The Evolution of Blair Academy
Blair Academy was established in 1848. With numerous headmasters and graduating classes, Blair has changed drastically during its 171 years of existence. Throughout the school’s lifetime, there have been multiple changes in both technology and modern culture, while also maintaining the core values that formed our school many years ago. I interviewed Dr. Miller, Mrs. Conforti, and Mr. Brandwood, who have been a part of the Blair Community for 30+ years, in order to better understand Blair’s roots and what has changed.
SP: What are some major cultural shifts that you have seen among Blair Academy Students and Faculty?
Mr. Brandwood: “I suppose an obvious cultural shift that has occurred lies in the makeup of the teaching faculty. For generations, boarding school faculty were predominantly male with single or bachelor-men epitomizing the “ideal” school-master. In the last 30 years, I’d say that we’ve seen more women and married faculty, where both spouses teach. Another shift during my tenure has been in the size of the student body. I think the school population was at about 320 when I started at Blair; we now stand at 469! I’m also of the opinion that students are more invested in their own learning experience nowadays than was the case 30 years ago.”
Mrs. Conforti: “Since I first came to Blair, which was many years ago, I have seen a significant shift in that Blair is now a much more competitive place, and it’s much harder to get into. Moreover, students are more motivated, and the school is significantly larger. I have mixed feelings about how the school has grown in size, as when I first started working here, there were around 350 students, and now the community has grown to 469. It was much easier to know everyone and stay connected with the students, and their lives. Additionally, in the last 5-7 years students are far more anxious about their success, which makes me sad sometimes because students need to appreciate their strengths and weaknesses. This is why we created mandatory classes such as Freshman Seminar and LEADs programs. It helps our student to be creative and self-aware through keeping a healthy mindset.”
Dr. Miller: “Today’s students seem to be more academically-focused and anxiety-ridden, inordinately worried about college acceptance and careers down the road. Is this a cultural shift led by the 24-hour news cycle and wired lifestyle? In any case, college counseling is infinitely more developed and responsive these days. The empowerment of women on this campus and in society, in general, has been transformative. In my earlier years, there was a somewhat “rough and tough” atmosphere, for good and bad. Call it a “blue collar” environment. Things changed.”
SP: How has the revolution of technology impacted the learning of Blair Academy students? Do you see a drastic shift in the way we learn and process information?
Mr. Brandwood: “I think there’s been a change in the way students learn and process information in the last 25 years. While students might not have the same endurance for sustained reading assignments, for example, as was the case decades ago, I do think they are more adept at reading and interpreting visual texts and clues. I also think that technology has made the learning process much more efficient.”
Dr. Miller: “I find it difficult to evaluate the consequences of the tech revolution at Blair. We are all plugged into a vast amount of information and have the ability to communicate exponentially faster than in the past. Have we improved the quality of our moral reasoning, intellectual, or contemplative life? Not sure.”
Mrs. Conforti: “The first thing that comes to mind is that I remember when I was a housemaster doing dorm duty, there were only three payphones, so you can only imagine the line in the hallway every night. I would see people getting in physical fights over who was on the phone too long with their girlfriend from back home. Everybody knew everybody’s business because the call projected throughout the whole hallway. A lot of people didn’t get along in that ‘phone age,’ but, to an extent, everyone having too much access to personal phones nowadays can be a great threat to building a sense of Blair community. If I am always connected to my phones and to my friends from home or my life from home I may run the risk of not being invested or involved at Blair. Regarding learning, students read differently now; we have access to websites and graphics. It’s a very different approach to classes and learning in terms of the many resources available.”
SP: How have the core values of Blair still stayed the same in the past century, even though modern society has evolved?
Mr. Brandwood: “In my initial interviews at Blair, I remember being struck by just how nice and friendly everyone was. Surely, they were putting on their best faces; however, it rapidly became clear that it wasn’t simply a show. People really were kind, friendly, interested, and generous. I firmly believe that this is a core value that has persisted despite societal changes over the years.”
Dr. Miller: “I’d like to think the way students and teachers interact hasn’t changed all that much over the years. Obviously, the campus has expanded enormously. Academic buildings, dorms, new fields, etc., are constructed with startling regularity. But at the heart of the school, you can find meaningful conversations and close relationships in the classroom, on the playing fields and in the dormitories. Such interaction took place on a Blair campus without frills and continue to today.”
Mrs. Conforti: “The core values of Blair have stayed the same throughout my whole experience at Blair, and that is what I think personally has kept some of the strong veteran faculty working. The belief that every student that comes to Blair will be offered the help from faculty to better themselves as an individual not only academically but socially as well. Furthermore, the value of not accepting the same type of kid and having different cultural, economic and social backgrounds and diversity throughout the community. You don’t have to be super smart to come here, but you need to have the drive to better yourself. The other thing that has not changed is that we push our faculty to get to know their students as individuals. Also having a relationship where you can hash out your philosophical beliefs or ideas in general.”
Through hearing the responses from Dr. Miller, Mrs. Conforti, and Mr. Brandwood about the changes in the Blair community throughout the past 30 years, it is clear that Blair has modernized with the evolution of society while still keeping the core values that established the school many years ago. Furthermore, Blair has not only grown in size, but holds a much more diverse student body filled with different cultural and economic backgrounds. Moreover, Blair has become a more competitive school with more motivated students, compared to 30 years ago.
(Copyright 2018 Sophia Papadopoulo)