CA: United Compact

CA Curious

Moving forward, United

June 4, 2020

On June 3, Cary Academy held a Town Hall for current and incoming parents regarding plans for reopening in the fall. Recognizing that public health responses to COVID-19 are evolving, we nonetheless felt it important to share our thinking at the moment – even if we expect some things could change as more guidelines become available this summer.  

Bringing our community back together during a pandemic will require significant adjustments to routines and behaviors to ensure the health and safety of all members of our community. Those expectations will be outlined in what we are calling our CA: United Compact. The compact will outline common agreements and be an extension of our core values of respect, integrity, and compassion.

At the core of our approach will be an emphasis on wellness – social, emotional, and physical. All aspects of wellness are stressed in a high-performing independent school, and the added pressures of living in working in the age of COVID-19 only make those challenges even more acute. We have learned a lot from student surveys this spring about strategies that are beneficial to stress reduction and overall health, including more sleep, clarity in communication about daily and weekly expectations, and a reduction in the number of “task switches” that a student needs to make in any given day. All of those are being taking into consideration as we reexamine the daily schedules and look to build out a “digital core” to serve as a better home base for learning. 

Daily Routines

Before arriving on campus next year, we expect to ask students to complete a daily health self-check, which will include a self-screening for systems consistent with COVID-19. They include: 

  • fever over 100.4,
  • sore throat not related to another medical condition (ie allergies),
  • new or worsening cough not related to another medical condition,
  • shortness of breath not related to another medical condition,
  • new onset of vomiting or diarrhea not related to another medical condition,
  • recent loss of taste or smell,
  • a rash on skin or discoloration of fingers or toes.

Individuals are expected to stay home if they are exhibiting any of the symptoms above or have been in contact with anybody who is ill with COVID-19 or under self-quarantine. Additional allowances will be made recognizing that more students may be learning from home as a result of these higher standards as well as for those who may need to be home due to other complicating health factors. 

When on campus, we will comply with current CDC guidelines and require everybody to wear face coverings, wash hands or sanitize regularly, and practice social distancing. Gatherings will be limited and lunch will be offered in a “takeout” style and eaten around campus, where we can appropriately separate students. 

Signage will be placed around campus indicating expectations and limits on use of common areas (such as library or lobbies). In addition, we will be providing additional outdoor seating to allow for safer, socially-distanced student interaction. Additional cleaning protocols and staff are also being put into place. 

De-Densifying and Different Modes of Operation

As we seek to reopen the school next fall, we will be progressing through our operating modes (Red, Orange, Yellow, Green). Moving from Red (virtual) to Orange will mean that we will be taking additional “de-densifying” measures to reduce the overall number of individuals on campus at any given moment. This likely will mean that students would be split into two groups (Blue and Gold) and attend class two days a week on-campus with their smaller and two days a week virtually. The fifth day each week is being envisioned as a “flex” day where different cohorts based on grade-level, academic need, or activities/clubs could come on to campus – again keeping that overall number to about half the school population. 

We would start in Orange mode for both general health requirements and to support students learning the new routines. When we are able, we would then switch into Yellow mode, bringing all students back to campus for regular classes but keeping restrictions around larger group gathering sizes and assemblies. 

During the Town Hall, we were able to cover a number of these issues and answer questions. You can see the slides from the meeting on our webpage at http://healthalerts.cary.academy. For the Town Hall video, including Q&A, go here. Look for more communication coming over the course of the summer, which will be sent via email and posted on the website. 

On behalf of our faculty and staff, we wish all our families and happy and healthy summer and so look forward to seeing you in the fall.

Written by Dr. Mike Ehrhardt, Head of School

Faculty Reflections

Faculty Conversations: Social and Emotional Health


Students make their voices heard during CA’s first-ever Poetry Slam


Leslie Williams offers “technical” help for protecting people

Cary Academy opening ceremony

CA Curious

Prepared for unprecedented times

May 28, 2020

Image: Cary Academy has been preparing for unprecedented times since it’s opening in 1996.

My first role at Cary Academy was as a member of the US English Department. As I have grown as an educator here, and journeyed into other roles, there is one challenge that haunts me in times of stress: finding the right words.  Somewhat ironic for an English teacher, I know.   

Chargers spend a great deal of time in their ELA and English classes discussing an author’s word choice – their diction in a piece. From daily greetings to webinar titles, “unprecedented” seems to be one used quite a bit these days. (I would offer an appropriate synonym; however, “novel” is the most recommended, and that too, gets frequent press these days.)  

In my newest role as Director of Admissions, I am asked regularly how Cary Academy is preparing to open the 2020-21 school year, knowing that learning will continue to “look different.” Will we “be ready” by mid-August?  

Our strong academic program is often the first focus for prospective students and families considering CA, and there are many questions about the ability of an institution to deliver the same caliber of learning when a teacher isn’t physically present with one’s students.   

I admit that the first time I was asked this question, there was a spark of stress.  Mostly because I could not fathom how to abridge the incredible work I have seen occur over these past months into a single soundbite. So, I took a moment to choose my words.   

We are consistent.   

con·​sis·​tent | \ kən-ˈsi-stənt  \ 
1a: marked by harmony, regularity, or steady continuity: free from variation or contradiction (https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/consistent

Cary Academy is consistent in its mission.  

Since the founding of the school in 1996, the words learning community, discovery, innovation, collaboration, and excellence have been the threads woven to create a rich tapestry of educational experiences. A true testament to our founders’ vision for 21st century learning, this one sentence has survived since the days of techo-dinos: the desktop computers. It sets us apart, and we are known for our incredible academics founded on this mission.  

Cary Academy is consistent in its student-centered, reflective practice.  

The heartbeat of Charger Nation is the Chargers themselves. As Cary Academy educators, we continue to reflect upon best practices for our students. We do not rest upon our laurels, rather use success as a springboard into our next wonderings on how to improve.  

Cary Academy is consistent in its focus on professional development of its employees.  

Recognizing that faculty and staff drawn to our mission must be life-long learners, our School’s emphasis on professional learning is unparalleled.  This could not be more evident than in the work our faculty will embark upon this summer, as they take three weeks (from their vacation) to best prepare for the various formats that our schooling will take next year.    

Consistency is an attribute, no doubt.  Yet as the parable of the oak tree and the reed demonstrates, consistency alone does not stand the test of time or the storms it brings. We must be able to bend when needed.  Thus, my second word.  

We are flexible.   

flex·​i·​ble | \ ˈflek-sə-bəl  \ 
3: characterized by a ready capability to adapt to new, different, or changing requirements (https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/flexible

In a time when all schools must be flexibile, Cary Academy has a track record of innovation and adaptation in pedagogy, curriculum, and programs.  While others were forced to this characteristic just months ago, our Mission has mandated it for more than 20 years. 

We have a long record of flexibility in our practices.   

Mr. Follet’s recent email on the Upper School shift to semesters resonated with me. Eight years ago (in the role as Head of Upper School), I posted a similar letter informing parents and students that we would no longer hold an exam week.  

In both cases, our student-centered, data-driven decisions took into consideration best practices and student wellness. In the years between these two epistles, both divisions have shifted schedules, adapted assessment practices and opened entire departments (the Center for Community Engagement). As appropriate, we have embraced blended, online, synchronous and asynchronous learning, to name just a few.   

We maintain flexible rigor.   

Even before our strategic goal of relevant, personalized, and flexible learning opportunities was published, our academic departments have proposed bold shifts in our curricular offerings.  

The recent curricular review cycle resulted in a menu of course offerings that respond to student interest and aptitude – elective offerings science, English, world language and PE reflect this work. Our unique world history elective program for 9th and 10th graders predated these changes, and our arts department have been embracing the myriad opportunities of aesthetic, design and ensemble instruction since the start of the school. With 46 advanced classes, 20+ levels of math instruction from grades 6-12, and countless electives, students are authentically engaged where they are on their path of learning.  

But students are not just scholars. They are citizens, friends, individuals whose social and emotional growth is equally important.  

We flex to the immediate needs of our students wellness.   

In my many years serving as an Upper School advisor, faculty leaders have spearheaded timely curriculum renewal of our affective education program.  From Charger Trails in the Middle School to social media literacy curriculum in the Upper School advisory program, we are constantly molding our program to meet our students’ needs and to address the challenges they face as young people.   

A leader in diversity and inclusion work, Cary Academy is one of the first schools in the National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS) to launch an affinity group program. And our work with Essential Partners on Dialogue Across Differences underscores even more our commitment to each student being seen, heard, and known for who they are.   

And this list isn’t even exhaustive of how education “looks different” at Cary Academy.   

So, when I now get the question focusing on this fall, I offer this: 

Since the opening of the school, Cary Academy has embraced the opportunities of being both consistent and flexible in our program. We have been preparing for the past 24 years for a challenging opportunity such as the one facing us in these unprecedented times. We’ll continue to lean into our mission, our strengths, just as we always have. 

Yes, we’ve got thisWe will be ready 

Written by Heather Clarkson, Director of Admissions and Financial Aid


Katie Todd takes her vehicle on a spin for good

CA Curious

Charting new wellbeing territory via virtual counseling

Spring art performances schedule

Zoom call with Drew Gehling

CA Curious

Variety in virtual learning

May 14, 2020

What does virtual learning look like at Cary Academy? How do you create an environment focused on an innovative, student-centered, holistic approach to learning, when students and faculty are not in the same room (or even the same zip code)? How do we remain true to our mission pillars—discovery, innovation, collaboration, and excellence—and offer opportunities to keep learning flexible, personal, relevant, and connected during a period of stress, caution, and social distancing? As we head into the final weeks of Trimester 3 and our second month of distance learning, faculty from the Middle School and Upper School share stories of how they and their students have adapted to (and taken advantage of) the virtual learning environment.

Emily Turner, vocal music teacher

What does Emily Turner, director of the Cary Academy Singers, do when virtual choir rehearsals on Zoom simply aren’t possible? She calls in a favor from an old high school friend who just happens to be a Broadway star. While trying to think of ways to keep her Upper School chorus students connected to each other and excited about singing, Emily decided to reach out to her high school friend, Drew Gehling, to ask if he would join a CA Singers Zoom call to talk about his career and offer some inspiration to the students during this virtual learning time. 

CA Singers on a Zoom Call

When she received his response, “Utterly happy to!”, she began emailing the students with one picture clue per day to reveal their mystery Zoom guest. During the call, Drew began by sharing the impact his high school choral music experience has had on his Broadway career, sharing behind-the-scenes stories highlighting the journey to some of his iconic Broadway roles in Jersey Boys and Waitress, as well as his most recent role in the new musical, Almost Famous, from the film of the same name. 

The Cary Academy Singers had an opportunity to ask questions and even got to step back in time as Mrs. Turner waxed nostalgic, sharing photos of the two from senior prom and spring break. We are so grateful that Drew could take the time to be with our students and share his positivity and encouraging spirit!

Dr. Paige Meszaros, Upper School social science teacher

As many of us turn to streaming video to pass the time while staying safe at home, documentaries like Tiger King have sparked many questions amongst CA students about the ethics of the exotic animal industry and conservation of endangered species. 

During advisory on Monday, May 11, the Class of 2022 took a virtual field trip to the Carolina Tiger Rescue located in Pittsboro, NC. Students met with Katie Cannon, Director of Education, for the tour and a Q & A.  Ms. Cannon talked with the students about the history of the site, the care of the animals, and the differences between animal conservation and rescue centers, like the CTR, and other institutions such as amateur zoos and the exotic pet industry.  

CTR field trip

In particular, the presentation set the context for the recent success of Tiger King and the negative consequences of big cat breeding to produce white tigers. Students and advisors had the opportunity to ask questions about how current disruptions to the meatpacking industry impact the care of the animals.  

Sarah Zhao ’22 said, “The tiger field trip was so cool!  Seriously…I was taking pictures of the tigers on my phone!”  Advisor and Upper School Math teacher John Noland thought, “[it gave] the students (and the advisors) a different look for advisory.”  

Connecting the virtual field trip to the 10th grade advisory curriculum focus on community and service, students were able to see an important part of North Carolina’s commitment to good animal stewardship.  Many participants have never been to the CTR; the opportunity arose through the efforts of 10th-grade advisor and math teacher, Caydee Revelle. The extended advisory time of 45 minutes and the virtual environment allowed the 10th grade an experiential learning opportunity that would be impossible on campus.

Jasmine Powell, dance teacher

How do the performing arts and physical education – both of which rely on movement in space translate to virtual learning? That’s exactly the conundrum that faced dance teacher Jasmine Powell in her Movement for Athletes class. Like her colleagues, she had to pivot the content and application of material to a virtual learning platform, giving her the opportunity to try something new: Parkour. 

For Powell, Parkour is less about jumping from building to building, and more about laying the foundations of learning movement technique. Even when confined to basic vaults out of safety concerns, Parkour has much to offer athletes by challenging their risk-taking skills in the process of obtaining growth. 

After working to ensure students took safety precautions and used proper technique (teaching proper alignment while landing in a low squat, showing how to fall properly to facilitate a smooth rebound to get back in the game as quickly as possible, etc.), Powell’s students designed parkour courses via hand-drawn plans or in Minecraft virtual environments, before putting them to the test in the real world.

Follow-up took place in group discussions about the process and shared lessons about fitness and hand-eye coordination. Students really enjoyed being assigned the task of going outside and being physically fit, while practicing parkour. It’s not every day that a graduating senior can say they learned parkour in high school! 

Katie Taylor, Middle School language arts department leader

“Shabazz Week” with local poet Phillip Shabazz has been a fixture of the 6th grade curriculum since the late 1990s.  Since students and Shabazz couldn’t be together, the 6th grade team found creative ways to transition in-person experiences to a virtual world, having Shabazz connect with students via Zoom. 

There was a snag, though: Shabazz had never used Zoom before and didn’t have a computer with the necessary hardware. Cary Academy’s IS department (in particular Kevin Rokuskie) was able to loan Shabazz a tablet and meet with him to help him become a whiz with the Zoom software. 

Though the faculty team would have preferred an in-person workshop, the students had a great experience. One student remarked, “My poem writing I think has gotten a lot better and quicker; this is because now I know the steps to writing a poem and even got professional suggestions. Now I know how to write a clean and smooth poem!”

In addition, the 6th grade team was excited to add a mindful movement workshop to this year’s curriculum, through a PTAA grant, to welcome Wake Forest’s “Flow Circus” to campus on March 26.  When CA made the transition to virtual, cancelation looked inevitable. 

Wanting to support our local partners and knowing how much students would love it, the team worked with Flow Circus to create a video series specific to Cary Academy that students can watch as their schedules allow. These videos are  packed with lots of little inside jokes and specific curriculum geared towards our students’ needs. 

Students have enjoyed watching the videos and learning how to juggle: “I really like how we are doing something fun aside of classes.” 

Meredith Stewart, Middle School social studies department leader and David Snively, MS social studies teacher

Exploration of history took on a very contemporary twist as the 8th grade Watergate trial simulation took place on Zoom this year, in the same way actual U.S. courts have moved online. 

Taking place in an alternate version of history, where Nixon decides not to resign after being impeached by the House of Representatives, in the simulation, 8th graders act as attorneys arguing before Senators (played by Upper School students) as to whether Nixon should be  removed from office. Other 8th graders serve as witnesses called to testify about their interactions with Nixon and other players in the Watergate scandal. 

Hewing true to the alternate history scenario, two different simulation sessions produced different results: Nixon was exonerated in one trial and removed from office in the other.

Shawn Nix, debate teacher

When the COVID-19 crisis hit, the Speech and Debate team was in the process of prepping for the most competitive part of the year: district qualifier to the annual National Speech and Debate Association Championship in June, the Tournament of Champions, NCFL championships and our North Carolina State Championships. 

While the NCFL and State Championships were cancelled, the other major competitions went forward, virtually.  That meant CA Speech and Debate had to figure out how to use a new platform to create reasonably professional videos of our speech competitors, learn how to share evidence between partners — across town from each other — during live debates in Public Forum and how to capture attention to speak in large Zoom congressional sessions.  

Aside from a few starts and stops — from “please put a cushion on your chair so the judge sees more than your forehead”, to well, some expressions of “frustration” on the 10th attempt to perfect a speech, with limited space to move and a verbal slip-up on minute 9 – CA Speech and Debate students rose to the occasion! 

Shawn Nix found the number of hours her students gave to perfecting their performance, getting their tape just right and figuring out how to debate on-line inspiring.  Despite the difficulties, the team has many qualifiers for the big dance in June, including Will Aarons ’20 in Lincoln Douglas, Saajan Patel ’20 and Jay Sagrolikar ’21 in Congress (Congress qualifying in February), Vicky Jin ’21 and Anisha Rustogi ’21 in Extemp, Bayla Sheshadri ’21 in OO, Sydney Tai ’22 in POI, Arielle Curtis ’21 in Dramatic Interpretation, Alex Lim ’20 in Humorous Interpretation with others making it to the final rounds.

Robin Follet, Head of Upper School; Kristi McGauley, Upper School English teacher; Jamie Roszel, U.S. English teacher; and Palmer Seeley, U.S. English teacher

The US English Department was eagerly anticipating a new elective for all juniors this Spring: Rhetoric and Citizenship. The course sets out to combine a classic study of the art of argumentation while empowering students to choose a contemporary social issue to research and explore through a core nonfiction text as well as peer-reviewed, scholarly articles. Students then form panels based on shared areas of interest, develop a guiding panel question, and compose a speech in answer to the question.  

By far, the highlight of the course is the Social Issues in America Conference, which follows more than a month of independent research and lessons on — and practice with — identifying and strategically implementing rhetorical appeals, strategies, and devices. The conference consists of a series of panel presentations where groups present their answers to their peers with a follow-up Q&A session.  

Panels address a wide range of questions from What is the biggest problem in medicine today, and how should we solve it?to Does a democratic government have a fundamental obligation to be transparent to its constituents?to How can we design our society, through changes in our homes, schools, and workplaces, to help people reach their maximum creative potential? 

Once teachers Robin Follet, Kristi McGauley, Jamie Roszel, and Palmer Seeley realized that the panel presentations would need to pivot to a virtual platform, they got to work adjusting expectations and establishing guidelines for meaningful conversations.  Using Zoom, panelists have been able to present their speeches from a safe distance.  Meanwhile, audience members use the chat feature to pose questions to specific speakers which then allows the panelists to expand on the depth and breadth of their knowledge.  At the end of the Q&A, everyone gives a hand clap reaction for a job well done.  Where normally CA community members are invited to drop in and participate in the audience, now they can view the presentations via the community Stream channel.

Written by Mandy Dailey, Director of Communications

CA Curious

There’s a Crackle in the Air


Middle School track teams take CAMSC championship by storm

Middle School

Earth Day at Cary Academy

CA Curious

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


Charger swimmers close out the 2021 season as State Champions, Runners-Up

Alumni Spotlight

Re-working the System

CA Curious

Patience, flexibility, grace, and oodles of kindness

USS Gerald R. Ford

CA Curious

Turning on a dime: Transitioning to a virtual school environment

April 30, 2020

Turning on a dime. I have been thinking about this expression a lot lately.  

Consider a large aircraft carrier—and what it must take to maneuver a turn quickly. It is quite a feat, made all the more impressive when you consider that a ship like the USS Gerald R. Ford displaces 100,000 tons of water and takes a crew of 5,000 to pull it off.  

While not the size of an aircraft carrier, in recent weeks, Cary Academy has been maneuvering to accomplish a similar feat.   

When news of the novel coronavirus started to make waves, Information Services began thinking through what it would look like for some members of our community if they could not be on campus for a couple of weeks. There was no real concern about classes continuing because, while it would be an inconvenience, we had the tech in place to accommodate those who would not be able to return to campus. 

When it looked like school was going to potentially delay returning from break for a couple of days, the team was curious what that might look like. Again, we were confident that, even though students may not be returning, we had all the necessary tools in place to stay on course. Nothing too much to worry about; we would have to make slight changes in our heading, but, surely, it would only be a slight detour.  

We immediately started making plans for students to bring in their machines to get fixed before classes started. We ordered protective gloves and cleaning supplies to wipe down machines before working on them. Realizing the importance of being here for our CA community, we created a schedule so someone from our team would be on campus for those who needed them.  

When I left work that Friday afternoon, I knew that we had done all we could to prepare for the next two weeks to support our teachers and students. On the academic front, we were confident that, during this time, CA teachers would be comfortable moving forward from a technical and pedagogical standpoint.  

Again, inconvenienced? Yes. Dead in the water?  No.  

Then, the stay-at-home order came down. And what we hoped was going to be a two-week inconvenience suddenly loomed much larger. Our entire educational system was asked to turn on a dime. Issues regarding equity, online security, and what the rest of the school year would look like, took front and center in a more significant way.  

There was no question whether CA academics would continue through the remainder of the year. Instead, the question became: how can we change our course of direction to meet the needs of the CA  community? 

And this is when I started thinking about schools as a whole. And how incredibly lucky we are to be part of the CA community, where the creative and thoughtful integration of technology has always been directly tied to our school mission statement: discovery, innovation, collaboration, and excellence.  

Put simply: we are a tech-savvy school. Cloud computing, asynchronous education, and virtual meetings have long been incorporated into the CA environment through Office365, our blended classes, and business practices.  

While moving the entire community to a virtual environment had never been part of the master plan, thankfully, many of the tools and experience required to do so were already in place. And that has allowed us to make what would otherwise be a very difficult transition as smoothly as possible.  

We were able to move quickly, reconfiguring and changing how we utilize resources like Blackbaud and MS Teams. We leveraged existing policies and procedures for those who needed to have physical repairs done to the computers.  And we expanded the purpose of technologies that we had been using elsewhere—like Zoom—to bring them into the classroom.   

Of course, while our technological readiness helped to ease the initial transition, it does not mean that we would not encounter some rough seas that we will have to work through. While our laptop program enables everyone to have what they need to work virtually, it is not without challenges.  

Issues that might have been easily handled pre-COVID—how to best support those individuals that experience computer issues—become more complex with mounting and constantly-evolving security protocols that require on-campus technical support amidst social distancing concerns.  

So, what have we done? How are we helping to turn the ship? 

Our community’s online security remains a paramount concern. And we have been reviewing security policies to ensure that we are maximizing ways for us to be safe while using new technologies.  

We do not all have the same consistent internet connection or availability, so we are monitoring the few community members that may need additional support to establish a solid connection. And we’re investigating alternative options, should we find ourselves in a similar situation next school year.  

Knowing how personal and overwhelming tech issues can be, we’ve created a virtual helpdesk conference room for community members to drop in for virtual face-to-face support.  

Just like it takes 5,000 crew members to run the carrier, it takes all of us working together to provide the best for our community. I could not be prouder to be a part of the CA crew and to have the privilege of leading an incredible team who continue to do everything they can to keep our engines running smoothly.  

And while I do not know exactly what the near future is going to look like, I am confident that we have the systems in place to support our students’ learning– whatever form that may take.  

Written by Karen McKenzie, Director of Innovation & Technology

Upper School

Sophomore writes the book on financial literacy for her generation, literally

World Language

Virtual German Day 2021 results: sehr gut!


CSA Kickoff

CA Curious

COVID-19, self-discovery, and the college search process

April 9, 2020

Ask most college counselors what they love about their job, and we guarantee they’ll respond with fervor, “The kids!” Here at CA, we’re no different: we delight in the daily rush of energy that comes from being around students in an active learning environment – their excitement, ideas, goals, challenges, and triumphs. Most of all, we love the time we’re privileged to spend developing individual relationships with students as they embark on a culminating experience at CA: the rite of passage that is the college search.

Our entire approach to the college search process is grounded in two basic premises. The first: that a successful process is a journey of self-discovery that leads to finding more than one place that will share a student’s values, stimulate them, and help them achieve their aspirations. The second: that finding these places begins with genuine self-searching to identify the qualities the student values the most. While helping students and families discover colleges is certainly a significant part of our work, by far the more interesting part is helping students discover themselves.

We’ve found ourselves thinking about how COVID-19 affects these processes – the process of self-discovery and the college process. And, although we share the sense of loss COVID has brought, we see some silver linings. 

We all have had to pause, to pivot, to reflect.

Students, as we’ve talked with you, we’ve loved hearing what you’ve been up to, the ways you’re spending your time, the old hobbies you’ve renewed, and the new interests you’ve developed. You’ve been reflective, generous, and inventive: you’ve created collaborative music videos; posed thoughtful questions to your peers, reminding each other of the importance of kindness; devoted yourselves to supporting your families, neighborhoods, and communities – and encouraged all of us to do the same.

What you’re doing right now? There is no better example of owning your learning. We understand that it’s tempting to dwell on what opportunities we’ve missed this spring, but we urge you to look at the unexpected windfall of time as a gift. There is absolutely no better opportunity to consider who you are and what matters to you. 

Still searching? For starters, you can never go wrong reading a book, spending time with your family, getting outside, bestowing a random act of kindness. Looking to learn something new? There are tons of free resources if you’d like to try coding, meditating, cooking, exercising, art-observing, language learning – to name just a few.

Whatever you do, do it with gusto and revel in it… and know that in the eventual college process, you will be valued for who you are and what matters to you. 

To borrow from the encouraging words of Tulane Director of Admission Jeff Schiffman in his March 24 blog post

“We totally get it. There are no sports. There is no spring musical. There is no dance recital. Listen, if you include on your Common Application activities section a list of all the books you read for pleasure during your social distancing, I’ll love it. Get creative. Maybe you love to paint and you go Instagram Live a few times and teach people to paint? You could be the next Bob Ross. Or maybe you’re a soccer player and you do a live video teaching people how to dribble a soccer ball on your own? Teaching guitar lessons? Yes please. We will love seeing anything you did during this whacky time.”

 So will we. Promise. Now, if you’ll excuse us, the outdoors awaits.

Written by Leya Jones, College Counselor

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April 2, 2020

While weather conditions have provided the occasional opportunity to experiment with virtual learning days, those brief interludes of remote learning pale in comparison to the scope of our current enterprise.  It’s one thing to be closed for a few days during a snowstorm, and quite another to be shut down for weeks at a time in the midst of a global health crisis.

Cary Academy is fortunate to be entering into this unprecedented period of nationwide school closures with a distinct advantage when it comes to access to and comfort with technology.   Whether it’s working in a OneNote notebook, editing a shared document, contributing to a discussion board, using an online interface to practice a musical instrument or a second language, exploring a math concept with a digital visualization tool, generating an infographic, recording a podcast, producing a video, creating a digital slideshow, Skyping with an outside expert, or doing 10 minutes of Membean, our faculty and our students are already quite accustomed to using technology in many and varied ways to support learning and growth.

Normally, however, the robust program of technology-infused learning that is business-as-usual at Cary Academy would be embedded in a strong framework of daily in-person interactions.  How can we maintain that sense of human connection that is so critical to learning and wellbeing when everyone is suddenly working in isolation from home?    The challenge facing our school with the closure of our campus is arguably less about a shift to digital learning than a shift to distance learning.

Our first two weeks of virtual learning have been all about figuring out how best to bridge the distance that has become our new normal (at least for now) and continue to provide mission-centered learning experiences that include opportunities for social interaction and feedback.  Our general approach to virtual learning in this start-up phase has been to begin with the familiar, and then gradually phase in new procedures and tools, trying hard not to overwhelm anyone in the process.

As part of the transition to virtual learning, faculty and students have been learning to use two new platforms that support live communication in an online setting:  Microsoft Teams and Zoom Meetings.  The video conferencing, screensharing and chat features of these platforms are helping us to recreate the sense of in-person connection that is vital to student engagement.

While video conferencing is certainly an important new tool in our virtual learning toolkit, we are in no way looking to replicate our normal daily schedule as a series of video meetings.   Expecting teachers and students to stare at their screens in that way is neither healthy nor representative of the kind of active learning that students enjoy when school is in regular session.  Our virtual learning schedule is instead designed to provide time for a combination of synchronous and asynchronous learning activities, with individual teachers balancing these two modes from week to week in a way that makes sense for the specific learning goals they have identified for their students.

Understandably, the main focus during our first two weeks of virtual learning has been upon getting our academic classes up and running.  The way faculty have jumped into the difficult work of relaunching their classes in the digital environment and creating a sense of connection for students, and the positive way students and parents have responded to these efforts, have been remarkable and inspiring.

The shift to online learning has, of course, required us to pare down our curriculum–focusing on our most essential learning objectives for students and adjusting our time and product expectations accordingly.  This is one of those occasions where less is more, and honing in on key concepts and skills will take us further than trying to pack everything we had planned for a regular trimester into our necessarily condensed virtual school schedule.

Happily, we have now reached a point in our virtual learning journey where we are ready to begin layering in additional opportunities for students to engage with their teachers and their peers.  We have built time into the schedule for advisory and for club meetings, and we are looking at other ways we might work with students and families to recapture a feeling of connectedness in the virtual realm.

At the same time, we are keenly aware that there is a learning curve for faculty in redesigning their classes for a virtual learning environment, and we have to give them the time they need to rethink their curricula and reshape their instructional strategies for the online setting.  We are equally mindful of the fact that we are all caught in a difficult situation right now, and there are limits to what we can reasonably ask of our employees and our families in the current climate of uncertainty and disruption.  Our virtual learning schedule reflects these considerations, as well.

Distance is a tough hurdle, made even tougher by the physical, emotional and financial stress that is all around us.  That said, if we all continue to approach our current situation with creativity, flexibility, and compassion for one another, we will have a spring trimester of virtual learning that we can all be proud of.

Written by Martina Greene, Dean of Faculty

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March 26, 2020

Now that we have a week of virtual learning under our belts, we hope things are going smoothly at home for your CA student(s)The Cary Academy Learning Specialists are here to support your child’s learning and address any challenges they – or you – might be experiencing.  As we all adjust to supporting learning from home, we want to share some of our advice on how, as parents, you can best support your child:    

WorkstationHelp your child choose a quiet space in your house where they will be able to concentrate and participate in class lessons and discussions. Remind them to use the restroom, have a big meal – get everything done before online school starts.  The workstation should include all of their supplies as well as their class schedule.   

Daily Routine. Help your student create a daily, written schedule that includes class time, work time, some downtime, and exerciseWe strongly encourage students to have a weekly planner or calendar so that they can plan beyond one day. They should also use their calendar to break larger assignments down into daily tasks.  

Planning and organization. At the start of the day, students should have a written to-do list of what they plan to accomplish. The list should be on paper, in front of them. Students should update it throughout the day and cross tasks out as they complete them.  We always advise that students “eat the frog first.” That means that they complete the assignment that they are least motivated to do first and not save it for later. 

Self-advocacy.  This virtual platform is new to everyone, so encourage your child to reach out to their teacher, advisor, or support staff when questions or concerns arise.     

Virtual study groups.  Help your child stay connected by encouraging them to set up virtual study groups with their classmates.  Teams is an easy place for them to connect.  They can even work through problems together on the virtual whiteboard.  

Contact a teacher directly. If you notice that your child is unsuccessful in his or her attempts to gain clarification with content or assignments, you may decide to email your child’s teachers yourself. At-home learning creates physical barriers to seeking help, so don’t be afraid to reach out on your children’s behalf should they seem stuck. 

We are still here (albeit virtually) and happy to help students and parents navigate this new reality. Feel free to reach out to either of us via email: Kristin_lane@caryacademy.org for Middle Schoolers or laura_werner@caryacademy.org for Upper Schoolers. 

Written by Laura Werner & Kristin Lane, Learning Specialists


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March 19, 2020

Welcome to the new trimester! Or, perhaps we should say welcome to a whole new way of life? As we turned on our screens this week to connect with each other virtually, we cannot help but be in awe of how different the world looks at the start of T3 compared to how we ended T2 just a few short weeks ago. As we prepare to greet each other virtually, we wanted to offer a few words of encouragement as well as some resources to possibly help guide us in this unique time in which we find ourselves.

In the midst of a pandemic, it is important to recognize that our mental health is a vital component of our overall health. We need to attend to our emotional needs just as we do to our physical. Handwashing? Check! Covering our cough? Check! Deep breathing? Check! Each one of us is experiencing a myriad of emotions – this is normal. From disbelief, to grief, to anger, to confusion, fear, and loneliness – and yes, perhaps even joy that school has gone virtual – we are charting new territory that may be leaving us feeling adrift. As we work toward a more comprehensive “virtual counseling program”, we wanted to begin by sharing some of our thoughts and reflections on supporting ourselves and each other during the start of our virtual trimester.

Be well!

Written by Kelly Wiebe and Twanna Monds, Counselors

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