Magazine of CA

Leading the Way

December 1, 2022

For 25 years, Cary Academy has been recognized as a school that pushes the envelope of what is possible, modeling institutionally the very qualities we hope to instill in our students: leadership, curiosity, open-mindedness, and a willingness to think outside of the box, take risks, enthusiastically challenge norms, and relentlessly ask, “Why?” “How?” and “What if?”

Last year, we were honored to have our reputation as a national and global leader in secondary education and experiential learning affirmed with CA’s selection as host for the 2023 Independent School Experiential Education Network’s (ISEEN) Winter Institute. What better way to put an exclamation point on our first 25 years than a week spent learning, collaborating, and envisioning the future with other educational innovators?

In January, CA will welcome over 150 of North America’s most forward-thinking educators for a hands-on, multi-day experiential learning conference. Carefully chosen, the Institute theme, Empowered ExEd: Sustained Partnerships and Student Leadership, highlights two important aspects of our work we undertake in our Center for Community Engagement.

CA prides itself on empowering students with chances to grow as leaders and community members. We’re known for producing thoughtful, creative, and risk-taking graduates and engaged citizens as a result.

Almost nothing at CA functions without student involvement and co-creation. Think about our clubs, affinity groups, X-Day, Discovery Term, athletics, and a host of interscholastic competitive programs (speech and debate, HOSA-Future Health Professionals, robotics, Science Olympiad, United States Invitational Young Physicists

Tournament, Conrad Startup Challenge, etc.)—all of them feature students leading, guiding, and mentoring their peers.

Our theme also points to the myriad sustained partnerships that our students and employees leverage to enhance learning. Our service-learning program alone connects our campus to dozens of excellent organizations that serve those in need in our community, across the state and country, and around the world. Examples include Backpack Buddies and Transplanting Traditions in the Middle School, as well as Dorcas Ministries, Read & Feed, and community food banks.

In addition, collaborators like District C, an experiential learning nonprofit, and Essential Partners, with whom we partner for our Dialogue Across Difference program, build our capacity as both students and educators to work effectively in teams— lessons that carry over to the classroom and across campus. In the last six years, over 150 different local businesses, nonprofits, artists, and government agencies at every level have hosted Chargers as part of our Work Experience Program. The list of partnerships is long—and growing.

The ISEEN Winter Institute will kick off with a keynote by Columbia University Professor Dr. Bettina Love, whose work in the realm of creating truly inclusive, anti- racist schools, is deeply resonant with the values of both CA and ISEEN. She will help connect the dots between a focus on building an equitable school community with one that also nurtures and promotes student agency and experiential learning.

As is Institute tradition, the first full day will involve participants learning in the preferred experiential style of the host. We’ll be taking a page out of CA’s X-Day playbook, partnering faculty with student leaders to develop and co-lead ExEd in Action Workshops that use the entire Triangle as their “classroom.”

A few examples that are already under development include a visit to a Chapel Hill tiny house community to learn more about the growing movement and its capacity to address housing and sustainability issues; a tour of Historic Stagville and Black Wall Street to learn about the history of Black leadership and success in Durham and the current issues facing the community; and an investigation into the interracial history of Southern barbeque and the social justice questions raised by Southern Foodways, which will culminate in a delicious group- prepared meal.

On the second day, CA will lead conversations centered on the ways in which we work to deliver on our mission every day. We will discuss the many components that go into (and challenges that come with) being a learning community dedicated to discovery, innovation, collaboration, and excellence and guided by a commitment to respect, integrity, and compassion.

The Institute will wrap on Friday morning with a deep dive into the theme of sustaining partnerships and another keynote address by a good friend who has built these partnerships in other schools. Watch for more on that as we finalize commitments.

CA has a lot to share with our ISEEN colleagues next year, just as we always have more to learn. We are honored by the vote of confidence represented by our selection by ISEEN, a welcome acknowledgment that we are on a promising path and serving as a genuine leader in this work. We have no doubts that the students and employees in this dynamic and innovative learning community will shine.

Stay tuned for more about the ISEEN Winter Institute, Jan 17-20, 2023, hosted by Cary Academy.

Written by Dr. Michael McElreath, Experiential Learning Director

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Gravel Road Lessons: The Serendipity of an X Day

September 29, 2022

I swear I’m not making this up. Just ask Max, or Coach Hall, or any of the students who were on the bike trip—they can corroborate the details.

Here’s a bit of the backstory. Several weeks ago, Max had asked me if I was willing to help with an X Day centered around biking—specifically, gravel biking through Umstead State Park. I cheerfully agreed for two reasons, even before he really finished asking the question: first, I knew that Max would put together a great experience for his peers and the adults who happened to tag along, as he has led previous X Day and Flex Day activities. And second, I love to bike.

True to expectations, Max crafted a lovely day. We gathered in front of the CMS on Wednesday morning, helmeted and biked and watered. Max reminded us of some necessary details. We discussed the route. Maps were shown, tire pressures double checked, roll taken.

At 9:20, nine of us—two adults, seven Upper School students–pedaled past the Upper School, the Admin Building, the Middle School, and then out to Research Drive. A quick jaunt across North Harrison, a zip through the neighborhoods, and we found ourselves on the greenway, which led us to the Old Reedy Creek Road parking area by Lake Crabtree.

Max stopped us again, making sure we were all good before starting up the gravel road. We gulped some water and chatted a moment about the downhill through the neighborhood (which meant a crazy climb through the neighborhood when we returned), and then we pedaled up Old Reedy Creek Road. Over the course of the next twelve miles or so, we huffed and puffed up hills, roared down downhills (all while staying true to our comfort zones), and watched out for each other. Naturally, we stopped periodically to catch our breath and keep the group together.

At one of those moments, late in the ride, we were paused on the edge of the gravel road when a white-haired gentleman came over the hill, striding toward us. He stopped when he saw us on our bikes.

“Hello,” he said, looking at the students. “Is this a class?”

We explained that we were a school group, that on this day we were taking the learning outside the school walls.

“Oh,” he said. “Tell me what you are learning!”

Max explained not only the activities that we were doing, but also a number of the associated skills.

The gentleman smiled. “That’s wonderful,” he said. “And it’s so important to keep learning! I’m 85 years old, and I’m still learning and still moving! That’s why I hike these trails every day. If you limit yourself to the rocking chair, you won’t get up again!”

He told us about working hard, starting in his late teens, and finding success in his roles. He talked about retiring once in his fifties, getting bored and starting his own business and retiring in his 70s, and then volunteering—now well into his 80s. “I probably volunteer about 50 hours per week,” he confided. “And that’s what’s really important,” he added. “Helping others—that’s when you are really successful, when you can add to your community.”

We thanked him, wished him well, and then started our way back to campus. At one of our final stops, Adi said, “So what did you think of what the gentleman said?” A number of us marveled at his age—he may have been 85, but he looked much younger. Several of us reflected on his message: we are truly successful when we help others. Those thoughts stayed with us as we cycled back to school, retracing our earlier path.

That afternoon, under Max’s guidance, we shifted to other aspects of the day: how to plan bike routes, how to develop one’s biking skills. But most of us reflected, individually or in small groups, on the chance encounter, on yet another lesson outside the classroom, one that none of us were expecting.

By its very nature, we can’t plan for serendipity. But we can make sure that the conditions are ripe (yay X Days!), that we welcome learning and lessons and joy not only inside the classroom walls, but outside as well—even if it’s on the dusty gravel road in the middle of a state park where we hear a gentle reminder about what’s really important in our world.

Written by Robin Follet, Head of Upper School

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I’ve Been to the Mountains, ISEEN It All

January 27, 2022

Cary Academy’s commitment to discovery and innovation keeps us looking for ways to improve, and one of our key avenues for growth is paying attention to what other excellent educators are doing around the world. Back in 2015, I first connected with an awesome group called the Independent School Experiential Education Network (ISEEN), made up of over 100 schools and service providers, primarily in North America.  

ISEEN folks are serious, thoughtful educators, but if you saw them from a distance, you might mistake them for summer camp counselors. As a longtime summer camper, that might be part of the reason I felt so at home in this group from the start—they love to keep learning, and they do their teaching and learning mostly outside of traditional classrooms. ISEEN members often wear several hats in their home schools—focusing on everything from outdoor adventures to global studies to sustainability. They are the folks linking students up with chances to learn on field trips, special co-curricular programs, and internships. These are my people! 

Increasingly, though, they are not just mine. I’ve been sharing ISEEN with CA colleagues in yearly Winter Institutes around the country (in places as diverse as Hawaii, Cleveland, Vancouver (BC), NYC, & Portland, OR) as well as the Summer Institutes for classroom teachers in Santa Fe. This year’s Winter Institute in Sedona, AZ, was last week, and it was a doozy—gorgeous red rocks and stunning blue skies; educators contemplating belonging in a land where the Indigenous population was dispossessed yet endures; and phenomenal networking with super-talented colleagues able to gather face-to-face (vaxxed and masked!) for the first time in two years.   

The eight-person team from Cary Academy was the largest we’ve ever sponsored. Here are some of their reflections on the Institute: 

“At the ISEEN Institute in Sedona, 100+ educators found time to discuss educational philosophy and practice, finding ways to ground those discussions in place and practice.  Several of us became students again as we biked the red rock trails outside the Valley Verde School. We learned history and physics and that incredible connection involving small changes that make a big difference.  Want to brake more effectively, especially when going down steep trails?  Drop your heels while keeping your pedals level, and you’ll increase your braking power.  For me, ISEEN was about unexpected connections, small changes, learning outside of silos, and the pure joy of action.” 

–Robin Follet, Head of Upper School 

“My experience at ISEEN was something I couldn’t imagine. I was overcome with feelings of belonging as we shared stories about the places we came from and reflected on the path we’re on. The most impactful moment I experienced while at ISEEN happened as I was sitting in the science classroom. As we prepared for our experiment, I became excited to learn which prompted me to think about my students. This must be what they feel when we do experiments in class. What a wonderful feeling to truly be curious! I’m excited to share these valuable lessons I learned at the ISEEN Winter Institute with my team here at CA.” 

–Tamara Friend, MS Science Teacher 

It was amazing to connect with passionate, like-minded educators from all over the nation. Each day we were asked to dig in and do the hard work of designing education programs that were rich with integrity and meaningfulness. I can’t fully articulate in a brief statement how fortunate I feel to have had the opportunity to network with such talented educators of experiential education.” 

–Charlotte Kelly, US Science Teacher 

A group of women standing around a table with food on it

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“The most impactful part of being at ISEEN for me was seeing how passionate everyone was about creating programs for students that will challenge the way they define learning.”  

–Megan Hirst, Community Engagement Assistant 

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“My ISEEN colleagues have such palpable energy and zeal for crafting fun and relevant learning experiences! One phrase mirrored back to us in the closing session “Voices of ISEEN” — Do and reflect, do and reflect, do and reflect. — really speaks to the good work which unifies the wide variety of disciplines represented. While in Sedona, I spent a whole day with fellow educators and school leaders from across the country studying the waste stream of our host school. We took an eye-opening tour of campus with a student following the flow of table scraps, recyclables, and landfill items; got our hands dirty shoveling compost that had been aged on campus by student “work-job” teams over two years; and then took a field trip to Sedona Recycles to see for ourselves the importance of proper sorting back on campus. Then on the van ride back and in our “homeroom” groups later that night, my peers and I discussed how we might bring seeds of what we learned back home with us to germinate in our own unique contexts.” 

–Palmer Seeley, Entrepreneurship Director 

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“At Cary Academy, we have been fortunate to be a part of a network of educators who believe in and are being innovative with experiential education. For years Cary Academy has done experiential education with Discovery Term, World Language trips ,and the Work Experience program and we are now in a place where we are being recognized as thought leaders in the field.” 

–Danielle Johnson-Webb, Director of Equity & Community Engagement 

“The ISEEN event in Sedona really got me thinking about the role of Ex Ed in the cultivation of mindsets (e.g. empathy, risk-taking, or entrepreneurial thinking) and how reflection activities could be designed to both fuel and track student growth in these areas. When ISEEN 2023 comes to Cary, I look forward to sharing the many ways our students are creators or co-creators of their own Ex Ed opportunities.” 

–Martina Greene, Dean of Faculty 

This brings me to the primary reason for this blog post; Drum roll, please… 

Cary Academy is honored to announce that it will host next year’s ISEEN Winter Institute! We will be finalizing plans during the spring, but we have identified an Institute theme that captures part of what makes Cary Academy special: Empowered ExEd: Student Leadership & Sustained Partnerships

The theme highlights our school’s long commitment to empowering our students with chances to grow as leaders and community members. Almost nothing at C.A. functions without student involvement and co-creation. Think about our clubs, affinity groups, Discovery Term, athletics, and a host of interscholastic competitive programs (debate, HOSA, robotics, SciOly, USAYPT, startup challenge, etc.)—all of them feature students leading, guiding, and mentoring their successors. 

The theme also points to myriad sustained partnerships that our students and employees leverage to enhance learning here. Our Service Learning program alone connects our campus to dozens of excellent organizations that serve people in need in our community, state, country, and planet. Collaborators like District C & Essential Partners build our capacity as both students and educators to work effectively in teams, and those lessons carry over to work in the classroom and throughout the campus. In the last six years, over 150 different local businesses, nonprofits, artists, and government agencies at every level have hosted Chargers as part of our Work Experience Program.  The list of partnerships is long, and we keep growing it. 

So, we have a lot to share with our ISEEN colleagues next year, just as we always have more to learn. 

Watch for more about the ISEEN Winter Institute, Jan 17-20, 2023, hosted by Cary Academy. We will need a lot of help to pull this off, and we have no doubt that the students and employees in this dynamic and innovative learning community will shine. 

Written by Dr. Michael McElreath, Experiential Learning Director

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Magazine of CA

Follow the leaders: Spotlight on Migration Collaboration

September 11, 2021

Amaranth greens. Bitter melon. Long beans. Yu choy. Asian chiles. Next year, families across CA will have the opportunity to discover these delicious flavors firsthand—many for the first time—all while learning about and supporting our local Burmese refugee community.

It’s all thanks to a service-learning pilot program led by seventh-grade Migration Collaboration students and faculty in partnership with our Center for Community Engagement and Transplanting Traditions Community Farm, a local nonprofit aimed at uplifting food sovereignty in the Burmese refugee community through access to land, education, and opportunities for refugee farmers.

CA families that subscribe to the CSA will receive a weekly box of organic vegetables locally farmed by Burmese refugee farmers (possibly with an occasional assist from CA students on Flex Days). In each box, a pamphlet thoughtfully researched, designed, and produced by Migration Collaboration students will offer information, not only on the vegetables included, but share profiles of the refugee farmers that produced them, the crisis they faced in Burma, and other ways the CA community can get involved to help.

“The pamphlet comes with the food, so it adds a sense of reality to it. These are actual physical people, these are the actual vegetables they grew, this is what they have been through, and what others like them are still going through,” explains Finn Miller ’26, who helped to create the profiles that appear in the pamphlet. “It’s a quick way to help, to raise awareness and get more people to learn about what they have been through.”

“I think it is cool that people can buy different types of vegetables that are from where some of our local refugee farmers are from,” adds Dana Jhoung ’26, who participated on the student-led communications committee tasked with promoting the initiative to the broader CA community. “These refugees have come a long way to share their culture—and that’s not easy. Transplanting Traditions gives them not only a job and a home, but an important way to share their background and history.”

Digging Deep

The hands-on service project is an outgrowth of the larger seventh-grade Migration Collaboration project. Now entering its third year, Migration Collaboration­—led by seventh-grade social studies teachers Lucy Dawson and Matt Koerner, in partnership with Service Learning Director Maggie Grant—is an immersive, interdisciplinary, and experiential exploration of human migration. It offers students a deeper understanding of the refugee experience through personal interactions with refugees and members of local refugee-serving organizations; explorations of non-fictional and fictional migrant and refugee narratives; interdisciplinary, student-led research projects; and various hands-on excursions where students work side-by-side with refugees and community partners.

“It’s been an amazing project,” enthuses Daphne DiFrancesco ’26, who participated in Migration Collaboration and the Transplanting Traditions service-learning project this past year. “I’ve learned so much about different communities and migration in general. I’ve done different research projects on stuff like this before, but it’s usually just reading website after website or the occasional book. With this, I was able to take a deep dive and connect with the community and really interact. It made me realize how we’re all connected. The experiential piece just adds so much.”

As president of the Student Leadership Club, next year, Difrancesco hopes to take what she learned to determine constructive ways that CA students might support North Korean refugees. “There are only a handful of organizations that work with North Korean refugees because it is so dangerous to do so,” she explains. “I’m hoping to partner up with these organizations to see how we might help with fundraising.”

A rich harvest

And that, of course, is precisely the goal: To help students develop the empathy, connections, and competencies needed to lead ethical and equitable community activism—all while gaining a more nuanced understanding of the complex historical, social, cultural, economic, and political forces that shape human migration.

“We want to inspire our students to understand not only why people move, but how we can responsibly support those that do,” explains Koerner. “How we can help them in our own community.”

Central to that effort is challenging racist and reductive stereotypes of the immigrant refugee. “We want students to understand that refugees don’t look one way—there isn’t a certain race or ethnicity or class or level of education,” adds Dawson. “It isn’t a monolith; there isn’t a singular refugee experience.”

That empathy-building process starts with getting students into the community where they can build authentic, personal connections that disrupt stereotypes, broaden perspectives, and allow students to put themselves in someone else’s shoes. That’s where the Center for Community Engagement comes in, building partnerships within the broader Triangle-area community that facilitate impactful, memorable, and long-lasting connections and experiences for students that put a human, relatable face on the abstract concept of migration.

Take, for instance, one of Dawson’s favorite moments: when Scott Philips, the North Carolina field representative at the United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants (USCRI), brought two of his nearly-arrived clients—Israel and Mordecai—to meet with students. The two Congolese teenagers shared their experience of growing up in a Ugandan refugee camp, having never lived in the country of their birth. It was a wildly different experience than that of most CA students, and yet, through conversation, they found common ground.

“Our students got to hear about our guests’ experiences—about their culture, about growing up in a camp—firsthand. It was just such a cool exchange,” recalls Dawson with a smile. “Our kids were just in awe. They were asking questions like ‘What’s math like there?’ and were dumbstruck when our guests said it was ‘way harder’ than it is here at CA. They were connecting as humans, as kids, bonding over the Black Panther movie and candy preferences. It was such an authentic exchange, and one that upended preconceived stereotypes.”

Koerner’s favorite moment? When Pauline Hovey, a volunteer with Annunciation House­—a nonprofit in El Paso, Texas that offers hospitality to newly arrived migrants, immigrants, and refugees at the border—visited, sharing stories from specific families that were undergoing the asylum-seeking process.

“She was able to share specific stories and faces, to paint a vivid picture of what this family, this woman, this child went through. It made it very real for students—they could connect,” offers Koerner. “And, she was working only with the people that had actually gained asylum status. Just the sheer numbers of even that population—which is less than 1% of the actual people that arrive at the border—it was mind-blowing for our students. I had so many students come up to me and ask to get involved after her presentation.”

And, of course, that’s the point.

“Making those connections, hearing the personal stories, the challenges of those that have had to resettle, it deepens empathy—both for our students and for the educators involved in this project. You can see the light bulbs turning on.” says Grant.
Miller—whose research project focused on unaccompanied minor migration—is one of the students who experienced one of those light bulb moments. “I realized that, here in our little bubble in Raleigh, we’re all pretty privileged and live good lives, but there are so many scary things happening in the world, so many people and things that need our help. We need to do whatever we can to publicize it, to make people care, to help.”

Cultivating Community

Once those light bulbs are turned on, Migration Collaboration aims to empower and equip students with the critical insights and skills needed to lead impactful change in their own backyards—and to do so in a way that stresses partnership and equity. Indeed, while fostering student empowerment is central to the project, so too is cultivating savvy leadership and collaborative skills. And that includes knowing when to sit back and listen and when to lead, or when to adjust an idea or let go of it altogether if it doesn’t have community buy-in or address community needs (no matter how invested you may be personally).

Dawson, Grant, and Koerner are hopeful that next year’s cohort of Migration Collaboration students will be putting those collaborative skills to action. In the long-awaited next stage of the project (postponed this year due to COVID), students will propose and develop their own service initiatives designed in partnership with community stakeholders.

“It’s a balancing act,” offers Grant. “We want these to be student-directed projects and ones that empower students in their learning, but they must learn to do so responsibly. First and foremost, they must listen to the community. That’s why we stress empathy, listening, and interviewing. What are the people in our community telling us that they are experiencing, that they need? Is there a way—because sometimes there isn’t—that we can be a part of a solution? How can we utilize our resources—our time, energy, money, whatever—to meet that need in partnership with the community.”

Cultivating respect for local expertise, for the deep knowledge that partners can bring to the table—even those not traditionally viewed as educators—is crucial. “We’re mindful about using the term ‘expert,’” explains Grant. “We use it not only when we are going into the community to learn directly from professionals who are working with immigration policy or programs, but when referring to refugee newcomers themselves. It is important that our students understand and respect the kind of expertise that comes from personal experience.”

“The title we chose for this project—Migration Collaboration—was quite purposeful,” reflects Koerner. “It’s not just about our students collaborating in the classroom on projects—it is about working together in partnership with the broader community. We wanted to set that tone, to be clear about our intentions from the outset. We’re not saving anyone—our community is broad and diverse. We are all in this together.” He smiles, “I can’t wait to see what our students and their partners will do next.

Written by Mandy Dailey, Director of Communications

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Lightbulb moments

September 9, 2021

A puzzled voice from the back: “Can we just leave our kid home alone?”  

Said with a sigh from another seat: “Maybe we don’t need health insurance; it is too expensive.”  

A third chimed in, frustration evident: “No, our kid can’t have ice cream. We can’t afford it.”  

I sat quietly, watching the wheels turn as our 6th graders maneuvered through the process of SPENT, an online simulator that walks users through a month of spending on a limited budget, of balancing necessary expenses like rent, health insurance and medical care, groceries, utilities, childcare, and more. 

Of course, the students knew they should never leave a sick child home alone, but they also knew that their fictional job did not offer the flexibility to take a day off and their childcare funds were . . .  well, there were no childcare funds. They understood that they would never want to go to school with dirty clothes, but they also recognized that a laundry mat costs money they did not have. 

Our students struggled with these difficult challenges plucked from the real world; impossible choices that must be made. Do you pay high health insurance premiums or risk devastatingly costly emergency medical bills? Do you take a new job with a higher salary but longer hours that increases costly childcare needs?  These are, of course, the difficult and nuanced decisions–the realities–faced by many in our own community on a daily basis.  

Later, students embarked on field trips to local stores, including Dollar Tree and Walgreens, to see just how far they could stretch their limited grocery budget dollars. New realizations, new questions emerged: where was the fresh produce? How do you eat healthy if you live in an urban food desert? How do you meet your grocery needs if you can only shop at stores where stock is limited and overpriced? Why are there food deserts? Why aren’t grocery stores available to everyone? 

Across these activities you could see the thoughts forming, lightbulbs clicking on all over the room.  Nebulous concepts were rendered into stark and uncomfortable realizations: not everyone in our community can afford the basics necessary to survive. Many are engaging in impossibly complicated balancing acts simply trying to keep food on the table. Just a half mile down the road, students our ages don’t have adequate access to food.  

I watched as students sat in these uncomfortable realities, thinking deeply, realizing that not everyone has their privilege; many children go hungry at night. Importantly, in their newfound empathy and awareness, I saw the initial sparks of resolve, of wanting to be part of a solution. 

For me, this is the power of experiential learning: those “lightbulb” moments—transformative epiphanies when students move beyond learning simple facts to understanding complex concepts and systems. And nowhere are these more important than in service learning.  

Our service-learning focus in 6th grade is Backpack Buddies, which helps address food insecurity in our community by sharing food with local elementary schoolers. Backpack Buddies is a wonderful and important program, and one supported by many local area schools, often with canned food donation drives.  

These drives, organized and led by our Middle School students, are crucially important to our local Backpack Buddies chapter. But, at CA, they are only one piece of the service-learning puzzle; our incredible Service Learning Director, Maggie Grant, is using this program as a springboard to help our students understand that our responsibility to addressing local food insecurity doesn’t begin and end with the donation of a few canned goods.  

Instead, we want our students to understand food insecurity—the sad truth that 1 in 5 American children deal with hunger—on a systemic level. We want them to think critically and complexly about the conditions—social, economic, geographic, political, and more—that are creating and exacerbating food insecurity. We want them to develop empathy for those whose experiences are vastly different from their own. And we want to prepare them to use that knowledge thoughtfully, ethically, and in partnership with our community to help create new, better systems that allow everyone to have equitable access to healthy food.  

If that seems like a heavy lift for 6th graders, sixth-grade language arts teacher Katie Taylor would like to assure you that it isn’t! Consider these reflections that her students shared with her: 

“I learned today that no matter what, people should get enough food; there are invisible challenges for people dealing with low incomes or poverty . . .  we can come together to help many hungry people out there.”  

“At the store, we realized that a lot of the items we found were not quite as nutritious as we hoped they’d be. Most of the items we found were not friendly to those allergic to nuts!”  

A third student wisely reflected that “Having food on the table is harder than it sounds. You can’t just snap…. There are a lot of things that you need to think about.”  

As Ms. Taylor says, “these students have all found a lightbulb moment; we’ll work together this year to help them keep the lights on” as we encourage them to look outside themselves, to solve community problems, and to think deeply with empathy.  

Written by Danielle Johnson-Webb, Director of Equity & Community Engagement

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The power of purpose

September 2, 2021

Coach Pullen is a genius.

We had been watching our 65 middle school cross country students struggle through an early-season workout. A few students dutifully completed the warm-up jog. Still, most had quickly defaulted to walking — all the while grumbling about the heat, sore ankles, and assorted other tribulations associated with physical activity. 

“OK, runners,” Coach shouted as they came in from the first loop of the field. “Those of you who are one of the top 15 to 20 runners on the team — my best runners — you can go out for another loop. The rest of you, go ahead and stop for a water break.” 

I watched in amazement as at least half the team looked at one another, trying to assess the situation, themselves, and their friends… and then headed back out for a second loop. This time, at a full run. 

Coach Pullen’s motivational technique got me rethinking about something I shared with Upper School students at their opening convocation this year. 

There is a growing body of research on the positive impacts of having purpose in life. As Cornell University psychologist Anthony Burrow recently explained on an NPR podcast: “There seems to be accumulating evidence that one of the benefits of feeling a sense of purpose is that it can help us remain even keel in moments of stress or challenge, and sometimes even uplifting experiences.”

The challenge for all of us — but especially young people — is how to “find” that purpose. 

Professor Burrow would be quick to point out that this might be the wrong way to look at it. 

Purpose, he would say, is “cultivated,” not found. This happens by creating an environment where you establish a sense of identity and self-understanding, are exposed to new things, interesting questions, and challenging ideas, and then have some self-determination in where you go in life. 

Fortunately, as I told the students in August, research shows us three potential ways to cultivate purpose. 

  1. Proactive: A gradual, sustained attempt to engage in a topic or opportunity. Think of a hobby that morphs into something more, sometimes without even realizing when the transition happened. 
  2. Reactive: Responding to something that happens in life, which can often be negative, that nonetheless gives somebody a newfound sense of purpose or direction.  
  3. Pro-Social: Cultivating a sense of purpose through interacting and learning from other people and their passions or purposes. Like a hobby, this type of purpose acquisition may grow gradually over time — but it comes from our natural desire to share experiences with others. 

We can see opportunities to cultivate purpose in all three ways here at Cary Academy, but certainly more clearly in ways 1 and 3. As we move further down the path of our strategic plan, we seek to build more opportunities to grow student interests and passions through coursework, extracurricular programs, and new experiential learning pathways embedded in X Days. 

Which brings me back to Coach Pullen and seeing first-hand the power of pro-social motivation. None of our new runners are really experienced enough to know if the sport will be for them or if it will lead to a life-long association with running or fitness. For now, though, the experience of being together and of trying on the identity of “top runner,” is a powerful motivator and a positive experience. 

That’s ultimately how the race is won—one step at a time.

Written by Mike Ehrhardt, Head of School

CA Curious

French Fries

Magazine of CA

Showing Up for Each Other

Magazine of CA

Follow the leaders: Spotlight on Youth Engagement Summit


Magazine of CA

Follow the leaders: Spotlight on Youth Engagement Summit

September 1, 2021

Some might consider the task of planning and pulling off a virtual summit with more than one hundred attendees a daunting task, but once a group of CA students saw the chance to create a powerful learning experience for their peers and classmates, they couldn’t help but say “YES!”

In mid-January 2020, a group of six Upper School students attended the Youth Forum Switzerland (YFS). Hosted by the International School of Zug and Luzern, YFS was modeled after the World Economic Forum, which was occurring at the same time an hour away in Davos. YFS brought together ambitious and energized students the world over to brainstorm ways to confront the challenges facing the next generation of leaders­—moving communities to zero waste, gender inequity, digital privacy, and mental health—and build connections between contemporary experts and teenage scholars.

The CA students returned to North Carolina empowered and emboldened but also very aware of the elite nature of the experience. Rather than become de facto leaders of a series of new initiatives, they wanted to democratize the experience, expanding the opportunity to their peers and classmates.

“We were the first overseas students to attend YFS. All the things they were doing to empower youth, seeing kids our age really making a difference in their communities and around the world, was so inspiring,” beams Ryan Azrak ’21. “We wanted to bring that back to CA but also to branch out even further and transfer that sense of empowerment to students all across the United States.”

According to Entrepreneurship Director Palmer Seeley, who accompanied the students to Switzerland, a plan to democratize the YFS experience was in motion before the plane landed back in the United States.

“Our students kept talking about how they wished everyone in their ENVIRO class had heard that speaker, or that the robotics team could have attended this session, or that there was a video of a panel that they could share with their club or affinity group. It was at that point that I heard them ask, ‘Would this sort of conference be something we could do back at CA?’”

Despite the emerging disruption of the COVID-19 pandemic, the students presented a plan for a global youth summit to be held at CA. The focus would be on connecting peers to explore some of the world’s most pressing issues, from racial justice to climate change to the pandemic. Knowing that building a global forum from scratch was quite a leap, they formulated instead a plan for a smaller-scale virtual forum. Thus, YES!—the Youth Engagement Summit—was born.

Though the pandemic forced a shift to virtual learning, the students behind YES! carried on planning their forum, working on their own time, at first, and later also during Flex Days, when the new academic schedule was adopted in the fall. Their dedication and hard work paid off. With the guidance and support of the Center for Community Engagement, YES! would take place during Discovery Term—CA’s two-week experiential education period that closes out the school year—and exclusively open to the sophomore class.

“The biggest challenge they faced was time,” says Seeley. “They found time to meet as a group every week since they got back from Switzerland—even when CA was on break and all summer—and they worked on their own, as well. For most of them, they had only been to one conference—the one they’d just returned from—and they knew putting together a four-day conference like this would take a monumental effort. It took a huge amount of trust on the part of the school’s leadership that these students could make it work.”

Challenge is another word for opportunity

In case you were wondering, the ambitious task before the YES! leaders didn’t dampen spirits. “It was a really fun process for us,” smiles Sydney Tai ’22. “We had multiple meetings where we just brainstormed ideas about dozens of topics, based off what we had learned at YFS. Then, we sent it to the sophomores for their input and feedback. Through that, we were able to expand the list tenfold then narrow it down to three plenary foci (youth mental health, racial justice, and confronting anti-Asian sentiment) and four deep-dive tracks: ethical inquiries, the future of environmentalism, gender and sexuality, and the accessibility of the American Dream.”

With a lot of collaborative hard work, the YES! leaders built a program of more than 40 (!) individual panels, discussions, activities, and opportunities for CA sophomores to find their sparks, while engaging with more than three dozen guest speakers, including experts from Harvard, Johns Hopkins, UNC, Wake Forest, faith leaders, and even a representative from SpaceX (just to name a few).

“I’ve really enjoyed figuring out how to get the sophomores more personally engaged in activism,” shares Allie Chandler ’22. One of the goals of the Youth Engagement Summit is to let youth find different topics that interest them. In Switzerland, we got the opportunity to explore all these different topics and then figure out what interested us and what we could take back to the community. It’s been a really transformative experience to go from being the person that was trying to learn, to trying to figure out how to help other people find something that they’re interested in.”

The YES! leaders wanted to give their peers more than just information sessions and the chance to hear from experts—they wanted their classmates to have the same transformative experience that they’d had, but without the jet lag. “The [YES! leaders] realized how powerful the experience of being in the room was, the value of their interactions with the experts at YFS, and—most importantly—how critical it was to share those experiences with other students,” says CA’s Director of Equity and Community Engagement, Danielle Johnson-Webb. “The excitement and personal investment that develops when a student is able to follow their passions and explore their interests is absolutely transformative. And not only as students—these experiences are life-changing.”

“It was truly amazing, watching the students develop important soft skills,” notes Seeley. “They figured out not only how to brainstorm topics, reach out to potential speakers, and handle the logistical challenge of taking a swarm of rough ideas and turning them into a workable conference schedule, but how to communicate honestly with each other. They knew that they all had the larger effort’s best interest at heart, intrinsically understanding the pros and cons of whether or not to establish an organizational hierarchy. They learned how to learn on the fly, adjusting based on what was and wasn’t working. More than anything, they developed the skill of confidence.”

Teaching to learn

For the YFS alumni, the process of building YES! wasn’t simply about producing material to be consumed by the sophomore class, but to elevate members of the Class of 2023, like Jacob King and Brianna Liang, to become leaders themselves.

Liang, new to CA this year, fell into the role by accident—not realizing that she was responding to a call for leaders by volunteering to provide further input when ranking her preference of topics—rose to the occasion. “I thought I was helping to inform how the workshops would be created, but I didn’t realize I would be leading a workshop on my own. And then I ended up leading two. I’ve learned so much in the process, both about my topics—gentrification and upcycling—and about how to keep people engaged.”

“I can’t sit through a boring workshop,” says King, who became fast friends with Liang over the course of the year, often helping her overcome her self-described shyness by introducing her to other CA students. “I jumped in at the last minute when I saw that other sophomores were leading workshops. By helping Brianna teach, I’m helping everyone learn—including myself. I’ve had a few leadership experiences in the past and what I always find amazing and engaging about it is the sense that, as you’re teaching something, you’re learning it even more deeply.”

“Learning to teach is as much a part of the experiential education process as taking part in a seminar or participating in a field trip,” agrees Johnson-Webb. “Not only is it a fantastic way to ensure that the students have mastery of a subject, but it also helps them build confidence in their ability to connect and communicate with each other—to bridge differences in learning styles and experiences.”

Establishing connections

A common experience that Chandler, King, Liang, and Tai all had in building different parts of YES! was the opportunity to grow their own network of connections—whether within CA, or with subject matter experts on everything from manufacturing upcycled furniture to colonizing Mars. They hope that YES! helps their fellow students similarly build their networks.

“What we really loved about YFS was that they had all of these experts that we could actually engage with personally. We could ask them questions,” shares Chandler. “And that’s why we had students interviewing some of the experts at YES. Even though it’s virtual, we built in opportunities for students to have unstructured time with the presenters.”

“Watching students connect with young presenters—including alumni like hip-hop educator Kevin “Rowdy” Rowsey ’09, mental health advocate Ceren Iz ’19, Activist Collab co-founder Meirav Soloman ’21, and space advocates Abe Weinstein ’19 and Orlin Velev ’13 of SpaceX—was truly exciting,” says Seeley.

Excitement, it seems, is contagious. A dozen rising juniors are already brainstorming the next YES! experience. Spurred by the examples set by their peers, they can’t wait to build upon what they’ve learned, passing along their lessons and impassioned opportunities to the next group of CA students.

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


Affirming our values in trying times

CA Curious

Salutations, esteemed learners

Middle School

CA teams get with the (computer) program

Leadership During Crisis

Community Conversations

Follow the leaders: Spotlight on Leadership In Crisis Program

September 1, 2021

Late last summer, as our nation grappled with the longstanding effects of institutionalized racism and racial inequity, CA’s leadership posed bold questions: how can we empower and encourage our students to delve deeper into the complex issues playing out so vividly in the headlines? How can we inspire and develop the next generation of leaders who might help move our country towards a more equitable future?

From our Center for Community Engagement came one answer: a new, year-long, experimental, and expeditionary cross-grade program—the Leadership During Crisis Program—designed to experientially and intellectually immerse students in the complex intersections of history, inequity, social change, anti-racism, and leadership.

“We wanted to drop students into the middle of a deep, wide complex debate about what this country is, what it wants to be, and how leadership can help it move toward those ideals,” explains Dr. Michael McElreath, CA’s Director of Experiential Learning.

“I sketched out an idea to use the pandemic and the fight for Black justice as focal points—as windows into other crises in American history—to better understand how leaders reacted. We’d investigate how those reactions shaped the ‘story of America,’ and what this next generation of leaders—our students—could learn about leadership from those choices, both good and bad.”

As students would be grappling with traumatic histories and events, creating an atmosphere of trust—one in which students felt comfortable sharing their authentic selves and experiences—was paramount, but not without challenge.

“For our students to get the most out of the experience—to be able to thoroughly explore some nuanced and difficult moments and have the chance to learn from each other’s perspectives and experiences—I knew they had to meet face-to-face,” McElreath shares with a sigh. “But at that moment, given COVID, it was obvious that we were not going to hold in-person classes any time soon.”

Putting it together

The solution was something radical: program members—students and faculty alike—would become a distinct and mobile learning community. They would meet on-campus for multiple periods, multiple days each week, and participate in expeditionary field trips (with careful COVID protocols in place, of course), while their Upper School peers remained virtual.

“A self-contained ‘school within a school’ was an exciting idea we’d talked about but never tackled before now,” says McElreath. “It seemed the best way to give the students the chance to dive deep into all of these experiences, make meaningful connections, and come out of the class with a sense of purpose.”

Partnering with Upper School English teacher and Entrepreneurship Director Palmer Seeley, McElreath and Seeley crafted an ambitious interdisciplinary curriculum that spanned social studies, social activism, art as a social practice, and English literature (students still attended regular math and science classes, which fell outside of the program’s scope).

In collegiate seminar-style discussions designed to amplify peer learning opportunities, students explored a variety of works of non-fiction and historical fiction. Together, they unpacked American history from multiple viewpoints—including their own—and discovered narratives that were often at stark odds with the sanitized and simplified story often presented as the American experience.

The group delved into the racial violence woven throughout American history with Ta-Nehisi Coates’s Between the World and Me. They gained rich insights into the complexity and intersectionality of race, gender, and class relations in America via the 17th century slave trade in Toni Morrison’s A Mercy. Ibram Kendi’s personal tale of racism’s toxic effects—How to Be an Antiracist—offered a call to action for systemic change. These and other books provided critical context for the events and places the students were exploring and experiencing firsthand.

Indeed, beyond books and classroom discussion, expeditionary firsthand learning was a crucial element of the program. The group frequently traveled within North Carolina, visiting the State Capitol grounds to see where recently-removed Confederate monuments once stood, to Civil War battlefields, and the site of the 1898 Wilmington coup by white supremacists against the elected leaders of the then-majority Black city.

“Getting out of the classroom and to the places where history happened makes the events and their effects on American society tangible to students. It was critical to the program experience. Being in those places allows us to develop a personal link to history and empathy for the people who lived it—it’s no longer just a fact in a book or an image on a screen; you can imagine what it would have been like to live it yourself,” says McElreath.

“We also visited several sites where later generations have marked historical events in a variety of ways—and not always honestly,” he continues. “Discussions about why and how those with power sometimes attempt to weaponize history in the service of maintaining power was an important part of our discussions about leadership this year.”

Leaning in

In all aspects of the program, students were encouraged to take the lead—to investigate, interrogate, and draw connections about what they were learning through the lens of their own varied experiences and perspectives. “Being forced to make the connections ourselves helped us better understand exactly what happened in the past and how it came about,” shares Maris James ’23.

“Going into this class, the only thing we had in common was that we all went to the same school. We all brought our different experiences and perspectives into this class, which definitely shaped the way each of us analyzed history. While the course was based on a common set of facts, what we learned about leadership traits and how we can implement those into our own lives was drawn from our own experiences and what we—as individuals—see every day.”

Peer learning and peer mentorship opportunities were carefully and purposefully cultivated, down to the very organizational structures and assignments chosen for the program. Students often assumed the role of teacher, conducting independent research projects on historical events and figures and then teaching it to their peers as formal lessons.

“These student-led sessions were a vital part of the program concept,” says McElreath. “Preparing to teach a lesson requires mastery of the topic. Peer teaching ensures that students are engaged and invested in the shared experience of learning.”

And, it worked. More often than not, the students were so caught-up in their conversations that discussions spilled out of the classroom, onto the Quad during lunch, and into the after-school hours. “There was one day, early on, when we all just sat together at lunch and kept the conversation going,” shares Clay Thornton ’21. “From that point on, we all started eating together so we could keep talking about what we had said in class.”

“Peer mentorship was critical for the program. It’s not enough for the students to learn about leadership,” offers Seeley. “They needed the opportunity—and the environment—that let them lead the conversation. It had to feel organic, relevant, and have the right balance of guidance and agency. It was important that Michael and I be part of the community but to do so by guiding discussions, not leading them.”
That “guide-on-the-side” approach was well received by students and faculty alike, solidifying the bonds amongst group members. “We felt like a community. Dr. Mac and Mr. Seeley were in the class with us—even if they were sometimes 200 pages ahead in the book,” laughs Sydney Ross ’23. “It felt so good to have the teachers involved. The chance to be real when we talked about these really difficult events was so helpful.”

The strategic decision to make the program cross-grade—comprised of sophomores, juniors, and seniors, many of whom had never been in the same room—was similarly instrumental in fostering an engaging peer-led environment.

“The seniors had two years’ more knowledge, experiences, and skills to draw upon, but the sophomores were at a point in their high school careers that they could take more academic risk,” explains Seeley. “Taking those risks can provide them opportunities to expand their understanding of the world in ways that most people don’t get until college or later.”

Purposefully including students at different moments in their respective learning journeys proved lucrative, encouraging personal growth and reflection as students became sounding boards and learning resources for each other. Together, they developed a more nuanced and multifaceted understanding, not only of the historical and contemporary moments they were exploring and experiencing, but of each other.

“The year let me get to know the voices and perspectives of my peers in the class on a much deeper level than in my other courses,” says Kate Sandreuter ’23. “I gained confidence for speaking up in class and got to explore issues on a deeper level by listening to the different perspectives of other people experiencing the same thing.”

The year-long format allowed the students time to develop crucial nuance. “You might think that our opinions over the year would have become more homogenous,” reflects Eli Weinstein ’21. “As the class went on, however, I realized just how different each of us was. And that, in turn, changed the way I saw the American story. I realize now how it has been co-opted time and again; the fact is, the American story isn’t one thing.”

The flexible, experiential format also supported different learning styles. “As someone who struggles with memorizing facts and dates, this is one of those courses where—because we’re so discussion focused—we get to move beyond the what and when, and focus more on the who and the why, and how it connects with the things that we’re living through,” shares Lexie Davilla ’23.

Living history

It was that relaxed, flexible structure that allowed the class to pivot as history unfolded during the U.S. Capitol riot on January 6, 2021. “When January 6 happened, it felt like it was the logical next part of where the discussion had to go,” says McElreath. “It brought home, in realtime, just how quickly a single event can affect the course of history. And it gave the students the opportunity to lead informal discussions with their peers who weren’t part of the program.”

“In that moment, it was almost like Dr. Mac and Mr. Seeley were in class with us,” says Thornton. “But they were also guides—helping point out the things that we, as high school students, might not have the life experience to pick up on or contextualize. It helped me process all the questions I had swirling in my mind, and it’s helped, since then, when talking to my friends from outside the program.”

While the academic year and formal program might have drawn to an end, the work begun in the class is far from over. “Ultimately these debates, these conversations about American identity are not going to end,” offers McElreath. “But that’s true for the nation, as well. We had that conversation for nine months. We may have finished the class, but, hopefully, the students are not finished with the conversation.”

They certainly aren’t. Already, McElreath and Seeley’s students have been incubating ways that they can turn their newly honed leadership skills to personal interests, both on campus and beyond. To name just a few: Eli Weinstein and Jared Seidel are exploring a re-branding of anti-fascism in hopes of helping to effectively stem the rising global tides of fascism; Bela Chandler and Jenna Pullen have created an animal wellness awareness campaign that aired on the Middle School’s CAST News; and Lexie Davila utilized educational resources about LGBTQIA+ issues created by Leadership During Crisis classmate classmate Christina Polge to facilitate the “Introduction to Gender & Sexuality” workshop during YES! (What’s YES! you ask? Just read on to find out.)

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

Faculty Reflections

Connecting the Dots

CA Curious

Meet the New Faces of CA

Faculty Reflections

Founding vision

CA Curious

Learning by doing

May 27, 2021

For Upper Schoolers, the last two weeks of the school year are filled with lots of opportunities for experiential learning courtesy of Discovery Term (DT), Work Experience Program (WEP), and the Youth Engagement Summit (YES). These programs, coordinated by our Center for Community Engagement, help students to flex their leadership skills, explore new areas of interest, and take their learning to another level—whether in the lab, wilderness, halls of justice, local markets, studios, or beyond.  

Enjoy these student voices as they share just some of what they are exploring / making / and experiencing in WEP and DT, and look for a wrap-up later this summer on YES. (To hear from other students, check out blogs.CaryAcademy.org/cawep/ and blogs.CaryAcademy.org/discovery-term/ where all students are blogging their learning journeys): 

Work Experience Program 

I’m working with the Town of Cary Public Works team with a focus on turf/facility management. . .  I have gained lots of insight on techniques, processes, the science that plays into creating high quality turf for the playing surfaces. I have been surprised by the precision in every action of the industry and hope to continue to learn more about the industry and management processes. 

— Lawson Wheeler, Town of Cary Public Works 

I’m job shadowing at Osceola Studios. I’ve gotten the chance to work with several incredibly talented artists to turn their ideas into polished tracks. Dick Hodgin, the audio engineer, is (for lack of a more descriptive term) a wizard. Not only in his musical expertise, but the way he connects with each artist, seemingly understanding the songs better than they do.  

— Alex Lim, Osceola Studios 

I am helping Homestead Sage build an online presence (website, social media, etc.). Right now, I am working on a resource library on UV-C light technology for their website. It’s been really eye-opening! 

— Sophia Liu, Homestead Sage 

I am researching and exploring the different parts of Senate Bill 300, which focuses on adding new law enforcement requirements, decriminalizing certain local offenses, as well as addressing constitutional issues with satellite-based monitoring. I got to meet Professor Markham and hope to attend a general assembly meeting and listen in on a court case. 

— Gabriella Cicuto, Criminal Justice Reform with Professor Markham at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill 

So far, we have spent the time learning about how to put together presentations and pitches by researching an emerging technology called NFTs. NFTs are digital assets that use blockchain and crypto-wallets to function. We are researching how they work, how to make them, their environmental impacts, and their potential future applications.  

— Sarah Haddix, Lenovo 

I’m shadowing Guilford County Public Defender ShaKeta Berrie. I spent most of the day toggling between district court and superior court. I assist Ms. Berrie in finding her files, locating, and organizing her shucks, calling out the names of her clients to make sure they are there, calling clients who failed to show up to court, and watching other court cases. I learned about how important the 4th amendment is specifically to the work Ms. Berrie does in district court and how important a public defender’s job is to help protect and serve the public. 

— Sierra Nesbeth, Guilford County Courts 

At French West Vaughan, we have been given the wonderful opportunity to shadow several producers, managers, and executives in the different departments of French West Vaughan, an accredited public relations and marketing agency. The Creative Team, Media Team, Account Team, and Social Team all focus on different areas of the marketing process, and I have enjoyed learning the responsibilities and strategies of each department. It amazes me how, in the end, the teams collaborate to execute campaigns, design websites, and build successful brands.  

— Kendyl George, French West Vaughan 

Our group is currently doing research on the effects of Permethrin (a chemical commonly found in mosquito nets) in Sub-Saharan Africa, to understand the benefits of Vector Textiles’ net which is produced without chemicals. It is fascinating to connect both the direct impact of the pesticide on humans (ingestion/contact) and how the environmental effects indirectly affect humans. So far, the experience has been wonderful as it gives me a better sense of what a future in STEM-research may entail. 

— Vinith Upadhya, Vector Textiles (Environmental Modeling) 

These past few days, I had the pleasure of witnessing our judicial system first-hand. My host, Judge Davidian, has been kind enough to allow me to witness proceedings in his courtroom, and I was able to see cases of all varieties, from civil domestic violence cases all the way to felony pleas. Not only did I gain more of an insight into the laws and workings of our judicial system, but I also was able to learn more about Judge Davidian’s past career as a Navy JAG, which was very interesting as well!   

— William Su, Wake County Courts 

My WEP is with Representative Grier Martin and his Legislative Assistant Chris in the NC House of Representatives. So far, my experience has been very eye-opening. It’s very cool to see the bills come to life. I have attended a committee meeting, a press conference, some constituent meetings, and visited the DMVA. Tomorrow, I get to attend session. I hope to learn more about representative and lobbyist interactions in order to get bills passed. 

— Bella Nesbeth, NC State Legislature 

I’m working with Dr. Tarek Aziz, a professor at NCSU who is doing research into the viability of using white rot fungus to treat pesticide contamination in water. The work we are doing involves us tweaking the code of an agent-based model to add additional features to make it more realistic.  

— Ethan Chou, Aziz Lab, North Carolina State University 

I’m working in the writing industry with a publisher, authors, and a bookseller. I’ve gotten the chance to meet with Mindy Quigley, a Virginian author of cozy mysteries who has given me lots of great advice and connected me with some of her colleagues in the writing field. . . I’m also meeting with Abby Muller from Algonquin Publishing and to prepare, she’s given me a manuscript to read and write a reader’s report (a standard publishing task done by interns that tells the editors whether they should read the book or not) including feedback and a general plot summary. Then, I will be working at Flyleaf Books for a day. I’ve learned a lot about being an author and an editor and I look forward to the rest of the next couple weeks seeing different experiences in all parts of the industry.  

— Christina Polge, Author and Publishing House 

So far, we have learned about all the different architectures at Cisco from security (Umbrella/Duo) to Meraki and AppDynamics. It has been incredibly interesting to see all the amazing things that these Cisco products can do to simplify and streamline all aspects of a business or company.  

— Grace Jaeger-Sandruck, Cisco 

My work experience is with the North Carolina Symphony as a Performing Arts Management intern. I will be exploring and working with all the different areas under arts administration (marketing, philanthropy, education, communications and more). I have played violin very rigorously for almost all of my life, so I was curious to learn more about other behind the scenes aspects of the arts and music that allow the music to ultimately be heard. So far, I’ve met with a handful of prominent people to discuss their work and have conducted some research and created archives. I look forward to the end of WEP for a live concert at Koka Booth that I will help run! 

— Kali Bate, North Carolina Symphony 

My group and I are figuring out the Unreal Engine, the game engine that EpicGames created and uses to develop and design its games, and working on Unreal Engine projects.  By the end, I hope to have my project up and running (but not necessarily done because it simply isn’t feasible to prototype a whole game in two weeks), to have a better understanding of C++ code, and to have a little experience designing my own avatars and scenes.  In the future, I’d love to use the skills I acquired to learn more C++ and explore digital art further. 

— Julia Huang, Video Game Development with Steve Polge, an EpicGames senior programmer 

Discovery Term 

I think the best experiences and takeaways in the Health and Fitness DT so far would be understanding the underlying ingredients in foods that we commonly enjoy and how all ranges of exercises can prove to be both challenging physically and mentally. What initially drew me into this DT was wanting to get a head start on a healthy lifestyle through and for the 2021 summer, but within the few days of this DT, I can almost certainly say that I will continue to use what I’ve learned in this DT for the rest of my high school career, hopefully taking some aspect of it to college.  

— Jared Seidel, ’22, Health and Fitness Leader 

My DT is all about trying new things— by learning about global cuisines from either informative videos or classmates, and then getting a firsthand experience by going around the Triangle and tasting different foods from different cultures. . .  I think I am most surprised by how similar certain things are across some cuisines. There is a lot of difference— be it in the types of food, the tradition surrounding how you eat, when you eat, and even how much you eat per meal; however, the similarities are there too, from curry being popular in both India (as a dish) and in Germany (as a snack— currywurst, which is sausage in curry sauce), to cultures all across the board having some type of flatbread special to their cuisine. 

— Jasmine, ’24, World Cuisines around the Triangle 

Currently we are making an escape room in virtual reality (VR), and learning how to use Unity VR software to make a VR game, and how to set up VR. . . I signed up to do this because many of my friends are into coding and computers and I wanted to give it a try; I thought this would be the perfect way. Also, I wanted to do this because I wanted to know if I wanted to do something with VR or video games in the future.  

— Adora Koonce ’24, Into the World of Virtual Reality 

As I am new to the school, this is my first time ever experiencing a course like this. In general, my DT has been extremely fun so far. As there are no homework and tests, being able to learn freely without worry has opened a new perspective on learning for me. Going to school every day has felt like spending time pursuing my interests instead of attending mandatory classes. I am thoroughly enjoying this course.  

— Kayleigh Ko, ’24, Fashion Frenzy  

Our Discovery Term has touched on fashion throughout different cultures, discovering our personal preferences in clothing and design, and learning about the differences between high and fast fashion. We have taken excursions to the Gregg Museum of Art and Design and a local thrift store to compose outfits with our personal style. We look forward to continuing to learn about how fashion can be demonstrative of traditions and local climate, as well as acting on our understandings through a variety of fun and creative projects.  

— Caitlin Smith, ’24, Fashion Frenzy 

So far, I have learned how to canoe and steer a canoe the way I want, how to flip a canoe back over and get in safely without filling it with water, how to make a tent out of a tarp, and a lot about fish hatcheries and their effect on evolution and the populations of wild creatures. I hope to get more comfortable in natural bodies of water, and more comfortable in knowing how to safely maneuver in these bodies without putting myself or others at risk. . . .  I’m actually going on a pretty long hiking trip this summer, so this course will really help me prepare for that and help me know how to do things like leave no trace, be safe in the backcountry, have fun, and take care of the environment. Something that has been surprising was how quickly you adjust to living or existing in nature, and I’ve learned that something very small can have a huge impact. Humans often try to control the wild because we want reliable, predictable safety. The truth is, however, the wild is best left wild, and the environment is best left untouched.  

— Katie White, ’24, Waterpalooza 

One thing I hope to get out of the trips is to get out of my comfort zone. During my experience so far, I have done many things I wouldn’t have done. For example, hiking, cliff jumping, and swimming out in the open. I learned how to face my fear of heights, being stranded, and snakes. Finally, I hope to learn more about how to camp overnight in the woods and to grow my mental strength through hiking and swimming. 

— Ben Coley, ’24, Experiencing Wilderness 

I have learned a lot about the format and processes behind making a film or screen play. I have learned how to write a script the right way and what goes into it, like the intention and obstacle. I have learned many new and different types of camera angles and shots, as well as how they affect the scene. We made our own mini film that lasts about 1-3 minutes, and we wrote our own scripts. We are about to start on the final project which is a 10-minute film.  

— Josh Hanson, ’24, Filmmaking 

I’m the course leader for Grease Monkeys, an automotive-focused DT. Though we have only had two days so far, we’ve been very productive. . . So far, they have learned how to find information about a specific car, use that information to find parts for the car, change brake pads, and change oil and oil filters. During downtime, between working on cars, students have been able to try their hand with a racing simulator. They have been practicing their racing techniques and putting their best lap times up on the board in preparation for our go-karting outing next week. 

— Cy Reading ’22, Grease Monkeys Leader 

So far, we have used short PowerPoints to educate the students about different East Asian countries and their cultures, and also performed hands-on activities. These included inviting in a calligraphy instructor to help us make ink paintings and calligraphy, doing chopstick relay races, making dumplings, sampling tea, and watching Asian movies. We also participated in many kahoots that introduce us to holidays, religions, and practices of East Asian people.  

— Ella Zhang, ’24, East Asian Culture Leader 

Franchise Mode has been just as much about discovery for me as a leader as it has been for the ’24rs taking the course. Our Discovery Term focuses on the components of media and marketing that enable a sports organization to be successful. We look at how things like branding, journalism, merchandising, and media creation all work together to create a cohesive identity for a team. Our most eye-opening experience came this Wednesday, when we had recent UNC graduate and Morehead-Cain Scholar Luke Buxton come and share his experiences with sports media with us. Luke talked to us about a non-profit he created called Uncut, which gives collegiate athletes a platform to discuss issues they’re passionate about, with subjects ranging from mental health to social injustice. Luke’s perspective was invaluable, it demonstrated how someone so close to us in age could make a meaningful impact within a field like sports media. Luke’s relatability left us all with a feeling of unprecedented inspiration and motivation to continue our two weeks of discovery. 

— Hagan Aderhold, ’22, Franchise Mode Leader 

In the past two days, we have played and discussed several strategy games, watched a movie, and gone on a field trip to an escape room. . .  I hope to develop a new and better understanding of math in the world around us, which may help me see the real-world applications of the math that we’re learning at school.  

— Eric Ye, ’24, Math Adventures 

We are learning a lot about how to improve our health in all aspects—physical, social, and mental—and doing a mixture of activities that emphasize total health, such as kayaking, taking a yoga class, attending a cooking class, and going whitewater rafting. We were even able to hear from a speaker about neuroscience behind emotions. It has been really eye-opening to realize how much our mind affects ourselves. I will definitely use the calming techniques from grounding exercises, meditation, and yoga in my daily life when I get stressed. All in all, this course provides an outlook for emphasizing the importance for embracing our emotions and steps we can do to live BETTER. 

— Tanya Sachdev, ’24, Live BETTER (Balanced, Exercise, Transform, Thrive, Experience, Relax) 

We’ve been exploring the connection between art and emotion, the different techniques used to convey specific feels such as sadness, happiness, loneliness, and love. So far, it’s been a fairly relaxing process, while also being a great way to use the creative side of my brain that I don’t always get to use in other classes. Talking about reflection and incorporating that into art is a great way to relieve any built-up tension and a nice way to get out of your head.  

— Renn, ’22, Feel the Art in Your Heart 

So far, DT has taught me what it is like to be a leader and helped me explore what that entails. For example, I’ve had to schedule things on a larger scale, manage everything going on, and stay accountable for both our schedule and the kids in our DT. It’s been a lot of fun to learn and grow as I work. In the future, hopefully after this experience I can feel more confident in my capability of handling larger-scale events and leading them.  

— Zoe Koo, ’23, Reuse, Recycle, Recreate Leader 

Written by Mandy Dailey, Director of Communications

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Alumni News

Congratulations, Class of 2021!