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CA Curious

Beyond the numbers

February 9, 2023

CA’s website proudly proclaims that we “cultivate bold lifelong learners and world changers.” It is a bold statement, for sure, and one that we aim to deliver through our innovative and relentless commitment to the pursuit of discovery, innovation, excellence, and collaboration.  

But what does that look like in practice?  

Perhaps one of the most impactful venues where students are empowered to pursue their interests—often to impressive, change-making results—is our student-led clubs program. A protected part of the Upper and Middle School weekly schedules, clubs are an essential aspect of the student experience, offering a chance to try new things, take risks, pursue passions, share experiences, try on leadership roles, and even create positive change in our local community.  

Don’t take it from me, though.  

I’m going to turn it over to junior Tanya Sachdev, founder of the Students Together Assisting Refugees (STAR) club, to share her club’s origins, goals, and the ways in which our community can come together to support local refugees in our community (spoiler alert: STAR has an informative, engaging and awareness-generating event ahead). 

From Tanya Sachdev, ’24: 

Numbers. We hear them every time we turn on the news. They define our perception of the word “Refugee”: 89.3 million forcibly displaced people, 28 million total refugees in our world (UNHCR). To some, these may just be statistics, but for others, these numbers are their world. The Global Refugee Crisis has become a humanitarian crisis impacting millions of people in our world. Through war, persecution, and natural disasters, the crisis continually expands. 

I learned about the importance of these numbers when I was driving to school in August of 2021. NPR was turned on in the background, sharing about the Afghan Refugee Crisis. As I listened, I was shocked about how little I knew about the word “refugee”. Through researching the Afghan Refugee Crisis, I was perturbed by headlines stating the extent of this crisis. Stories of young children scaling the Hindu Kush mountains or braving the Aegean Sea to escape into freedom headlined my screen. While I was purchasing a new backpack for the school year, thousands of Afghans were packing their backpacks with their most valued possessions for a long journey to find safety; their worlds were changing forever.  

To learn more, I began volunteering at local organizations such as Refugee Hope Partners and CWS Durham. Through tutoring students like “Malia”, a Syrian refugee, or “KK”, a refugee from Botswana, I began to learn their stories and identity beyond the label of “refugee”. I wanted to be able to use my opportunity to give back to the refugee community. As a result, STAR (Students Together Assisting Refugees) Club began in December of 2021. Through Cary Academy’s emphasis on student-led clubs, I was able to create STAR during the middle of the year. With Cary Academy’s support, STAR was able to raise donations, money, and most importantly, awareness. 

After all, STAR began with a sole goal: awareness. Labels such as IDPs, asylum-seekers, and refugees continually pervade news stations with audiences confounded by the differences between the terms. Numbers appear in the form of statistics such as 50% of world refugees are children or nearly 100 million displaced people (UNHCR). The refugee crisis, however, is more than a crisis of numbers and labels. It is a crisis of human suffering. Refugees face unbelievable hardships on their journey to freedom. From being denied basic rights such as education or healthcare to facing violence, abuse, and exploitation, refugees withstand constant adversity. Raising awareness has become a key component to helping local and global refugee organizations.  

One month into the inception of STAR Club at Cary Academy, the Russia-Ukrainian war caused the “fastest growing refugee crisis since World War II” (UNHCR) with nearly 2.9 million refugees fleeing Ukraine. From Syria to Afghanistan to Ukraine, the Global Refugee Crisis remains continuous and unrelenting. As a society, now more than ever, awareness and action have become imperative to support refugees.  

As a result, STAR Club is hosting its first Dinner with a Documentary event on Tuesday, February 28, 2023, from 6 PM-8 PM in the Discovery Studio. The free event will begin by watching “Refugee” by Alexander J Farrell, a true story following a Syrian family separated by the borders of Europe. Their harrowing and emotional journey will be followed by a panel discussion with invited experts. Panelists include representatives from refugee organizations, law students, and even a brief virtual appearance from Congresswoman Ross. The event will be complemented by an authentic Mediterranean dinner spread, complete with desserts and drinks. Be prepared to be moved to tears, to be angry, and for your perception of refugees to be forever changed. 

Please sign up for this unique event as soon as possible- spots are limited. https://www.signupgenius.com/go/8050c4faaa823a75-star#/ 

Written by Mandy Dailey, Director of Communications

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Students make their voices heard during CA’s first-ever Poetry Slam

May 13, 2021

After a four-week study of spoken word, poetry, and rap with artists-in-residence Josh “Rowdy” Rowsey ’09 and Lauren Bullock, seventh-grade students shared their voices at Cary Academy’s first annual Middle School Poetry Slam! Student performances on identity and current social justice issues took place on May 12 in the Cary Academy Fitness Center. Students shared poetry and rap that touched on racial injustice, climate change, recent violence towards Asians, female empowerment, gender identity, and much more! Students blew their audience away with their ability to take risks, lean into discomfort, and voice their most deeply held beliefs, feelings, and passions! After a challenging year of disconnection and isolation, it felt so good to have such a bonding and communal experience! 

This community-building and advocacy-focused event was the culmination of a month-long study of spoken word, poetry, and rap under the tutelage of Rowsey and Bullock. These two guest experts have been working with 7th graders in the Language Arts classroom, coaching them up on the history of spoken word and hip-hop, poetic form and devices, and performance techniques involving voice, body language, and gesture. Based on this guidance, students have been busy writing, revising, and practicing their delivery for weeks! As Josh and Lauren say, “Peace, love, and family!” 

Kevin Joshua Rowsey is a National Recording Artist, Writer, Actor, and Educator based in the North Carolina Triangle Area. “Rowdy” has been featured on BET, NPR, PBS Kids, and has given a TEDX talk on the importance of Hip Hop Culture. Rowsey is a U.S. Hip Hop Ambassador through the U.S. Department of State and the Next Level Hip Hop Program. On stage Rowsey is part of the national collective No9to5 Music and plays with a live Jazz Band (J) Rowdy & The Night Shift which was nominated for a 2017 Carolina Music Award. They’ve been able to share the stage with the likes of Rakim, Busta Rhymes, Ari Lennox, Childish Major, Snow Tha Product, Murs, 2 Chainz, Juicy J, and a plethora of other national recording acts. Currently Rowdy is the founder of two triangle area cyphers – The UNC Cypher (UNC-CH) and the Med City Cypher (Downtown Durham). He also holds the position of Program Director at the Downtown Durham – Afrofuturist Teen Center Blackspace. Through UNC Greensboro’s Masters of Arts in Teaching Program Rowsey continues his mission to spread southern hip hop at a national and international level through performance, writing and educational workshops inspiring the culture through the craft. 

Lauren Bullock is a queer multiracial writer, performer, teaching artist, events organizer, and model. Her work appears on AFROPUNK.com, Button Poetry, The Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center, and more. Lauren earned acclaim for her pop culture commentary through editorials on Black Nerd Problems as well as serving as poetry editor for FreezeRay Poetry. To date, she has organized 7 international and regional arts conferences or festivals, and 5 monthly series. Lauren’s modeling work has also been featured by publications such as Gmaro Magazine and Out-and-Out Magazine. When not creating she enjoys fighting crime as a costumed vigilante of many aliases.

Written by Dan Smith, Digital Content Producer and Social Media Manager

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May 6, 2021

Congratulations to Bella Nesbeth ’22 on being selected as a featured playwright for Burning Coal Theatre Company’s KidsWrite Festival, streaming on stage May 28-29, 2021.

Nesbeth’s one-act play, Queen of the Night tells the story of singer Whitney Houston’s early career.

Later in the summer, Burning Coal will produce a second of Nesbeth’s plays, A Tale of Two Stops, which explores the duality of the American experience, divided along racial lines. Similar events on a single night take very different paths for two families – one Black and one white – in a play inspired by Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities.

Inspired to write the play after seeing Burning Coal’s call for submissions on Twitter, A Tale of Two Stops is Nesbeth’s first serious foray into writing for the stage. “I really enjoy Broadway musicals, but I don’t consider myself a singer or an actress. So, I thought, ‘why don’t I try and write my own play?’” One Tuesday evening, in order to give her sister, Cici some privacy while she prepared for the SAT in their shared bedroom, Bella sat down and wrote the play in a single four-hour session.

“I kept thinking about how, in police brutality cases, people always seem to say, ‘well, if they were white, this wouldn’t have happened.’ So, I wanted to explore the exact same situation, but with characters of two different races,” explains Nesbeth.

Nesbeth is currently working with directors Eric Kildow and Amy Lloyd to adapt A Tale of Two Stops for production. It and other KidsWrite plays written by Triangle area 6th-12th grade students will be presented via streaming, free of charge, on Friday and Saturday, May 28 and 29, 2021 at 7:00pm on Burning Coal’s website.


Written by Dan Smith, Digital Content Producer and Social Media Manager

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Yesterday, WRAL reporter Sarah Kreuger visited Cary Academy’s campus to highlight two student-led community efforts.

Kreuger spoke with Chloe Griffin ’21 and Vibhav Nandagiri ’21 about their ongoing effort to support Triangle area LatinX communities by assembling personal protective equipment (PPE) kits and distribute vaccination information in support of Curamericas Global.

Later, Kreuger sat down with Angelina Chen ’21, Vicki Jin ’21, and Alex Lim ’22 to explore their experience as leaders of CA’s Asian American Affinity Group and the social climate for Asian Americans in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic and increasing violence directed against Asians and Asian Americans.

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The lessons learned by living through history

March 25, 2021

“We’re living through history right now 
with major crises that seem to be happening almost daily.” 
-Christina Polge ’22 

Like so many people across the country and the world, we in the Center for Community Engagement spent much of spring 2020 checking in with one another about how everyone was doing amid pandemic-imposed virtual school and masked grocery shopping.  

Our conversations, like those with many of our students at the time, kept turning to how we were keenly aware of how race and economic status were shaping disparities in how different populations were experiencing the pandemic.  

Over the summer, as the nation continued to reckon with the ongoing effects of its legacy of racial inequity, CA committed to redoubling its diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts and advancing social justice work. So, when the administration asked us to develop an experimental interdisciplinary program for a cohort of students, the questions we had already been grappling with took on new salience: What are the traits of a leader who responds effectively to a crisis, and what are the hallmarks of a successful response to a crisis? And, perhaps most crucially, how do we inspire and instill these traits and skills in our next generation of leaders?! 

After lengthy collaboration and consideration, we arrived at our proposed answer: a new, collaboratively taught, interdisciplinary, cross-grade level experiential curriculum designed to engage students in the complex intersectionalities of race, gender, and class relations in America. We pitched our Leadership During Crisis program to Upper School students, and receiving an enthusiastic response, ultimately formed a cohort of twelve 10th – 12th grade students. 

By any measure, it has been a productive and eye-opening year for all involved.   

We have read, discussed, journaled, and written essays; we have also interacted with past and current climactic events.  

We have visited sites of memory (and amnesia)—battlefields, monuments, and memorials—and an outdoor exhibit of sculptures by North Carolina artists that engage the year’s overlapping crises.  

We have attended live conferences by Zoom, which have enabled us to hear from a range of speakers—from local anti-racism education activists to First Nations singer/songwriter and activist Lyla June to Nobel Laureate and past president of Liberia Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.  

We witnessed the Capitol insurrection live in class and took in the Inauguration at the Capitol a couple weeks later. We discussed the Wilmington Coup of 1898 and Amanda Gorman’s The Hill We Climb to process both events. 

We have found our rhythm, but February 5 was no ordinary Friday for the US Leadership During Crisis cohort; instead of meeting together in person as usual, the students fanned out across campus to Zoom into the NC Association of Independent Schools Diversity & Inclusion Conference as presenters. 

After a brief overview of the program by us teachers, we turned things over to the students.  

Bella Nesbeth ’22 and Christina Polge ’22 discussed what drew them to opt into the program. Christina said: 

“The class and the opportunity could not have come at a more meaningful time for me or for the world. Especially during the pandemic, I think it’s so important that everyone has a good sense of self.  I also wanted to learn how to use my privilege both as a white person and a student at a private school to be able to help others who are struggling more than I am. With the events of the past year– such as Breonna Taylor and George Floyd’s deaths–I wanted to understand how I can be a good ally and community member. We’re living through history right now with major crises that seem to be happening almost daily. So, not only was this program interesting to me, but it’s also timely and extremely relevant.” 

Sydney Ross ’23 and Maris James ’23 laid out how Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Between the World and Me set up important themes which framed our discussions of subsequent literary works and their historical contexts.  

Maris introduced Coates’ complication of the American Dream in which, as she put it, “people live in oblivion from the safety of their own homes which shields them from the cold hard truth that many people must experience every day. And it is in waking up from the Dream and stepping out from behind the picket fence of security that we bring the change that our community, and our country so desperately needs.” And Sydney explained how the class has examined historical and fictional leaders’ motivations through Coates’ lens on people stumbling despite best intentions: “Good intentions is a hall pass through history, a sleeping pill that ensures the Dream.” 

Jenna Pullen ’23 and Bela Chandler ’23 discussed how Toni Morrison’s A Mercy explores the complexity and intersectionality of race, gender, and class relations in America through historical fiction set in 1680s Maryland: “The race relations throughout A Mercy are important because they show the relationships and hierarchy between different races during that period. Regardless of someone’s place in society, other’s perspectives of them based on their race set the first impression, and that is not easily changed.” 

Eli Weinstein ’21 transitioned to the cohort’s examination of leadership, explaining that “societal memory–the stories a group tells about itself–sits at the intersection of history and leadership. This is because leadership is inherently about the future, and in shaping the future a leader must create and use an understanding of history. The tool a leader uses to create that understanding of history is memory. We employ memory every time we look to the past to tell us where we should go. This cohort has seen in every book we’ve read and every historical site we’ve visited, the tremendous consequence of memory.”  

And Jared Seidel ’22 pointed to Ibram Kendi’s How to Be An Anti-Racist as an example of how leaders can reexamine society’s narrative of the past to wake people from what Coates terms the Dream to the legacy which has brought about the present reality. 

Camryn Friedman ’23 and Clay Thornton ’21 shared their plans for the leadership-in-action component of the program—projects the students designed in February and will undertake throughout the spring to address crises that speak to them. 

Lexie Davalos ’23 and Kate Sandreuter ’23 concluded the presentation by detailing how the program has “met and exceeded” their expectations. Kate told the assembled educators that “I assumed the courses would follow a more traditional approach, but I’ve been really pleasantly surprised to have found that the classes’ flexibility to allow lots of space for us to discuss related and relevant topics–including current events–and adjacent themes.”  

Lexie summed up the impact the program has had on her, offering: “Our country is going through massive changes right now, and this program has given me a lot of reasons to want to be a part of it. Now not only do I wish to be a lawyer, but I’ve been able to narrow my focus to immigration, criminal defense, or civil rights. Our hope is that the more our generation can bring awareness to the social, racial, and economic injustices prevalent in our society today, the more change we can produce. The impact this program has had on my life is something I would hope everyone gets a chance to experience.” 

We are so very grateful to these students for joining our adventure with open minds and open hearts. While this has been a trying year for us all, our work together has been sustaining and inspiring. 

Written by Dr. Michael McElreath and Palmer Seeley, Experiential Learning Director and Entrepreneurship Coordinator

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A message of support of our Asian and Asian-American community

March 17, 2021

CA Community,

We awoke this morning to devastating news, the horrific murder of eight individuals, including six Asian and Asian American women in Atlanta. Since the start of the pandemic, anti-racist organizations have noted a staggering increase in violence and harassment against Asians and Asian Americans—some reporting a 150% increase in reported incidents alone. And, of course, we know that number does not include the micro- and macro- aggressions that go unreported on a daily basis.  

Cary Academy condemns these attacks and the racism and misogyny that spurs them in the strongest possible terms. 

Racism against Asian Americans is not new in this country. Centuries of racist sentiment and actions have led us to this moment. Increasingly, fanned by incendiary and racist rhetoric, it spills into our streets and into our daily news feeds, taking a devastating emotional and physical toll.  

To our Asian and Asian American students, families, faculty, and staff—we see you. We grieve with you. We stand with you. And we reaffirm our pledge to fight the racism that plagues our country and community. It will not stand.

— The Leadership Team at Cary Academy

Written by Mandy Dailey, Director of Communications

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