my story and sharing this message’ and ‘I feel empowered to play sports now—it’s not out of my reach.’ It has been great to get this kind of feedback. Being seen is an unmatched feeling. It’s amazing—like, wow!”

Dream to Reality
As she continues her work to make the school in Guinea a reality, it’s not surprising that most of Batouly’s short- and long-term goals surround WAKE. The organization has secured the land for Wake Academy and has entered the building phase, with an outdoor basketball court slated for completion by the end of the year and plans for an indoor court already in place. Fundraising is well underway, bolstered in July when Batouly was named one of seven recipients nationwide of the prestigious Billie Jean King Youth Leadership Award, an honor that recognizes her work using sport to improve her community—and includes a $10,000 grant.

“Of course I want to continue playing basketball, too,” she said, “but my long term goal—maybe someday—is to work for the UN or UNESCO doing the same kind of work I am doing now, empowering women and girls through sport. That’s a big goal, but you have to give voice to your goals if you want them to happen. Ultimately, I want to keep hearing stories and sharing stories the best I can in any space I can.”

Asked what advice she would share with young people who have dreams and goals but no idea how to achieve them, Batouly offered three steps: First, write down everything about your dream—what does it feel like and look like when you accomplish it? Second, what are your immediate resources—who is doing work in that space and who can cheer you on? Finally, what is your plan? Figure out the next step that is immediately actionable and go from there.

“This generation has hearts full of fire!” Batouly enthused. “They can do anything, but they need to know how to go about it. These steps have helped me make my dreams reality, and they just may be a formula for success for others, too.”

Finally, speaking of dreams, she shared words of gratitude and encouragement and a special invitation with the Blair community. “I am so thankful I had the opportunity to be a part of Blair. Everyone at the academy should know that his or her work is appreciated. Day in/day out it may not seem that students appreciate it, but it takes time for seeds to grow, so keep on planting, continue to dream. And, if anyone in the Blair family would like to be a part of WAKE, I would love to know! We welcome the support and interest of Blair!”

Learn more about WAKE here.
 

Dr. Marty Miller

Blair alumni, parents and friends have come together virtually this fall to take part in one of the School’s most beloved traditions. From living rooms and kitchen tables across the country, they have joined retired history teacher Martin Miller, PhD, for the “Society of Skeptics at Home.” More than 100 people participated in the first two online sessions on September 17 and October 1, and a final Skeptics at Home is scheduled for October 15. Registration is open to any member of the Blair family who would like to attend.

The Society of Skeptics at Home is similar to the “Skeptics on the Road” receptions held in Boston and Washington, D.C., last winter as Dr. Miller prepared to retire after his remarkable 40-year tenure at Blair. For each event, Dr. Miller selects 30 of his favorite Skeptics presentations from his decades as the program’s director and discusses them with the audience. The online sessions are interactive, with participants sharing questions and observations with Dr. Miller and one another, and Blair camaraderie and connection have been highlights of each get-together.

Director of Alumni Relations Shaunna Murphy, coordinator of the Skeptics at Home program, is delighted that the event has attracted alumni of all ages, as well as parents, grandparents and many former Blair faculty members. “Everyone has been thrilled to listen to and spend time with Marty and converse with other attendees in the chat box,” she said. “We’ve had a great time going down memory lane as Marty brings up speaker after unforgettable speaker. Our first two Skeptics at Home have been enjoyable evenings for all involved.”

Chair of Blair’s Board of Trustees Doug Kimmelman P’12 ’13 ’15 ’22 took the opportunity of the first Skeptics at Home program to share news with attendees about the newly endowed Miller Family Scholarship. The School established the scholarship upon Dr. Miller’s retirement in June to honor his many contributions to Blair as Skeptics director, history teacher and department chair, cross country coach, Model UN director, and founder and co-editor of the Blair Review. 

Thanking him for his “decades of inspiration,” Mr. Kimmelman noted that Dr. Miller has been a special Blair steward who positively influenced so many students with his humble and insightful demeanor and unique, caring way. “You have been an ambassador for the School who has kept us connected so well, and I know you will continue to do that for many years to come,” Mr. Kimmelman said. “We have established the Miller Family Scholarship to honor your approach of always putting students first. Through the scholarship, you will always be connected to a student and to Blair.” 

Mr. Kimmelman announced that generous donors have already contributed and pledged more than $300,000 to the scholarship fund, and he especially thanked his fellow Trustees and everyone who has made a gift to date. Dr. Miller expressed his thanks, as well, saying that he is deeply honored by the scholarship and has received so many nice notes from Blair community members that “it’s almost like I haven’t retired at all.”

The Miller Family Scholarship is named for Dr. Miller, his wife, Micheline, and their children, David ’88 and Colin ’01. Beginning this fall, it will support the Blair education of a deserving student every year, ensuring that Dr. Miller’s legacy as one of the School’s great teachers continues for generations to come.

If you would like to honor Dr. Miller with a gift to the Miller Family Scholarship, please click here.

Carrie Giddins Pergram ’92

Blair Academy was thrilled to welcome Carrie Giddins Pergram ’92 for a virtual Society of Skeptics lecture on October 6 at 7 p.m. Her presentation, "A 2020 Election Preview," concentrated on the upcoming election and preparations for Election Day 2020. To view her full presentation, please click below:

Ms. Pergram’s lecture allowed attendees an inside look at the current political climate in the United States from an expert in the field. She noted that audience members better understood some of the "inside baseball" that goes into politics.

“We all seem so focused on the polls or the scandal of the moment, and there is a lot more to it,” she said. “I wanted the audience to understand that there are other places to look for information that may not be as obvious as their social media feed or scrolling words on the bottom of the TV.”

When asked why she selected this topic, Ms. Pergram highlighted her longtime passion for politics. “Many years ago, I was bit by the political bug, and even though I am now a professor, I still consider myself a political operative and stay with just a toe in the fray,” she said.

Ms. Pergram is a professor of political communication and a former political consultant. For the past eight years, she has been appointed a term professor at American University, teaching in their School of Communication and their School of Public Affairs. In 2008, she held the position of communications director for the Iowa Democratic Party, running the 2008 Iowa Caucuses, the most successful and most widely attended caucuses in history.

Ms. Pergram has maintained her own consulting firm, Giddy Up! Communications, which has a variety of national and international political clients, and she has also worked for nonprofits and private companies. In addition, she has done stints on the Hill, at political consulting firms, at direct mail firms, at a national nonprofit and at a national party committee. A native of New York City, she has worked in politics for over 25 years. Ms. Pergram graduated from Skidmore College in upstate New York and earned master’s degrees from the Graduate School of Political Management at The George Washington University and Columbia University’s School of Journalism.

She is also a proud Blair alumnua and was excited to speak with the community about her journey. She specifically noted two Blair faculty members, retired history teacher Martin Miller, PhD, and Dean of Campus Life and director of leadership programs Carolyn Conforti-Browse ’79, and the impact they had on her career.

“I learned more sitting in the corner of Dr. Miller's Clinton Hall history classroom than I have anywhere else,” she said. “Mrs. Conforti-Browse was my English teacher, my softball coach and my dorm parent my junior year at Blair. I was challenging, to say the least, but she was, and to this day is, a mentor, a friend, and one of the best influences I was lucky to meet at such a young age.”

The History of Skeptics

The Society of Skeptics was established as a forum for students and faculty to discuss and debate important global issues; it has grown to become one of the premier high school lecture series in the United States. Each week, speakers from the political, social, scientific, economic and literary arenas share their unique perspectives with students, who are encouraged to engage with presenters, asking questions and debating points of view.

The program, 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.

 

Kevin Parsons

Kevin Parsons joined Blair’s faculty this summer as an associate dean of college counseling. During his 10-year career in the field of college admission and college counseling, he served on the admission teams at the University of Delaware, American University and Princeton University before switching to the counseling side of the desk. For the past two years, Mr. Parsons was a college counselor at the Academy of Notre Dame de Namur in Villanova, Pennsylvania, where he greatly enjoyed helping students find their best fit for higher education. He is excited to do the same for his counselees at Blair. 

Mr. Parsons holds a bachelor’s degree in political science from Marist College, and his experience as an undergraduate tour guide there and his many positive interactions with prospective students and families sparked his interest in college admission work. In 2011, he earned a master’s degree in education with a concentration in higher education administration from the University of Pennsylvania Graduate School of Education.

A New Hampshire native, Mr. Parsons loves hiking and traveling. Thus far, he has climbed 46 of New Hampshire’s 48 4,000-foot mountains and visited more than 100 colleges and universities during his travels throughout the U.S. and abroad. Here, he shares some thoughts on his work as a college counselor, his hiking adventures and his new home at Blair.

Q. Having read thousands of applications as an admission officer at highly selective universities, what aspect(s) of an application helped you discern whether a candidate would be a good fit?
A. I always focused the most on personal qualities that a student displayed in his or her application. You can learn a surprising amount of meaningful information about a student’s personality and character from the way he or she writes an essay, the way a teacher writes about having him or her in class, or even the way a student briefly describes an activity. To me, students who display good moral character and a desire to engage with other students (both formally and informally) are those who will thrive the most in college, no matter where they enroll.

Q. As a college counselor, what do you enjoy most about working with students and their families at this juncture of their educational journeys?
A. I will always be a tour guide at heart. To me, working as a college counselor is sort of like being a tour guide through the confusing process of college admissions. I most enjoy helping students present their best selves in their applications and helping to reduce anxiety by giving students and parents clear information and perspective from someone who has spent most of his career reading the very same applications our students are preparing. I also love reading essays! My best guess is I’ve probably read well over 30,000 college essays in my career; that’s not something you do unless you love it! This has given me a lot of knowledge from experience that I greatly enjoy giving back to our students and families. 

Q. What advice have you offered seniors this fall regarding virtual campus tours and virtual interviews?
A. This has been a really tough application season so far with the inability to travel to colleges and being forced to rely upon virtual experiences. We’re encouraging students to engage with college reps and ask questions whenever possible, as well as spend a lot of time on college websites and college social media pages to learn more about the schools. Nothing is like being there in person, but if you read with a critical eye, you can still discern a lot about what the school values, who it thinks it is, what kinds of students it believes will be the best fit, and many other important details. 

Q. As an avid traveler and hiker, what have been some of your most adventurous and enjoyable trips?
A. This is a tough one! I grew up bicycling and hiking in New Hampshire with my father on a regular basis—even as an obstinate teenager who thinks anything his parents like to do is immediately horribly uncool—so I love mountains and the outdoors. One of the most fun things I’ve done recently was compete with a team of friends in the 200-mile Hood to Coast relay race from Mt. Hood to Seaside, Oregon. That was an experience I’ll never forget! And the most fun hike I’ve ever done was when my dad and I climbed Half Dome in Yosemite National Park. Yosemite is the most amazing place I’ve ever been. 

Q. What are you most looking forward to as your first year at Blair unfolds?
A. I’m looking forward to jumping right into boarding school life. This year is a very different and challenging year because of the necessary health-and-safety restrictions due to the pandemic, but, on the other hand, I don’t know Blair any differently! That just means that if I can enjoy boarding school life this year—which I already am—I will likely enjoy it even more when life returns to some sense of normalcy in the future. I’m excited to continue to get to know our fantastic Blair students and to become a part of the Blair family. I love it here already!
 

JamesHeadshot

Blair Academy was pleased to welcome James H. Dickerson, PhD, who spoke to students, faculty and staff during a virtual Society of Skeptics lecture on September 29 at 7 p.m. His presentation, “Using Science for Good,” centered around his work at Consumer Reports and the use of scientific findings to drive marketplaces changes to improve products. To watch his full presentation, please click below:

Dr. Dickerson is the first chief scientific officer for Consumer Reports, an independent, nonprofit consumer advocacy organization that works with consumers to create a fairer, safer and more transparent world. He received a BA in physics from Amherst College in 1994 and earned his PhD in condensed matter physics from Stony Brook University in 2002. In 2019, Dr. Dickerson was named a Fellow of the American Physical Society for his longstanding contributions to physics diversity through mentoring and outreach, as well as his leadership to assure quality science continues to underpin all Consumer Reports product evaluations. Dr. Dickerson served on the Committee on Minorities of the American Physical Society for four years and acted as its chair in 2007.

Dr. Dickerson’s presentation gave attendees a look into the scientific research process for products used every day. He explained that we expect that the products we use will be safe when they hit the market, but that is not always the case. Through his work at Consumer Reports, he is committed to revealing the truth, raising the bar for safety and fairness, and empowering consumers with trusted information. He noted that attendees saw how to use science for good, applying its findings for diverse audiences with the goal of driving marketplace change that benefits everyone.

“My presentation allowed insight into why science-backed reviews are necessary for all products,” Dr. Dickerson said. “I attempted to address the skepticism that many have about ratings or reviews of consumer products and how our process is different. Consumer Reports undertakes a robust scientific review process that is far superior to user reviews seen on a multitude of sites, which are largely subjective rather than objective.”

Dr. Dickerson hoped attendees of all ages saw the plethora of potential career paths that one can take if one is interested in science, engineering, public policy, law or a multitude of other traditional career trajectories.

“My career has largely involved different elements of science communication, be it working as a high school teacher, a tenured college professor, an assistant director of a government nanoscience laboratory, or in my current position as chief scientific officer,” he said. “Speaking with students versus adults has relatively little difference, as everyone is a consumer of products, goods and services. I am sure each attendee took away useful information they can use in the future, and I enjoyed the discussion surrounding my presentation.”

The History of Skeptics

The Society of Skeptics was established as a forum for students and faculty to discuss and debate important global issues; it has grown to become one of the premier high school lecture series in the United States. Each week, speakers from the political, social, scientific, economic and literary arenas share their unique perspectives with students, who are encouraged to engage with presenters, asking questions and debating points of view.

The program, 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.

Curran Family

Dear Blair Family, 

I write to you today about the end of one chapter in Blair’s history and an exciting new beginning. After more than seven years at Blair, Chris Fortunato has decided to return with his family to New England, where he will lead Thayer Academy, a day school outside of Boston. We are most grateful to Chris for his excellent leadership and many contributions over the course of his tenure and wish him and his family well. As we now look to Blair’s future, I am thrilled to announce that our Board of Trustees unanimously voted to appoint Associate Head of School and Dean of Admission Peter G. Curran as Blair’s 17th Head of School, effective January 1, 2021. In the coming months, Chris and Peter will continue to work together closely as they transition to their respective new roles. I have no doubt that the process will be smooth and seamless.

Of course, many of you have already gotten to know Peter well over the last 10 years as he traveled the globe and connected with families and alumni to share with them the transformative nature of a Blair education. In addition to being bright, enthusiastic and engaging, Peter has literally become the face of Blair in many parts of the world and has done much to elevate our name and reputation. Under his leadership, Blair has enjoyed a record number of applications year after year, and admission to the School has become increasingly selective. Even during the current coronavirus pandemic, Blair is fully enrolled and thriving, a reflection of Peter’s ability to connect with families and a testament to his leadership of our excellent admission team.

I hope you will join us in wishing Chris, Erin, Matt and Katie the very best as they embark on their next chapter in Massachusetts. We are grateful to Chris for his tireless work in managing the challenges of day-to-day school operations, conceiving of and building our state-of-the-art Chiang-Elghanayan Center for Innovation and Collaboration, renovating and expanding the Bogle Science Center and launching our Strategic Plan that has put Blair on a positive trajectory for the next five years. Our School is stronger and more financially secure because of his efforts and stewardship. 

We are fortunate that Peter and Chris have worked side-by-side for the better part of a decade, and Peter understands and deeply loves Blair’s culture and its diverse and close-knit community. During his tenure, Peter has been involved in every facet of school life and has demonstrated his commitment to building community and connecting with prospective families, students, parents and alumni of every background and experience. We are confident that this leadership transition will best position Blair for continued success moving forward, especially as we execute the people- and program-focused initiatives of our 2018-2025 Strategic Plan, All In. 

Peter has had an expansive career, spending 20 years working at schools across the globe. Upon graduating from Milton Academy in 1997, he matriculated at Bowdoin College, where he met his wife, Sarah. After college, Peter taught history at St. Andrew’s Episcopal School in Potomac, Maryland, and Sarah earned her master’s in public health from Johns Hopkins University. They then moved to Arizona, where Peter taught and worked on the Fort Apache Indian Reservation, while Sarah conducted research on obesity prevention and promoted healthy-eating strategies.  

Shortly after getting married in 2004, the Currans moved to Cambridge, where Peter earned his MEd at Harvard University’s Graduate School of Education and Sarah worked at Harvard Medical School. When he graduated in 2005, they accepted positions at The American School in Switzerland (Peter as dean for 10th and 11th grades, as well as a teacher and coach; Sarah as a teacher and coach of soccer, a sport she had played at Bowdoin). The Currans returned home to the United States each summer during the two years they lived abroad, and Peter worked at Harvard as assistant dean of the secondary-school program.  

Peter furthered his experience in boarding-school administration in 2007 when he was appointed dean of students at Fountain Valley School, where he also taught and coached for four years. During that time, the Currans welcomed their twins (Toby and Grace, now 11) before moving to Blair in 2011. The School’s vibrant student-centered culture resonated deeply with Peter and Sarah, and they were equally impressed by Blair’s flourishing reputation in the boarding-school world. 

In his time at Blair, Peter succeeded David Low as a new dean in the student life office and taught English. He later became dean of admission, eventually rising to assistant head of school for enrollment and communications. In recent years, Peter, now associate head of school, took a leading role in the architecture and execution of our 2018-2025 Strategic Plan. Importantly, Peter has also been active professionally outside of Blair, regularly presenting at national conferences focused on education, co-founding The Deans’ Roundtable, a nonprofit that promotes best practices among independent schools, and serving as a trustee at Oldfields School in Sparks Glencoe, Maryland, and North Country School in Lake Placid, New York. 

Sarah, a registered dietitian, works as a program associate for Rutgers Cooperative Extension’s Family and Community Health Sciences Department. Toby and Grace, now in sixth grade, love growing up on campus with 460 big brothers and sisters, countless friends among faculty children, dozens of faculty-and-staff aunts and uncles, and their yellow lab, Bowdoin. When they move into Sharpe House, the Currans look forward to hosting the Blair community in their home, where they will deepen existing relationships and forge new ones as they welcome new members to the Blair family.

Let me conclude by wishing the Fortunatos the very best and stating our utmost confidence in our new Head of School. In welcoming Peter to this role, we look forward to his fresh leadership perspective while continuing to embrace our beloved Blair traditions as we approach our 175th anniversary in 2023. To learn more about Blair's 17th Head of School, click here.

Warm regards,
Doug Kimmelman P’12 ’13 ’15 ’22
Chair, Blair Academy Board of Trustees

Fall Campus

Blair’s admission team invites prospective students and their parents to join us virtually for an in-depth view of Blair Academy during a series of online events. The series opens on September 30 with a virtual Open House and continues throughout the fall and early winter with live tours on Saturdays, information sessions with an admission officer on Wednesdays, and Co-curricular Expos on October 15 and December 2. Registration is now open for each event, and prospective families across the U.S. and around the world are welcome to sign up.

Associate Head of School and Dean of Admission Peter G. Curran is looking forward to sharing all that Blair has to offer with prospective Buccaneers during the online sessions. “Although we cannot welcome visitors to Blair this fall, we’ve designed our suite of virtual programs to give students and parents a robust view of the School,” he said. “Through different events and formats, they will experience our welcoming and inclusive community from many different angles and truly gain a sense of who we are as a School.”

During the virtual Open House on September 30, families will hear from parent and student panels, learn about Blair’s outstanding academic and extracurricular programs, find out about the admission process and much more. The 90-minute program will be held again on November 12 and January 13.

Families are also encouraged to join one of our live virtual campus tours that will take place on Saturdays throughout the fall. The tours offer prospective students and parents the opportunity to accompany a Blair tour guide and admission officer on a walk through Blair’s beautiful and historic campus. Wednesday information sessions feature a presentation and Q and A with a Blair admission officer, and once students have completed their online admission interview, they and their parents are invited to biweekly panel discussions with current parents and students on Sundays.

Finally, prospective students won’t want to miss Blair’s online Co-Curricular Expos. During these 90-minute programs on October 15 and December 2, they will meet athletic coaches and leaders of the School’s myriad co-curricular programs. Breakout sessions will offer opportunities to ask questions and get to know Blair faculty members and coaches.

“We are planning online regional admission receptions, as well as outreach to prospective families by alumni, parents and current students,” Mr. Curran added. “The members of the admission team and the Blair family are excited to meet prospective families this year and share what makes the Blair experience one-of-a-kind.”

Community Weekend Unites Students

Super Sunday is a much-anticipated Blair event that brings students of every grade together to celebrate the start of the new school year and get to know each other outside of the classroom. The weekend-long event looked a little different this year, as all activities and participants adhered to the policies set in place to keep community members well and healthy amid the coronavirus pandemic. 

Associate Dean of Students Rod Gerdsen, who runs the event along with Associate Dean of Students Andee Ryerson, noted the goal for this weekend was to unite the community in tradition. 

“Now that Blair has its full student body together, we were so excited to once again host our traditional community weekend, but with additional activities held over two days,” Mr. Gerdsen said. “This year it was truly Super Saturday AND Sunday.”

Students enjoyed a weekend of fun under the sun featuring Super Sunday favorites such as the Kon-Tiki cardboard boat races, dunk tank, games on Marcial Field, an egg toss and the classic soap slide. New additions included desk chair painting, time on the turf, a Blair faculty cookout, movie night and a fishing trip on Lake Genevieve.

“While the coronavirus pandemic is impacting so many parts of our lives, we are working to ensure it does not affect our Blair traditions,” Mr. Gerdsen said. “I hope everyone enjoyed a little normalcy this weekend, and we look forward to recreating other traditions for students to bond over this year.”