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

Upper School

Acclaimed historian addresses Upper School on how everyday people can change the world

Meet the Team: Student Support Services


2020 Spring Athletic Awards

CA Curious

Game On!

August 17, 2023

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Written by Dr. Mike Ehrhardt, Head of School


Acclaimed scholar guides students through the lessons of Martin Luther King’s final years


Campaign for Cary Academy

Middle School

Middle School visual arts showcase for 2019-2020

CA Curious

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

March 16, 2023

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Written by Lauren Bullock, Language Arts and World Cultures Teacher

Middle School

Middle School visual arts showcase for 2019-2020

Middle School

CA Bands finish out the year on a high note

Middle School

CA teams get with the (computer) program

CA Curious

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

CA Curious

Making the connection (from a safe distance)

Meet the Team: Student Support Services

Alumni News

Introducing the Spector Family Fund

Library from quad

CA Curious

Meet the New Faces of CA

November 10, 2022

This fall, CA welcomed many new faces to campus! New faculty and staff have joined us in nearly every corner of campus, and we are so pleased to introduce them to you. Below you will find some fun facts about each unique individual, and we hope you get the chance to say hello if you run into them in your daily lives.

Maria Arias
Operations Technician

If your life was a book, what would the title be?
The Happiest Woman Alive

What is your secret superpower?
I am hard working!

Gavin Barrentine
Education & Technology Support Specialist

What’s something that most people don’t know about you?
I grew up in Delaware and have only been in North Carolina for about 5 months.

Tell us about your favorite hobby.
My favorite hobby is watching movies. I spend most weekends watching at least a movie or two.

Nancy Barrientos
US Admin Assistant

What’s something that most people don’t know about you? 
Most people don’t know how much I actually love the fall because with all its beauty. It also means the return of Football! Sundays are a full-family event of fantasy football, snacking, and cheering for my SF 49ers!

What is something you have done in the last couple of years that makes you proud? 
I have held many titles in my roles in education, but by far my favorite was having the ability to give back to my community by going into the classroom during the pandemic – when we experienced one of the biggest teacher shortages to date. The privilege to support the special services department, co-teach grades 6-8, but most importantly serve as an advocate for my students and their families is an experience that I will always hold dear to my heart. Saying goodbye to my team and students was probably one of the hardest things to do when leaving NJ. 

Margaret Chidwick
US English Teacher

Tell us about your favorite hobby.
My favorite hobby is cooking. I especially like any recipe that requires chopping vegetables, as I find the whole process quite meditative. I lean toward simple recipes to let the food speak for itself. My favorite vegetable recipe is sauteed broccoli rabe, which requires just several ingredients. Some people say bacon makes everything better; and while I agree with them, I also believe that broccoli rabe compliments many food favorites of mine and even put it on fried eggs. Vegetables aside, I love making a good cheesecake and strawberry pie too.

If your life was a book, what would the title be and why?
The title would be Dig In because I am never more content than when I am actively committed and focused upon whatever is happening in the present moment.

Caroline Damitog
Athletic Trainer

If your life was a book, what would the title be?
Murphy’s Law

What is something you have done in the last couple of years that makes you proud?
I have climbed two 14ers in Colorado (Mt. Antero and Pikes Peak). One of them I sprained my ankle at the very top then had to hike down 7 miles on it to my car.

Tell us about your favorite hobby.
I like to crochet. But my favorite hobby is starting a new hobby/project and then never finishing it.

April Ellerbe
Special Events and Engagement Coordinator

What’s something that most people don’t know about you?
I am an introvert and extrovert.

If your life was a book, what would the title be and why?
I Don’t Look Like What I Am Going Through 

Treston Ellerbe
Logistics Coordinator

What’s something that most people don’t know about you?
I used to want to be a puppeteer.

Tell us about your favorite hobby.
I love to produce and make music.

Lou Farone
Operations Technician

What is something you have done in the last couple of years that makes you proud?
I’ve helped elderly people in my neighborhood.

Tell us about your favorite hobby.
My favorite is working around the house and yard creating different things.

Rickie Hashagen Operations Technician

What’s something that most people don’t know about you?
I’m originally from Charlotte, NC.

Tell us about your favorite hobby.
I like playing pool and watching TV, especially kickboxing and professional wrestling.

Becca Haque
Admin Assistant, College Counseling

What is something you have done in the last couple of years that makes you proud?
Running a 5K and also the Tarheel 4 miler!

What is your secret superpower?
I can recognize really obscure/random actors. And I’m a pantry-organizing queen!

Kevin Hogue
Lead Operations Technician

What is something you have done in the last couple of years that makes you proud?
Donated blood to help others.

What is your secret superpower?

Ahnie Ingram:
US ScienceTeacher

What’s something that most people don’t know about you?
I’m from Louisiana. I lived there all my life and all my extended family still lives there. My husband and our kids relocated to North Carolina in 2015.

Tell us about your favorite hobby.
My favorite hobby is cooking! I love to cook comfort foods for my family, especially Cajun dishes like red beans and rice and jambalaya on Saturdays in the fall when my LSU Tigers are playing!

Soo Mee Kaas
MS Math Teacher

If your life was a book, what would the title be and why? 
Corny Jokes…WHY?!!  My family loves to tell these tremendously corny jokes that they find hilarious.  I am the only sane one.

Tell us about your favorite hobby. 
I love to read and play volleyball.  I could spend all day playing grass doubles volleyball while hanging out with friends and family.

David Kaufmann
MS Math Teacher

Tell us about your favorite hobby.
I love to run! I have been running ever since middle school and have run one marathon and numerous half-marathons. Running is a great way to explore new places and enjoy some fresh air – especially in this amazing fall weather!

Nazim Pasha
Lead Operations Tech

If your life was a book, what would the title be and why?
Lead By Example! At the end of life we either fail or succeed because of leadership.

Tell us about your favorite hobby.
Reading and writing anything thought-provoking and universal in its application.

Kristen Thompson
Technical Assistant

What’s something that most people don’t know about you?
At home, I have a cream-colored tabby named Remus – a reference to my favorite character from the Harry Potter series. Unfortunately, I realized much too late how ironic it was to name a cat after a character who *spoiler alert* turns into a glorified dog.

Tell us about your favorite hobby.
Although I was unable to partake in this activity throughout the pandemic, I’ve been regularly attending concerts since I was in the 6th grade. I constantly listen to music – to the point that I feel uncomfortable in its absence.

Fernando Valera
Operations Supervisor

What is something you have done in the last couple of years that makes you proud?
I am about to get my associate’s degree in applied science with a specialty in H.V.A.C.

What is your secret superpower?
I don’t shy away from hard work.

Alexa Velez
MS Dance Teacher

What’s something that most people don’t know about you?
I enjoy playing the piano and composing my own music. 

What is something you have done in the last couple of years that makes you proud?
This year, I was a recipient of the Frankenthaler Climate Art Award for my video work addressing climate change.

Willie Warren
Speech & Debate Teacher

What’s something that most people don’t know about you?
I played the piano, cello, trumpet, trombone, snare and bass drum

If your life was a book, what would the title be and why?
Woah!!! What was that?: A diary of a man who believes too much in hyperbole and onomatopoeia

Tell us about your favorite hobby.
During the holidays, I work on Lego architecture sets to keep.

Written by Ellie Sammons


CA celebrates the Year of the Dragon

CA Curious

Giving Tuesday: Celebrating 25 years of community partnership

CA Curious

Technology and Neurodiversity

CA Curious

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


#GoPack: Elayne Courts makes masks regardless of Wolfpack affiliation

CA Curious

Finding connection through virtual dialogue

Alumni News

Trey Murphy (’18) reveals the formula for his leap to the NBA

CA Curious

Breaking the People Pleasing Cycle

September 22, 2022

What do we do when our children don’t get what they want? When they’re little, we coach them on the value of sharing, waiting their turn, or accepting the situation. If you are a parent of siblings, you’ve probably set multiple invisible timers to negotiate toy time between equally indignant children. You’ve heard ‘it’s-my-time-with-the-Xbox!’ and ‘I WAS HERE FIRST!!!’ I remember the days when one of my children ONLY wanted to practice the piano at the exact time that their sibling was practicing. Have you ever seen piano-bench wrestling? It’s not pretty. 

But how about when they’re older? An adolescent? What happens when your child struggles with self-regulation when they don’t get chosen for a sports team, their arts major preference, or their first choice in an X-day activity? 

They might seem mad or sad—even indignant; fear of rejection can wear many masks (and some, simultaneously). And, wow, can it be tough to parent a child through that, especially when, as parents, we might struggle ourselves with FOMO (a.k.a. Fear Of Missing Out. It’s a real thing, I promise).  

Or maybe it’s not self-regulation they are struggling with, but rather: what if they’re struggling with a side effect of people-pleasing?  It might stem from a fear of disappointing YOU, their parent, if they did not get or do something that was expected of them.  How can you parent them through those choppy waters?

You can ask a parent of a first-year college student who is at their ‘second choice’ school and thriving. Or you can ask the parent of a child who was put into a random X-day activity last year and ended up loving it.  Or Jay Sagrolikar ’21 who was placed in band as his second-choice arts major in the 6th grade and ended up being one of our school’s most prolific and joyful saxophonists, completing multiple independent studies and performing as a key player in a newly formed jazz band.  His band teacher wrote

Jay, Xavier, and Marvin all stopped by at the start of this school year just to jam a little bit together and be in the band space.  Wonderful young men who have definitely found a passion in their gifts of music.  Here is a short video of what they were playing around with that morning.  Warmed my heart for sure!  

There are lessons to learn here that go well beyond placement.  Parents who have experienced such challenges and have experienced any measure of success have reported that they did a few things:

  1. They let their child feel their emotions—whatever those were.
  2. They sought their child’s permission to discuss the disappointment and their feelings about it.
  3. They discussed it without shame or judgment, approaching the issue with curiosity and empathy, including that it’s okay to have “wants”.
  4. When their children felt like a victim of ‘not being selected,’ they kept the focus on things in their child’s control, like attitude and enthusiasm.
  5. If it wasn’t life-threatening, they didn’t jump in to fix it.
  6. Worth repeating: if it wasn’t life-threatening, they didn’t jump in to fix it. (It’s hard, I know.)
  7. They asked their children for their suggestions on how to move forward, opening an empowering space for their kids to flex agency, figure out self-advocacy, and practice problem-solving.

In short, all found success when the parents signaled that their kids could handle their disappointment and when they stopped assigning judgment to their kids’ feelings. It’s totally normal to feel sad and disappointed and bummed—yes, it makes us parents uncomfortable, but there are no such things as ‘bad’ feelings. 

I know it can be hard to watch your child sit in discomfort, to resist the urge to swoop in and manage a situation or “fix” it on their behalf. However, I promise that there is something extremely valuable in finding safe, low-stakes ways for your children to experience disappointment and find acceptance of an outcome different than what they had planned and envisioned. In a recent podcast entitled How to Raise Untamed Kids, Dr. Becky Kennedy talks with Glennon Doyle and her pod squad (We Can Do Hard Things) about these very topics.  

Of course, I’m not talking about ‘settling’ in a marriage or a career or anything like that. Rather, having a mild-to-moderate disappointment is a chance to understand that sometimes, for reasons that may be as random as a lottery, life deals you your second choice–and that you will be just fine, perhaps even better for it. It can also present an important opportunity to practice breaking the bonds of people-pleasing, which plague so many of us adults. 

You might be saying, “But Josette, my child has had her fair share of disappointments.”  And there are undoubtedly heavy sighs when we recognize societal disappointments, like how COVID shaped the last few years of these children’s social lives.  But if we are genuinely looking to celebrate authentic success, let’s start by recognizing the value in building a worldview in which our children are sometimes the main character and, other times, a supporting crew.  After all, it is in those alternate outcomes, second choices, and “disappointments” that resilience and flexibility are forged. And these are skills you want your kids to have in spades when larger challenges and disappointments come their way. By granting a space for your children to experience and process a disappointment, you are arming them with the confidence and knowledge that, when things don’t go their way, they can handle it—that they’ve “got this.”

And that is how disappointments don’t become setbacks, but new opportunities.

Written by Josette Huntress Holland, Head of Middle School

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New year, new plan

September 23, 2021

How wonderful it’s been to return to at least some sense of normalcy this school year with all students back on campus five days a week! 

While there is certainly comfort in returning to a more familiar mode of operation, this does not mean that our learning community is aiming to go back entirely to the way things were before the pandemic. On the contrary, we are starting this school year looking resolutely and optimistically to the future, with a new strategic plan that doubles down on the powerful strategic vision we first articulated in 2015: 

Cary Academy will create personalized learning opportunities that are flexible and relevant in an environment that supports student wellbeing.   

We will cultivate self-directed and bold life-long learners who make meaningful contributions  to the world. 

It’s been a while since we’ve spoken broadly about our 2020 strategic plan, and some of you who are newer to our community may not even be aware of its genesis.  

Every five years, the school engages in a strategic planning process that also serves as our self-study for purposes of accreditation renewal. Our 2020 strategic planning process got underway in early 2019, with a review of the progress we had made with our 2015 plan. In the course of that review, we found ourselves excited by what we had been able to achieve but also struck by what might be possible if we were to continue down the ambitious strategic path we had set for ourselves for another five years.   

What, for example, might we be able to accomplish with respect to our goals for creating institutional flexibility and cultivating authentic engagement if we were to concentrate our energy on deeply reimagining the way we use time?   

And what might we be able to achieve with respect to our goals for building strong connections and providing appropriate resources if we were to follow up on the significant improvements we were making to the physical side of our school environment with an equally substantial slate of improvements supporting the cultural side? 

With questions like these in mind, the Head of School convened a Strategic Planning Committee (SPC) with members representing the Board, faculty and staff, students, parents, and alumni.  The SPC worked with the school’s Leadership Team to develop the 2020 plan as a “second phase” to the 2015 plan, identifying a set of key strategies for each of our existing goal areas that would help us more fully realize the original strategic vision. The work of the SPC was then shared with employees for further feedback and finetuning, with the Board reviewing and approving the final plan in November 2019, ahead of an anticipated accreditation team visit in Spring 2020. 

Then came COVID.   

Suddenly, our accreditation visit was postponed from April 2020 to March 2021. This, in turn, caused the rollout and first year of implementation of our new strategic plan to be postponed to the current school year.  All the while, the global pandemic and the call to action on racial justice were giving added urgency to much of the strategic work envisioned in our plan, particularly in the areas of institutional flexibility and wellbeing. So, in something of a paradox, we significantly accelerated implementation of certain components of our strategic plan starting in Summer 2020, even as we were forced to delay the official kickoff of the 2020 plan to Fall 2021.    

The result? 

We are now in the unusual (but fortunate) position of having already made significant headway in the execution of our new strategic plan, even though we are technically just a few weeks into the formal “year one.”  Some highlights of our progress to date include: 

  • Piloting new daily schedules in Middle and Upper School featuring a later start to the school day, fewer class meetings/transitions per day, a longer Middle School lunch break, and a flexible Wednesday.  
  • Shifting to a semester system in the Upper School to reduce grade focus and anxiety through fewer reporting periods.  
  • Launching X-Day programming to support experiential learning, with an emphasis on student co-creation and student choice. 
  • Partnering with the PTAA to administer the Authentic Connections/High Achieving Schools Survey to assess the wellbeing of our student community and identify areas for improvement. 
  • Reaffirming and strengthening our commitment to equity and anti-racism as a cornerstone to wellbeing in our community. 

What’s next? 

To answer that question, I would like to invite you to take a closer look at the full 2020 Strategic Plan now posted to our website. The goals and strategies outlined in the plan will drive much of the work we undertake as a learning community over the next five years, with ample opportunities for participation and feedback along the way. By taking a deeper dive into work begun in 2015 and looking for the opportunities in our response to both the racial equity and the public health crisis, we are positioned to move our learning community forward in ways that are not only positive but truly transformative. 

I look forward to the strategic journey ahead and hope you share my excitement about the possibilities. 

Written by Martina Greene, Dean of Faculty


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A fond ‘farewell’ from the Middle School

June 3, 2021

While this school year has been the most unique and challenging that I have experienced in my career as an educator, I am thrilled to note that, as we bring our 2020-21 school year to a close, this last week in the Middle School feels wonderfully almost normal. Students are enjoying the typical year-end bonding activities from chalk drawing to rock climbing, sharing remembrances in yearbooks, turning in last-minute assignments, and filling the building with the energy and enthusiasm of anticipation of summer break, relaxation, and travel.   

If it were not for the facemasks and reminders to socially distance, it would be hard to believe how much has transpired over the past nine months. From the isolation of working at home to the hybrid configuration of blue and gold cohorts (with virtual and on-campus classes) to all three grade levels back on campus, this has been a year of adaptation and adjustment. 

I am hopeful when, as adults, our students look back to this time in their Middle School years that the disruption they experienced will be just one memory in a rich and varied assortment of memories of their educational journey and that the skills they acquired and applied during this time will be life-long: flexibility, patience, resiliency, collaboration, and the ability to deal with uncertainty.  

As this is my last blog before I head on to my own journey of a life outside of school walls, I want to express my deepest gratitude to our students, parents, and faculty for coming together during this time of crisis to truly embody the tenants of our mission of a learning community committed to discovery innovation, collaboration, and excellence. Our mission has always driven us forward; for the past 17 months, it has successfully informed our response to a global pandemic. 

Thank you, students, for putting your best selves forward– you prevailed through Zoom fatigue.  

Thank you, faculty, for your hours of preparation and delivery of creative, challenging, and student-centered learning opportunities.  

Thank you, parents, for your support and flexibility with ongoing changes from carpool patterns to health checks to schedule changes.  

And thank you, colleagues, in other CA divisions, for your amazing logistical support, including furniture moves, COVID signage, dining flow patterns, lunch supervision, and answering a million health questions.  

This year has been one HUGE learning community team project. We are stronger for this effort and have learned so much. To borrow this week’s quote on the sixth-grade hall bulletin board: “Well done, Chargers!” 

Transitions mark the end-of-the-year, and we send congratulations to our eighth graders on their move to Upper School and bid fond adieux to our departing Middle School faculty members, Matthew Ripley-Moffit, Leslie Williams, Beth Popp, Brennan Liming, and Laura Price. With optimism for a return to school in August with fewer restrictions and less fear and uncertainty, I wish everyone a lovely summer of relaxation, time with loved ones, and good health!  

Written by Marti Jenkins, Head of Middle School

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