CA Curious

Beyond the numbers

February 9, 2023

CA’s website proudly proclaims that we “cultivate bold lifelong learners and world changers.” It is a bold statement, for sure, and one that we aim to deliver through our innovative and relentless commitment to the pursuit of discovery, innovation, excellence, and collaboration.  

But what does that look like in practice?  

Perhaps one of the most impactful venues where students are empowered to pursue their interests—often to impressive, change-making results—is our student-led clubs program. A protected part of the Upper and Middle School weekly schedules, clubs are an essential aspect of the student experience, offering a chance to try new things, take risks, pursue passions, share experiences, try on leadership roles, and even create positive change in our local community.  

Don’t take it from me, though.  

I’m going to turn it over to junior Tanya Sachdev, founder of the Students Together Assisting Refugees (STAR) club, to share her club’s origins, goals, and the ways in which our community can come together to support local refugees in our community (spoiler alert: STAR has an informative, engaging and awareness-generating event ahead). 

From Tanya Sachdev, ’24: 

Numbers. We hear them every time we turn on the news. They define our perception of the word “Refugee”: 89.3 million forcibly displaced people, 28 million total refugees in our world (UNHCR). To some, these may just be statistics, but for others, these numbers are their world. The Global Refugee Crisis has become a humanitarian crisis impacting millions of people in our world. Through war, persecution, and natural disasters, the crisis continually expands. 

I learned about the importance of these numbers when I was driving to school in August of 2021. NPR was turned on in the background, sharing about the Afghan Refugee Crisis. As I listened, I was shocked about how little I knew about the word “refugee”. Through researching the Afghan Refugee Crisis, I was perturbed by headlines stating the extent of this crisis. Stories of young children scaling the Hindu Kush mountains or braving the Aegean Sea to escape into freedom headlined my screen. While I was purchasing a new backpack for the school year, thousands of Afghans were packing their backpacks with their most valued possessions for a long journey to find safety; their worlds were changing forever.  

To learn more, I began volunteering at local organizations such as Refugee Hope Partners and CWS Durham. Through tutoring students like “Malia”, a Syrian refugee, or “KK”, a refugee from Botswana, I began to learn their stories and identity beyond the label of “refugee”. I wanted to be able to use my opportunity to give back to the refugee community. As a result, STAR (Students Together Assisting Refugees) Club began in December of 2021. Through Cary Academy’s emphasis on student-led clubs, I was able to create STAR during the middle of the year. With Cary Academy’s support, STAR was able to raise donations, money, and most importantly, awareness. 

After all, STAR began with a sole goal: awareness. Labels such as IDPs, asylum-seekers, and refugees continually pervade news stations with audiences confounded by the differences between the terms. Numbers appear in the form of statistics such as 50% of world refugees are children or nearly 100 million displaced people (UNHCR). The refugee crisis, however, is more than a crisis of numbers and labels. It is a crisis of human suffering. Refugees face unbelievable hardships on their journey to freedom. From being denied basic rights such as education or healthcare to facing violence, abuse, and exploitation, refugees withstand constant adversity. Raising awareness has become a key component to helping local and global refugee organizations.  

One month into the inception of STAR Club at Cary Academy, the Russia-Ukrainian war caused the “fastest growing refugee crisis since World War II” (UNHCR) with nearly 2.9 million refugees fleeing Ukraine. From Syria to Afghanistan to Ukraine, the Global Refugee Crisis remains continuous and unrelenting. As a society, now more than ever, awareness and action have become imperative to support refugees.  

As a result, STAR Club is hosting its first Dinner with a Documentary event on Tuesday, February 28, 2023, from 6 PM-8 PM in the Discovery Studio. The free event will begin by watching “Refugee” by Alexander J Farrell, a true story following a Syrian family separated by the borders of Europe. Their harrowing and emotional journey will be followed by a panel discussion with invited experts. Panelists include representatives from refugee organizations, law students, and even a brief virtual appearance from Congresswoman Ross. The event will be complemented by an authentic Mediterranean dinner spread, complete with desserts and drinks. Be prepared to be moved to tears, to be angry, and for your perception of refugees to be forever changed. 

Please sign up for this unique event as soon as possible- spots are limited. https://www.signupgenius.com/go/8050c4faaa823a75-star#/ 

Written by Mandy Dailey, Director of Communications

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Dialoguing across difference

October 18, 2018

As a learning community committed to discovery, innovation, collaboration, and excellence, we believe in recognizing, respecting, and celebrating the unique array of experiences, perspectives, and contributions that each person brings to our community. It is imperative that students feel our school is a supportive space where their unique voices and perspectives will be received with respect, integrity, and compassion.

As such, it is crucial that we equip students with the requisite skills to constructively dialogue and learn with those whose opinions and beliefs might be different from their own.

To that end, last year we embarked on a schoolwide process to build individual empathy and collective capacity for conversations around challenging topics. For this important work we have collaborated with Essential Partners, a consulting firm that is known internationally for their expertise in using structured dialogue to bridge differences and build community. Last March, the Upper School worked with Essential Partners to use these protocols to discuss feelings of safety and security after the mass shooting tragedy in Parkland, Florida.

This moment—with the national conversation saturated with political discourse in advance of midterm elections—presents a timely opportunity to not only continue the meaningful dialogue work started last year but broaden it to include our entire community. Next Thursday, October 25, both the Middle School and Upper School will participate in their first facilitated dialogue of the year, focusing on personal values and beliefs.

To ensure that students feel comfortable, empowered, and supported in this work, these conversations will happen in trusted advisory groups and be co-facilitated by a faculty and staff member who have been trained in Essential Partners’ dialogic techniques. Faculty and staff will not be participating in the dialogue themselves but will provide and hold the framework for student discussion.

I want to underscore that these reflective dialogues are not about debate or persuasion, but about equipping students with the needed skills to create respectful dialog with people that may have different perspectives. They are personal, not partisan. They are an opportunity to talk about personal experiences and how they have shaped held values. They are an opportunity to listen to others’ experiences with resilience and curiosity, particularly if it involves hearing something that differs from a personally-held point of view.

An Invitation for Parents

Thursday’s activities will begin with an assembly for the Middle and Upper Schools where John Sarrouf of Essential Partners will connect our conversations with his wider work in communities and schools around the world. Then at 1:45 pm, while students are in their meetings, Essential Partners will also host a dialogue in the Discovery Studio for parents interested in experiencing the process first-hand. That session will end at 3 pm. Finally, at 6 pm in U201 (second floor, Upper School building) Essential Partners will host an information session open to all parents, where you will have an opportunity to ask questions about the day’s activities.

There is room in this process for everyone, and we would love to have you involved. Over the next week, we encourage families to consider some “dinner table” conversation starters that might help spark student reflection and sharing on the 25th. You might consider talking about any one of the following:

  • What school core value—respect, integrity, compassion—resonates most with you, and why?
  • Share a story from your past that you think of as one of the first moments you remember caring about an issue or a political idea.
  • Who in the world (other than your parents) do you most admire and why?
  • What local issue in the community is most concerning to you?
  • If you had more time to volunteer, what would you do? Why is that important to you?

Thank you for supporting your students as we undertake this critical work, which is directly linked to our strategic vision to cultivate self-directed and bold life-long learners who make meaningful contributions to the world. I hope to see some of you next Thursday, October 25, at the parent dialogue at 1:45 pm or in the 6 pm evening information session.


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