Layers of Support Best Position Blair Students for Academic Success

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!” 


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