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

Upper School

CA senior to serve as a Performing Arts Ambassador


First MS Community Day of the Year

CA Curious

Charting new wellbeing territory via virtual counseling

Kristin Andrejko

Alumni Spotlight

Healthy Curiosity

September 1, 2021

As an infectious disease epidemiologist, PhD student Kristin Andrejko has focused her life on public health and helping communities on the path to wellness. Now, with an eye towards public health policy and a focus on how vaccines serve to protect those most vulnerable to the ravages of disease, she finds herself on the front lines of some of the most pressing global public health battles—from malaria to COVID-19.

“The past 16 months have certainly highlighted the incredible value of vaccines in improving all aspects of our physical, social, and economic health. As an epidemiologist, my day job is to quantitatively analyze public health programs like routine vaccination campaigns to help mitigate the risk of future infectious disease outbreaks.”

Andrejko’s path to global public health is one heavily influenced by her time at CA. She credits experiences in sixth-grade science teacher Aaron Rothrock’s class as igniting an early passion for the scientific method—one that translated into years serving as a counselor at CA summer science camps where she enjoyed making science accessible and engaging for students.

In Gray Rushin’s Advanced Chemistry class, she discovered the hard-earned reward of working through thorny scientific challenges. Building on those interests, an experience with the Student Global Leadership Institute (SGLI) in Punahou, Hawaii, the summer before her 12th-grade year, offered a transformative introduction to the broader concepts of public health.

Andrejko still remembers a pivotal question posed by Dr. Linda Rosen­—then-Director of Hawaii’s State Department of Health, during an SGLI panel on urban health­—that would ultimately set her professional course. “She started her talk by asking us to define health. I think most of us said, ‘health is the absence of disease; health is when you’re not sick.’ At some point, she stopped us and said, ‘health is more than just the absence of disease—it’s about being well.’

It was a lightbulb moment for Andrejko. “I had this epiphany: you don’t have to wait until someone is sick to help them.”

After the seminar, Dr. Rosen suggested that Andrejko look into the work of Dr. Paul Farmer, whose efforts on the intersection of health, human rights, inequality, and infectious diseases earned him the label “the man who would cure the world.” She was immediately hooked, intrigued by the social justice dimensions of public health.

Back at CA, Andrejko discussed her fascination with Farmer’s work with college counselor Laura Sellers, who suggested that she look into Notre Dame because of the ethos of social justice embedded in the school’s mission.

She applied, and upon being offered admission, made her way to South Bend to interview with Professor Joseph A. Buttigieg, then the Director of the Hesburgh-Yusko Scholars Program—a leadership development scholarship that helps social justice-oriented students develop their passions and pursue their purpose.

During the conversation, Andrejko gushed about her experience at SGLI, her interest in global health, and the excitement she felt about the prospect of doing the sort of work on infectious disease outbreaks like the Haitian tuberculosis epidemic described in Tracy Kidder’s Mountains Beyond Mountains.

“He paused me and said, ‘Kristin, that’s great, but you must think about sustainability.’ It was something I hadn’t even considered. It prompted me to take a more critical look. So much of the work in global health, while often well-intentioned, doesn’t necessarily lead to good outcomes. For example, if you go on a mission trip to build a bridge—but don’t involve any local stakeholders in the design or building process—when that bridge breaks after the mission trip leaves, who will fix it?”

As the conversation continued, Buttigieg walked her through the myriad ways that actions and outcomes play out in the global health arena. “It shaped my thinking for how I wanted to establish a role for myself in global health, and the types of organizations—those with ethical community engagement, capacity building, and sustainable practices—with which I wanted to align myself.”

A good question

Accepted into the Hesburgh-Yusko Scholar Program, which afforded her guaranteed funding for summer learning opportunities, Andrejko immediately set to work with Professor Buttigieg, identifying health organizations that were making sustainable impacts in communities around the globe.

Ultimately, she found herself working with One Sun Health, an organization dedicated to sustainable, locally-driven solutions to improve health and well-being in rural South Africa. Working alongside community health workers and local health departments, Andrejko saw firsthand the impact of malaria on rural South African communities and gained critical insights into the importance of earning public trust and respecting local knowledge in the implementation of public health initiatives. A new interest bloomed—this time for field research and for learning more about the communities she sought to help. With new knowledge came new questions.

“During many of the conversations that I had with community health workers in South Africa, some began to ask, ‘if we have all of these great vaccines for measles, flu, and other infections, why don’t we have a vaccine for malaria?’”
It was a good question­—one to which Andrejko didn’t have a response. Intrigued, she set out to find the answer.
Returning to Notre Dame, she developed an independent research project to interview vaccine researchers from across the globe who were hard at work developing vaccines to combat malaria. Her project took her to Switzerland, where she met with vaccine researchers at prominent think tanks and the World Health Organization (WHO)—an experience she sums up as “incredible.”

The following summer, Andrejko returned for an internship in the WHO’s Immunization, Vaccines, and Biologics Department. “It was one of the most transformational experiences of my life,” reflects Andrejko.

“At WHO, I witnessed the critical role that evidence-based research plays in developing and informing life-saving public health policies. I gained insights into how health policy decisions are made on a global scale.”

She recalls assisting with the preparations for a WHO conference commissioned to update policy recommendations for pneumococcal vaccines that prevent pneumonia. “It was very exciting to have all these experts in one room, actually looking at the policy and seeing whether or not they have the necessary scientific evidence to change it,” shares Andrejko.

“It showed me the robust evidence base that is required to inform any public health policy decision, and gave me a new appreciation for what it takes to move the needle on any sort of policy decision in public health. And, I realized that I needed to learn more research methods so that I could design and implement the types of studies that would ultimately address evidence gaps identified by policymakers.”

The Public Health Paradox

At WHO, Andrejko felt her interest shift away from an intense focus on malaria towards infectious disease epidemiology more broadly. Increasingly, she found herself at the intersection of public health and policy, interested not only in how specific diseases affect different populations, but how to develop policies that prevent outbreaks from occurring in the first place.

“I saw the public health paradox. When public health works, we don’t see it; when you prevent outbreaks from occurring, people forget how terrible a disease is. As a result, they stop following preventative measures—like getting vaccinated—and pathogens predictably return with terrible consequences. I gained an intimate appreciation for how critical it is that policymakers understand the value of public health.”

Led by her new interest, Andrejko sought to bolster her skills beyond what was offered by her Science Business major. Because Notre Dame didn’t offer an undergraduate program in epidemiology or public health, she begged her way into any and all of the university’s graduate-level courses on infectious diseases, public health, and epidemiology.

Her persistence and drive paid off, ultimately resulting in an internship at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta. There, in the Division of Parasitic Diseases and Malaria, she worked on observational studies evaluating the safety of various drugs to prevent malaria in pregnancy. “I loved the work I was doing. Working alongside the CDC researchers, I learned so many new epidemiological methods.”
It was an informative experience that ultimately made clear her next step.

“Taking a finding and converting it into a scientific publication that can inform policy was such a rewarding process,” explains Andrejko. “But it also made me realize that I still lacked the skills to actually design and run these sorts of epidemiological studies on my own—and I knew that’s what I wanted to do in the future.”

Facing forward

With a solid sense of what she wanted to learn, Andrejko began seeking a PhD program—and a mentor who would guide her studies in the emerging field of pneumococcal vaccines, and how they intersect with public health policymaking. She found that mentor in Dr. Joseph Lewnard, an Assistant Professor of Epidemiology at University of California, Berkeley’s School of Public Health, who uses mathematical and statistical modeling to study the transmission of infectious diseases and how vaccinations and public health policy improve community health.

Ambitiously, under the mentorship of Lewnard, in the fall of 2019, Andrejko set out to evaluate the role that pneumococcal vaccines play in reducing trends in antimicrobial resistance, a study now published in The Lancet-Microbe.

“Vaccines are the most cost-effective and life-saving public health intervention—and not just because they prevent disease outbreaks,” offers Andrejko. “One of the biggest existential threats we face is antimicrobial resistance (AMR). If we can use vaccines to reduce the number of infections that require treatment with antibiotics, we reduce the opportunities for pathogens to develop resistance.”

And then 2020 happened…

Almost overnight, Andrejko found her focus shifting once again­—from the public health impact of pneumococcal vaccines to the impact of vaccines to combat SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. She’s focused on determining the effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccines in different populations, the ways vaccines are staunching the spread of viral variants, and the factors driving COVID-19 vaccine acceptance.
In some ways, it has been an easy shift. “The methods I was using and the questions I was asking before COVID are very similar to the ones that I’m studying now—the pathogen just changed.” she explains. “It was incredibly rewarding to see our vaccine-effectiveness study presented alongside others at a recent CDC meeting in June that evaluated whether booster shots for COVID-19 will be necessary.”

A new role

Now, leading a team of researchers for a statewide study on COVID-19 vaccine effectiveness with the California Department of Health, coupled with the teaching responsibilities of being a doctoral candidate, Andrejko has become the mentor.

“I am a graduate-student instructor for a foundational course that is often the first experience undergraduates have with global health. I get to introduce them to this whole new world of public and global health that they didn’t know existed,” offers Andrejko.

“So often, students are taught that if you care about health and if you like science, you should become a physician or a nurse or a kind of a health professional that works with individual patients. I get to show them that working in public health provides the opportunity to systematically improve health at the population level, but doing so successfully is challenging because it requires involvement not just from physicians and epidemiologists but from a wide range of stakeholders, like architects and engineers who design public health infrastructure such as safe housing, water, sanitation, and hygiene. Public health is exciting because it sits at the intersection of many of these disciplines.”

As for what’s next for Andrejko? When she finishes her doctorate, she hopes to work in a public health setting on the local, state or federal level, so she can continue to learn from those around her.

“I hope, in 30 or so years, that I can serve on the sort of boards that evaluate research evidence, creating the policy decisions that make a meaningful impact for everyone. But who knows? The beauty of public health is that people end up in different places and on different paths. I’m excited about what might come next for me.”

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


Affirming our values in trying times


Homecoming Heroics

CA Curious

Uncomfortable Magic

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


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


Chargers close out a fantastic spring season

CA Curious

Learning by doing

Marti Jenkins

Faculty Reflections

Founding vision

September 1, 2021

Ask founding Head of Middle School Marti Jenkins to recount a favorite memory of her twenty-five years at Cary Academy and she’s hard pressed to answer.

“That’s too hard; there are too many!” she exclaims with a laugh, before sharing a series of quick vignettes that spring to mind: The thrill of breaking ground on campus (and the nail-biting anxiety of getting the required certificate of occupancy the day before school opened). The excitement and nerves of traveling to local events (while eight-months pregnant) with little more than a series of watercolor renderings and an impassioned mission to entice prospective parents to enroll. The overwhelming sense of community at the opening day ceremony. And, the warm connections made with early families—those that were willing to make the leap of faith and join CA based on the strength of vision alone.

Of course, there are also the countless moments—small and large, challenging and cherished—that she has shared with students over the years that are close to her heart. While impossible to choose a favorite, she admits that graduation days are highlights, as are the many notes, emails, and visits from former students that come back as adults to say thank you or share stories of their success (particularly from those that might have struggled initially in Middle School, but ultimately found their place and flourished).

In her final weeks on CA’s campus, however, it is those early days that have been top of mind as she reflects on her journey.

Inspiring vision

Her eyes light up as she recalls them—pivotal moments that shaped CA’s foundations, long before the first bricks were laid. Together, they represent many intense hours spent collaborating shoulder-to-shoulder with an intrepid group of education visionaries, technologists, and operations experts that were tapped by Cary Academy Founders Jim and Ann Goodnight and John and Ginger Sall to design a ground-breaking, technology-forward, mold-busting middle school for the future.

For Jenkins, it was a time awash with the palpable promise of possibility.

“The opportunity to open a school is such a rare occurrence, such a wonderful opportunity for an educator,” enthuses Jenkins. “There was so much dreaming in that first year, so much exciting and inspiring brainstorming. We got to ask the big questions—the ones that matter. What would our mission be? What would an ideal middle school look like? How do we best serve the needs of our students?”

What emerged from those marathon planning sessions was, of course, the philosophical and physical blueprint for the Middle School we know today—one that broke significantly from the traditional junior-high model that was still prevalent at the time.

“Junior highs were generally envisioned as miniature high schools,” explains Jenkins. “Decisions—about curriculum, wellness, resources, etc.—were made with high-school students in mind and were expected to trickle down to the younger students.”

It was a model that was far less personal, far less human development-oriented and student-centered than middle school concept championed by Jenkins and embraced by CA’s founding leadership and faculty.

“We wanted something different. Instead, we started with a blank slate and the freedom and flexibility to focus specifically on the middle school-aged learner. We put them in the center and designed a program, a building, a school from there—one that would best meet their specific physical, emotional, intellectual, developmental, and social needs.”

A new blueprint

For Jenkins, that focus was personal. “I love Middle School-aged students. I love seeing them change on an hourly, daily, and annual basis. You might be talking to a student one day and that same student will be a little different the next day, just depending on the space they are in. At CA, we focused on developing a program that morphs around their needs, that meets them where they are and prepares and guides them for what comes next.

“I think from all my years here, that’s still what I am most proud of, what I find most exciting. We are true champions of the young adolescent learner,” reflects Jenkins.

Founding Middle School teacher, inaugural Service Learning Director, and CA parent, Tami Polge, remembers well the energy Jenkins brought to early planning and faculty meetings, facilitating lively discussions that would ultimately go on to shape the curriculum, culture, and lasting traditions of the Middle School. She credits Jenkins with setting a pioneering example—one that empowered faculty to dream big, lean into the CA mission, and innovate and collaborate in new and exciting ways.

“I’m grateful for Marti’s leadership­—for setting a tone for the Middle School, one that put a high priority on team building, lifelong learning, and the spirit of adventure,” recalls Polge. “When we proposed a new curriculum, or even a whole new program such as service learning, when we pitched field trip ideas or events, or when we requested resources, Marti was actively listening and receptive. For some of the more ambitious ideas, she would have a twinkle in her eye, asking how it would further our mission and what we needed to pull it off.”

And so, under Jenkins’s guidance, the hallmarks of the student-centric CA Middle School experience emerged: a robust advisory program to support physical, social, and emotional growth; an integrated, interdisciplinary curriculum that would inspire curiosity and invite discovery of connections across content areas; and arts, world language, and physical education components that were integral, not elective, to encourage experimentation, safe risk-taking, and exploration. Most crucially, it would all be delivered by a supportive, rallying community of educators working together in grade-level teams to truly know and understand each student as an individual—their needs, passions, strengths, challenges, aspirations, and concerns—to ensure everyone had the best chance to thrive.

“Marti‘s gift to CA was designing a program that always kept Middle School children’s adolescent development at the forefront of our planning,” recalls former founding Head of School Don Berger. “She developed the Middle School team concept that still exists today and orchestrated the student-centered teaching that blended beautifully emerging technology with core academic skill development. She also made sure the arts were an integral part of all students’ learning­—a major reason that CA is as renowned for its arts program as well as its technology.”

Firm foundations

It was a forward-thinking vision that was shaped, in large part, by the culmination of Jenkins’s own history and experience as an educator in both independent and public schools across the United States.

Jenkins, who was born overseas, traveled extensively as a child, courtesy of her father’s engineering career. Igniting a love of travel, the arts, and of cultural exploration, these experiences would one day translate to an undergraduate degree in cultural anthropology with a minor in the arts from Vanderbilt University.

The varied elementary and secondary education experiences of her youth—including both public and private institutions, American and European—also sparked an interest in education and teaching that was only furthered after opportunities to work with children both in high school and college. It was a nascent interest that would later lead to the pursuit of a Master in Curriculum and Instruction from the University of New Orleans.

In that program, she discovered her true passion. “Working on my certifications, I just fell in love with teaching, with working with kids,” recalls Jenkins.

After graduation, she spent years teaching in schools across New Orleans, both independent and public, gaining important insights into the affordances of both—into what worked programmatically and organizationally, and what didn’t—lessons that she would ultimately bring to Cary Academy. She was particularly intrigued by opportunities to combine her passions—education and the arts—in curricular innovations.

“Teaching in New Orleans was a fabulous experience, but I realized right away that I could make more of an impact, have more opportunities to make changes, if I was a school administrator,” explains Jenkins. “I had a wonderful professor at the University of New Orleans that used to say ‘don’t ask why, ask why not.’ It always stuck with me.”

Asking ‘why not’?

Wanting to have the power to push the envelope and advocate for change—to ask ‘why not’ in the transformation of classrooms—she embarked on her second master’s degree. This time, she chose a Master of Education in Education Administration from the University of Texas at Austin which focused on the principalship level.

In Texas, she had opportunities to work in close collaboration with local school boards and communities, making recommendations for programmatic improvements. It was her first taste of effecting real change on the larger education landscape, of making education responsive to community and individual learner needs.

Happily, a successful trimester long culminating internship—as Assistant Principal in an elementary school in one of the top school districts in Texas—turned into a post-graduation invitation to take the position on a permanent basis. She was on her way.

Later, a move to Jackson, Mississippi for her husband’s career would prove serendipitous, coinciding with a career opportunity seemingly tailor made to her interests: a principalship for a new magnet public school program that combined academics and performing arts for grades four through twelve. As principal, Jenkins would transform the entire program, transitioning it from a pull-out model to an on-site program.

“It was exciting!” recalls Jenkins of her four years at the Power Academic and Performing Arts Complex. “We were partnering with the national advocacy organization Parents for Public Schools that was fighting flight from public schools. There were so many cool opportunities to work closely with the community, with the parents. I really valued that, just as I had in Texas.”

Jenkins, pictured here with her husband David, looks forward to more time with family.
Building together

Indeed, for Jenkins, building something more than a mere school—but a true collaborative learning community—has always been paramount. If it was the promise of a blank slate and similar start-up vibe that initially drew her to Cary Academy, in part, it has been the incredible close-knit and mission-driven Cary Academy community that has encouraged her to stay all these years.

“As a community at CA, we all live and breathe our mission. I don’t think all schools can say that. Discovery, innovation, collaboration, and excellence—I see our mission in action constantly. I see it in the dedication and creativity of our faculty and staff, in the forward-thinking vision of our board, in the curiosity and personal growth of our students, and in the support from our wonderful families.” She stops to smile, “Who wouldn’t want to work in such an exciting environment, with such wonderful people?”

Fostering a sense of community—a sense of belonging—amongst the Middle School student body has also been crucial for Jenkins. Having moved many times during her childhood, it is not something that she herself experienced growing up. Recognizing that void in her own past has helped her to prioritize ensuring that her program supports students in authentically connecting with one another to find their place and people.

Cultivating that community is, of course, an important part of her legacy, but Jenkins is humble. She is quick to shift focus away from herself, spotlighting instead the “incredible” group of faculty and staff that she has helped develop over the years.

“It really is about the larger learning team. I view my role as minor compared to what the folks in the classrooms are doing. I’m just supporting that role, making sure their needs and the needs and interests of our program are met,” she offers.

“I’m proud to have built a place that attracts creative, energetic, student-centered, dedicated folks that love teaching Middle School and all it entails. It takes a unique person; not all educators can do it. When you’re working with this age, if something comes up—and it will­—the content is not going to take first place; you have to be able to be flexible, to be able to set aside whatever you had planned for that day and, instead, meet them where they are. Sometimes, you have to put yourself in their shoes.”

“I think the best teachers are those that either had challenging experiences themselves as students, or had really wonderful experiences. Either way, they remember and bring the lessons learned from those experiences to the classroom in a powerful way,” she continues.

Longtime colleague and eighth-grade social studies teacher David Snively credits Jenkins with giving him the freedom and flexibility to do just that. “The guiding principle that I took from Marti was something she said to me way back in the 20th century: ‘Do what you think will be best for the students.’ That directive gave permission for all sorts of stuff, from simulations to trips,” offers Snively.

“The message provided a constant, consistent signpost pointing towards an endless number of paths to follow and explore. For me, I think that message is what makes our program so special, and I thank Marti for making it the foundation on which the Middle School is based.”

Measuring success

As any good educator, Jenkins evaluates her success and the program she helped to found and build through the lens of her students.
“Kids showing up every day, happy to be here, wanting to come back every day. Former students that come back and say ‘I just loved Middle School.’ Feedback from new parents that say ‘this is such a change for my child, they’re excited about getting up and coming to school’—these are huge for Middle School,” offers Jenkins. “I love watching as our students grow, get older, and go through the Upper School with a critical eye, one that is truly reflective of their own voice and thinking, their own perspective; that feels like success.”
A success, indeed, and one that Laneta Dorflinger, a longtime member of CA’s Board of Directors, credits to Jenkins.

“I have had the good fortune of witnessing Marti’s visionary leadership through two lenses: as a parent and as a Board member,” reflects Dorflinger. “Always pleasant, calm, and in control, Marti embodies a rare combination of experience and qualities, including an unwavering commitment to CA’s mission and students, that has always inspired a strong sense of confidence in her leadership and the Middle School she helped to create.”

“Cary Academy owes Marti a debt of gratitude,” agrees Head of School Mike Ehrhardt. “With dedication and vision, she has helped build a remarkable foundation for our Middle School—one that sets us apart and on which we can build for the next 25 years.”

The future ahead

Now, as Jenkins looks toward retirement—a decision influenced by pandemic-inspired reflection—she’s excited to spend more time with her family, with her husband and stalwart support of over forty years, David, and her two daughters, CA alums Quinn ’12 and Anna ’15, and a grandchild on the way.

After dedicating so much time and energy to CA, she’s looking forward to crossing some long-postponed items off her bucket list. Ever the lifelong learner, she’s working towards getting a master gardeners certification—“It’s all about the chemistry,” she explains—and anticipating a long-awaited return to travel, including a tour of the United States by motorcycle and the intracoastal waterways of North Carolina by boat.

The moment is admittedly bittersweet. Undoubtedly, she will miss her colleagues, in particular, her office staff and those faculty with whom she has worked side-by-side so closely all these years.

“That first year, we cut a piece out of the foundation of the Middle School building, and some of us have those bricks hanging on our walls,” Jenkins reflects. The people that have those bricks, and all the others that helped build the foundations of this program, a program that is so wonderful because of their efforts—I will miss them.”

And, of course, she’s gets a little misty thinking about precious moments with students—those that are so quintessentially Middle School: the din of excited voices in the hallway, a random saxophone solo that trickles into her windows from a student waiting for pickup, and all the impactful one-on-one conversations she’s had over the years from which she has learned so much.

“There is so much wisdom in our students’ voices, so many important insights they have to share,” says Jenkins. “If we really listen to what they are saying, really give their voices the consideration and weight they deserve, we can learn and do amazing things­—not only for them, but for us as educators, and as an institution.”

Rest assured, retirement does not mean Jenkins won’t be watching eagerly to see what comes next, to see exactly what CA is learning and we will respond as a community. With unwavering faith in the mission and the school she pioneered, she smiles: “I have no doubt that it is going to be amazing.

Written by Mandy Dailey, Director of Communications

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Aaron Harrington

Alumni Spotlight

Role of a lifetime

February 10, 2021

One of Broadway’s rising stars, Aaron Harrington ‘10 has accomplished in just a few short years what some actors might not in a lifetime. Now, having landed two major leading roles, one alongside a Grammy-nominated cast, Harrington eagerly awaits a return to the stage in a post-COVID world. He’s impassioned and ready to take on another big role—as an influencer activist on a quest to transform the industry he loves.

Taking the leap

Humble, grateful, and quick to count his blessings, Harrington is the first to admit that his creative and meteoric trajectory is perhaps not the norm—a far-cry, even, from the trope of the long-suffering artist.

Graduating from Shaw University in 2015 with a degree in mass communications, Harrington initially pushed aside early dreams of a career in performing. He planned, instead, to parlay his love of music and theater into a marketing career in the entertainment industry. Like so many artists, he set his sights on New York City—ostensibly to pursue a job with a large public relations firm.

It was a daunting transition—a major leap of faith—made possible by his mother and uncle, who, unbeknownst to him, purchased and presented him with a one-way ticket to the city.

“They conspired to push me to follow my dreams,” he reflects in hindsight, and you can hear the smile in his voice. “They knew that there was nothing left for me in Durham.”
Their bold strategy would coincide with the PR job falling through—happily, in retrospect—on his arrival to New York. And then, serendipity: a friend—a choreographer with whom he had worked on a community theater production of RENT in Raleigh his senior year—forwarded the call for auditions for the national tour. Harrington leaped
at the chance.

Familiar with the role, Harrington “showed up to the audition with nothing but my voice. I later found out was probably the craziest thing I could have done—to go to a New York audition unprepared.”

It was a huge risk—and one that paid off.

Mere months after arriving in New York, Harrington landed his first professional gig—bringing his signature baritone to the role of Tom Collins in the yearlong National 20th Anniversary Tour of RENT. RENT­—A Tony-award-winning modern-day retelling of La Bohème­—follows a group of young artists as they pursue their dreams against the backdrop of the HIV/AIDS epidemic.

RENT was my first big role, and I still get a lot of grief for it. I consider myself very, very blessed—not a lot of people can book something big within their first year of moving to New York City,” reflects Harrington. “I still to this day can’t believe it happened, but it did.”

Finding the spark

In truth, Harrington’s foray into musical theater is a relatively new pursuit in a longer creative journey, a return to a passion first ignited at CA that had long been pushed to the back burner.

Harrington, who grew up in Durham, transferred to CA in ninth grade from Durham Nativity School, a smaller independent school. He credits navigating CA’s larger, tight-knit community with the support of his fellow students and teachers with instilling in him a strong sense of confidence that empowered him to pursue his interests. He threw himself into the community, playing in both traditional band and jazz band and singing in chorus. An athlete, he wrestled and threw shot put for track and field.

“Cary Academy was able to take this really full of life kid and embrace him,” recalls Harrington. “I transferred into this community of kids that had been together since Middle School, but they welcomed me. It is an experience that I cherish.” He is still friends with many of his former classmates, many of whom were in the audience when RENT landed at the Durham Performing Arts Center in 2016.

At CA, Harrington got his first introduction to musical theater, albeit an initially reluctant one. “We did a production of Les Misérables in chorus. And, if I am being honest, I had no interest in doing it,” he reflects with a laugh. “But it was for a grade, so of course I did. After the production, I thought ‘that was actually really cool.’”

A trip to see Wicked at the Durham Performing Arts Center courtesy of then-Head of Upper School Mitch McGuigan would seal the deal: “Just watching the magic unfold on that stage—it was another spark.”

On graduation, Harrington headed to Shaw University, nursing a dream to be a backup singer and primed to pursue a degree in music. It was an important decision in his life.
“The dynamic at Cary Academy, a predominantly white institution, versus Shaw a historically black university—they were completely different,” offers Harrington. “It was nice to have that balance; it kept me grounded. I learned a lot at Cary Academy, and I went on to learn more at Shaw, not only academics, but culturally. At Shaw, I was diving back into some of the things that I was familiar with, had grown up with.”

Ultimately, a change in major his senior year would prove fortuitous, opening room in his schedule to return to musical theater. Over the next two years, he sought out opportunities in community musical theater, including Raleigh’s Theatre in the Park’s annual musical A Christmas Carol that played at DPAC and Raleigh’s Progress Energy Center, and a foreshadowing production of RENT with the North Raleigh Arts and Creative Theatre.

In that work, he discovered a true passion­—a spark of interest fanned into full flame.

“Music had always been my outlet, but to combine singing and acting, to have fun on stage, to dress up and be able to look through the lens of someone else and get that story for trade—there is nothing like it.”

Just do it

Harrington, who has debilitating stage fright, credits his willingness to take risks, be vulnerable, and lean into fear as the secrets to his success. The urgency of the pandemic has only served to deepen his resolve to pursue his dreams fearlessly.

“It sounds cliché, I know,” offers Harrington. “But life is short and unpredictable. COVID has shown us that anything can happen—life can go any kind of way with little warning. So, if you have a dream, embrace it fully—embrace the fear, the excitement, the anxiety. Take the leap, follow your passion—just do it.”

The lessons of mortality that the pandemic has cruelly taught for so many are those that Harrington himself learned early, with the death of his father when he was a senior in college. It was a dark, but transformative time.

“My father’s death pushed me to stop taking things so easily, to stop just riding the wave. It made me put myself out there instead,” offers Harrington. “That is what I’m currently doing. No matter how scared I am, I just go for it. My dad always wanted his kids to be great—so I’m always trying to make my dad proud, make my family proud.”

That fearless attitude was instrumental in helping him to land his second big role—as Audrey II in the off-Broadway production of Little Shop of Horrors—in early March of 2020. “I found out I booked it March 1, we rehearsed for two weeks, and then, then the world shut down.”

“At first, we thought we’d be back in three months—and that kept me going,” says Harrington. “But then, before you know it, we are hitting a year of life in this pandemic. Thankfully, our producers are committed; they’ve let us know that everyone aims to get the production back up and running. Knowing that in the back of my mind, it makes my future look just as bright as before—and it gives me hope that we will come back stronger.”

Actor to activist

For Harrington—who has discovered an activist calling during his pandemic-forced downtime—“coming back stronger” also means a broader, more meaningful embrace of the work of diversity, equity, and inclusivity.

Growing up listening to artists like Billie Holiday and Nina Simone, who figured prominently in the civil rights movement, Harrington has always appreciated the powerful connection between music and activism. However, it wasn’t until recently that he felt called to join their ranks and use his craft in the service of anti-racism.

“I’ve always thought my existence in this country, by itself, is activism,” reflects Harrington. “But the deaths of Botham Jean, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, and so many others—the repeated injustices and the lack of support and accountability from those who are held so highly, those that have so much influence and power—it broke me. It really got me going, pushed me forward. I felt called to speak up and speak my mind and to match that with action.”

Harrington’s call to action coincides with a larger, welcome awakening across the entertainment industry. “It’s been great to watch as talent agencies, directors, and production companies begin to ask the right questions—to ask what we need to do to make our industry more inclusive, more anti-racist, more open to diverse voices and experiences.”

For his part, Harrington is committed to partnering with other artists to use his platform and visibility as an influencer to identify issues and potential solutions and to holding the industry, and himself, accountable to promises of positive change.

“When Broadway comes back, things still won’t be where they need to be. I want to be one of the voices that say, ‘this is what needs to be fixed, and you don’t know that it needs to be fixed because you’ve never acknowledged that it was broken.’ It is going to be a long process, but it has to start somewhere, and I’m ready to fight tooth and nail for it.”

For Harrington, much of that work turns on representation, ensuring that everyone has the opportunity not only to share the stage but see themselves and their experiences in the work.

“Representation matters,” offers Harrington. “Lots of shows have been on the right track in terms of casting actors of color, but there is a really big difference between casting from the BIPOC community for a BIPOC show versus casting BIPOC actors for a predominantly white show. And it isn’t just about race; as an advocate and ally for the LGBTQIA+ community, I want to see better representation for the trans community, for the gay community—they also need to be properly represented.”

As for what comes next for Harrington, the future is uncertain but bright. With signs that the pandemic might be waning, he’s looking forward to reuniting with his castmates—recently nominated for a 2021 Grammy award for best cast album (Harrington sadly joined the production too late to lend his voice to the album)—and to bringing Audrey II to life on the Little Shop of Horrors stage.

Beyond that, he’s energized by the prospect of bringing new, transformative productions to the stage and by opportunities to leave his mark on the roles ahead. He’s particularly keen to originate characters that embody authentic, diverse experiences and whose stories are groundbreaking and help to broaden perspectives and spark positive change—just as RENT did when it first premiered over 25 years ago.

“There’s nothing like originating a role, to being the first person to take it to the stage,” reflects Harrington. “The actors that come after you, you know, they give their input, but they will always know that Aaron Harrington did this role first, this is how he did it, these were the choices he made, this was his vision. And that’s pretty cool.”

Written by Mandy Dailey, Director of Communications

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Stats and Storytelling

February 10, 2021

Some of the newest, most eye-catching student art at CA isn’t in Berger Hall; it’s in a math classroom (no, that’s not a typo).

The windows of classroom 128 in the Center for Math and Science—the last classroom in the math wing—are lined with transparent vinyl “stained-glass” suncatchers. When struck by sunlight, colorful railroad cars, peacocks, butterflies, lightning bolts, food pyramids, and abstract hearts throw their colors around the room to magical effect.
Make no mistake—these aren’t just eye- (and sun-) catching artwork. Produced by Upper School Statculus students, they are the latest student-generated data visualizations to grace the Center for Math and Science—every element a deliberate choice to draw the viewer in, to convey a compelling story behind the numbers.

Led by Upper School math department chair Craig Lazarski, Upper School math teacher Kristi Ramey, and art and design teacher Cayce Lee, Statculus offers a deep dive into the connection between calculus and statistics, with a hefty dose of visual arts mixed in. In class, students engage with real-world data to conduct sophisticated analysis, tease out important conclusions, and depict them in compelling and beautiful visualizations.

Those beautiful suncatchers? They reflect student learning in sampling methodologies and complex data analysis. Each represents an opinion data set collected from peers and faculty and parsed using analytical tools that students learned from class. In an array of carefully calculated designs, they offer insights into our community’s preferences—from favorite colors to superhero movies, Hogwarts’ houses sorting to family relationships, sleep habits to dietary choices, and more.

“Your first impression may not be that these are numbers that you’re looking at, but once you think about what you’re seeing, it becomes what Kristi calls a ‘gut-punch’; it communicates something important in a powerful way,” says Lazarski.

Point of Origin

And that, of course, is precisely the point. The ability to work with, interrogate, and powerfully communicate data is particularly timely in a world awash in statistical claims.
“The misunderstanding that people can ‘lie’ with statistics is one of the key reasons everyone should take statistics,” offers Ramey. “It’s not that the statistics are lying; it’s that you don’t know how to interpret the data or that the data is being visually misrepresented.”

Created by Ramey and Lazarski as the product of a 2018 Curriculum Innovation Grant, Statculus was conceived to expand CA’s statistics offerings to better meet the needs of our academically diverse student body.

“We had a wide spectrum of skill levels in a single statistics class—from students who were taking collegiate-level Calculus 3 to those who had recently completed Algebra 2,” explains Lazarski. “Rather than repeat material for students who had already taken calculus and try to bring students who hadn’t up to speed, we decided to offer a more specialized statistics for those students already versed in calculus.”

The result—Statculus—is something akin to a graduate-level statistics course, uniquely tailored to their students’ skills. (It doesn’t hurt that both Ramey and Lazarski are currently pursuing graduate degrees in statistics at NC State University and regularly incorporate material they encounter into their classes).

However, they are quick to point out that mathematics is only one part of the statistics puzzle; communication of the data is equally important. “Statistics is all about communicating. It’s what distinguishes statistics from its calculus lineage,” explains Ramey.

Getting an eye for visual learning

That’s why, in recent years, Statculus has evolved to include a significant and crucial data visualization component, courtesy of a collaboration with Upper School art and design teacher Cayce Lee, and facilitated by yet another professional development opportunity—this one from the North Carolina Museum of Art (NCMA).

The NCMA’s Fellowship for Collaborative Teaching pairs educators from various fields of study who are committed to using art to engage students in new ideas and deepen their problem-solving and critical thinking skills. On hearing of the opportunity, Lee immediately thought of partnering with Ramey, who had long expressed an interest in combining art and math in the classroom.

Selected for the fellowship, in the summer of 2019, Lee and Ramey joined ten fellow educators from across the state in a series of intensive seminars and workshops to design curricula that combined art with other disciplines in meaningful and engaging ways. As the first math-focused pair selected for the fellowship, Lee and Ramey broke new ground for the NCMA program, then in its fourth year, according to Jill Taylor, Director of School and Teacher Programs at NCMA.


For both, it was an eye-opening and fruitful experience, one that underscored not only the vital role of data visualization in statistics, but the importance of visual arts—of color and composition and narrative—in data visualization.

“With artful data visualization, statistics can achieve an emotional response from the audience,” offers Ramey. “Data visualization allows us to provide a point of view along with communicating data. Instead of ‘here’s a pie chart,’ it’s ‘oh my gosh, that was really impactful, and I now see it differently.’”

Clarity of vision

With the COVID-19 pandemic disrupting students’ opportunities to work together in large groups, Lazarski, Lee, and Ramey had to rethink the scope, scale, and purpose of this year’s Statculus data visualization project.

“Last year, we focused on developing students’ communication skills, and their grade was mostly derived from their presentations. Virtual and hybrid learning made that next to impossible, so this year, we leveraged a partner art project to provide that opportunity for them,” says Lazarski.

As the suncatcher project was conceived, students were granted control over the data they would collect and analyze, as well as the designs that their suncatcher would use to visualize their results. Students collected and analyzed the data outside of class and then used weekly Flex Days to collaborate and develop their data-driven artwork.

To prepare, Lee introduced students to artworks that incorporated data in thought-provoking ways, such as Timo Aho and Pekka Niittyvirta’s light-painted series on sea-level rise, Mike Knuepfel’s sculptural interpretation of keyboard letter usage, and Blake Fall-Conrony’s Minimum Wage Machine, which provides a tangible sense of how much work is required to earn so little.

It had an impact.

“Usually, when we ask students to take data and do something more with it, what results is a bigger bar graph,” smiles Lazarski. “But our students, inspired by what Cayce had shared, really ran with the suncatcher project. They put careful consideration into the questions they would ask and the best way to produce them as impactful visuals.”

“I have always thought that math is beautiful, but I was excited to present it beautifully!” reflects Shannon Jenkins ’21. “I think my favorite part of the project may have been measuring out the angles that my partner, Sanjana Chillarege, and I used. We had to constantly adapt our methods to make sure that our proportions were accurate.”

“When we first were assigned the project, I was a little overwhelmed—I had no idea how to approach it,” says Samantha Lattanze ’21. “Working through the project step-by-step helped me enjoy the process and provided me with a new lens on math.”

For the teachers, too, it was a rewarding experience. “It’s been fantastic to see students in a different context than the art studio,” offers Lee. “Getting to revisit a key lesson I teach during the ninth-grade art and design class—that visual communication is the most universal form of communication—with real-world applications is particularly rewarding.”

Beyond the classroom

And it is perhaps that real-world application that best prepares Statculus students for what comes next—helping them to better grasp the material by getting truly-hands on, encouraging them to delve into areas of knowledge that they might not have sought to explore, all while honing communications skills that will serve them long after their time at CA.

“Almost every field is about collecting information and analyzing it in today’s world,” says Ramey. “Either you’ll have to interpret data analytics or interpret data yourself. Those communication skills are key in a world increasingly driven by data analysis.”

Lazarski agrees, “Every year, I get emails from young alumni who say, ‘I’m so glad that I took statistics at CA; I use it so much in college, and I wouldn’t have gotten so far without taking it in high school.’”

Across campus, CA students are taking note of the increased visibility of statistics thanks to the installation of Statculus students’ data visualization pieces. “Students in other classes have been intrigued by the suncatchers,” says Lazarski.

“After taking part in the surveys, they have been fascinated by how the results were presented and the notion that meaningful data could be visualized in a non-traditional way. And that you can have fun and make an impact in the process.”

Data Art

This year’s sun catcher project is not the first data visualization project to adorn the Center for Math and Science. Through Lee and Ramey’s NCMA fellowship, last year’s Statculus students were invited to visit the North Carolina Museum of Art and leverage the museum’s collection as data points for a data visualization project.


Breaking into teams, students analyzed the museum’s vast collections based on artists’ gender, nationality, media used, and composition. With data sets in hand, and in consultation with RTI researcher and data visualization expert Simon King via Zoom (before it was the cornerstone of meetings in 2020), students worked with Lazarski, Lee, and Ramey to design an art installation that would shed light on the strengths and shortcomings of the museum’s holdings while engaging viewers to learn more.

Inspired by Florence Nightingale’s pioneering data visualization work, Diagrams of the Causes of Mortality, which used a coxcomb—a more sophisticated form of a pie chart in which the slices are subdivided and vary in radius in proportion to the data set—and utilizing the cutting-edge tools of the CMS Makerspace and know-how of design, programming, and robotics teacher Betsy MacDonald, the students created three-dimensional coxcomb spheres that are suspended in the Center for Math and Science’s atrium lobby.

Each sphere—crafted from a Wiffle ball, wedges of plexiglass, and transparent vinyl appliques—is mounted on spindles that allow them to rotate. Putting the data in motion seeks to engage viewers, allowing them to see the relationships between the complex layers of data in greater detail.

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

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Character Construction

Glen Matthews

Faculty Reflections

All Together Now

February 10, 2021

Theater teacher Glen Matthews vividly remembers standing transfixed in the quiet dark of backstage Berger Hall. Before him, Evan Zhu ‘23, playing Simba in the 2017 production of The Lion King Junior, was grieving his father Mufasa, newly killed in a wildebeest stampede.

“He was kneeling over his father’s body and saying ‘Dad! Dad! Wake up, wake up!’” recalls Matthews, his voice breaking with emotion at the memory. “We hadn’t seen anything like it in rehearsals—he was truly living that moment, living that grief; he was weeping, fully transformed.”

“To be able to do that as an actor in front of 500 people, regardless of your age—to be that authentic in a moment—that’s difficult stuff. Actors work their whole life to find that, and here was this young person who allowed themself to just shed their skin—it was beautiful and powerful, a privilege to witness.”

For Matthews, such moments are a triumph, not only as testaments to the artistic growth of his student actors, but as a reflection of the success of the entire ensemble that helps usher them to life on the stage, and for the powerful connection that they forge with the audience.

Ensemble ethic

Helping his students bring such visceral experiences to life—and he’s quick to point out that there have been many during his 23-year tenure at CA—is one of the things Matthews loves most about his role.

Matthews joined CA in 1998—before the campus even had a theater space—arriving after a brief detour as a theater teacher with Neal Middle School in Durham, from acting with The Burning Coal Theater company, which had recently located from Manhattan to North Carolina.

He remembers those early days fondly, meeting with Performing Arts Director Michael Hayes on the second floor of the Admin Building as they began to collaboratively explore what a theater program at CA might look like. What would it emphasize and value? What would it ultimately seek to instill in its students?

“A lot of people, when they hear theater, they’re thinking, ‘oh, well, that class is just going to be about acting,’” offers Matthews. “And, yes, actors are important and, yes, you have to have someone to tell the story. Before you can even get to that part, though, you must have a story to tell.”

And Matthews will tell you that the magic of discovering and telling that story is found in the collaboration of the entire group that supports its production—in the cultivation of the ensemble.

“I knew that I wanted the CA theater experience to be broader than just a focus on what it means to be an actor. Early on, we grounded the work in the ensemble ethic—the idea that we are a diverse group of people working together towards a common goal.

“We spend a lot of time at the beginning of any class exploring what that means. What does it mean to be a part of a group that has invested their resources, their time, and their talents into accomplishing a goal? What are my responsibilities to you? What are your responsibilities to me? To each other? And how are we all contributing to the growth and the maintenance of this wonderful, beautiful thing?” explains Matthews.

Once those relationships and boundaries are established—trust earned and developed—the ensemble becomes the foundation upon which everything is scaffolded, from stage makeup application to combat choreograph, scenery design to, of course, acting exercises. In everything, the ensemble, collaboration, and the collective journey are paramount—at times leading to unexpected learning opportunities.

“I have a sense of what’s going to happen each day, but what’s exciting is that even though there’s a plan, it really depends on the energy of the room—what the students bring into the space, where they are at that moment,” explains Matthews. “Meeting them where they are, saying ‘okay, wherever we end up today is where we are supposed to be,’ is important. And determining what we can learn from that together—that’s exciting; it’s powerful.”

Matthews’s students will tell you that it is an empowering approach.

“Mr. Matthews’s ensemble approach helps everyone grow together and feel like they can experiment with different things,” offers alum Evan Snively ’20. “It really frees you to make your own artistic choices.”

Chioma Modilim ’22 agrees. “Mr. Matthews is always encouraging us as students and actors to step outside our comfort zones and to explore our creativity. Whenever I ask him what I should do as the character in a particular moment or scene, he always responds with, ‘just play with it.’ He is great at balancing guiding us with letting us make our own decisions, and that freedom is something that I’ve really come to appreciate.”

Failing boldly

At its heart, the ensemble ethic is about creating a safe space, one in which everyone is valued and empowered to tap into their most imaginative and creative selves, emboldened to take creative risks—the kind that lead to significant growth and learning.

“I spend a lot of time trying to create that safe space for my students. I want them to know that, when they are here, they can shed their skin, they can be vulnerable,” explains Matthews. “I have a sign in my classroom in the Black Box; I put it there for myself, but I share it with my students. It says, ‘risk all, fail boldly.’

“That concept is something that I stumbled upon years ago while working with adult performers. We all need to be reminded that it is okay to fail boldly. That’s when we learn. That’s when we grow as artists, certainly—but even more importantly—that is when we grow as human beings.”

Matthews, whose roots in performing arts run deep, has been taking creative risks his whole life. From an early age, music and performance were important in his life, whether singing solos in his southern Mississippi church choir as a young child or playing piano in elementary school or the trombone in his high school marching band.

He credits his sixth-grade music teacher for helping him discover a passion and talent for theater. “Mrs. Pugh recognized something in me,” he reflects. She began to take him to see musicals produced in the broader area, ultimately escorting him to his first audition—a civic production of The Wizard of Oz. He would land the part of a munchkin—a small role that would have a big life-long impact, setting a creative trajectory towards a career in theater.

A creative coincidence, his early start got a little boost from contemporary pop culture—thanks to the meteoric rise of the wildly popular musical Annie. “Everything was about Annie, and the sun will come out tomorrow! I had the album, and I was, you know, I was convinced that I was going to be the next Annie,” he laughs. “Obviously, I wasn’t, but it was certainly a driving force.”

His newly discovered love of musical theater would carry him through numerous workshops and community performances before finally leading to the pursuit, first, of a BFA in musical theater from William Carey College and, later, an MFA in directing from the University of Southern Mississippi. It even led him to his partner of 24 years, Gary Williams, a fellow thespian and theatrical collaborator who has been hugely important in his creative journey.

A creative calling

While Matthews is himself no stranger to the spotlight of center stage, having taken many turns acting with various professional troops, directing and teaching has proven his true calling. He credits the pivotal role his own teachers played in sparked his passions, as well as his mother—a kindergarten and daycare provider—as inspiring his love and reverence for the classroom.

“After undergraduate and graduate school, I had a lot of friends who asked, ‘why aren’t you going to New York? Why aren’t you going to LA?” explains Matthews. “Truthfully, I just never felt like that was my calling.

“Teachers had always guided my path; my mom was involved in education, so teaching always resonated with me. And I think directing, which has always been a passion and what I pursued in my own education, has a lot of overlap with teaching. It requires a lot of guiding and supporting—so teaching was a very natural choice, a natural transition.”
At CA, it has proven an incredibly gratifying one, in large part because of the connections he has forged with students and colleagues alike, whether in the classroom, as a student advisor, during an extracurricular production, or leading the Middle School Rollercoaster Madness and Stage Combat Clubs.

Gratifying impact

“One of the wonderful things about teaching in the arts department is that we get introduced to the students in Middle School. We have opportunities to continue to impact their lives and watch them grow and learn from them as they move all the way through 12th grade. That’s something that I don’t think I would have the opportunity to do anywhere else. To be able to be a part of a student’s growth and journey over seven years—it is amazing.”

That appreciation runs both ways.

When Suddenly company closing night

“It’s difficult to put into words the impact that Mr. Matthews has had on both my time at CA and my life,” reflects alum Kevin Pendergast ’14. “He has been a driving force in shaping my approach to theater, my views of the world, and largely the person I am today.

“Mr. Matthews taught me that theater forces us to embark on work that is often emotionally and mentally taxing. He taught me that to give justice to this work we must ‘spit’ away the baggage of the outside world before we even enter the room. He teaches us to dig within ourselves for answers and work together in the trusting environment he provides to share our findings with an audience. By gathering together and taking a collective breath, Mr. Matthews facilitates insurmountable levels of individual and community growth. He is a driving force in the ensemble of our world.”

Communal catharsis

In April, Matthews and a group of Upper School students, many of whom he has been working with for years, will bring a new production, The Theory of Relativity, to the CA stage. It will mark Matthews’s 28th performance at CA.

Mounting such a production amid a pandemic has not been without challenge, but it is an undertaking that Matthews and his students feel is more important than ever.
“Theater is important. We all have stories to tell, and we all appreciate hearing each other’s stories. I think now, in particular, we need communal experiences—opportunities to celebrate, to mourn, to give honor, to connect and build empathy, to heal.”

Ever the teacher, Matthews offers a history lesson to make his point, sharing how the ancient Greeks were early proponents of the cathartic power of theater.
“The Greeks believed, in coming together to experience the plight of mythic characters suffering through significant tragedy, that they themselves would feel and be purged,” explains Matthews.“I believe that is why theater still exists today. In coming together to live a story all at the same time­—we feel, we purge. Hopefully, we walk out those doors better people as a result.”

It is a lofty goal, to be sure, and one that he teaches his students carries significant responsibility rooted in our connection to each other.

“As theater artists, not only do we have the opportunity to help people feel, but in doing so, we can inspire change,” offers Matthews. “I have the privilege of seeing our students do this all the time, through the stories that they tell and how they choose to tell them, together, in the ensemble.”

He pauses, “If a student only remembers one thing from their time with me, I hope it is the importance of the ensemble—that we are stronger and more powerful when we choose to combine our abilities with those of others, to learn from the people around us. Working together as artists, our impact—their impact—is significant. It matters.”

Written by Mandy Dailey, Director of Communications

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Brianna Gaddy - Alumni

Alumni Spotlight

Re-working the System

September 14, 2020

Brianna Gaddy ‘12 is a lawyer with a mission. Her goal? To fight systemic racism to create a more inclusive and equitable legal system for all—one judicial outcome, one policy at a time.

Gaddy did not always know she wanted to be a lawyer. A love of language and international travel—first ignited during her time at CA, thanks to a transformative world exchange trip to Chile—led her first to pursue majors in global studies and Spanish at the University of North Carolina.

In Murcia, she saw firsthand how the complex historical, social, and economic dynamics she had studied in college played out in the lives of her students. “The dynamics of race, of language, of culture, the challenges that faced my Moroccan immigrant students in Murcia, they were reminiscent of the issues that I had seen tutoring in Durham,” explains Gaddy.

“Global studies encompassed so many things I cared about. It had an international dimension. I could focus on women’s issues, on social issues,” she explains. “I was immediately drawn to classes, particularly geography classes, that focused in on the interconnectedness of political, social, and economic systems.”

Upon graduation, Gaddy, who loved teaching children—having tutored kids in an afterschool program in Durham throughout her undergraduate years—and had developed an abiding love of Spain during a positive study abroad experience, jumped at the opportunity to teach abroad through a program offered by the Spanish government. She moved to the small town of Murcia in southeastern Spain to teach English to students in kindergarten through eighth grade.

In Murcia, she saw firsthand how the complex historical, social, and economic dynamics she had studied in college played out in the lives of her students. “The dynamics of race, of language, of culture, the challenges that faced my Moroccan immigrant students in Murcia, they were reminiscent of the issues that I had seen tutoring in Durham,” explains Gaddy.

“I realized that these issues are much bigger than student/teacher dynamics, much bigger than teaching,” she continues. “As a student, how do you care about learning English, or language arts or math, when you are prevented from being your best self? When you aren’t given the best chance in life? When you are food insecure? When you are marginalized?”

She realized the enormity of the issues at hand called for systemic change. “I couldn’t affect the kind of change I wanted to see on the day-to-day level of teaching. There were laws that needed to be changed, policies that needed to be developed.”

She quickly turned her sights on law school. And, after taking the LSAT, was accepted to American University, known for its focus on international human rights.

She initially dreamed of one day taking a position with the United Nations. She quickly discovered, however, that difficulties enforcing international law, coupled with a challenging job market, would significantly limit her ability to effect change.

Instead, an early internship with The Honorable Reggie Walton in Washington, D.C., would expose her to an interesting alternative, opening her eyes to a surprising new passion for labor and employment law. “I loved how it combined black-letter law with social and economic issues,” offers Gaddy.

That introduction would ultimately lead her to pursue another internship, this time with the Employment and Opportunity Commission. It was a particularly formative experience. “My work with the EEOC helped me to understand how individual cases eventually give rise to implemented policies,” explains Gaddy. And, in policy work, Gaddy discovered her long sought-after outlet to effect meaningful change.

How can employment and labor policy contribute to significant social and anti-racist change? To explain, Gaddy offers an example, pointing to something that, on its face, might seem fairly innocuous: dress codes.

“Some dress codes prohibit certain hairstyles, like afros or dreads,” explains Gaddy. “While not discriminatory on their face—they don’t outright name Black people as the intended targets—their implementation has a discriminatory effect.

“While it may seem a small matter—a hairstyle—these are the microaggressions that add up to systemic racism and larger inequalities,” says Gaddy. In schools, it might mean that Black students get more suspensions for dress code violations, an early condemnation of Blackness. In the workplace, it might mean that Black women or men are discouraged from applying or working for particular companies or in a specific field.

She notes that current shortcomings in our legal system make it hard to combat this kind of discrimination. “Right now, the responsibility is on the aggrieved party to prove something called disparate impact, which is difficult.” She points to the recent CROWN Act legislation—which prohibits discrimination based on hair, and which has been adopted as law in California, New York, and is pending legislation in other states and counties—as a step in the right direction.

However, until that kind of anti-discriminatory legislation is enacted uniformly across the United States, Gaddy is turning her attention to policy. “Employment policies can make the fight easier,” she offers. “We can encourage companies to reconsider their policies, to not simply follow the law at its most basic, but to go further, to ask, for example, ‘what are we doing in our workplace to make sure that Black people are comfortable going in for an interview.’”

Gaddy’s ultimate goal? To effect significant changes in the legal system that reflect an increased focus on inclusivity and equity, and a better awareness of how systemic racism and socio-economic differences influence and are shaped by judicial outcomes.

“There is a big divide when you come into court based around the resources you have at your disposal, based on the education that you have had, based on your background. We have to figure out ways to bridge that gap,” offers Gaddy.

“We have to ensure that people are educated about their rights, that they understand the legal process, that they have a fair experience. We have to make sure that judges understand the larger social, economic, political systems that are in play in a given case and that their decisions are equitable.”

She’ll be doing precisely that in the fall when she starts a year-long clerkship with Judge Jeannie J. Hong in Baltimore City Circuit Court. As a clerk, Gaddy will be performing legal research, ensuring that her judge has the information needed to consider all dimensions of a case and render an equitable decision. And, she’ll be helping to draft opinions that clearly lay out the rationale and legal principles behind a ruling.

While not all lawyers opt to clerk, for Gaddy, it is an important step. “I think it is crucial to get an insider view of how courts work, to see how different people interact with the judicial system. I’m passionate about helping the clients that are before me. On the family court docket in Baltimore City, many litigants are pro-se—they are representing themselves in court—so we’ll have to do a little bit more to ensure they understand the process and have an equitable and fair experience.”

Brianna Gaddy - Alumni

On completion of her clerkship, Gaddy will be moving into a permanent position as a lawyer with Miles and Stockbridge in Baltimore. There, she’ll be working in their Labor, Employment, Benefits, and Immigration division, likely on a range of labor and employment matters such as representing employers and businesses in matters including discrimination and harassment, family medical leave, retaliation, and wage and hour issues.

Gaddy admits that her work is difficult given the current human rights climate, with systemic manifestations of racism and violence against the Black community coming to stark light. “Sometimes, it is hard to stay motivated to work within a system that hasn’t worked for people like me. It can be hard to keep going,” she admits. “Why am I studying for the bar, why am I focused on a test, when I have seen so many instances where the justice system has let down people who look like me?”

In those darker moments, she finds strength and perseverance by tapping into her larger “why” and recentering on her goals. “I try to remember the broader reasons why I chose this path—my passion for changing laws to create a more equitable society, for working to bring justice for all members of our community regardless of their background, privilege, or resources. “Thinking about the difference I can make once I can practice, it helps me put my head down and keep doing the work, to get over the next hurdle.”

She also recognizes the importance of being a role model to others in a field that is one of the least diverse of all professions. “Only 2% of lawyers are Black women. I want little Black girls to know that they can achieve this—that they can be lawyers, that they can be in positions of power, that they too can make important change.”

Equity Work at CA

Racism in the United States is no less a crisis, no less pressing, and presents no less a threat to our society and our community than the current coronavirus pandemic. And it must be met with the same sense of urgency and thoughtful, proactive response.

In June, Cary Academy issued a letter to the community reaffirming our values and reiterating CA’s longstanding commitment to the hard—at times uncomfortable—introspective work of diversity, equity, and inclusion that have been core values since we first opened our doors.

We pledged to be part of the solution and to work together to engage in anti-racist work to ensure that CA is a safe space for all our students to thrive. And to prepare our faculty, staff, and students to combat racism and to be the positive change that is so needed in our world.

We recognize that this demands large-scale institutional introspection and thoughtful, meaningful action. And it requires active listening from our community members about their personal experiences—even when that might be difficult.

This summer, Director of Equity and Community Engagement Danielle Johnson-Webb reached out through a series of Zoom calls to initiate those conversations. In a safe space, alums, parents, and students shared their stories, experiences, and perspectives—both good and bad—of their time at CA. These ongoing conversations will help to inform the work that lies ahead, including professional development efforts; ongoing dialogue work with Essential Partners; curriculum audits, refinements, and additions; and policy review.

This work is complex, crucial, and never-ending. Our planning efforts—by necessity—are fluid and ongoing. As we move forward, we feel it essential to be transparent in our thinking and planning as we engage in what is sometimes messy and challenging work.

To that end, we are launching united.cary.academy. Here, we will provide information about our equity work of the last few years—a foundation on which we will be building. We will also offer regular updates on new anti-racist efforts, sharing our planning process and the thoughts shaping those efforts, as well as the lessons that we are learning together. We welcome your feedback and engagement as we continue to pursue this important work now and in the years to come.

In the meantime, this summer, every employee in the Cary Academy community will engage in professional development efforts that are grounded in anti-racist work. Together, we will be reading and discussing the following books, laying a foundation and shared vocabulary for the work of the coming year. We invite all members of our community to join us.

White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism
Robin DiAngelo

Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption
Bryan Stevenson

Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria? And Other Conversations About Race
Beverly Daniel Tatum

Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You
Ibram X. Kendi

The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness
Michelle Alexander

White Awake: An Honest Look at What It Means to be White
Daniel Hill

Blindspot: Hidden Biases of Good People
Mahzarin R. Banaji

Waking Up White, and Finding Myself in the Story of Race
Debby Irving

How to be an Anti-racist
Ibram X. Kendi

We Want to Do More Than Survive: Abolitionist Teaching and the Pursuit of Educational Freedom
Bettina Love

Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome: America’s Legacy of Enduring Injury and Healing
Dr. Joy Degruy

The Racial Healing Handbook: Practical Activities to Help You Challenge Privilege, Confront Systemic Racism, and Engage in Collective Healing
Anneliese A. Singh, Derald Wing Sue, et al.

Written by Mandy Dailey, Director of Communications

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Faculty Reflections

Faculty Conversations: Social and Emotional Health

September 14, 2020

In a high performing school like Cary Academy, there can be tremendous pressure on our students. Pressure to get good grades. To look good. To fit in. Add to these the uncertainty and strife that seem to dominate today’s disturbing headlines and you have a significant challenge to emotional health.

Indeed, recent research suggests that, as a country, we are facing a staggering mental health epidemic, with 70 percent of teenagers, aged 13 to 17, reporting that anxiety and depression are major issues amongst their peers.

As we prepare to embark on a new academic year, Middle and Upper School counselors Kelly Wiebe and Twanna Monds sat down to reflect together on their roles, social and emotional health at CA, the challenges of the last trimester, and the road ahead.

WIEBE: I’m often asked to explain what we do as counselors and our role within the CA community. I’m curious, Twanna, how do you respond?

MONDS: As counselors, I like to think that we are advocates. It’s our job to ensure that parents, staff and faculty, and students alike feel comfortable, supported, and heard—regardless of the pressures, questions, stresses, or challenges they may be facing.

I’ve always looked at counselors as the heart of the school, extending openness, kindness, empathy, and warmth to all. I hope that our students, parents, and staff feel that—that they feel supported with their concerns and needs.

WIEBE: Agreed! And you raise an important point: I see us as a facilitators, resources, and a support system not just for our students—although I love working with them individually—but for parents and teachers as well.

MONDS: Addressing social and emotional health is so multidimensional—it is larger than just our students. It takes a true community effort, all of us working together to create a culture of wellness. I like to encourage everyone to look at social and emotional health as they do physical health, something you have to nurture and develop to reap the short- and long-term benefits throughout your life.

WIEBE: That’s why I enjoy seeking out opportunities to partner with parents and teachers as part of the process of supporting students. It might mean facilitating a large-scale effort, like screening the documentary Screenagers for teachers during a faculty meeting, while offering another screening for parents in the evening. Or, on a smaller—but equally important scale—it might mean having individual meetings with a parent or teacher regarding a specific issue or concern.

MONDS: Those macro and micro-level efforts are both so important, don’t you think? They allow us to cultivate student wellness from both ends of the spectrum, from the community-level to the personal.

WIEBE: Yes! When students come to the Middle School, they are embarking on a process of self-exploration. They are actively trying on different identities to see how they fit—figuring out ways to be an individual, to separate from others (and from their parents, especially!). At the same time, they want to belong, to fit in with their peers. The tension and conflict that this creates can be challenging for students and families to navigate.

And, of course, if all that wasn’t enough, add on 24-hour access to seemingly unlimited information—all that is “out there” in the world for them to sift through and process—and then layer on the academic pressures, the busy sports schedules, the deepening ways of relating to people—it’s not surprising that the teen years can be so confusing and trying!

MONDS: Absolutely. While further along in their development, we see similar challenges in the Upper School, including the information overload. Students are changing friend groups. They’re discovering new interests, exploring their independence and what it means. They’re learning more about who they are as people—and who they want to be. That’s a lot!

Add to that the pressures of the college search, the prospect of moving outside the home and being truly independent, and exposure to social scenarios that can be increasingly difficult to navigate and manage—it can become overwhelming quickly.

That’s why so much of the programming in the Upper School is designed around preparing students for that independence, around cultivating personal responsibility, and equipping them socially and emotionally to deal in healthy ways with whatever comes next.

Social and emotional health is both a core part of the curriculum but also integrated throughout the student experience, through advisory activities, Student Council initiatives, and clubs.

WIEBE: Yes, social and emotional development has also been a primary focus in the Middle School for a long time—long before the buzzwords of Social Emotional Learning even became popular. For the past decade, our Charger Trails program has been a cornerstone initiative, guiding students toward self-awareness, relationship skill development, team building and bonding, and cyber education.

Over the years, our teachers have provided opportunities to explore a broad range of topics from friendship making, to compassion for self and others, even self-care like ergonomics. Layered over this, our advisory program provides the backbone of support for student and families—offering everyone a place to be known.

MONDS: I think there is also a school-wide commitment to helping students de-stress. Whether bringing in therapy dogs during exam week—the students loved that—or the PTAA providing grade-level snacks and treats, we try to offer those moments for everyone to take a break, to take a breath, and just relax for a few moments.

WIEBE: I know we were both happy to see that CA’s new strategic plan includes an explicit call for the cultivation of an environment of student wellbeing.

I think the decision to shift to later class start times is a great example of that commitment. There is a lot of research out there on the importance of adequate sleep for teens, and we certainly heard firsthand how much students were enjoying getting more sleep during our virtual T3.

In the Middle School, we are also looking at adding advisors to certain grade levels. Advisors play such critical role in support—now even more than ever—and a lower advisor/advisee ratio not only allows for individualizing support but plays into the development of close and supportive group dynamics.

MONDS: I’ve been pleased to see how responsive and agile CA can be in matters of community wellness—how we are always looking to innovate and improve upon our programs and approach.

I witnessed that during the early days of last semester’s virtual period. Our initial attempt at a virtual schedule proved challenging and overwhelming for both students and staff. After concerns were voiced, a survey was developed to solicit opinions and feedback. The staff and students were heard, and the schedule was adjusted to better support the overall wellbeing of everyone involved.

Of course, that was just one challenge of many presented by the pandemic. What was your experience like in the Middle School? What were your big takeaways?

WIEBE: Yes, a pandemic certainly isn’t particularly conducive to stress reduction! First, I think it’s important to not make any assumptions. There were as many reactions to virtual learning as there were students—and those reactions changed daily!

Regardless of how well-executed, I think virtual school generally runs counter to what feels normal to teens. At a time that they are supposed to be “testing their wings”, instead they were forced to stay home. I had students share about their feelings of isolation and boredom, about their concerns and worries about things outside of their control.

MONDS: For me, the past semester was all about making sure that students knew that I was available to them, about making them feel safe and supported. I tried to meet the students where they were emotionally, with the understanding that their feelings could change in an instance. And when they did, it was important to allow them to feel that way, to acknowledge it, and support them.

I think it’s important to not have a “doom and gloom” mentality. Yes, there are a number of challenges ahead, but our students and our community are so very resilient. I have faith in our ability to face these challenges with strength. Change equals stress, but it also equals the opportunity for growth.”

Kelly Wiebe

Middle School Counselor

WIEBE: Yes, and the need to be readily accessible, meant being available and reaching out to our community in new ways. It ultimately led to more direct student skill development through means such as the Tip of the Week—an emotional wellness tip or exercise that I would email out every week. My goal was to help students develop a toolbox of social/emotional health strategies that they could tap into during times of stress.

I think part of the challenge was also supporting teachers. This was a new, stressful, and sudden change for them as well. To a large extent, T3 was about helping each other through a process of grief and grieving that was unique to each individual.

MONDS: That a great point. While we were all experiencing this together, our reactions are intensely personal and there is no right or wrong to them; they are all valid. I think it is important to remind people to own and honor their own feelings, rather than comparing them and their coping experience to someone else’s.

As we transition into summer and then the new academic year, my advice is to have open communication, empathize, and express your feelings. It’s ok if you feel like you don’t know what to do. We are all trying to figure this out together.

WIEBE: That’s good advice. I also think it’s important to not have a “doom and gloom” mentality. Yes, there are a number of challenges ahead, but our students and our community are so very resilient. I have faith in our ability to face these challenges with strength.

Change equals stress, but it also equals the opportunity for growth. In a way, it feels safer to think outside the box, to try something new because we are forced to. The nature of the pandemic means that we are all in this together. I think you will see this bare out in greater collaboration.

MONDS: You and I have already experienced this, through our recent joint work with our peers at Ravenscroft and Durham Academy. In fact, we are in the process of developing resources to share with families to help in preparation for the transition back into school.

WIEBE: Yes, as we look to next year, we are focusing on ways to provide targeted support for students to help during this unique time. And we’re working with students to develop individual self-care plans and learning structure plans.

Ultimately, we are prepared to pivot as needed because the year has untold adventures on the horizon!

Across all our efforts, I like to think we can help by providing larger context and guidance, particularly since we often see firsthand some of the challenges our students may be facing—whether it is academic pressures, challenges within friend groups, explorations of identity, or anything in between.

A school-wide commitment to supporting students during times of stress has led to fun (and furry) support programs, such as visits from therapy dogs during exams.

Meet the Counselors

Twanna Monds

This summer marks the beginning of my second year at Cary Academy. I have been a public-school educator for 16 years. I am licensed as a School Counselor and Clinical Mental Health Therapist. I am a National Board-Certified Teacher, Career Development Facilitator, and currently completing a PhD.

What is your favorite CA experience?

My favorite moment from this past school year was being lost on campus with other new CA students. They asked me for help at the same time I was asking them for help. We shook our heads at each other when we realized we were all lost newbies.

What do you love most about your work? What is
most rewarding?

I love having conversations with students. I enjoy hearing what they think, how they feel, what is (and isn’t) important to them—just everything. Kids have such a genuine, empathetic, open heart. It is the most rewarding when I am given the opportunity to be a part of their journey and they allow me into their hearts.

What are you looking forward to for the 2020–21 academic year?

I am looking forward to the unknown—which I realize is probably an odd thing to say. Having uncertainty is not necessarily a bad thing. It allows for creativity. I am excited to see what this unknown will create for all of us at CA, during the next school year.

Kelly Wiebe

I am entering my seventh year at Cary Academy. As a licensed therapist (both in mental health counseling as well as marriage and family therapy), I have been working with teens in the development of their social and emotional health for over 20 years. I have been fortunate to be a part of adolescent journeys in both public and private school settings as well as in private practice.

What is your favorite CA experience?

The first day of school is my favorite. It is amazing how much Middle School students grow in one summer! Plus, I get to meet the newest Chargers for the first time.

What do you love most about your work? What is
most rewarding?

I love the Middle School years. It is a time of great growth and change—albeit not all of it easy! Nothing in more rewarding than being able to be a small part of an individual’s steps from childhood to adulthood.

What are you looking forward to for the 2020–21 academic year?

Change is difficult but it also provides the opportunity for growth. Knowing this year will be a time of change, I am excited to see the growth that will unfold.

Counseling Programs

Time spent in Middle and Upper School are wonderful and exciting—and not without challenges (perhaps even more so given current conditions). Here are just some of the programs that Twanna Monds and Kelly Wiebe have implemented over the 2019-20 school year to support CA students on- and off-campus.

Middle School

  • Parents met with social media expert and Social Institute founder Laura Tierney for her talk #WinAtSocial, for tips on guiding children through appropriate, healthy, and safe social media use.
  • Middle School parents and faculty viewed Screenagers: Next Chapter, a documentary that tackles topics of stress, anxiety and depression with a focus on improving adolescent well-being in a digital age.
  • Charger Trails is a signature program that takes a holistic view of developing social and emotional skills during the key Middle School years. Each grade level focuses on designing activities around relationship development, self-awareness, cyber education, and team building/bonding.
  • The Positivity Project asked students to participate in a character strength survey with resources on 23 character traits that teachers used as supplemental material.
  • T3’s Tip of the Week offered students virtual learning-specific coping strategies, including mindfulness, stress reduction, the benefits of laughter, and combatting Zoom fatigue.
  • The iCanHelp Club fostered positivity throughout the school year with Take One/Give One encouragement note board, hot chocolate and candy giveaways, the 6th Grade’s Compliment Jar (which went virtual in T3), and a Meme Challenge.

Upper School

  • The inaugural Parent Book Club, supported by the PTAA and CA’s Wellness Committee, discussed parenting strategies after reading How to Raise an Adult: Break Free of the Overparenting Trap and Prepare Your Kid for Success by Julie Lythcott-Haims.
  • The 10th grade Emotional Health Class curated and crafted Inspirational Quotes during T1 and T2. These, in turn, became uplifting emails sent to all 10th grade students during T3.
  • Each 10th grader completed a questionnaire about their connections, support people, and summer activities as part of the Summer Mapping Project, in order to ensure that they have the support and resources to navigate the summer break.
  • During AP testing for 11th and 12th graders, Ms. Monds emailed students relaxation techniques from their 10th grade classmates created around the 5 senses for 5 nights.
  • Communication and connection are some of the pillars of social emotional support. As we spent T3 practicing social distancing, Ms. Monds checked-in individually with all of CA’s 9th graders, all 12th graders, and all of CA’s African American students, to support and provide care during this unprecedented time.

Written by Mandy Dailey, Director of Communications

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