CA celebrates the Year of the Dragon

February 15, 2024

Did you happen to notice the beautiful red lanterns adorning campus at drop-off this morning? Today, our Asian American and Pacific Islander Affinity Group—with a big assist from an incredible group of parent volunteers—helped our campus properly celebrate Lunar New Year. At lunch, our community was treated to a delicious spread of Chinese cuisine and hands-on exploration into the art of Chinese paper cutting and calligraphy. Finally, we officially rang in the Year of the Dragon with, what else, a traditional Dragon Dance. Many thanks to everyone who decorated, served, taught, organized, and danced during today’s phenomenal festivities. Happy Lunar New Year, Chargers!

Written by Jack Swingle, Digital Media Specialist

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A Taste of the Arts

October 5, 2023

You’ve seen the emails. Maybe you’ve purchased tickets for a show. Perhaps you’ve visited the silent auction and checked out the raffle item. But what is A Taste of the Arts?

Our fall community-building events have one primary goal: to foster a sense of connection amongst our families, students, employees, and community partners. That might be created through a reception, or a community game night, or perhaps, as it is this year, through an arts showcase (or should I say extravaganza?).

When we first began brainstorming a dinner theater, our eyes immediately became bigger than our stomachs (pun intended!). We quickly realized we couldn’t stop with a stage performance. There were too many other artistic talents in our midst! What about our pianists? Our string students, dancers, visual artists, and our behind-the-scenes arts technicians?

More than a mere taste, we quickly found ourselves looking at a Thanksgiving Feast of the Arts—an endeavor both exhilarating and daunting.

However, thanks to the remarkable creative vision of Glen Matthews and his team, we found ways to bring this vision to life. Weaving together the incredible talents of our students, the generosity of our parents and our alumni, and the extraordinary effort of employees, the Taste of the Arts is a 4-night showstopping showcase. More than that, however, it is a testament to our amazing community—to our many talents, the strength of our connection to each other, and to CA’s mission.

Imagine it. Walking up, you are greeted with a giant Charger puppet. Yes, you read that correctly: a puppet. Too tall to bring inside, it dances across the Quad welcoming you, up the red carpet, to a magical evening.

When you enter Berger Hall, your eyes need time to adjust. Do you direct your attention to the walls adorned with original pieces of work created by our students? Or to the baskets up for auction, created with time and love by groups of parents from each grade? Perhaps, instead, you check in, chatting with friends, as music floats around you (possibly even played by a group of talented young people).

While you wait for your party to arrive, you peruse the auction table and look over the details of our featured raffle. A $20,000 trip to France? Your mind whirls at the possibilities. Yes, please!

As you picture yourself in Paris, maybe you wander towards the balcony. What’s that? Scarf dancers? Yes! It is. Performing before dinner on Friday and Saturday, these performers stretch your imagination as they glide through the space below.

Bringing you back to reality, a student donned in a Taste of the Arts t-shirt—perhaps one of our many performers or theater technicians (be sure to ask!)—shares news that the doors have opened. It is time for dinner.

You make your way down the steps of the theater to your seat. But wait! You aren’t sitting in the audience, are you? No. You go up to the stage where tables are set up all around…another stage? Yes. Another one! Built on top of this one.

Settling into your seat, you take in the view, noticing the flowers (ahem…handmade by our students). You greet your tablemates. Perhaps you’re next to a parent who helped with costumes. You might have

an alum, who has returned to campus after missing out on art performances during the pandemic. Or maybe you brought a full table of guests to support someone, on stage or behind the scenes.

Returning from the buffet, you notice your placemat, featuring the names and logos of so many businesses who have helped make this performance possible. (Don’t worry—it’s okay if you spill on your friends’ business logo! We have new placemats for each night.)

After dinner and dessert, as our talented pianists play, you find yourself relaxing. The lights dim and figures appear on the stage. As the lights come up, you pause. The faces you see – why, it’s the same faces of those who helped you to your seat and bussed your table! How did they get up there so fast? As soon as they start to sing, you are immediately lost in the show.

At the end of the night, you’ll go home full—not just from the delicious food, but from the creativity and talents of this community. You’ll overflow with appreciation, not only for the magic of the final event, but for the months of creativity, collaboration, and innovation that took to bring it to fruition—for a truly mission-driven, beautiful taste of all the arts here at Cary Academy.

So, I must express my deep appreciation to everyone in this community who gave of themselves and pulled together to make this magical event happen.

(Bummed you missed out on an incredible evening? You still have a chance! Limited first-come, first-served tickets are still available for our Friday performance.)

Written by Ali Page, Director of Development

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There’s a Crackle in the Air

October 13, 2022

What does one do in the lobby?

Sixteen 6th graders and I found ourselves pondering this question recently. We were about to embark upon a tour of “The Playground”—the theater facility within Berger Hall—as part of a five-class rotation of the Arts Minors program. Seated on the lobby floor, my new friends rattled off responses:

Wait. Gather with friends. Study. Purchase a ticket. Read the program. Collaborate. Rehearse. Have refreshments. Enjoy intermission. View art. Celebrate.

They were right. On any given day, the lobby of Berger Hall serves these and many other functions.

I shared with the students one of my favorite things about this special space: the windows. Now, this may have something to do with the fact that I spend a large portion of my day at CA in an intentionally windowless world. Storytelling in the theater is dependent upon our ability to control light and, ultimately, what an audience sees and doesn’t see. But that’s not the real reason. I love looking through the glass of the lobby and seeing the upper school on one side and the Middle School on the other. I’m reminded that Berger Hall is a bridge between the two schools, and the Arts at CA provide each of us with the opportunity to connect.

As a faculty member entering his 25th year of teaching at CA and as the new chair of the Arts department, I can attest to the effectiveness of this beautiful bridge and its impact on students. One need only peek into the studios, practice rooms, and brave spaces around campus to witness its power—devoted faculty and curious young people engaging, questioning, risking all, shedding inhibitions, and revealing their authentic selves.

The energy is palpable, and this year, you can feel it crackle even more than usual. Why?

New Faculty

  • We’ve welcomed four passionate artist-educators into our vibrant Arts family: Alexa Velez (MS Dance), Dee Elmore (MS Digital Arts), Kirsten Thompson (Tech Assistant), and Ty Van de Zande (MS Digital Arts).

New Program Offerings

  • After a brief pause, dance has returned to the Middle School, and we’re excited to see the discipline eventually grow to include upper school opportunities.
  • Additionally, we’ve introduced Digital Arts as an Arts Major option for 7th and 8th grades, while also creating a 7th grade section of Video Production.
  • In the Upper School, imaginative electives and independent studies continue to grow out of student interest and conversations with faculty. In fact, the Design Lab on the lower level of Berger Hall—currently home for the Teamship portion of our 9th grade Art & Design experience—is being reconfigured to house new technology for the 3D Game Design class!

Live Performances Return

  • While we were able to offer limited live performance opportunities for our students and the community last spring, we’re thrilled to return to a full concert/performance season this year. It all kicks off with Something Wicked, an immersive and interactive haunted theater experience featuring students in grades 6 through 12.
  • Performances will be offered Thursday, 10/27 through Saturday, 10/29 just in time for Halloween. Look for ticket information in next week’s CA Weekly!

Gradeless Framework Pilot

Under the thoughtful guidance of CA’s Dean of Faculty Martina Greene, the Arts department has made a
commitment to pilot a new gradeless framework for all Arts classes, emphasizing the importance of the following departmental beliefs:

  • Art making is essential to student learning and growth.
  • Our studios and classrooms are brave spaces where students discover techniques and skills to create original, exciting, and impactful works.
  • It’s in these spaces that the process of creating encourages play, curiosity, experimentation and risk-taking.

Moving forward, students will receive either a Pass or Fail at the end of marking periods. In addition to the P/F, teachers will provide students with feedback specific to their skill development and progress toward curricular goals.

Assignments will continue to be recorded in Blackbaud, and teacher feedback will address two areas: submission status and student progress.

  • Submission Status. Students submitting work on time receive a “1.” When work is not turned in, the student receives a “0.” Students will be encouraged to work with their teachers to resolve any missing assignments. As a department guideline, students will need to resolve all “0’s” by the end of the marking period to receive a Pass.
  • Student Progress. A rubric will be attached to the assignment. Students and parents will be able to access the rubric in the gradebook for individual feedback on assignment objectives, skills, etc.

As you access the gradebook in Blackbaud throughout the year, please remember that any numerical points and percentages seen (e.g., 1/1 100% or 0/1 0%) indicate submission status only. Notations of M or L for missing or late work may also appear. Teachers will communicate discipline-specific information as necessary, and students and parents are encouraged to reach out with questions or concerns.

No wonder there’s a crackle in the air! I hope you feel it the next time you enter Berger Hall, and I invite you to find your own way to contribute to its intensification. When you do visit, look for me in the lobby. I’ll be there looking for an opportunity to connect and dreaming of the next big adventure.

Written by Glen Matthews, Theater Teacher and Art Department Chair

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Never by the Numbers

The cast of The Theory of Relativity


Meet the Company of ‘The Theory of Relativity’

February 25, 2021

The cast and crew of this year’s Upper School extracurricular theater production have been in rehearsals for just over a month and are looking forward to sharing a new musical theater piece with the CA community.

The Theory of Relativity by Drama Desk Award nominees Neil Bartram and Brian Hill is a song cycle inspired by the life experiences of college students and created with young performers in mind.  Through songs and monologues, the characters experience “the joys and heartbreaks, the liaisons and losses, the inevitability and wonder of human connection.” [mitshows.com]

While there will be no live performances, the company will be recording the production over a series of Flex Days in April. Tickets to view the completed production online will go on sale at the end of April.

The sixteen-member cast includes Alex Lim ‘22, Arielle Curtis ‘21, Brandon Yi ‘21, Chioma Modilim ‘22, Claire Ferris ‘21, Clay Thornton ‘21, Eden Rosenbaum ‘21, Hannah Gordon ‘21, Jordan Miller ‘22, Kathryn Chao ‘21, Koen Chao ‘23, Kyle Murphy ‘21, Mickey Lewis ‘23, Samantha Hoffman ‘21, Sara Martin ‘21, and Vibhav Nandagiri ‘21.

Christina Polge ‘22, Frances Smyth ‘24, and Riley Moore ‘23 are Stage Managers. The Tech/Production crew includes Abby Smetana ‘23, Bella Huang ’24, Claire Moorhead ‘24, Hanorah Alapati ’24, Jay Sihm ‘23, Kendyl George ‘22, Laila Taylor ‘24, Nathan Rudy ‘23, Nikhil Jagannath ‘23, Renn Guard ‘22, Samantha Dorfman ‘23, and Vikram Kommareddi ‘23.

The orchestra features Gwynn Nowell ‘21, Joshua Kendall ‘23, Marvin Koonce ‘21, Oliver Wang ‘22, Phoebe Ellison ‘21, William Coley ‘22, and Xavier deSouza ’21.

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


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Aaron Harrington

Alumni Spotlight

Role of a lifetime

February 10, 2021

One of Broadway’s rising stars, Aaron Harrington ‘10 has accomplished in just a few short years what some actors might not in a lifetime. Now, having landed two major leading roles, one alongside a Grammy-nominated cast, Harrington eagerly awaits a return to the stage in a post-COVID world. He’s impassioned and ready to take on another big role—as an influencer activist on a quest to transform the industry he loves.

Taking the leap

Humble, grateful, and quick to count his blessings, Harrington is the first to admit that his creative and meteoric trajectory is perhaps not the norm—a far-cry, even, from the trope of the long-suffering artist.

Graduating from Shaw University in 2015 with a degree in mass communications, Harrington initially pushed aside early dreams of a career in performing. He planned, instead, to parlay his love of music and theater into a marketing career in the entertainment industry. Like so many artists, he set his sights on New York City—ostensibly to pursue a job with a large public relations firm.

It was a daunting transition—a major leap of faith—made possible by his mother and uncle, who, unbeknownst to him, purchased and presented him with a one-way ticket to the city.

“They conspired to push me to follow my dreams,” he reflects in hindsight, and you can hear the smile in his voice. “They knew that there was nothing left for me in Durham.”
Their bold strategy would coincide with the PR job falling through—happily, in retrospect—on his arrival to New York. And then, serendipity: a friend—a choreographer with whom he had worked on a community theater production of RENT in Raleigh his senior year—forwarded the call for auditions for the national tour. Harrington leaped
at the chance.

Familiar with the role, Harrington “showed up to the audition with nothing but my voice. I later found out was probably the craziest thing I could have done—to go to a New York audition unprepared.”

It was a huge risk—and one that paid off.

Mere months after arriving in New York, Harrington landed his first professional gig—bringing his signature baritone to the role of Tom Collins in the yearlong National 20th Anniversary Tour of RENT. RENT­—A Tony-award-winning modern-day retelling of La Bohème­—follows a group of young artists as they pursue their dreams against the backdrop of the HIV/AIDS epidemic.

RENT was my first big role, and I still get a lot of grief for it. I consider myself very, very blessed—not a lot of people can book something big within their first year of moving to New York City,” reflects Harrington. “I still to this day can’t believe it happened, but it did.”

Finding the spark

In truth, Harrington’s foray into musical theater is a relatively new pursuit in a longer creative journey, a return to a passion first ignited at CA that had long been pushed to the back burner.

Harrington, who grew up in Durham, transferred to CA in ninth grade from Durham Nativity School, a smaller independent school. He credits navigating CA’s larger, tight-knit community with the support of his fellow students and teachers with instilling in him a strong sense of confidence that empowered him to pursue his interests. He threw himself into the community, playing in both traditional band and jazz band and singing in chorus. An athlete, he wrestled and threw shot put for track and field.

“Cary Academy was able to take this really full of life kid and embrace him,” recalls Harrington. “I transferred into this community of kids that had been together since Middle School, but they welcomed me. It is an experience that I cherish.” He is still friends with many of his former classmates, many of whom were in the audience when RENT landed at the Durham Performing Arts Center in 2016.

At CA, Harrington got his first introduction to musical theater, albeit an initially reluctant one. “We did a production of Les Misérables in chorus. And, if I am being honest, I had no interest in doing it,” he reflects with a laugh. “But it was for a grade, so of course I did. After the production, I thought ‘that was actually really cool.’”

A trip to see Wicked at the Durham Performing Arts Center courtesy of then-Head of Upper School Mitch McGuigan would seal the deal: “Just watching the magic unfold on that stage—it was another spark.”

On graduation, Harrington headed to Shaw University, nursing a dream to be a backup singer and primed to pursue a degree in music. It was an important decision in his life.
“The dynamic at Cary Academy, a predominantly white institution, versus Shaw a historically black university—they were completely different,” offers Harrington. “It was nice to have that balance; it kept me grounded. I learned a lot at Cary Academy, and I went on to learn more at Shaw, not only academics, but culturally. At Shaw, I was diving back into some of the things that I was familiar with, had grown up with.”

Ultimately, a change in major his senior year would prove fortuitous, opening room in his schedule to return to musical theater. Over the next two years, he sought out opportunities in community musical theater, including Raleigh’s Theatre in the Park’s annual musical A Christmas Carol that played at DPAC and Raleigh’s Progress Energy Center, and a foreshadowing production of RENT with the North Raleigh Arts and Creative Theatre.

In that work, he discovered a true passion­—a spark of interest fanned into full flame.

“Music had always been my outlet, but to combine singing and acting, to have fun on stage, to dress up and be able to look through the lens of someone else and get that story for trade—there is nothing like it.”

Just do it

Harrington, who has debilitating stage fright, credits his willingness to take risks, be vulnerable, and lean into fear as the secrets to his success. The urgency of the pandemic has only served to deepen his resolve to pursue his dreams fearlessly.

“It sounds cliché, I know,” offers Harrington. “But life is short and unpredictable. COVID has shown us that anything can happen—life can go any kind of way with little warning. So, if you have a dream, embrace it fully—embrace the fear, the excitement, the anxiety. Take the leap, follow your passion—just do it.”

The lessons of mortality that the pandemic has cruelly taught for so many are those that Harrington himself learned early, with the death of his father when he was a senior in college. It was a dark, but transformative time.

“My father’s death pushed me to stop taking things so easily, to stop just riding the wave. It made me put myself out there instead,” offers Harrington. “That is what I’m currently doing. No matter how scared I am, I just go for it. My dad always wanted his kids to be great—so I’m always trying to make my dad proud, make my family proud.”

That fearless attitude was instrumental in helping him to land his second big role—as Audrey II in the off-Broadway production of Little Shop of Horrors—in early March of 2020. “I found out I booked it March 1, we rehearsed for two weeks, and then, then the world shut down.”

“At first, we thought we’d be back in three months—and that kept me going,” says Harrington. “But then, before you know it, we are hitting a year of life in this pandemic. Thankfully, our producers are committed; they’ve let us know that everyone aims to get the production back up and running. Knowing that in the back of my mind, it makes my future look just as bright as before—and it gives me hope that we will come back stronger.”

Actor to activist

For Harrington—who has discovered an activist calling during his pandemic-forced downtime—“coming back stronger” also means a broader, more meaningful embrace of the work of diversity, equity, and inclusivity.

Growing up listening to artists like Billie Holiday and Nina Simone, who figured prominently in the civil rights movement, Harrington has always appreciated the powerful connection between music and activism. However, it wasn’t until recently that he felt called to join their ranks and use his craft in the service of anti-racism.

“I’ve always thought my existence in this country, by itself, is activism,” reflects Harrington. “But the deaths of Botham Jean, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, and so many others—the repeated injustices and the lack of support and accountability from those who are held so highly, those that have so much influence and power—it broke me. It really got me going, pushed me forward. I felt called to speak up and speak my mind and to match that with action.”

Harrington’s call to action coincides with a larger, welcome awakening across the entertainment industry. “It’s been great to watch as talent agencies, directors, and production companies begin to ask the right questions—to ask what we need to do to make our industry more inclusive, more anti-racist, more open to diverse voices and experiences.”

For his part, Harrington is committed to partnering with other artists to use his platform and visibility as an influencer to identify issues and potential solutions and to holding the industry, and himself, accountable to promises of positive change.

“When Broadway comes back, things still won’t be where they need to be. I want to be one of the voices that say, ‘this is what needs to be fixed, and you don’t know that it needs to be fixed because you’ve never acknowledged that it was broken.’ It is going to be a long process, but it has to start somewhere, and I’m ready to fight tooth and nail for it.”

For Harrington, much of that work turns on representation, ensuring that everyone has the opportunity not only to share the stage but see themselves and their experiences in the work.

“Representation matters,” offers Harrington. “Lots of shows have been on the right track in terms of casting actors of color, but there is a really big difference between casting from the BIPOC community for a BIPOC show versus casting BIPOC actors for a predominantly white show. And it isn’t just about race; as an advocate and ally for the LGBTQIA+ community, I want to see better representation for the trans community, for the gay community—they also need to be properly represented.”

As for what comes next for Harrington, the future is uncertain but bright. With signs that the pandemic might be waning, he’s looking forward to reuniting with his castmates—recently nominated for a 2021 Grammy award for best cast album (Harrington sadly joined the production too late to lend his voice to the album)—and to bringing Audrey II to life on the Little Shop of Horrors stage.

Beyond that, he’s energized by the prospect of bringing new, transformative productions to the stage and by opportunities to leave his mark on the roles ahead. He’s particularly keen to originate characters that embody authentic, diverse experiences and whose stories are groundbreaking and help to broaden perspectives and spark positive change—just as RENT did when it first premiered over 25 years ago.

“There’s nothing like originating a role, to being the first person to take it to the stage,” reflects Harrington. “The actors that come after you, you know, they give their input, but they will always know that Aaron Harrington did this role first, this is how he did it, these were the choices he made, this was his vision. And that’s pretty cool.”

Written by Mandy Dailey, Director of Communications

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Stats and Storytelling

February 10, 2021

Some of the newest, most eye-catching student art at CA isn’t in Berger Hall; it’s in a math classroom (no, that’s not a typo).

The windows of classroom 128 in the Center for Math and Science—the last classroom in the math wing—are lined with transparent vinyl “stained-glass” suncatchers. When struck by sunlight, colorful railroad cars, peacocks, butterflies, lightning bolts, food pyramids, and abstract hearts throw their colors around the room to magical effect.
Make no mistake—these aren’t just eye- (and sun-) catching artwork. Produced by Upper School Statculus students, they are the latest student-generated data visualizations to grace the Center for Math and Science—every element a deliberate choice to draw the viewer in, to convey a compelling story behind the numbers.

Led by Upper School math department chair Craig Lazarski, Upper School math teacher Kristi Ramey, and art and design teacher Cayce Lee, Statculus offers a deep dive into the connection between calculus and statistics, with a hefty dose of visual arts mixed in. In class, students engage with real-world data to conduct sophisticated analysis, tease out important conclusions, and depict them in compelling and beautiful visualizations.

Those beautiful suncatchers? They reflect student learning in sampling methodologies and complex data analysis. Each represents an opinion data set collected from peers and faculty and parsed using analytical tools that students learned from class. In an array of carefully calculated designs, they offer insights into our community’s preferences—from favorite colors to superhero movies, Hogwarts’ houses sorting to family relationships, sleep habits to dietary choices, and more.

“Your first impression may not be that these are numbers that you’re looking at, but once you think about what you’re seeing, it becomes what Kristi calls a ‘gut-punch’; it communicates something important in a powerful way,” says Lazarski.

Point of Origin

And that, of course, is precisely the point. The ability to work with, interrogate, and powerfully communicate data is particularly timely in a world awash in statistical claims.
“The misunderstanding that people can ‘lie’ with statistics is one of the key reasons everyone should take statistics,” offers Ramey. “It’s not that the statistics are lying; it’s that you don’t know how to interpret the data or that the data is being visually misrepresented.”

Created by Ramey and Lazarski as the product of a 2018 Curriculum Innovation Grant, Statculus was conceived to expand CA’s statistics offerings to better meet the needs of our academically diverse student body.

“We had a wide spectrum of skill levels in a single statistics class—from students who were taking collegiate-level Calculus 3 to those who had recently completed Algebra 2,” explains Lazarski. “Rather than repeat material for students who had already taken calculus and try to bring students who hadn’t up to speed, we decided to offer a more specialized statistics for those students already versed in calculus.”

The result—Statculus—is something akin to a graduate-level statistics course, uniquely tailored to their students’ skills. (It doesn’t hurt that both Ramey and Lazarski are currently pursuing graduate degrees in statistics at NC State University and regularly incorporate material they encounter into their classes).

However, they are quick to point out that mathematics is only one part of the statistics puzzle; communication of the data is equally important. “Statistics is all about communicating. It’s what distinguishes statistics from its calculus lineage,” explains Ramey.

Getting an eye for visual learning

That’s why, in recent years, Statculus has evolved to include a significant and crucial data visualization component, courtesy of a collaboration with Upper School art and design teacher Cayce Lee, and facilitated by yet another professional development opportunity—this one from the North Carolina Museum of Art (NCMA).

The NCMA’s Fellowship for Collaborative Teaching pairs educators from various fields of study who are committed to using art to engage students in new ideas and deepen their problem-solving and critical thinking skills. On hearing of the opportunity, Lee immediately thought of partnering with Ramey, who had long expressed an interest in combining art and math in the classroom.

Selected for the fellowship, in the summer of 2019, Lee and Ramey joined ten fellow educators from across the state in a series of intensive seminars and workshops to design curricula that combined art with other disciplines in meaningful and engaging ways. As the first math-focused pair selected for the fellowship, Lee and Ramey broke new ground for the NCMA program, then in its fourth year, according to Jill Taylor, Director of School and Teacher Programs at NCMA.


For both, it was an eye-opening and fruitful experience, one that underscored not only the vital role of data visualization in statistics, but the importance of visual arts—of color and composition and narrative—in data visualization.

“With artful data visualization, statistics can achieve an emotional response from the audience,” offers Ramey. “Data visualization allows us to provide a point of view along with communicating data. Instead of ‘here’s a pie chart,’ it’s ‘oh my gosh, that was really impactful, and I now see it differently.’”

Clarity of vision

With the COVID-19 pandemic disrupting students’ opportunities to work together in large groups, Lazarski, Lee, and Ramey had to rethink the scope, scale, and purpose of this year’s Statculus data visualization project.

“Last year, we focused on developing students’ communication skills, and their grade was mostly derived from their presentations. Virtual and hybrid learning made that next to impossible, so this year, we leveraged a partner art project to provide that opportunity for them,” says Lazarski.

As the suncatcher project was conceived, students were granted control over the data they would collect and analyze, as well as the designs that their suncatcher would use to visualize their results. Students collected and analyzed the data outside of class and then used weekly Flex Days to collaborate and develop their data-driven artwork.

To prepare, Lee introduced students to artworks that incorporated data in thought-provoking ways, such as Timo Aho and Pekka Niittyvirta’s light-painted series on sea-level rise, Mike Knuepfel’s sculptural interpretation of keyboard letter usage, and Blake Fall-Conrony’s Minimum Wage Machine, which provides a tangible sense of how much work is required to earn so little.

It had an impact.

“Usually, when we ask students to take data and do something more with it, what results is a bigger bar graph,” smiles Lazarski. “But our students, inspired by what Cayce had shared, really ran with the suncatcher project. They put careful consideration into the questions they would ask and the best way to produce them as impactful visuals.”

“I have always thought that math is beautiful, but I was excited to present it beautifully!” reflects Shannon Jenkins ’21. “I think my favorite part of the project may have been measuring out the angles that my partner, Sanjana Chillarege, and I used. We had to constantly adapt our methods to make sure that our proportions were accurate.”

“When we first were assigned the project, I was a little overwhelmed—I had no idea how to approach it,” says Samantha Lattanze ’21. “Working through the project step-by-step helped me enjoy the process and provided me with a new lens on math.”

For the teachers, too, it was a rewarding experience. “It’s been fantastic to see students in a different context than the art studio,” offers Lee. “Getting to revisit a key lesson I teach during the ninth-grade art and design class—that visual communication is the most universal form of communication—with real-world applications is particularly rewarding.”

Beyond the classroom

And it is perhaps that real-world application that best prepares Statculus students for what comes next—helping them to better grasp the material by getting truly-hands on, encouraging them to delve into areas of knowledge that they might not have sought to explore, all while honing communications skills that will serve them long after their time at CA.

“Almost every field is about collecting information and analyzing it in today’s world,” says Ramey. “Either you’ll have to interpret data analytics or interpret data yourself. Those communication skills are key in a world increasingly driven by data analysis.”

Lazarski agrees, “Every year, I get emails from young alumni who say, ‘I’m so glad that I took statistics at CA; I use it so much in college, and I wouldn’t have gotten so far without taking it in high school.’”

Across campus, CA students are taking note of the increased visibility of statistics thanks to the installation of Statculus students’ data visualization pieces. “Students in other classes have been intrigued by the suncatchers,” says Lazarski.

“After taking part in the surveys, they have been fascinated by how the results were presented and the notion that meaningful data could be visualized in a non-traditional way. And that you can have fun and make an impact in the process.”

Data Art

This year’s sun catcher project is not the first data visualization project to adorn the Center for Math and Science. Through Lee and Ramey’s NCMA fellowship, last year’s Statculus students were invited to visit the North Carolina Museum of Art and leverage the museum’s collection as data points for a data visualization project.


Breaking into teams, students analyzed the museum’s vast collections based on artists’ gender, nationality, media used, and composition. With data sets in hand, and in consultation with RTI researcher and data visualization expert Simon King via Zoom (before it was the cornerstone of meetings in 2020), students worked with Lazarski, Lee, and Ramey to design an art installation that would shed light on the strengths and shortcomings of the museum’s holdings while engaging viewers to learn more.

Inspired by Florence Nightingale’s pioneering data visualization work, Diagrams of the Causes of Mortality, which used a coxcomb—a more sophisticated form of a pie chart in which the slices are subdivided and vary in radius in proportion to the data set—and utilizing the cutting-edge tools of the CMS Makerspace and know-how of design, programming, and robotics teacher Betsy MacDonald, the students created three-dimensional coxcomb spheres that are suspended in the Center for Math and Science’s atrium lobby.

Each sphere—crafted from a Wiffle ball, wedges of plexiglass, and transparent vinyl appliques—is mounted on spindles that allow them to rotate. Putting the data in motion seeks to engage viewers, allowing them to see the relationships between the complex layers of data in greater detail.

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


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Upper School ceramics students

CA Curious

Essential Arts

October 8, 2020

Curious about how the Arts at CA are adjusting to this most unusual time?  Read on…

Back in the summer, when it became clear that the new school year would be anything but usual, we were asked to rethink our core curricula and focus on the “essential.”  We had already made a great pivot back in the spring as we went entirely virtual. So, when it became clear we needed to prepare for the possibility of more virtual, and eventual Blue and Gold and even Purple cohorts, the arts faculty began planning. There were so many unknowns, how could we adequately adjust? 

Fortunately, over the past few years, we’ve been actively engaged in curriculum renewal, consistently examining our offerings and practices to ensure our courses are relevant, engaging, and inspiring.  This longstanding work has left us well-prepared for the challenges that face us now.

First, we re-examined our Arts philosophy and reaffirmed these guiding principles that have sustained us in the past:

The Arts at CA foster a diverse community of creative, empathetic students who embrace their unique passions and talents to make purposeful impact.

We believe that:

  • Studios are safe spaces for students to discover techniques and skills to create original, exciting, inspiring, and relevant works
  • Students will thrive in an atmosphere that is collaborative and inclusive and supportive of their journey in discovering their artistic voices
  • The artistic process encourages play, curiosity, experimentation, and risk-taking
  • Art making is essential to our humanity

Then, using design thinking, each faculty member worked diligently to understand how these guiding ideas would translate into concrete initiatives in the new year. We knew we must continue to develop creative confidence, rebuild and foster community by supporting ensembles and collaborative teams, and flex to support all our students as they pursued their journeys. 

First and foremost, we wanted to ensure that our studios are safe. To that end, visual arts and other teachers assembled packets of materials that students could take home so that they each had the tools necessary for success. Music students were supplied with digital tools for easy access to sheet music and the learning of music theory. We rearranged classrooms to ensure social distancing. Teachers were provided webcams, ring lights, audio interfaces, and other devices so that virtual classes would be professional and effective.

We encouraged students to design their own at-home studios and rehearsal spaces. Teachers developed units that allowed students to explore and experiment with materials and processes. We still want students to play and collaborate, although the notion of risk-taking has taken on an entirely new set of precautions. 

Art-making remains essential in these new and challenging times and CA has provided a wide array of materials and resources, and our students are resilient and engaged, as always.  Many exciting things are happening. After just a few days in the new age of cohorts, what does this look and sound and feel like?

We hear music once again—singing and playing and dancing and laughter.  Pictures are being drawn; paintings are coming to life; ceramics are being fired and glazed.  Virtual objects are being designed for 3-D printers. There’s been a workshop in sword play; video scripts are being imagined and written for future filming.  We’ve turned the stage in Berger Hall into a digital video studio, and we are recording students improvising and playing classical music.

Slowly, but certainly, the joys of creating and performing are coming back to the campus. Is it sometimes weird and challenging?  Yes.  Is it the same as a year ago at this time?  Not at all.  But from what I can tell as a non-casual observer, it’s beginning to look and sound familiar. Students seem relieved and excited to be together.

Is it hard?  Yes. But, teachers are working diligently to get to know each of their students. They are finding their once-familiar rhythms again—as the creative processes that we once took for granted, but were forced to retool or suspend for these many months, finally re-emerge. 

In this disruptive and sometimes upside-down world we find ourselves in, here in the fall, it feels like spring again!

I welcome your questions and comments and suggestions about how the arts are helping to rebuild our community.  You can contact me at michael_hayes@caryacademy.org

My best to all our families and students, with confidence in our collective creative energies,

Michael Hayes
Arts Director

Written by Michael Hayes, Arts Director

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Lester Turner - band

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CA Bands finish out the year on a high note

June 12, 2020

Three CA students not only made the 2020 NC Music Educators Association All State Band and All State Jazz ensembles but earned the top chairs for their instrument in each of the bands.

The outstanding musicians receiving these honors: Marvin Koonce ’21 – Piano for All-State High School Jazz, Abby Li ’22 – 1st Chair Flute for All-State Honors Band, and Luke Ramee ’24 – 1st Chair Trombone for All-State Middle School Jazz. Koonce and Li have applied for the 2020 All-National Ensemble which will happen in Florida during the fall. Li was also awarded a chair placement in the All-State Orchestra ensemble, also set to happen in the fall.

To celebrate their achievements, Director of Bands Lester Turner delivered yard signs to CA’s All State Band members.

In addition, Mr. Turner has shared two tunes the students worked up over final trimester of 2019-20, to brighten our week and hold us over, while we wait for their next concert.  As Mr. Turner explains, “performing for friends and family is a big part of the Band experience and we will have to hold off on that for some time yet.  These videos though will be able to be sent out to the students’ contacts virtually and share a little of what they have been doing.”

Midle School 7th and 8th grade band performing Skygazer by Randall Standridge:

Upper School Wind Ensemble performing Brave Spirit by Randall Standridge:

Both are by Randall Standridge, who has been kind enough to allow his works to be performed freely virtually during the COVID-19 pandemic.

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

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Visual Arts Showcase 2020

Middle School

Middle School visual arts showcase for 2019-2020

June 5, 2020

Traditionally, as the school year comes to a close, works by Middle School arts majors and sixth-grade art students are exhibited in Berger Hall as part of the Middle School Arts Showcase. With the move to virtual learning, CA’s traditional showcase isn’t possible. Thanks to Middle School visual arts teacher Alyssa Armstrong, you can enjoy the work of CA’s talented Middle School artists in our virtual visual arts showcase.

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


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