Students present their j-term projects.
Students pose after solving an escape room puzzle.
Students present their j-term projects.
Student presents her j-term projects.
Students present their j-term projects.
Students enjoy lunch after presenting j-term projects.
Students present their j-term projects.
Students present their j-term projects.
Projects from Conscientious Carpentry class.
Projects from Conscientious Carpentry class.
Passion, Perspective & People: Blair's J-Term Combines Them All
Andee Ryerson
8:30 a.m. Listen to original music composed by students.
9:40 a.m. See chairs built by students and learn about the environmental impact of consumerism, then run downstairs to talk with student artists in their gallery walk.
10:30 a.m. Learn about financial systems and tips for building equity as a high schooler.
12:30 p.m. Ask about the concept of "grit" and how it can be measured at a student expo.
1:40 p.m. Explore agricultural policies and learn about the Farm Bill.

Had you been on campus this past Monday, this could have been your schedule. Spread out over five sessions, this year’s J-term experience culminated in presentations, performances, installations and conversations planned and prepared by each course’s instructors. Students shared their final products while also participating in or attending those of their classmates, experiencing a snippet of the course and sharing in the learning. Participants could choose from seven courses in each time slot. The result was a conference-style day where you could learn from and about your classmates.

“Students appreciated the in-person presentations, which offered windows into what each of their classmates and friends had been studying for the J-term,” said Dean of Academics Nathan Molteni. “These final products illustrated the new lines of thinking our students took while tackling the real-world problems their courses presented, and students were proud to share this newfound expertise with their teachers and peers.” 

New Experiences Foster New Connections
Having begun last winter, J-term (short for “January Term”) started as an opportunity for students and faculty alike to dive into a topic about which they are curious. Each course was co-taught by two faculty members who found where their interests aligned in ways that may or may not correlate with their traditional course material. This year, Spanish teacher Mr. Devaney and English teacher Mr. Parauda combined their love of games to offer Diplomacy and Human Nature. Science teacher Nadia Abascal and fine arts teacher Evan Thomas brought their love of art, music and pop culture to the course Discovering the Roots of American Culture. These unique combinations, sparked by faculty interests, gave students a vast array of course offerings (listed below) that explored topics not traditionally covered by the Blair curriculum. “I loved my J-term experience. It enabled me to connect with others in the Blair community about something we were all passionate about,” shared Juliana (Jules) Zweifel ’23

Students ranked J-term course offerings and were assigned based on their preferences, which allowed community members to make connections based on common passions and cross paths with those with whom they may not have otherwise. The schedule, too, taking only one course for up to four hours each day, eliminated the constant shift in focus and interaction a normal school day provides. “J-term allows for an in-depth exploration of one topic,” explained Mr. Molteni. “Combining curiosity, interest, and focus allows our students to delve into learning in ways in which they don’t always have time. This leads both to deeper learning, but also stronger connections as they work consistently with a group of teachers and peers.”

While many chose J-terms that allowed them to explore an existing interest, other students opted to try something brand new. “I am grateful to have had the opportunity to get out of the classroom setting and try something different,” shared senior Aitalia Sharpe ’22. “I was able to build a chair from scratch and learn about the carbon emissions that are produced with online deliveries. There were ups and downs to this process, as it took time to get comfortable with the tools, but overall it was a positive experience. Not only did I build a functional object with my hands, I learned about the aftereffects of online shopping, which has become a prominent facet of many people’s lives.” 

Even for those who explored existing passions, feeling challenged was a trend. “I took Voice of an Image and the final project pushed me out of my comfort zone,” Jules continued. “I created an image that was personal to me and that sparked conversation on a struggle I’ve dealt with during my time at Blair. I felt vulnerable sharing my work at first, but the Blair community could not have been more supportive. It felt good to share this part of me and feel supported and heard by my peers, which was the best part of my whole J-term experience.”

On Campus & Beyond
While last year’s J-term courses were virtual, this year, the 10-day seminars took place on campus. Students and faculty both remarked on the improved relationships afforded by an in-person experience. Field trips, for example, allowed some classes to venture into the wider Blairstown area to enhance their learning. The Politics of Agriculture class with English teacher Molly Hoyer visited local farms while learning about the Farm Bill, the largest piece of legislation currently influencing American agriculture. Blair Puzzle Hunt students, taught by French teacher Mr. Issenchmidt and math teacher Mr. Murray, visited an escape room, evaluating the qualities of an effective group puzzle so they could create their own as a final class product. Other trips sated students’ taste buds, such as the Why Vegan? (Mr. Ryerson and Ms. Doldoorian) class visit to a Bethlehem, PA, vegan bakery and the You Are Where You Eat (Ms. Castillo and Ms. Wang) trip to a nearby Indian restaurant. Still other classes visited local businesses and service organizations. This opportunity to get off campus offered students first-person, hands-on experiences that both deepened and strengthened their learning.

Classes that couldn’t venture off-campus brought the outside world to Blair. Field experts and alumni populated almost every course, either in person or virtually, allowing students to learn from their experiences and hear their different perspectives. Students in The Power of the Artist, taught by Mrs. Pagotto and Mr. Manni, learned from singer/songwriter Anthony D’Amato ’06 about the power of purpose in artistry and the larger cultural contextualization of a composer/songwriter’s process. The course Driven by Purpose, Driven by Story, taught by Mr. Fogel, Ms. Lucas and Ms. Queally, worked with award-winning author and Pulitzer Prize finalist Rebecca Makkai on the power and purpose of storytelling. For Anti-Semitism in America, Mrs. Leddy and Ms. Klein brought in a holocaust survivor, and Ms. Raley and Mrs. Issenchmidt’s Dismantling Systemic Oppression class learned from a lawyer at Bryan Stevenson’s Equal Justice Initiative, who talked to students about the civil rights and advocacy charity featured in the book and film Just Mercy. Other guests shared their expertise on entrepreneurship, mentorship, diplomacy and more, as each teacher supplied speakers for each course’s specific needs.

Whether strengthening a passion they already had or exploring something new, students and faculty alike remarked on the opportunities to explore areas of interest, develop new connections and work collaboratively to gain new expertise. Which curiosity would you explore? What would you learn and whom would you meet on that journey? Which J-term course would you choose?

2022 J-term Course Offerings

Anti-Semitism in America
Blair Puzzle Hunt
The Carlisle Indian School: The Past & Future of Boarding Schools
Conscientious Carpentry: Building by Hand to Better Understand Buying Online
Current Events Forum in Washington, D.C.
Design for the Other 90%
Development: Mirror & Mentors
Diplomacy & Human Nature
Dismantling Systemic Oppression
Do You Want to Live in a Dystopia?
Driven by Story, Driven by Purpose: The Stories We Choose to Tell
Exploring Personal Identity Through Creative Writing
Exploring the Roots of American Culture
Financial Planning & Building Equity
Food, Culture & Community
Historical Personalities Who Altered the Course of Mathematics
How to Build a Business Plan
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks
Juneteenth in Mexico: Border Stories
Make Up Your Own Mind: Using “Simple” Data to Estimate Complex Answers
Modeling Global Change Through Coding
The Politics of Agriculture
The Power of the Artist: Examining the Intersection of Purpose & Music Making
Race & Sociology of “The Wire”
Radical Art
Rights for Women—What Took So Long?
Risky Business
The Science of Happiness
Sports & the Law
Sports Media & Journalism
Voice of the Image (Vol. II)
What Is GRIT?
Why Vegan? Benefits of a Plant-Based Diet
You Are Where You Eat
You Can’t Leave Blair without Seeing This!

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