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Science

Science Olympiad starts the season off right.

February 8, 2024

Earlier this month, the Middle School and Upper School Science Olympiad Teams competed in their first tournament of the season, the NCSO Raleigh Regional Tournament. Overall, The MS varsity team earned an 8th-place trophy! The Upper School varsity team placed 6th overall- earning a bid to the state tournament in April at NCSU. Cary Academy also won the first-ever Division C Conen Morgan Spirit Award. Nominations noted our students’ friendliness, politeness, thankfulness, and willingness to help other teams by lending materials and giving advice. See below for a complete list of finishes:

Middle School Results
JV:
4th in Disease Detectives – Sophie Mei (’30) & Zofia Wang(‘30)
Varsity:
6th Anatomy & Physiology – Celia Chen (’29) & Sophie Liu (‘29)
3rd Disease Detectives – Xinya Pan (’29) & Samantha Kordus (‘28)
7th Ecology – Aarnavi Boppana (’29) & Jaden Hong (‘28)
5th Forestry – Amy Zheng (’29) & Annika Liu (‘29)
6th Microbe Mission – Samantha Kordus (’28) & Mia Rochman (’28)
4th Reach for the Stars – Aarnavi Boppana (’29) & Mia Rochman (‘28) 

Upper School Results
JV: 
4th in Scrambler – Annalise Davies (‘25) & Isabel Chang (‘24)
5th in Forensics – Wells Lin (‘26) & Katie Shen (‘24)
Varsity:
2nd Air Trajectory – Alister Davis (‘26) & Ryan Chen (‘26)
2nd Forensics – Riya Bhatnagar (‘27) & Bella Huang (‘24)
5th Experimental Design – Alister Davis (‘26), Joyce Xu (‘26), & Jasmine Ye (‘24)
5th Fossils – Ian Chen (‘24) & Jasmine Ye (‘24) 
6th Forestry – Ian Chen (‘24) & Jasmine Ye (‘24)
6th Geo Mapping – Ian Chen (‘24) & Angelika Wang (‘24)
7th Astronomy – Audrey Song (‘26) & Joyce Xu (‘26)
7th Scrambler – Alister Davis (‘26) & Sebastian de Souza (‘25)

Written by Jack Swingle

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Science

Science Olympiad starts the season off right.

CA Curious

Happy Thanksgiving!

CA Curious

Uncomfortable Magic

November 16, 2023

As Service Learning Director, I have the unique honor of helping push our students outside the comfort of our familiar school environment and into the wider world. Time and time again, I have seen firsthand the incredible learning and self-discovery these uncomfortable and unfamiliar moments often yield.  

Consider: a spark of unexpected human connection with someone you perhaps thought was so different. A new perspective gained on learning firsthand the daily barriers with which some live—roadblocks that seem unimaginable to you. The development of compassion and kindness as we think beyond ourselves to discover and appreciate the humanity in all our neighbors. The sense of belonging and purpose created by addressing a social issue that is personally relevant and meaningful.

These impactful moments are the magic of service learning—the ones that help prepare our students to go out into the world as kind, ethical, and empathic changemakers. 

Indeed, service learning offers unique opportunities for students to put the social-emotional learning curriculum of the classroom and advisory program into meaningful community practice. Empathy is woven into all of CA’s service-learning initiatives, from Special Olympics to Delta Service Club’s work to the annual Giving Tree program, Backpack Buddies, and beyond.

I don’t do this work alone, of course. I’m supported in it by CA’s mission and core values, our incredible employees, and a host of community partners. These partnerships—which balance community needs with CA’s student learning and development goals—are developed with humility, intention, and a genuine desire to understand social problems. After all, it is only in an environment of trust and respect that we can work together towards solutions, whether through direct community service or advocacy work.

Across CA and within the Center for Community Engagement (CCE), students, faculty, and staff are challenged to engage in discussions, experiences, and unfamiliar, eye-opening, and exhilarating learning. In our Middle School, I’ve worked closely with our faculty to integrate service learning into their curriculum, advisory time, and Community Days. 

Just check out what we’ve been up to this year (and its only November!).

In sixth grade, students learn about local food insecurity and engage in our Backpack Buddies program. The initiative begins with a day of experiential service learning, visiting local food stores to explore food costs, nutrition, and accessibility. They hear from the Interfaith Food Shuttle staff and are challenged to think about what it might feel like to go hungry over a weekend or not have an adult at home to help fix a meal. Throughout the school year, students run targeted food collection campaigns and think about how to engage the resources of our CA community for the benefit of students who go to school just down the road. Sixth graders pack 120 food bags each month for our partner school, Reedy Creek Elementary, which CA parents deliver. 

“Straightforward, concrete experiences give 6th graders the building blocks they need to understand abstract ideas. “Service” can be especially abstract for 6th graders who aren’t old enough yet to participate in many service-centered activities. Backpack Buddies allows them to give back to our local community in a tangible, immediate way. Students organize the food, pack the bags, make friendly cards, and help remind their grown-ups to contribute to our food drives.”– Katie Taylor, sixth-grade

Our seventh graders study migration in history and language arts with a current focus on farmworkers. Here, service learning might include a panel discussion with recent immigrants and those who work in NGOs serving them). It might entail more direct service opportunities—such as gleaning sweet potatoes for donation to food-insecure neighbors—that give students a sense of the grueling work of migrant farmworkers.  Or ask students to use their new persuasive writing skills to develop a compelling call for clothing donations to benefit one of our longtime partner organizations, Episcopal Farmworker Ministry in Dunn, NC (this year, students brought in over 1100 clothing items!). 

“Done well, service learning can be the heart and soul of a curriculum—and the means for real, authentic change in communities. At its best, it is about partnerships—about mutuality—about listening and addressing real needs. We have strived to do this with our study of migration in seventh-grade history and language arts. We want our kids to really understand what it means to move to a new place—how hard that can be—and how we can support folks who are new to our area. If we do it well, our kids really put themselves in the shoes of migrants and refugees—and see them as people like themselves. Service learning can be a powerful way for students to be better listeners and more community-oriented people.”  – Lucy Dawson, seventh-grade language arts teacher and team leader. 

This year, in 8th grade, students are engaging in a pilot environmental justice service learning initiative focused on water quality. In science class, students are diving deeply into local ecological justice issues in North Carolina, with case studies on topics such as water contamination, stormwater runoff, and habitat destruction—and conducting hands-on water quality testing at the SAS ponds in order to determine the impact of nearby human activities on the health of this habitat.  This week, students participated in teach-ins with visiting researchers, journalists, riverkeepers, local government workers, and NGO administrators who dedicate their professional lives to keeping water safe and accessible to all members of our community. Students then c

In language arts, they are “taking a stand”— an immersive project that requires them to research, articulate, and persuasively advocate for a cause that is personally meaningful. This cross-curricular project will continue into the spring, where students will learn about student-led advocacy movements in the past and present in their history classes. 

Community-based service learning allows our student scientists to connect what they learn in class to the real world. It asks them to think critically about the role of science in a broader community context. When students participate in environmental justice service learning experiences connected to current and local water quality challenges, they deepen their understanding and see how it can help inform thoughtful action and community collaboration.” — Rachel Bringewatt, eighth-grade science teacher

Service learning is a fiber that is naturally, yet intentionally, woven into the work of CA. In all our service learning initiatives, students reflect deeply on their learning experiences—a critical learning step that helps them develop a sense of self and their place in the world. 

As CCE Project Coordinator & Program Manager CJ Bell put it, “These authentic learning experiences set students on the path to becoming changemakers as they work to resolve persistent issues in our local and global society. What a gift to be starting this work in Middle School!”

Written by Maggie Grant, Service Learning Director

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Time Well Spent

October 19, 2023

It is perhaps a (deceptively) simple question: How is your relationship with time?

I mulled over this question after reading a chapter called “Generosity with Time” in Chris Balme’s Finding the Magic in Middle Schools. As someone who teaches in middle school but lives with teenagers of various ages—especially older ones—I found it resonant, offering essential lessons that extend to kids and parents alike.

Many of us feel anxious about time. We never lose track of it. Ever. We might stand in awe (or horror) of those who breezily do. After all, we have color-coded calendars with a paper planner backup to prevent that exact occurrence. We might just be the ones who breathe a guilty sigh of relief if a surprise thunderstorm cancels a soccer practice; time is scarce, and we are not in control of it.

Then there are those people at the other end of the spectrum. Let’s call them the time-abundant mindset folks. Whoever you are, please stand over there; you’re messing up our schedules. 

All joking aside, the world often suggests to us that we should have a scarcity mindset regarding time. Whether real or not, we perceive that we don’t have enough time for All The Things.

It affects our behavior—how we talk about time hints of pressure and victimization. (“Can you hurry up and get in the car? You don’t want to be late to school and make me late to work, do you?!?,” said me, not ever. Never. *ahem*)

Indeed, I would wager that we make some of our poorer decisions as parents because of our own anxious relationship with time (and the tween and teen years are often when even the breeziest of parents shift into a higher-pressure, time-anxious mentality). The behavior that follows is often very controlling, albeit exerted in love.

Have you ever heard yourself say, “We don’t have time to wait for you to pack your gym bag; I’ll just do it for you.”  Ooops, we’ve just accidentally undermined our kid. And so begins (or continues) a generational curse of time scarcity.

Research shows that for middle and high school students to be academically resilient and prepared for all the things college and life offer, they must develop a healthy relationship with time. To get there, we need to trust our kids by granting them the space (and grace) to exercise more autonomy—to practice being in charge of their ‘when’ and ‘whats,’ to learn what time management strategies work (or don’t) for them, to fail, experience boredom, or miss something (and regret it).

Consider a new 9th grader experiencing a cherished free period for the first time. The freedom! The possibilities! THE FRAPS AT THE HUB!!! As a parent, you might be tempted to offer suggestions on how they could best spend that time (because: Homework! Practice schedules! Weekend plans!).

Here’s my advice, however: pay attention, but let these kids figure it out without us putting our anxiety onto them. 

High schoolers need to go through a period of failure with their free periods and sit in the uncomfortable repercussions of not having used their time wisely at least once. In experiencing that natural feedback and the consequences that come with it, the motivation to better manage their time becomes intrinsic. It’s how they learn to balance, pace, and spend their time to meet their academic and health needs.

During free periods, we often see our students on the Quad throwing a ball, sitting together in the winter sun, or chilling to music. We hear their witty banter during video games. Is that time misspent? Could be. (But perhaps not; research shows that mixing social connections with learning brings more focus into their actual class time. But that’s a blog for another day.)

Alternately, we may hear the clickity-clack of the speed typing of those students who may be feeling the effects of their procrastination. Or witness the ‘competitive sleep deprivation’ banter typical of many students—students who simply repeat what feels like a generational expectation, scholars who view sleep deprivation as some sort of signal of dedication.

These stories offer insights into the two opposite ends of a spectrum and underscore the importance of finding a middle ground regarding our relationship with time—one that honors both academic and social/emotional needs. After all, we want our kids to navigate life at CA and beyond with an understanding of how they can meet their academic obligations in healthy ways by effectively managing their time.

Knowing what we know about how WE have been socialized, it’s wise for us parents to be aware of how we talk about time with our children and to address our own time-related baggage. To jump-start that process, I spoke with Ms. Monds, our Director of Student Support Services and Counselor extraordinaire, and we curated this short list of suggested questions to gauge your own relationship status:

  1. Do I think that my child’s idle time will lead to problems? If so, what message is that sending to my child?
  2. Am I giving my child enough credit for managing their own schedule?
  3. Can I sit down in my own home? (If you know why I ask this, you know why I ask this.)
  4. Have I spoken about time without being a victim of it in the last few days?
  5. What do I feel when I have “idle time”?
    • Do I criticize/judge others for being idle?
    • Do I judge myself for being idle?
    • Do I create an environment for other to feel like they can relax?
  6. When was the last time I, myself, had free time that I didn’t fill with errands?

Ask even one of these questions, and we promise it will be time well spent.

Written by Josette Huntress, Head of Middle School

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A Taste of the Arts

October 5, 2023

You’ve seen the emails. Maybe you’ve purchased tickets for a show. Perhaps you’ve visited the silent auction and checked out the raffle item. But what is A Taste of the Arts?

Our fall community-building events have one primary goal: to foster a sense of connection amongst our families, students, employees, and community partners. That might be created through a reception, or a community game night, or perhaps, as it is this year, through an arts showcase (or should I say extravaganza?).

When we first began brainstorming a dinner theater, our eyes immediately became bigger than our stomachs (pun intended!). We quickly realized we couldn’t stop with a stage performance. There were too many other artistic talents in our midst! What about our pianists? Our string students, dancers, visual artists, and our behind-the-scenes arts technicians?

More than a mere taste, we quickly found ourselves looking at a Thanksgiving Feast of the Arts—an endeavor both exhilarating and daunting.

However, thanks to the remarkable creative vision of Glen Matthews and his team, we found ways to bring this vision to life. Weaving together the incredible talents of our students, the generosity of our parents and our alumni, and the extraordinary effort of employees, the Taste of the Arts is a 4-night showstopping showcase. More than that, however, it is a testament to our amazing community—to our many talents, the strength of our connection to each other, and to CA’s mission.

Imagine it. Walking up, you are greeted with a giant Charger puppet. Yes, you read that correctly: a puppet. Too tall to bring inside, it dances across the Quad welcoming you, up the red carpet, to a magical evening.

When you enter Berger Hall, your eyes need time to adjust. Do you direct your attention to the walls adorned with original pieces of work created by our students? Or to the baskets up for auction, created with time and love by groups of parents from each grade? Perhaps, instead, you check in, chatting with friends, as music floats around you (possibly even played by a group of talented young people).

While you wait for your party to arrive, you peruse the auction table and look over the details of our featured raffle. A $20,000 trip to France? Your mind whirls at the possibilities. Yes, please!

As you picture yourself in Paris, maybe you wander towards the balcony. What’s that? Scarf dancers? Yes! It is. Performing before dinner on Friday and Saturday, these performers stretch your imagination as they glide through the space below.

Bringing you back to reality, a student donned in a Taste of the Arts t-shirt—perhaps one of our many performers or theater technicians (be sure to ask!)—shares news that the doors have opened. It is time for dinner.

You make your way down the steps of the theater to your seat. But wait! You aren’t sitting in the audience, are you? No. You go up to the stage where tables are set up all around…another stage? Yes. Another one! Built on top of this one.

Settling into your seat, you take in the view, noticing the flowers (ahem…handmade by our students). You greet your tablemates. Perhaps you’re next to a parent who helped with costumes. You might have

an alum, who has returned to campus after missing out on art performances during the pandemic. Or maybe you brought a full table of guests to support someone, on stage or behind the scenes.

Returning from the buffet, you notice your placemat, featuring the names and logos of so many businesses who have helped make this performance possible. (Don’t worry—it’s okay if you spill on your friends’ business logo! We have new placemats for each night.)

After dinner and dessert, as our talented pianists play, you find yourself relaxing. The lights dim and figures appear on the stage. As the lights come up, you pause. The faces you see – why, it’s the same faces of those who helped you to your seat and bussed your table! How did they get up there so fast? As soon as they start to sing, you are immediately lost in the show.

At the end of the night, you’ll go home full—not just from the delicious food, but from the creativity and talents of this community. You’ll overflow with appreciation, not only for the magic of the final event, but for the months of creativity, collaboration, and innovation that took to bring it to fruition—for a truly mission-driven, beautiful taste of all the arts here at Cary Academy.

So, I must express my deep appreciation to everyone in this community who gave of themselves and pulled together to make this magical event happen.

(Bummed you missed out on an incredible evening? You still have a chance! Limited first-come, first-served tickets are still available for our Friday performance.)

Written by Ali Page, Director of Development

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Game On!

August 17, 2023

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Written by Dr. Mike Ehrhardt, Head of School

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Athletics

Chargers close out a fantastic spring season

May 11, 2023

It has been an incredible Spring season for all of Charger athletics. 

It has been an incredible spring season for all of Charger athletes. We could not be prouder of how our teams performed. Middle School, JV, varsity, and club teams all came together to learn, grow, lead, and improve as the season progressed, with many bringing home some impressive hardware and titles for their efforts. In case you missed it, here is an update on how all of our spring sports teams fared and the playoff schedule for those teams remaining. GO CHARGERS!

Baseball: 

The varsity baseball team finished their season at 15-2, clinching the TISAC conference championship. They were seeded as the #8 team in the state association and earned a “bye” for the first round of the playoffs. Their first game of the playoffs was an offensive explosion, putting up 13 points in a dominant win over Durham Academy. After that strong showing the baseball team exited the tournament following a tightly contested clash with the #1 seeded Wesleyan Christian Academy. We could not be prouder of their effort and growth this season, and we know they will be back to make a deep playoff run next year!

The Middle School baseball team finished their season in heartbreaking fashion this past Friday with a loss at St. David’s with a final score of 11-9.  The rebuilding Chargers improved consistently throughout the season and the team looks good for the future. 

Golf: 

The varsity golf team had a strong season. As a team, the Chargers finished ranked #11 in the state, and had the top 2 golfers within the state association, Bryan Fang and Timmy Kaufman, ranked #1 and #2, respectively! Timmy Kaufman was also awarded the TISAC Player of the Year! 

Boys Lacrosse:

A rejuvenated varsity boys lacrosse team improved dramatically throughout the season. Tuesday, the team traveled to Durham Academy and lost, ending their post-season bid. Regardless, we could not be prouder of how this team banded together and played hard down the stretch. 

The Middle School boys lacrosse team was undefeated in conference play, landing the #1 seed. The team defeated North Raleigh Christian and then Cary Christian in the championship game. Our Chargers are CAMS champions, and we could not be prouder of this team!

Girls Lacrosse: 

With four wins more than last year’s squad, an improving varsity girls lacrosse team’s season ended on Tuesday with an away game against Ravenscroft. We are excited to see the growth continue for this squad! Go Chargers, and congratulations on a strong season. 

The Middle School girl’s lacrosse season has also ended, but kudos to the players who had an outstanding inaugural season! We cannot wait to watch this young program continue to grow and feed talent to the varsity team! 

Soccer: 

The varsity soccer team finished 6-8 on the season and beat Saint Mary’s in their first post-season bout by a score of 5-1. After the impressive playoff debut our Chargers fought hard, but could not beat NRCA in the second round. Although they exited the playoffs earlier than they would have liked, we know they are proud of the season they spent together and the memories that were made during it!

The Middle School soccer team finished as the #7 seed in the conference and had their playoff run cut short in a game against St. Timothy’s on Monday. We are immensely proud of this team and cannot wait to see what they do next year! 

Softball:

The varsity softball team finished with a record of 12-8, placing 2nd in the conference and ranking #8 in the state association. Their first game did not go as planned against a talented Wesleyan Christian Academy team, leading to a first-round playoff exit. Our softball team put up a fight, as they have all season, and never lost faith in each other. We know great things are destined for this group next season!

The Middle School softball team finished as the #5 seed in the conference. Their season came to an end with a loss to North Raleigh Christian Academy. This team played incredibly this season, and we are all looking forward to what they will bring to the field next season! 

Tennis: 

The varsity tennis team finished the season undefeated and is ranked the #1 seed within the state association. They won their first 2 playoff games versus the #8 ranked Ravenscroft School and the #5 ranked Charlotte Latin. this set them up for a NCISAA State Championship clash at home against the #2 ranked Providence Day School. Our boys fought hard after being down 2-1 after doubles to storm back and win 5-3. Our Chargers are NCISAA State Champions!

Like the senior team, the Middle School tennis team finished conference play undefeated and ranked as the top seed in the conference. These young Chargers won matches against both Franklin Academy and North Raleigh Christian Academy in the playoffs before defeating St. Timothy’s School in the conference Championship, securing the 2023 CAMS Conference Championship. Way to go Chargers!

Track & Field: 

The varsity track and field season ended with the annual NCISAA meet. Our charger competed admirably, and many earned high individual finishes!  

Both the boys and girls MS Track & Field teams won the Capital Area Middle School Conference Championship! The girls have won all 6 championships and the boys are 5 for 6 since the meet’s inception in 2017! In addition to the team title, the following Chargers also set conference records:

Boys
Miles Cash (’27) – 200m, 400m (conference record)
Sose Arhuidese (’27) – 100m, 100mH (conference record)
Derek Qi (’28) – 50m (conference record)

Girls
Jasmine Phillips (’27) – 400m (conference record)

Find full meet results HERE! Congratulations Chargers!

Volleyball:

In its inaugural season Club Volleyball proved to be a success, both in popularity and competition. This team has consistently improved throughout the season, and we are excited to watch the program grow—not  only in our school but across all of North Carolina! 

Written by Jack Swingle

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Where PomPoms Meet Professional Development

November 17, 2022

I certainly didn’t expect organizers waving pompoms enthusiastically in welcome or debating the merits of jellybeans versus chocolate with a complete stranger (shout out to Houston Kraft for this icebreaker) when Kevin Rokuskie first described the Association of Middle Level Educators Conference (AMLE).

As it turns out, there may have been nothing that could have prepared me for the sheer explosive energy of thousands of middle school teachers and faculty combined into one convention room, ready to connect and share their passion for educating the world’s preteens.

Held November 3 to November 5 at the Gaylord Palms Resort & Convention Center in Orlando, AMLE featured a weekend jam-packed with moving keynote speakers, rotating “speed session” workshops, and illuminating presentations on everything from social emotional learning to community engagement to the very tools helping to keep our classrooms running.

Prior to our arrival Kevin and I had spent weeks preparing our presentation on last year’s brand-new virtual reality in Egypt activity, “History Made Real: Learning Ancient Civilizations and World Religions in Virtual Reality.” For 15 minutes at a time, we would explain to other educators and administrators how the collaboration between a sixth-grade Language Arts and World Cultures teacher and an Education and Technology Support Specialist resulted in a week of some of the highest student engagement all year using a combination of Z-Space, VR headsets, and MERGE Cube technology. To our delight, our table ended up becoming one of the most popular attractions during the speed sessions, resulting in meeting a university professor who was excited to learn from us how to implement VR into her post-secondary curriculum.

Our strategy for the rest of the conference was to divide and conquer, so while Kevin engaged in meaningful conversations with various vendors as well as attended sessions on advisory and social emotional learning, I found myself learning about social studies frameworks, how to better support our gender expansive students, techniques for total classroom participation, self-paced learning, how to support children with ADHD challenges (from a teacher who had been successfully navigating his own ADHD for decades), empowering youth with restorative justice practices, and many sessions on community partnerships.

Every day it continued to amaze me to see the degree of knowledge, care, and expertise with which these presenters talked about their curriculum and student support, and I left the conference filled to the brim with a desire to challenge myself in my teaching to new professional heights. Kevin describes professional development as a “vital tool at Cary Academy” that “only makes the community better.” I know that I speak for both of us when I say that I cannot wait to find ways to share my new knowledge with my colleagues and look forward to returning, maybe with my own pompoms this time!

Written by Lauren Bullock, Language Arts and World Cultures Teacher, Sixth Grade

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Letting Our Children Be Who They Are Meant To Be

October 27, 2022

The other day I was watching a clip* from a neuropsychologist Dr. Russell A. Barkley who was addressing a group of educators in a series called “Essential Ideas for Parents.”  He began with “The problem with parents these days…” and he almost lost me. Heavy sigh. Eye roll.

I usually have no tolerance for whatever negativity comes after such grand, generalized statements—especially one aimed at parenting (which is arguably more complicated now than in any previous generation). While defensive, I continued watching. He jabbed his finger in the air and proclaimed, “Parents do not get to design their children.”I was intrigued. He went on to say:

Nature would never have permitted this to happen. Evolution would not have allowed a generation of a species to be so influenced by the previous generation.  

A quick perusal of any medical office waiting-area parenting magazines would suggest quite the opposite. There, in glossy print, you’ll find recipes for The Perfect Baby.  The D1 Athlete.  The Child-Who-Has-An-Easygoing-Temperament. Who is writing those articles?

Reading one of those magazines gives a false impression that if parents just do the right things, their children will become what they plan for them to be. No pressure, right? Dr. Barkley would rip those magazines to shreds. Based on everything neuroscientists, behavioral psychologists, and many other researchers have studied, our children are born with a “unique genetic mosaic” comprised of hundreds of psychological and physical traits from genes that extend beyond the biological parents and well into your extended families.

The development of these genes in your children is, science tells us, largely out of the control of parents. Regardless of whether the mother ate enough broccoli when she was pregnant or if she frequented Bojangles for fried chicken twice a day (totally random example, don’t look at me), a large part of her child’s gifts and challenges are already pre-programmed. Too often, society likes to suggest that we have control over so much of what is not in our control. Our kid’s success, we have been told, is based on the choices we make as parents.

The truth is:  we don’t have that degree of power.  Nature would never permit that to happen.”

What does this mean, that we’re not in control?  Is it frightening, or is it freeing?  You tell me. Yes, Dr. Barkley says, a stimulating environment is better than a deprived environment.  But ‘more is better’ reaches its point of diminishing returns, and overload in the name of child design has negative consequences. Maybe our pre-covid schedules and our post-ish-covid schedules in our homes tell that same story. Dr. Barkley and his colleagues encourage us to think of ourselves as parents as Shepherds, not Engineers. He goes on to explain:

The idea that you can engineer IQ, personality is just not true. Your child is not a blank slate on which you get to write.  Instead of an ‘engineer’ view of parenting [that makes you responsible for everything that goes right and everything that goes wrong—totally guilt inducing] step back and take the ‘Shepherd’s View’.  

You are a shepherd to a unique individual. You don’t design the sheep. But shepherds are powerful people. They pick the pastures in which the sheep will graze and develop and grow. They determine whether they’re appropriately nourished. They determine whether they’re protected from harm. The environment is important, but it doesn’t design the sheep. The shepherd knows that he will never make the sheep into a dog, no matter how much he wants a dog.

I read that as this:  we can do what we can to make sure our children have opportunity and surround them with great teachers, healthy friends, and intellectual stimulation. And then we get to observe, accept, and encourage. 

The stress we put on ourselves to engineer our children, surely rubs off on the child—how can it not?  We can unpack the damage of all that parental pressure:  it undermines confidence, sense of self, sense of trust in knowing who you are, and ultimately, paralyzing stress narrows your child’s options rather than follows their lead to new horizons. It certainly would decrease the competitiveness the world wants us to feel with other parents. Imagine this gentler, graceful approach snowballing into a new wave of parenting that encourages observation, discovery, and celebration. And, imagine, our children growing into their authentic selves—confident, assured, proud, and supported.

*After I saw the short video, I dove into literature that was footnoted at the end of the talk. Wow, one can really go down a rabbit hole if one chooses!  Stephen Pinker’s book The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature boils the nature vs. nurture argument down and highlights many of these points.  He’s a psychology professor at MIT and was featured on a MIT author series.   I’ve talked about this book before but Andrew Solomon’s book Far From the Tree reads like a textbook but is an ambitious exploration of children’s search for identity in families, in the world. 

Written by Josette Huntress Holland, Head of Middle School

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September 22, 2022

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Written by Josette Huntress Holland, Head of Middle School

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