CA Curious

Where PomPoms Meet Professional Development

November 17, 2022

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Thank you, CA Employees!

May 12, 2021

Every member of the Charger community is aware of the dedication, flexibility, and compassion our 152 CA employees have shown throughout this year of unexpected challenges. In addition to giving 100% each and every day to our students, 100% of CA employees have also donated to the CA Fund – a clear sign of their commitment to fostering discovery, innovation, collaboration, and excellence on campus.

This year, during Teacher Appreciation Week, we wanted to do something extra to show our CA employees how much they are loved, which is why we asked our community to submit donations and gratitude messages throughout the week. The Development team is thrilled to announce that 157 Charger families made a gift to the CA Fund, raising more than $35,000 in honor of our dedicated CA employees!

Several families also took the time to say “thank you” in their own way – please take a moment to watch the video and photo montage below.

Written by Laura Schoedler, CA Fund Director

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Employee Appreciation Week

May 6, 2021

Each May, communities around the country take time to let teachers and school staff know just how much they are appreciated for all they do. Through pictures, gift cards, notes, sweets, students of all ages, along with their families, offer kind gestures of appreciation to those working in our schools. 

This year, Teacher Appreciation Week comes with strict social-distancing guidelines. Guests are not allowed on campus. Masks are worn all the time. Food can only be distributed if it is in a pre-packaged wrapper. Hugs are off-limits. 

So, how do we say thank you? 

How do we say thank you to our teachers who taught at least three different versions of every class all year long?  

How do we say thank you for reinventing every class’s curriculum during summer vacation to deliver exceptional virtual and cohort-based experiences? 

How do we thank our staff who showed up, masked and distant, every day since last July, reimagining their entire department’s goals and workflows?  

How do we thank our employees who found ways to foster community and preserve social and emotional health, creatively and virtually connecting with our students despite social distancing?  

How do we thank our coaches for advocating for maintaining athletics all year long for the mental wellness of our students?  

How do we thank those that have kept our community safe and healthy, revamping daily procedures and implementing COVID protocols—advanced cleaning, new dining routines, building upfits, and campus maintenance–all while keeping campus beautiful and at the ready for learning? 

How do we appreciate our employees who put CA and its students first, even when living with at-risk family members?  

How do we appreciate our entire community for supporting our students and each other through a year of heightened fear, racism, bigotry, political strife, and repeated trauma in our broader world? 

How do we value our employees, all 152 of them, who pledged their support to CA with a gift to the CA Fund this year? 

Above all, how do we say thank you for helping us come through this trying year together, united, and perhaps even stronger?  

Well, quite simply: by doing just that. Saying thank you.  

Our employees have reinvented many wheels this year. Through screens, outdoor gatherings (even in the cold and the rain), and the occasional elbow bumps, they have connected meaningfully with students and with each other. Together, they have delivered a CA experience that, while appearing quite different, was nonetheless exceptional and true to our mission. And they have done it all because of their love for this community. For their belief in our mission. For our students and their families. 

What they–what we– miss most and need most, is to see you and hear you. Our families offer meaning behind the screens and the masks. You and your students make this meaningful work worth it.  

You may have seen emails from the Development Office this week. Laura Schoedler, our new CA Fund Director, joined us in March and is spearheading these appreciative efforts. We humbly ask that you join us. Help us present our employees with a show of community support next week. 

During this Teacher Appreciation Week, I encourage you to take a moment to share a message of thanks (you can submit them here). We will compile messages received this week—please get them to us no later than noon on Friday (tomorrow!)—into a video that will be shared with our employees next week. We hope you will add your voice and let our employees know how much you care and how much you have appreciated their efforts this year. At the end of the day, your voice and your message are the greatest appreciation of all. 

Written by Ali Page, Director of Development

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From hallways to homes: Re-imagining community-building at CA

May 7, 2020

Spring in your Cary Academy Development office is typically the best time of year. From Funfest to the Cary Academy 5K, from our first alumni reunion weekend to Give to Gallop to the Scholars’ Golf Classic, the many opportunities for us to connect with all of you left us reeling with excitement. 

And, just like that: no events, gatherings, or fundraising initiatives. Quickly, our team had to re-imagine how to best maintain and foster those vital connections with our community far away from our beloved campus. 

Development, by definition, is the facilitation of relationships to secure the future of an institution. Over the last 23 years, that facilitation and community-building has taken place in hallways (especially near our infamous chocolate jar), the Dining Hall, Berger Hall, the track, the Center for Math and Science, and numerous other places across our campus and in the community. Today, it takes place in our living rooms, sometimes in pajamas, and perhaps with a child (or cat) curled up in our laps. But wherever or however it takes place, our school has not wavered in our commitment to remain connected with families like yours who trust us to prepare your child for a future of limitless potential.   

And that is what our team has focused on these last few weeks. The emails, phone calls, Zoom invites – they are our way of letting you know that even if you can’t gather in our hallway right now or exchange pleasantries in the carpool line, we are still here. And we want to hear from you.  

Our community has come so far since March, and we continue to move forward together. That doesn’t mean this is easy, though.  

As a Charger, we know that working in silos isn’t normal. For our students and alumni, “normal” looks like interactive learning experiences that transfer classroom knowledge into a nearby nature park, city planning office, or art museum. For our parents and grandparents, “normal” is the opportunity to visit campus for open dialogue, hot coffee, and Chef Sam’s pastries. For our faculty and staff, “normal” is stopping by offices to say “hello” or collective problem-solving.  

Knowing none of this is “normal,” the Development team, alongside incredible partners, has been able to foster opportunities for connection, camaraderie, and community despite our current constraints. We hope these opportunities provide relief, laugher, warmth, and partnership. We know they provide those to us. 

  • Instead of seeing you in our hallways in the afternoons, maybe you’ve been able to drop in for a Wednesday Zoom lunch.  
  • Rather than catch up about T2 break stories out on the baseball field, we caught up on the phone or over an email.  
  • Teacher Appreciation Week celebrations shifted from on-campus to mailboxes, as most employees had tears in our eyes when we read the thank-you cards written from the PTAA (another good reason not to wear make-up).  
  • Saving our cheers for 2021’s Give to Gallop, we chose instead to rally together on #GivingTuesdayNow as a community and secure the funding to ensure CA can meet the needs of our students and teachers in the weeks and months to come.  
  • There aren’t MS dance chaperoning duties this year, but we still had to have the big talk about the 7th to 8th grade transition.   
  • Senior week festivities came in the form of surprise morning signs coupled with CA swag as well as “Zooming” in CA alumni to chat about the transition to college and how to be prepared.  
  • High-fives were reserved for close family at this year’s virtual Cary Academy 5K. But we could still capture our moments of glory, one Instagram or Facebook photo at a time.  

Whatever the specific distance guidelines, we will use the tools necessary to maintain the close connections of our Charger family, past and present. You are what matters. Right now, it may be harder for us to show that on a daily basis, but please know that you remain our priority.  

And remember, this will end. We will, once again, be able to partake in the events, celebrations, and a “normal” routine that brings us joy and closer together. And when that happens, our team will be there waiting, ready to greet you.  

Written by Ali Page and Katie Todd, Director of Development and CA Fund Director

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To our teachers: thank you!

May 9, 2019

We had just come off trail in Pisgah National Forest, and it was pouring rain. Our group had spread out over a three-mile uphill scramble. As we waited for the rest of the hikers to finish, we huddled in a vehicle out of the deluge. Before long, two students invited me into their conversation.

“Dr. Ehrhardt, what do you like best about Cary Academy?”

I spend a lot of time talking with people about this school, so this question should be easy. We have a special mission, and we pursue it with zeal. We’ve been working on many important initiatives as part of a well-thought-out strategic plan. We are the very embodiment of an innovative learning organization.

Yet, somehow, none of that sounded right.

“What do you like?” I volleyed.

“Oh, that’s easy,” one of the students said, without skipping a beat. “I like how the teachers here care about me.”

Yes! Cue the forehead slap.

Not only is this a nice sentiment and a huge compliment to our teachers, but the beauty here is how deftly this young woman was able to capture the essence of good teaching.

In an important study called The Nature of Learning: Using Research to Inspire Practice, the OECD synthesized the literature surrounding effective learning environments into seven frames. Listing just the top four, we see that great teachers

  • put learners at the center and encourage engagement so that learners come to understand themselves as learners;
  • see learning as social and collaborative;
  • understand that emotions are integral to learning and that learners’ motivations matter; and
  • recognize individual differences.

I’d put “care” at the core, too.

The close of Teacher Appreciation Week is a natural time for a shout-out to the teachers who have impacted our lives. Whether I’m talking to students, parents, or alumni, I am continually blown away with their impact.

Some are immediate—that time a teacher sees a student struggling and intervenes or calls out an extra special effort on an assignment. Some impacts build over the course of a year, often leading to that breakthrough or “ah-ha” moment of deepened understanding or skill. Our college counselors are perhaps in the best position to see our teachers’ impact come application time, as students report a major or career interest sparked by a particular teacher or class.

Still other impacts take much longer to materialize. Take the alumni parent who told me that her daughter absolutely “didn’t appreciate” (oh, so diplomatic) a certain Upper School teacher, but just put all the skills she learned in that class to important use in a capstone college course. Or the alumni who spoke recently about channeling a certain Middle School teacher’s “way of being” in his current work as a psychologist.

Teachers: Here is to the decisions, big and small, that go into each school year, trimester, unit of study, school day, individual lesson, or personal interaction. Teaching is exhausting work, even though we too often pretend it should feel effortless—a natural part of your “calling” to work with young people.


Among many things, at any given moment, you could be called upon to serve as expert, coach, counselor, mediator, mindreader, or judge. This work is anything but effortless. Nonetheless, we expect you to bring goodwill, passion, joy, and heady optimism into the classroom every day—despite what may be happening at home or in the world around you.

And you do!

Because you are a professional.

Because you are good at what you do.

Because you care.

And for that, we offer our deepest thanks.

Written by Mike Ehrhardt, Head of School

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