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CA Curious

Innovation on Vacation

August 24, 2023

Have you ever wondered what our teachers are up to during their summer breaks? Each year, many CA faculty spend their well-deserved summer vacation on professional development opportunities that translate their interests into incredible learning opportunities for our students—in the classroom and beyond. 

Cary Academy offers two major grant programs to support the professional development of our faculty during the summer months: the Friday Fellowship and the Innovative Curriculum Grant.

So, what exactly did our tireless teachers work on this summer through these grant programs?

Kendall Bell, Heidi Maloy, and Charlotte Kelly, Upper School science teachers, received a collaborative fellowship to interweave DEI work into the chemistry curriculum, incorporating a broader range of scientific, cultural, and professional examples of who contributes to our understanding of chemical concepts, with the goal of giving all students the opportunity to see themselves doing chemistry.


Lauren Bullock, Middle School language arts and social studies teacher, received fellowship funding to participate in the Kundiman summer retreat for Asian American writers.   Participation in the retreat not only helped to sharpen Lauren’s own skills as a writer, but also enabled Lauren to foster connections to the writing world as the language arts team searches for more diverse voices to add to the Cary Academy literary canon and even invite onto campus.


Tamara Friend and Danae Shipp, Middle School science teachers, received a collaborative fellowship to research and develop a plan for creating a dedicated STEM space in the Middle School building.  Tamara and Danae attended the 2023 ISTE (International Society for Technology in Education) conference with a focus on sessions and exhibitions related to Makerspace development, and also conducted site visits to local schools and public libraries with Makerspaces. They used the information they gathered to produce a layout and equipment acquisition plan for a pilot STEM space to be housed in a first-floor science classroom, with the goal of having the space outfitted and ready to use late in the first semester or early in the second semester of the 2023-24 school year.

David Kaufmann, Middle School math teacher, received a fellowship to participate in the 2023 ISTE (International Society for Technology in Education) conference to learn more about supporting student learning through gamification, coding, and technology-enhanced projects that encourage both application and creative expression. David used the conference experience to design three new digital projects for his math classes.


Ty van de Zande, digital arts and coding teacher, received fellowship funding to undertake a visualization project using hand-made glass objects to model fundamental concepts and principles of computer science. Ty produced a set of models built from glass, photos of the glass models, photo documentation of the building process, and a write-up describing the models and how they represent the fundamental processes. Through the photography process, the glass models can be combined and arranged with other glass models to represent a real computer code program. 


Crystal Bozeman, Middle School learning specialist, and Katie Taylor, Middle School language arts teacher, received a collaborative grant to create a “Leaders in Literacy” program to support Middle School students in developing their literacy skills, especially reading and writing. The new program focuses on teaching the science of reading and writing and strategies that will work across texts, emphasizing hands-on activities that give students active and engaging ways to build their literacy skills.

  
Kara Caccuitto, Upper School English teacher, received grant funding to develop a new English elective for juniors and seniors on Magical Realism. The majority of anchor texts in the new course are of Latin American origin, giving students a chance to explore the art, history, and culture of this part of the world.  Students also have ample opportunities to demonstrate their understanding of the characteristics of magical realism through a variety of creative self-expression activities, including producing a podcast, compiling an electronic cookbook, and developing a poetry or song anthology.

Sam Krieg, Upper School Spanish teacher, received a grant to develop a new Spanish elective focused on Spanish for business use. The course provides opportunities for students to communicate with professionals from throughout the Spanish-speaking world representing a range of commercial endeavors, including hospitality, banking, agriculture, and education. Students also have the chance to learn about, and reflect on, the (in)equalities of business relationships at different levels and to explore the essential roles of immigrants in different commercial contexts.


Kristi Ramey, Upper School math teacher, received grant funding to create a new model for Calculus 1 that expands access to the course content by creating both a regular and an advanced pathway within the same class. Kristi’s work focused on creating appropriately differentiated assignments and assessments to meet the needs of both groups of students, as well as appropriate supplemental materials for those students opting to pursue the AP exam.


Erick Crepsac, Middle School math teacher, was selected to participate in the Teachers Across Borders Program in Southern Africa (TAB-SA). Erick was part of a team of American math and science teachers who traveled to South Africa during the summer to conduct curriculum-specific workshops with their South African colleagues from rural schools, sharing methodology, techniques, and pedagogy in STEM content areas.

Written by Martina Greene, Dean of Faculty

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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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One Weird Trick for Success in College

April 11, 2019

A preoccupation with lists and ranking?  I’m guilty.  

In my defense, though, I’d like to say that I’m a product of my time.  

For me, as a kid growing up in Minnesota, I was hooked on Casey Kasem’s American Top 40—a window into a much hipper world on both coasts. I was a college freshman when David Letterman aired his first Top 10 list in 1985. By then, Dave was required viewing in college dorm rooms across the country.  

Then came the rise of the internet, and mobile, and suddenly it was so easy, so tempting to seek out palatable, easy-to-digest, simple, and right now ways to make sense of the world, to entertain myself.  

And now? Clickbait abounds, with listicles being the worst. As I write this, the top five headlines on Buzzfeed are 

  • 19 useful coffee products, 
  • 21 pets with special needs that are adorable, 
  • 36 ways to improve your skin, 
  • 18 screenshots of people sharing obvious lies, and
  • 27 Pinterest cooking fails. 

What have we wrought, Gen X? (Oh, but that puppy wearing sunglasses was cute!) 

Academic clickbait 

And that brings us to the announcement two weeks ago in the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times, of another year of record-setting year of competition for seats in American colleges and universities. And, another year of parents and students frantically trying to make sense of a landscape that feels increasingly fraught and difficult to navigate.  

Enter that alluring clickbait of academia: college rankings.  

There have been volumes written about the problems with college rankings, but every year we are bombarded with even more lists.  

US News might have been the first to make the business decision that college rankings grab eyeballs (and dollars), but the game now includes: WSJ/Times Higher Education, Niche, Forbes, Princeton Review, QS World University Rankings, Washington Monthly, College Consensus, WalletHub, Parchment, Unigo, College Prowler, Newsweek, and Money Magazine. The head spins. 

Why care? It is just a fun diversion between ogling pictures of cooking fails, right? 

If only.  

Too often, parents and students fall into a trap of giving these self-reported “junk-in, junk-out” rankingswhich are essentially meaningless when you consider differing academic missions, resources, student populations, etc., not to mention whether they are actually the right fit for any given, individual student—too much credence.  

This chase for the elusive, high-ranking, highly-selective school is contributing to a staggering epidemic amongst our kids. 

The statistics are alarming. According to research compiled by the Education Advisory Board, 25% of teens currently meet the criteria for an anxiety disorder, and there has been a 200% increase in suicide rates among teenage girls between 1999 and 2014. It is one thing to sense this as a parent dealing with a stressed-out child, but quite another to see it when your job is to work with kids in a high-performing secondary school.

Busting the myths 

The sad part is that there is plenty of great commentary (backed by research) that rebuts the conventional wisdom that there is only a small list of colleges and universities worth attending. A favorite of our college counselors is Frank Bruni’s Where You Go Is Not Who You’ll Be 

Research conducted by Denise Pope at the Stanford Graduate School of Education and shared in this Wall Street Journal piece on March 22, 2019, makes it clear that it is not where you go to college, but what you do in college 

According to Pope, a study of more than 30,000 undergraduates showed no correlation between college selectivity and career success or life satisfaction. Taking class with teachers who made learning exciting; working with teachers who cared about their students; finding a mentor; working on a long-term project; participating in internships that applied classroom learning; being active in extracurricular activities—these were the pivotal learning moments that Pope’s undergraduates identified as contributing to their successful college experiences. 

There is research indicating that members of traditionally underrepresented groups and first-generation students do benefit from attending highly-selective schools. But for everybody else, the power of college happens when you are in college wherever you are in college 

Our responsibility 

At the end of it all, the irony is that we do have data that showcases the power of attending a secondary school that prepares students to take full advantage of their college experiences whether they be at a selective or highly selective, in-state or out-of-state institution. 

In short, the responsibility for our students’ success in college lies, in large part, with us here at CA. We’ve captured our commitment to this responsibility in our current strategic vision:  

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.  

Hallmarks of a CA experience—experiential learning, committed faculty, extracurricular engagements, opportunities to apply learning in real-life scenarios—all harken back to those that Pope identified in her research as pivotal to a successful college experience 

And, there are infinite such possibilities to thrive at any school, as long as students see the value in engagement beyond the “traditional classroom.” That’s why we put such stock in preparing students to identify, engage, and capitalize on learning opportunities both in and out of the classroom that align with their strengths, skills, and goals, to—in CA parlance“own their learning.”  

During my recent State of the School address, I illustrated how students take advantage of engagement opportunities by highlighting “CA sparks” from a group of recent graduates. While their personal journeys were all unique, each took advantage of the myriad ways students have to stretch and grow in high school — from online classes to independent study, to travel abroad, to academic clubs and activities, to competitive athletics. In the end, each “owned their learning” at Cary Academy — and are thriving in college as a result 

In addition to programmatic approaches, we’re also tackling transcript reform to make sure that we are adequately capturing and reflecting these meaningful learning engagements to college admissions officers. To that end, we are a member of the Mastery Transcript Consortium (MTC), an effort by independent schools to break the mold and showcase deeper, more personalized learning to colleges. 

Changing the frame 

But, beyond program and transcript reform, it is imperative that we change mindsets and tamp down the untenable mania around college rankings and highly selective colleges.  

The research is clear and we must act to change the narrative. Unless we do, we will continue to perpetuate the myth that the only path to happiness and success is getting into a college with a sub-10% admit rate.  

And that simply is not the case.  

In our fall survey of graduates since 2000 (our first graduating class), 85% of alumni currently out of college reported being satisfied or highly satisfied with their profession (on a five-point Likert scale). Remarkably, more than 93% reported being satisfied or highly satisfied with their quality of life. This is against the backdrop that most of these young people did not attend colleges with a sub-10% admit rate. In fact, in the last three years, we have sent graduates to nearly 100 different colleges and universities.  

That information, unfortunately, doesn’t generate the same attention as “The top 10 tricks to get into the Ivy League.”  

Instead, I’ll leave you all with this: The Top 10 Things Graduates Can Learn from David Letterman 

Written by Mike Ehrhardt, Head of School

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