On January 29, 2019, Blairstown’s Ridge and Valley Charter School (RVCS) guide Tyler Thurgood ’05 returned to campus to address the Society of Skeptics in an interactive presentation with RVCS alumnae Sadie Price-Elliott and Muriel Baki, and school founders Traci Pannullo and Dave McNulty, who now serves as trustee. They introduced the Blair community to RVCS, a local kindergarten-to-eighth-grade charter school working to foster a paradigm shift in public education.
The presentation began at 7 p.m. in the Chiang Center for Innovation and Collaboration, they talked about the school’s founding, the charter school program as it currently exists in New Jersey, the history and foundational principles of RVCS, and the powerful experience of collaborative, non-hierarchical cooperation embodied in the school’s model of circle practice.
With roots that date back to the late 1990s, RVCS began when a small group of parents, educators and environmentalists connected through Blairstown’s community-supported garden and ecological learning center at Genesis Farm and posed the questions: “What does a hopeful sustainable future look like? And how can a public elementary school empower and prepare children to create it?’”
“With that question in mind, RCVS offers practical, accessible tools, abiding by PeerSpirit circle practice to re-orient communication to focus on mutually-enhancing relationships, personal responsibility and leadership from every chair,” said Ms. Pannullo, who serves as RVCS’s curriculum coordinator. “We have built an exciting example others can replicate to create a more hopeful sustainable dynamic within their own communities.”
The Society of Skeptics was established as a forum for students and faculty to discuss and debate important global issues; it has grown to become one of the premier high school lecture series in the United States. Each week, speakers from the political, social, scientific, economic and literary arenas share their unique perspectives with students, who are encouraged to engage with presenters, asking questions and debating points of view.
The program was an outgrowth of the Blair International Society, begun in 1937. Forty years later, former history department chair Elliott Trommald, PhD, Hon.’65, established the modern Skeptics program as a regular forum for student discussion and debate; history teacher Martin Miller, PhD, took over in the mid-1980s and molded the program into a weekly lecture series, one that has since continued without interruption. Under the tutelage of Dr. Miller, Skeptics has featured a wide variety of speakers who are engaging, accomplished in their respective fields and often controversial. For a listing of upcoming Skeptics programs, please click here.