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CA Curious

Game On!

August 17, 2023

Welcome, everybody, to the 2023-2024 school year.

Don’t get me wrong; I love summer. I love the change of pace in the offices at Cary Academy, and the opportunity for time to both disconnect and reflect, away from the bang-bang pace of the school year. And, while I wish my physiology let me sleep in, I do enjoy the extra cup of coffee and “slower start” to a summer day.

So, while I think summer is great—and I hope that all of you found time for rest and reflection, too—I am thrilled to start the school year and welcome to campus our 789 Chargers.

Yesterday definitely brought the energy. It was great to see so many people reconnecting, swapping stories, and welcoming our 130 new students into the fold. For the past several weeks, our employees have been working together to prepare for this year – and there is always a markedly positive uplift when we welcome the students back to campus. Practice is over. Game on!

Collectively, we are focused this year on strengthening our sense of community as part of the Charger Family. Last year, we were overjoyed to see the tremendous turnout at our joint CA/PTAA community events—parents and students alike. We felt how nice it was to be “getting back to normal” and joining face-to-face in fellowship.

At the same time, we recognize that much has changed – including “normal.” This year we will continue to re-establish what it means to “do school”—as an employee, as a parent, and as a student. During yesterday’s Upper School Convocation, I was pleased to hear these same themes echoed by this year’s student leaders – a sign, if you will, that we are all rowing in the same direction in the desire to make the charger community a source of pride and positive energy.

I look forward to seeing many of you during the first PTAA Coffee of the school year at 9am on Thursday, September 7, on the second floor of the Library (A203). At that time, I will share a bit more about what we are working on this year and how these plans fit into the larger strategic goals of the school.

In the meantime, I would like to take this opportunity to introduce you to two important new members of the Cary Academy team – our Campus Safety Director, Cedric Herring, and Campus Safety Officer, Malika Lucas. Both joined us in the early summer and will be a visible, supportive presence during school days.

Mr. Herring was most recently a police officer at the US Department of Veterans Affairs but has had a varied and distinguished law enforcement career, including as a Sergeant in the NC State Highway Patrol, Deputy Sheriff in the Wake County Sheriff’s Office, and Cary PD Officer. Prior to his police work, Mr. Herring served as a Specialist in the US Army and did a 13-month tour of duty in Kuwait as part of Operation Desert Storm. An avid sports fan, particularly baseball, you can be sure to catch him on CA’s sidelines this year.

Ms. Lucas has served as a Wake County Deputy Sheriff and School Resource Officer in Wake County Public Schools. Outside of police work, Ms. Lucas has served in operational management roles that have given her the problem-solving and public-facing skills needed to be successful at Cary Academy.

Students will see both Mr. Herring and Ms. Lucas throughout the school day, interacting in the hallways and across the campus. The security office remains in the lobby of the CMS building, and our security phone numbers are unchanged (and are posted in our handbooks and on various doors around campus). In the evenings and on weekends, other members of the Cary Academy Office of Campus Safety will be on duty and available to support students, parents, and visitors. All our safety officers will be easily recognizable by their blue shirts and warm smiles.

Please join me in welcoming Mr. Herring and Ms. Lucas, and Game On for 2023-2024!

Written by Dr. Mike Ehrhardt, Head of School

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March 16, 2023

“You can make what you’re passionate about become a reality […] You can always have a role!”

These rousing words, uttered by keynote speaker Dr. Ya Liu, could not have been truer to the Building Bridges Across Communities conference story. The first of its kind in Cary Academy history, the conference brought together Asian-identifying students and faculty from across multiple Triangle schools in a day of fellowship, fun, and future-oriented enthusiasm. 

It all began one year ago after Leya Tseng Jones, Isa Oon, and I returned from the Asian Educators Alliance (AsEA)conference in California. Invigorated and inspired by the work of Asian diaspora educators from across the country, we immediately began plans to bring a similar necessary experience to our community through connections at other local schools. As Leya explained,  “Collaborating and building strong working partnerships with our counterparts at Durham Academy and Ravenscroft was so rewarding; witnessing the initiative, organization, and collaboration of our student leaders with their counterparts was truly inspiring. Each group took the lead on one component of our morning and thoughtfully managed every detail. I couldn’t be more impressed with what they accomplished together over just a few Zoom meetings of face-to-face time.” 

From the beginning, it was clear to this union, known as the Asian American Alliance, that the conference should not only be student-focused, but student-led. Three student leaders and members of the Upper School Asian American Pacific Islander Affinity Group, senior EJ Jo, junior Eric Xie, and junior Angela Zhang, each took a large role in organizing with other student leaders as well as fellow affinity group students. When asked about how close the first vision was to the final result, the answers were positive. 

“Initially, we wanted to invite a keynote and have a few sessions for discussion,” Angela said. “The result was just that; it was very similar to what we originally thought.” Eric added, “Our turnout was great, especially on such short notice, and every participant definitely seemed to want to be there and actively participated in the group activities and asked insightful questions to our keynote speaker, Dr. Liu. Looking back, there’s very little I would change, if anything at all.”

On Wednesday, March 8, Cary Academy students were joined by members of Durham Academy, Ravenscroft, St. Mary’s School, and the Montessori School of Raleigh. First on the agenda was the keynote address by Dr. Ya Liu, highlighting the connection between the personal and the political.

“I didn’t intend to be a leader,” Dr. Liu told the audience after outlining her impressive experience in community organizing. “It’s precisely because of the work I did. You may think, ‘I’m just a middle schooler, I’m just a high schooler, what can I do?’ […] A lot of these experiences will become part of who you are.” Dr. Liu went on to encourage students to seek out resources from beyond their schools and to “find the friends who will support you. Find the teachers who will support you.” 

Following the speaker, all participants were separated into randomized groups to experience a spectrum activity in which members were asked to discuss the intersections of their identity and what effects this had on their relationship with themselves and others. Students then attended one of several student-only workshops while adults exchanged encouragement and visions for the future in a different affinity group. 

“In both discussion sessions, I heard from many students about their experiences with their ethnicity and race,” Angela recalled of the student portion. “Even though I had never met these students before, it seemed that we had experienced the variation of a common struggle: our adolescent urge to be ‘white.’ So it surprised me how isolated everyone felt compared to how everyone was going through the same thing. Therefore, my biggest takeaway is that we were and are never alone.”

On the adult side, Leya observed that “There are so few Asian-identifying faculty/staff in our schools. We – the adults – need to find time to gather, even if virtually, to connect and support each other. Our brief time together was affirming and empowering.” 

When I looked around the Discovery Studio at the fellowship lunch, it was clear that every person present felt fulfilled and connected. In a world where being Asian American can often lead to so much stress and pressure from many sources, the beauty of Asian diasporic joy becomes not only a delight but a necessity. Looking forward, I think I can speak for all of us when I say that we all intend to keep building this reality we’re so passionate about.

Written by Lauren Bullock, Language Arts and World Cultures Teacher

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Curiosity… It’s Not Just for Students

October 25, 2018

Curiosity. We’ve been talking a lot lately about how Cary Academy fuels the natural curiosity of students through personalized learning experiences that are rich in opportunities for discovery, collaboration, and innovation. What you may not know, however, is that we seek to kindle the curiosity of our faculty in much the same way, through personalized professional development experiences that allow teachers to explore, connect and invent. One example of this inquiry-based, learner-driven approach to the professional growth of our faculty is the school’s Mastery Learning Team.

The Mastery Learning Team was launched in August 2017 with an invitation to faculty to consider joining a group of colleagues to investigate alternatives to our current assessment, feedback, grading, and reporting systems. The reference to “mastery learning” certainly piqued our teachers’ curiosity, particularly given the current focus in the education world upon the potential for competency-based learning models and gradeless learning environments to help reduce stress and empower students to own their learning. Twenty-one teachers from both Middle and Upper School volunteered for the team, which meets approximately one afternoon per month.

Curiously (pun intended), team members decided almost immediately that it would be a mistake to dive right into the mastery learning approach as a possible solution for our students without first more fully exploring and defining the learner needs we were hoping to address. This, of course, is a hallmark of open, inquiry-based learning—instead of starting with the answer, we start with a really good question. Or, in the case of the Mastery Learning Team, two really good questions, crafted within a design thinking process:

  1. How might we reshape our practice to make individual learning progress more visible (transparent) to the teacher and the student?
  2. How might we reshape our practice to strengthen student agency and self-efficacy?

So what happened next? After a session of ideation around these two questions, team members divided themselves into three smaller study groups, each with a different action plan. One group decided to conduct more research into student perceptions of choice within and across courses at CA and how this impacts their sense of agency and self-efficacy. Another group chose to investigate and test mastery-oriented software applications that allow teachers to more effectively track and communicate student progress toward specific learning goals without the use of letter grades. The third group went into a prototyping mode, deciding to try to articulate a set of mission-based meta-skills for 6th graders and then to start work on a series of interdisciplinary learning experiences through which students could develop those skills without the pressure of traditional grades.

In the year since the launch of the Mastery Learning Team, each study group has made valuable headway toward its chosen objective, but also, in keeping with another hallmark of open, inquiry-based learning, has found itself uncovering new questions and looking to connect with others to seek answers. This is where the school has stepped back in to support the team, providing time and funding for one cohort to engage in an online course on mastery learning strategies offered by the Global Online Academy, while another cohort will be attending the OESIS fall conference focused on the design and implementation of mastery models. Team members involved in the work of the Mastery Transcript Consortium and the Collaborative for Innovative Education are also enthusiastically sharing their learning around mastery models with the larger group.

The key feature of the Mastery Learning Team is that it was intentionally designed without a prescribed target or result that team members were expected to achieve. Instead, motivation and direction for the team were allowed to emerge from the participants’ natural curiosity, setting the stage for deeper engagement and more durable learning. It is in this way that the professional learning taking place within the Mastery Learning Team mirrors the learning we’re aiming for in our classrooms.

Curiosity. It’s not just for students!

Written by Martina Greene, Dean of Faculty

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