CA Curious

Time Well Spent

October 19, 2023

It is perhaps a (deceptively) simple question: How is your relationship with time?

I mulled over this question after reading a chapter called “Generosity with Time” in Chris Balme’s Finding the Magic in Middle Schools. As someone who teaches in middle school but lives with teenagers of various ages—especially older ones—I found it resonant, offering essential lessons that extend to kids and parents alike.

Many of us feel anxious about time. We never lose track of it. Ever. We might stand in awe (or horror) of those who breezily do. After all, we have color-coded calendars with a paper planner backup to prevent that exact occurrence. We might just be the ones who breathe a guilty sigh of relief if a surprise thunderstorm cancels a soccer practice; time is scarce, and we are not in control of it.

Then there are those people at the other end of the spectrum. Let’s call them the time-abundant mindset folks. Whoever you are, please stand over there; you’re messing up our schedules. 

All joking aside, the world often suggests to us that we should have a scarcity mindset regarding time. Whether real or not, we perceive that we don’t have enough time for All The Things.

It affects our behavior—how we talk about time hints of pressure and victimization. (“Can you hurry up and get in the car? You don’t want to be late to school and make me late to work, do you?!?,” said me, not ever. Never. *ahem*)

Indeed, I would wager that we make some of our poorer decisions as parents because of our own anxious relationship with time (and the tween and teen years are often when even the breeziest of parents shift into a higher-pressure, time-anxious mentality). The behavior that follows is often very controlling, albeit exerted in love.

Have you ever heard yourself say, “We don’t have time to wait for you to pack your gym bag; I’ll just do it for you.”  Ooops, we’ve just accidentally undermined our kid. And so begins (or continues) a generational curse of time scarcity.

Research shows that for middle and high school students to be academically resilient and prepared for all the things college and life offer, they must develop a healthy relationship with time. To get there, we need to trust our kids by granting them the space (and grace) to exercise more autonomy—to practice being in charge of their ‘when’ and ‘whats,’ to learn what time management strategies work (or don’t) for them, to fail, experience boredom, or miss something (and regret it).

Consider a new 9th grader experiencing a cherished free period for the first time. The freedom! The possibilities! THE FRAPS AT THE HUB!!! As a parent, you might be tempted to offer suggestions on how they could best spend that time (because: Homework! Practice schedules! Weekend plans!).

Here’s my advice, however: pay attention, but let these kids figure it out without us putting our anxiety onto them. 

High schoolers need to go through a period of failure with their free periods and sit in the uncomfortable repercussions of not having used their time wisely at least once. In experiencing that natural feedback and the consequences that come with it, the motivation to better manage their time becomes intrinsic. It’s how they learn to balance, pace, and spend their time to meet their academic and health needs.

During free periods, we often see our students on the Quad throwing a ball, sitting together in the winter sun, or chilling to music. We hear their witty banter during video games. Is that time misspent? Could be. (But perhaps not; research shows that mixing social connections with learning brings more focus into their actual class time. But that’s a blog for another day.)

Alternately, we may hear the clickity-clack of the speed typing of those students who may be feeling the effects of their procrastination. Or witness the ‘competitive sleep deprivation’ banter typical of many students—students who simply repeat what feels like a generational expectation, scholars who view sleep deprivation as some sort of signal of dedication.

These stories offer insights into the two opposite ends of a spectrum and underscore the importance of finding a middle ground regarding our relationship with time—one that honors both academic and social/emotional needs. After all, we want our kids to navigate life at CA and beyond with an understanding of how they can meet their academic obligations in healthy ways by effectively managing their time.

Knowing what we know about how WE have been socialized, it’s wise for us parents to be aware of how we talk about time with our children and to address our own time-related baggage. To jump-start that process, I spoke with Ms. Monds, our Director of Student Support Services and Counselor extraordinaire, and we curated this short list of suggested questions to gauge your own relationship status:

  1. Do I think that my child’s idle time will lead to problems? If so, what message is that sending to my child?
  2. Am I giving my child enough credit for managing their own schedule?
  3. Can I sit down in my own home? (If you know why I ask this, you know why I ask this.)
  4. Have I spoken about time without being a victim of it in the last few days?
  5. What do I feel when I have “idle time”?
    • Do I criticize/judge others for being idle?
    • Do I judge myself for being idle?
    • Do I create an environment for other to feel like they can relax?
  6. When was the last time I, myself, had free time that I didn’t fill with errands?

Ask even one of these questions, and we promise it will be time well spent.

Written by Josette Huntress, Head of Middle School

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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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Building Bridges: How One Conference Creates Community at CA and Beyond

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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Where PomPoms Meet Professional Development

November 17, 2022

I certainly didn’t expect organizers waving pompoms enthusiastically in welcome or debating the merits of jellybeans versus chocolate with a complete stranger (shout out to Houston Kraft for this icebreaker) when Kevin Rokuskie first described the Association of Middle Level Educators Conference (AMLE).

As it turns out, there may have been nothing that could have prepared me for the sheer explosive energy of thousands of middle school teachers and faculty combined into one convention room, ready to connect and share their passion for educating the world’s preteens.

Held November 3 to November 5 at the Gaylord Palms Resort & Convention Center in Orlando, AMLE featured a weekend jam-packed with moving keynote speakers, rotating “speed session” workshops, and illuminating presentations on everything from social emotional learning to community engagement to the very tools helping to keep our classrooms running.

Prior to our arrival Kevin and I had spent weeks preparing our presentation on last year’s brand-new virtual reality in Egypt activity, “History Made Real: Learning Ancient Civilizations and World Religions in Virtual Reality.” For 15 minutes at a time, we would explain to other educators and administrators how the collaboration between a sixth-grade Language Arts and World Cultures teacher and an Education and Technology Support Specialist resulted in a week of some of the highest student engagement all year using a combination of Z-Space, VR headsets, and MERGE Cube technology. To our delight, our table ended up becoming one of the most popular attractions during the speed sessions, resulting in meeting a university professor who was excited to learn from us how to implement VR into her post-secondary curriculum.

Our strategy for the rest of the conference was to divide and conquer, so while Kevin engaged in meaningful conversations with various vendors as well as attended sessions on advisory and social emotional learning, I found myself learning about social studies frameworks, how to better support our gender expansive students, techniques for total classroom participation, self-paced learning, how to support children with ADHD challenges (from a teacher who had been successfully navigating his own ADHD for decades), empowering youth with restorative justice practices, and many sessions on community partnerships.

Every day it continued to amaze me to see the degree of knowledge, care, and expertise with which these presenters talked about their curriculum and student support, and I left the conference filled to the brim with a desire to challenge myself in my teaching to new professional heights. Kevin describes professional development as a “vital tool at Cary Academy” that “only makes the community better.” I know that I speak for both of us when I say that I cannot wait to find ways to share my new knowledge with my colleagues and look forward to returning, maybe with my own pompoms this time!

Written by Lauren Bullock, Language Arts and World Cultures Teacher, Sixth Grade

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Computer Science Week at CA

December 6, 2018

It’s Computer Science Week at CA! The week is held every year in honor of Admiral Grace Murray Hopper, whose birthday is December 9. Hopper is known for creating one of the first compilers that converted english into machine code, among other things.

This year, the computer science department and the Upper School WISE club (Women in Science and Engineering) are hosting a week full of fun experiences that focus on the four aspects of computational thinking: decomposition, pattern recognition, abstraction, and algorithm design. Both decomposition (the breaking down of a problem into smaller manageable parts) and abstraction (identifying and extracting relevant information to assist in solving a problem) aid in pattern recognition and identifying trends. When used together, these skills lay the foundation for creating an algorithm design or plan of attack for solving or working through a problem.

All week, the library has been abuzz with various opportunities for the Cary Academy community to have fun and explore these concepts. Activities range from brain teasing origami to virtual and augmented reality experiences.

Virtual reality returned this year with different experiences for each day of the week. Users have shot a bow and arrow, helped R2-D2 fix the Millennium Falcon, avoided spaceship fire, or sliced fruit with a Samurai sword. A fan favorite will be chosen for Friday’s experience.

This year also saw the addition of more items and games, including a Microsoft HoloLens Scavenger Hunt in the library. Librarian Brian Pugsley placed holograms all around the first floor of the library for scavengers to discover. Participants who find the most by the end of the week will win a Merge AR Cube, an augmented reality toy that allows you to hold holograms in your hand.

Another new activity this year is a traditional 1000-piece jigsaw puzzle featuring Georges Seurat’s painting A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte (1884–1886). Famous for his innovative methods and techniques, Seurat used logical abstraction and mathematical precision to construct his paintings. He, along with artist Paul Signac, is credited for inventing a painting technique called pointillism, which relies on the viewer’s eye and brain to blur and blend many small dots together into a fuller range of tones that create an image. Pointillism led the way for image rendering and is the foundation for how computer screens work.

WISE strives to promote and support women in science and engineering while creating a collaborative and social academic environment for all. To that end, the week will culminate with a WISE-sponsored event for all Middle School students this Saturday in the Discovery Studio. Students will have the opportunity to participate in a variety of STEM-related activities outside of the classroom, including working with liquid nitrogen alongside an NC State engineering professor, learning statistics from jellyfish, computational thinking games, and virtual reality.

Computer science and the principles of computational thinking are in everything that we do. During Computer Science Week, we strive to provide all types of activities showcasing this fact, many of which do not involve a computer at all. This year, one of the biggest hits with the community has been a hanging balancing puzzle game called Suspend. Another fan favorite, back from last year, is Mindbender Origami.

Personally, Computer Science Week is my department’s favorite week of the year. We’re sad to see it come to an end, but have already started thinking about what next year will bring.

Written by Karen McKenzie, Director of Innovation & Technology

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2018 Innovative Curriculum and Friday Fellowship Grants

September 6, 2018

The William C. Friday Summer Fellowship Program

The William C. Friday Summer Fellowship Program provides financial assistance for faculty to pursue professional development projects during the summer that will directly strengthen them as teaching professionals in their field(s) of expertise.

Summer 2018

Betsy MacDonald, Upper School Design and Programming Teacher, received a fellowship to hone her skills in 3D modeling and gaming and to use that learning to redesign the curricula for the electives she teaches in this domain.  Betsy plans to write a set of mini-units with step-by-step examples to teach the various techniques she has targeted and to create a buffet of project options for students to choose from.

Jasmine Powell, Dance Teacher, received a fellowship to begin an intensive year-long training program leading to certification as a Pilates teacher.  This training will help Jasmine to more confidently teach Pilates in a variety of contexts, from the upper school Movement for Athletes class to the middle school Yogalates Club to optional classes for employees.

Gray Rushin, Upper School Chemistry Teacher and Outdoors Club Advisor, received funding to support his participation in a thru-hike of the Pacific Crest Trail.  Participation in the hike will help Gray expand the outdoor education opportunities at Cary Academy to include longer, more advanced treks.  Gray also plans to use the experience to design a training course for students in leading wilderness adventure trips.

Katie Taylor, Middle School Language Arts Teacher and Department Leader, received funding to attend the Writing Institute at the Teacher’s College at Columbia University.  Katie will apply this experience to creation of a set of materials to support writing instruction throughout the content areas in the 6th grade, in accordance with the writing checklist developed collaboratively by the 6th grade team.

Innovative Curriculum Grants

The Innovative Curriculum Grant provides financial assistance for individual faculty members or teams of faculty to work over the summer to create new courses, substantial new course modules or other significant new programs that embody the school’s strategic vision.

Summer 2018

Rachel Atay and Matt Greenwolfe, upper school physics teachers, received a grant to develop a new introductory physics course in Waves, Light and Electricity, which will explore the physics of everyday phenomena in a hands-on, collaborative environment.  Rachel and Matt will employ a “standards-enhanced” grading system to encourage work toward mastery, and the course will include an applied project at the end of each trimester, such as building a practical electrical circuit for a specific purpose or making an optical device like a telescope, microscope or camera.

MaLi Burnett, upper school biology teacher, received a grant to develop a framework for implementing mastery learning in a new introductory biology course (Biology:  Ecological Focus).  MaLi will create a framework for assessment and feedback in the course rooted in mastery of scientific literacy skills, meaning the demonstrated ability to apply scientific knowledge in real-world contexts.

Robert Coven and Conrad Hall, upper school history teachers, received a grant to create a new conceptual modeling unit on the U.S. Constitution for the United States History course.  The new unit will be designed to extend conceptual modeling from the classroom into the community by engaging students in current state and national issues related to the Constitution and by expanding research from electronic sources to person-to-person contacts with community leaders, governmental representatives, and Constitutional scholars.

Fred Haas and Allison McCoppin, middle school science teachers, received a grant to redesign the 7th grade science curriculum to reflect the overarching theme of “Spaceship Earth.”  More and more scientists talk about Earth as a complex system–one that humans must aggressively monitor, manage, and sometimes re-engineer, like a spaceship.  The goal of the curriculum redesign is to provide students with an understanding of the needs of our planet and the STEM practices and concepts required to effectively measure and manage real-world environmental problems.   Students will explore how our planetary life-support system works and what they can do as citizen scientists to promote sustainability.

Craig Lazarski and Kristi Ramey, upper school math teachers, received a grant to develop a new course in Advanced Statistical Theory and Applications.  This course will extend the curriculum of the current Advanced Statistics course by going into more depth on current topics and exploring topics at a Calculus level.  Craig and Kristi plan to work with students in this course to create a statistics consulting group that anyone on campus can use, and they also hope to give students a choice of taking either the AP exam or an Actuary exam, the latter being more of a real-world experience.

Trish Yu, upper school Chinese teacher, received a grant to develop a new advanced-level trimester elective course in Business Communication in Chinese.  The goal of this course is to improve students’ proficiency in the use of Chinese for business purposes, with an emphasis on logistical and cultural hurdles to be overcome, etiquette, and the art of subtle communication.  Students will explore authentic case studies and produce written letters and email messages for real world audiences.

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