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CA Curious

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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October 18, 2018

On Monday of this week, I broke an unwritten rule of the Upper School: I traipsed upstairs, and rather than follow the well-trod path toward the teacher lounge and the coffee machine, I turned right, threaded my way between the book bags, and plopped myself onto a couch in the Senior Corner.

The seniors politely tried to ignore me.  An adult—an administrator, no less—had intruded into their sanctum sanctorum, their happy land overseen by cheerful painted mountains and the cardboard cut-out of Bob Ross.

I cleared my throat and said, “I’m writing a blog, and I would like your thoughts.  Would you mind?”

They paused, and after a brief moment of internal debate, they all declared, “Of course not.”  Even if I was an intruder, they would be polite.

“As you think about the classes that you’ve taken at CA,” I asked, pen in hand, “what jumps out at you?”

“10th grade English,” one student stated almost immediately.  “That was the first time that we had to analyze the literature really deeply and write a long essay about it.  That was such an important learning experience.”

Other students added their thoughts.

“Turbo-Calc.  It was flexible.  It was my first blended class, and I chose whether to do the homework—if I didn’t need the practice, I didn’t have to do it.  But it was my choice.”

“Advanced Chemistry.  It was practical.  I started to see how it related to every day.  We talked about the forces that held my water in my water bottle.  And I learned why my car works better in the morning in the summer than in the winter.”

“Advanced Biology.  I learned about myself.  There was no place to hide in the class, so I had to be on top of the material.”

“Advanced Environmental Science.  I loved the homework, just because it was so different.  Sometimes it was a blog post.  Sometimes, a tweet.  But we had so many different activities.”

The next period, after lunch, I ambushed three more unsuspecting seniors in the Collabo-lounge.  I repeated my story—blog, student thoughts, help—and then asked them, “Looking back, what classes or experiences stand out to you, and why?”

They also answered, almost before I had finished asking the question.

“The exchange trips were transformative.  We were immersed in a culture, and we had to speak the language—there was no other choice.”

“When I was on the exchange trip, it was the first time I thought in a different language.  I was starting to write a text to my mom, and then I realized, ‘wait, I should write this in English.’”

“Critical thinking—that’s what I’ve gotten from my CA classes.  We apply it to our learning and the work that we create.”

“I love the change in the schedule—it’s allowed me to pursue an internship in art during my long block!”

Another student added, “I actually don’t like the change in schedule.  But you’re not going to put that in the blog, are you?”

***

Several years ago, members of Cary Academy’s Strategic Planning Committee reinvigorated our mission by crafting a guiding statement: “Cary Academy will create learning opportunities that are flexible, personalized, and relevant.  We will cultivate self-directed and bold life-long learners who make meaningful contributions to the world.”

That statement has guided the changes to the Upper School schedule, which allowed us to provide more flexibility in several departments.  We opened the science curriculum, offering more choice for all students.  We also expanded the times for art classes, allowing students to take multiple arts classes in a day.

That statement has guided the development of the Center for Math and Science, which will allow us to engage our students in deeper collaborative experiences.

Courtesy of the space provided by the CSM, that statement will guide us as we re-envision the Upper School building to match the needs of our students taking their humanities classes.

And that statement, in small and large ways, has filtered into the experiences and language of the students.  I did not share this statement with any of the students, yet—unbidden—they all referenced some aspect of the goal in their responses, much to my joy.

***

On Tuesday of this week, I had the chance to listen to two different student panels: one answered questions of prospective parents, the other spoke to underclassmen.  Both of those groups of students emphasized the idea of curiosity, even if they didn’t use that word.  They spoke of the joy when discovering a passion, of the need to focus on the personal journey, of the gift of flexibility.

In other conversations with students over the past few weeks, I have heard the joy derived from classes across all departments and grade levels.

So as a community, we have revised our schedule and rebuilt our buildings in order to facilitate that curiosity—and the students have embraced all of those opportunities.

And we will do more, nurturing that curiosity by creating additional opportunities for students to develop their paths, delving into the experiences that hold meaning and relevancy for them, and—ultimately–for the world outside of Cary Academy.

Even if not all the students are completely in favor of the schedule changes.

 

P.S.  Thanks again to the seniors who willingly put up with my questions during their free periods.

 

 

Written by Robin Follet, Head of Upper School

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