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Magazine of CA

Leading the Way

December 1, 2022

For 25 years, Cary Academy has been recognized as a school that pushes the envelope of what is possible, modeling institutionally the very qualities we hope to instill in our students: leadership, curiosity, open-mindedness, and a willingness to think outside of the box, take risks, enthusiastically challenge norms, and relentlessly ask, “Why?” “How?” and “What if?”

Last year, we were honored to have our reputation as a national and global leader in secondary education and experiential learning affirmed with CA’s selection as host for the 2023 Independent School Experiential Education Network’s (ISEEN) Winter Institute. What better way to put an exclamation point on our first 25 years than a week spent learning, collaborating, and envisioning the future with other educational innovators?

In January, CA will welcome over 150 of North America’s most forward-thinking educators for a hands-on, multi-day experiential learning conference. Carefully chosen, the Institute theme, Empowered ExEd: Sustained Partnerships and Student Leadership, highlights two important aspects of our work we undertake in our Center for Community Engagement.

CA prides itself on empowering students with chances to grow as leaders and community members. We’re known for producing thoughtful, creative, and risk-taking graduates and engaged citizens as a result.

Almost nothing at CA functions without student involvement and co-creation. Think about our clubs, affinity groups, X-Day, Discovery Term, athletics, and a host of interscholastic competitive programs (speech and debate, HOSA-Future Health Professionals, robotics, Science Olympiad, United States Invitational Young Physicists

Tournament, Conrad Startup Challenge, etc.)—all of them feature students leading, guiding, and mentoring their peers.

Our theme also points to the myriad sustained partnerships that our students and employees leverage to enhance learning. Our service-learning program alone connects our campus to dozens of excellent organizations that serve those in need in our community, across the state and country, and around the world. Examples include Backpack Buddies and Transplanting Traditions in the Middle School, as well as Dorcas Ministries, Read & Feed, and community food banks.

In addition, collaborators like District C, an experiential learning nonprofit, and Essential Partners, with whom we partner for our Dialogue Across Difference program, build our capacity as both students and educators to work effectively in teams— lessons that carry over to the classroom and across campus. In the last six years, over 150 different local businesses, nonprofits, artists, and government agencies at every level have hosted Chargers as part of our Work Experience Program. The list of partnerships is long—and growing.

The ISEEN Winter Institute will kick off with a keynote by Columbia University Professor Dr. Bettina Love, whose work in the realm of creating truly inclusive, anti- racist schools, is deeply resonant with the values of both CA and ISEEN. She will help connect the dots between a focus on building an equitable school community with one that also nurtures and promotes student agency and experiential learning.

As is Institute tradition, the first full day will involve participants learning in the preferred experiential style of the host. We’ll be taking a page out of CA’s X-Day playbook, partnering faculty with student leaders to develop and co-lead ExEd in Action Workshops that use the entire Triangle as their “classroom.”

A few examples that are already under development include a visit to a Chapel Hill tiny house community to learn more about the growing movement and its capacity to address housing and sustainability issues; a tour of Historic Stagville and Black Wall Street to learn about the history of Black leadership and success in Durham and the current issues facing the community; and an investigation into the interracial history of Southern barbeque and the social justice questions raised by Southern Foodways, which will culminate in a delicious group- prepared meal.

On the second day, CA will lead conversations centered on the ways in which we work to deliver on our mission every day. We will discuss the many components that go into (and challenges that come with) being a learning community dedicated to discovery, innovation, collaboration, and excellence and guided by a commitment to respect, integrity, and compassion.

The Institute will wrap on Friday morning with a deep dive into the theme of sustaining partnerships and another keynote address by a good friend who has built these partnerships in other schools. Watch for more on that as we finalize commitments.

CA has a lot to share with our ISEEN colleagues next year, just as we always have more to learn. We are honored by the vote of confidence represented by our selection by ISEEN, a welcome acknowledgment that we are on a promising path and serving as a genuine leader in this work. We have no doubts that the students and employees in this dynamic and innovative learning community will shine.

Stay tuned for more about the ISEEN Winter Institute, Jan 17-20, 2023, hosted by Cary Academy.

Written by Dr. Michael McElreath, Experiential Learning Director

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Learning by doing

May 27, 2021

For Upper Schoolers, the last two weeks of the school year are filled with lots of opportunities for experiential learning courtesy of Discovery Term (DT), Work Experience Program (WEP), and the Youth Engagement Summit (YES). These programs, coordinated by our Center for Community Engagement, help students to flex their leadership skills, explore new areas of interest, and take their learning to another level—whether in the lab, wilderness, halls of justice, local markets, studios, or beyond.  

Enjoy these student voices as they share just some of what they are exploring / making / and experiencing in WEP and DT, and look for a wrap-up later this summer on YES. (To hear from other students, check out blogs.CaryAcademy.org/cawep/ and blogs.CaryAcademy.org/discovery-term/ where all students are blogging their learning journeys): 

Work Experience Program 

I’m working with the Town of Cary Public Works team with a focus on turf/facility management. . .  I have gained lots of insight on techniques, processes, the science that plays into creating high quality turf for the playing surfaces. I have been surprised by the precision in every action of the industry and hope to continue to learn more about the industry and management processes. 

— Lawson Wheeler, Town of Cary Public Works 

I’m job shadowing at Osceola Studios. I’ve gotten the chance to work with several incredibly talented artists to turn their ideas into polished tracks. Dick Hodgin, the audio engineer, is (for lack of a more descriptive term) a wizard. Not only in his musical expertise, but the way he connects with each artist, seemingly understanding the songs better than they do.  

— Alex Lim, Osceola Studios 

I am helping Homestead Sage build an online presence (website, social media, etc.). Right now, I am working on a resource library on UV-C light technology for their website. It’s been really eye-opening! 

— Sophia Liu, Homestead Sage 

I am researching and exploring the different parts of Senate Bill 300, which focuses on adding new law enforcement requirements, decriminalizing certain local offenses, as well as addressing constitutional issues with satellite-based monitoring. I got to meet Professor Markham and hope to attend a general assembly meeting and listen in on a court case. 

— Gabriella Cicuto, Criminal Justice Reform with Professor Markham at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill 

So far, we have spent the time learning about how to put together presentations and pitches by researching an emerging technology called NFTs. NFTs are digital assets that use blockchain and crypto-wallets to function. We are researching how they work, how to make them, their environmental impacts, and their potential future applications.  

— Sarah Haddix, Lenovo 

I’m shadowing Guilford County Public Defender ShaKeta Berrie. I spent most of the day toggling between district court and superior court. I assist Ms. Berrie in finding her files, locating, and organizing her shucks, calling out the names of her clients to make sure they are there, calling clients who failed to show up to court, and watching other court cases. I learned about how important the 4th amendment is specifically to the work Ms. Berrie does in district court and how important a public defender’s job is to help protect and serve the public. 

— Sierra Nesbeth, Guilford County Courts 

At French West Vaughan, we have been given the wonderful opportunity to shadow several producers, managers, and executives in the different departments of French West Vaughan, an accredited public relations and marketing agency. The Creative Team, Media Team, Account Team, and Social Team all focus on different areas of the marketing process, and I have enjoyed learning the responsibilities and strategies of each department. It amazes me how, in the end, the teams collaborate to execute campaigns, design websites, and build successful brands.  

— Kendyl George, French West Vaughan 

Our group is currently doing research on the effects of Permethrin (a chemical commonly found in mosquito nets) in Sub-Saharan Africa, to understand the benefits of Vector Textiles’ net which is produced without chemicals. It is fascinating to connect both the direct impact of the pesticide on humans (ingestion/contact) and how the environmental effects indirectly affect humans. So far, the experience has been wonderful as it gives me a better sense of what a future in STEM-research may entail. 

— Vinith Upadhya, Vector Textiles (Environmental Modeling) 

These past few days, I had the pleasure of witnessing our judicial system first-hand. My host, Judge Davidian, has been kind enough to allow me to witness proceedings in his courtroom, and I was able to see cases of all varieties, from civil domestic violence cases all the way to felony pleas. Not only did I gain more of an insight into the laws and workings of our judicial system, but I also was able to learn more about Judge Davidian’s past career as a Navy JAG, which was very interesting as well!   

— William Su, Wake County Courts 

My WEP is with Representative Grier Martin and his Legislative Assistant Chris in the NC House of Representatives. So far, my experience has been very eye-opening. It’s very cool to see the bills come to life. I have attended a committee meeting, a press conference, some constituent meetings, and visited the DMVA. Tomorrow, I get to attend session. I hope to learn more about representative and lobbyist interactions in order to get bills passed. 

— Bella Nesbeth, NC State Legislature 

I’m working with Dr. Tarek Aziz, a professor at NCSU who is doing research into the viability of using white rot fungus to treat pesticide contamination in water. The work we are doing involves us tweaking the code of an agent-based model to add additional features to make it more realistic.  

— Ethan Chou, Aziz Lab, North Carolina State University 

I’m working in the writing industry with a publisher, authors, and a bookseller. I’ve gotten the chance to meet with Mindy Quigley, a Virginian author of cozy mysteries who has given me lots of great advice and connected me with some of her colleagues in the writing field. . . I’m also meeting with Abby Muller from Algonquin Publishing and to prepare, she’s given me a manuscript to read and write a reader’s report (a standard publishing task done by interns that tells the editors whether they should read the book or not) including feedback and a general plot summary. Then, I will be working at Flyleaf Books for a day. I’ve learned a lot about being an author and an editor and I look forward to the rest of the next couple weeks seeing different experiences in all parts of the industry.  

— Christina Polge, Author and Publishing House 

So far, we have learned about all the different architectures at Cisco from security (Umbrella/Duo) to Meraki and AppDynamics. It has been incredibly interesting to see all the amazing things that these Cisco products can do to simplify and streamline all aspects of a business or company.  

— Grace Jaeger-Sandruck, Cisco 

My work experience is with the North Carolina Symphony as a Performing Arts Management intern. I will be exploring and working with all the different areas under arts administration (marketing, philanthropy, education, communications and more). I have played violin very rigorously for almost all of my life, so I was curious to learn more about other behind the scenes aspects of the arts and music that allow the music to ultimately be heard. So far, I’ve met with a handful of prominent people to discuss their work and have conducted some research and created archives. I look forward to the end of WEP for a live concert at Koka Booth that I will help run! 

— Kali Bate, North Carolina Symphony 

My group and I are figuring out the Unreal Engine, the game engine that EpicGames created and uses to develop and design its games, and working on Unreal Engine projects.  By the end, I hope to have my project up and running (but not necessarily done because it simply isn’t feasible to prototype a whole game in two weeks), to have a better understanding of C++ code, and to have a little experience designing my own avatars and scenes.  In the future, I’d love to use the skills I acquired to learn more C++ and explore digital art further. 

— Julia Huang, Video Game Development with Steve Polge, an EpicGames senior programmer 

Discovery Term 

I think the best experiences and takeaways in the Health and Fitness DT so far would be understanding the underlying ingredients in foods that we commonly enjoy and how all ranges of exercises can prove to be both challenging physically and mentally. What initially drew me into this DT was wanting to get a head start on a healthy lifestyle through and for the 2021 summer, but within the few days of this DT, I can almost certainly say that I will continue to use what I’ve learned in this DT for the rest of my high school career, hopefully taking some aspect of it to college.  

— Jared Seidel, ’22, Health and Fitness Leader 

My DT is all about trying new things— by learning about global cuisines from either informative videos or classmates, and then getting a firsthand experience by going around the Triangle and tasting different foods from different cultures. . .  I think I am most surprised by how similar certain things are across some cuisines. There is a lot of difference— be it in the types of food, the tradition surrounding how you eat, when you eat, and even how much you eat per meal; however, the similarities are there too, from curry being popular in both India (as a dish) and in Germany (as a snack— currywurst, which is sausage in curry sauce), to cultures all across the board having some type of flatbread special to their cuisine. 

— Jasmine, ’24, World Cuisines around the Triangle 

Currently we are making an escape room in virtual reality (VR), and learning how to use Unity VR software to make a VR game, and how to set up VR. . . I signed up to do this because many of my friends are into coding and computers and I wanted to give it a try; I thought this would be the perfect way. Also, I wanted to do this because I wanted to know if I wanted to do something with VR or video games in the future.  

— Adora Koonce ’24, Into the World of Virtual Reality 

As I am new to the school, this is my first time ever experiencing a course like this. In general, my DT has been extremely fun so far. As there are no homework and tests, being able to learn freely without worry has opened a new perspective on learning for me. Going to school every day has felt like spending time pursuing my interests instead of attending mandatory classes. I am thoroughly enjoying this course.  

— Kayleigh Ko, ’24, Fashion Frenzy  

Our Discovery Term has touched on fashion throughout different cultures, discovering our personal preferences in clothing and design, and learning about the differences between high and fast fashion. We have taken excursions to the Gregg Museum of Art and Design and a local thrift store to compose outfits with our personal style. We look forward to continuing to learn about how fashion can be demonstrative of traditions and local climate, as well as acting on our understandings through a variety of fun and creative projects.  

— Caitlin Smith, ’24, Fashion Frenzy 

So far, I have learned how to canoe and steer a canoe the way I want, how to flip a canoe back over and get in safely without filling it with water, how to make a tent out of a tarp, and a lot about fish hatcheries and their effect on evolution and the populations of wild creatures. I hope to get more comfortable in natural bodies of water, and more comfortable in knowing how to safely maneuver in these bodies without putting myself or others at risk. . . .  I’m actually going on a pretty long hiking trip this summer, so this course will really help me prepare for that and help me know how to do things like leave no trace, be safe in the backcountry, have fun, and take care of the environment. Something that has been surprising was how quickly you adjust to living or existing in nature, and I’ve learned that something very small can have a huge impact. Humans often try to control the wild because we want reliable, predictable safety. The truth is, however, the wild is best left wild, and the environment is best left untouched.  

— Katie White, ’24, Waterpalooza 

One thing I hope to get out of the trips is to get out of my comfort zone. During my experience so far, I have done many things I wouldn’t have done. For example, hiking, cliff jumping, and swimming out in the open. I learned how to face my fear of heights, being stranded, and snakes. Finally, I hope to learn more about how to camp overnight in the woods and to grow my mental strength through hiking and swimming. 

— Ben Coley, ’24, Experiencing Wilderness 

I have learned a lot about the format and processes behind making a film or screen play. I have learned how to write a script the right way and what goes into it, like the intention and obstacle. I have learned many new and different types of camera angles and shots, as well as how they affect the scene. We made our own mini film that lasts about 1-3 minutes, and we wrote our own scripts. We are about to start on the final project which is a 10-minute film.  

— Josh Hanson, ’24, Filmmaking 

I’m the course leader for Grease Monkeys, an automotive-focused DT. Though we have only had two days so far, we’ve been very productive. . . So far, they have learned how to find information about a specific car, use that information to find parts for the car, change brake pads, and change oil and oil filters. During downtime, between working on cars, students have been able to try their hand with a racing simulator. They have been practicing their racing techniques and putting their best lap times up on the board in preparation for our go-karting outing next week. 

— Cy Reading ’22, Grease Monkeys Leader 

So far, we have used short PowerPoints to educate the students about different East Asian countries and their cultures, and also performed hands-on activities. These included inviting in a calligraphy instructor to help us make ink paintings and calligraphy, doing chopstick relay races, making dumplings, sampling tea, and watching Asian movies. We also participated in many kahoots that introduce us to holidays, religions, and practices of East Asian people.  

— Ella Zhang, ’24, East Asian Culture Leader 

Franchise Mode has been just as much about discovery for me as a leader as it has been for the ’24rs taking the course. Our Discovery Term focuses on the components of media and marketing that enable a sports organization to be successful. We look at how things like branding, journalism, merchandising, and media creation all work together to create a cohesive identity for a team. Our most eye-opening experience came this Wednesday, when we had recent UNC graduate and Morehead-Cain Scholar Luke Buxton come and share his experiences with sports media with us. Luke talked to us about a non-profit he created called Uncut, which gives collegiate athletes a platform to discuss issues they’re passionate about, with subjects ranging from mental health to social injustice. Luke’s perspective was invaluable, it demonstrated how someone so close to us in age could make a meaningful impact within a field like sports media. Luke’s relatability left us all with a feeling of unprecedented inspiration and motivation to continue our two weeks of discovery. 

— Hagan Aderhold, ’22, Franchise Mode Leader 

In the past two days, we have played and discussed several strategy games, watched a movie, and gone on a field trip to an escape room. . .  I hope to develop a new and better understanding of math in the world around us, which may help me see the real-world applications of the math that we’re learning at school.  

— Eric Ye, ’24, Math Adventures 

We are learning a lot about how to improve our health in all aspects—physical, social, and mental—and doing a mixture of activities that emphasize total health, such as kayaking, taking a yoga class, attending a cooking class, and going whitewater rafting. We were even able to hear from a speaker about neuroscience behind emotions. It has been really eye-opening to realize how much our mind affects ourselves. I will definitely use the calming techniques from grounding exercises, meditation, and yoga in my daily life when I get stressed. All in all, this course provides an outlook for emphasizing the importance for embracing our emotions and steps we can do to live BETTER. 

— Tanya Sachdev, ’24, Live BETTER (Balanced, Exercise, Transform, Thrive, Experience, Relax) 

We’ve been exploring the connection between art and emotion, the different techniques used to convey specific feels such as sadness, happiness, loneliness, and love. So far, it’s been a fairly relaxing process, while also being a great way to use the creative side of my brain that I don’t always get to use in other classes. Talking about reflection and incorporating that into art is a great way to relieve any built-up tension and a nice way to get out of your head.  

— Renn, ’22, Feel the Art in Your Heart 

So far, DT has taught me what it is like to be a leader and helped me explore what that entails. For example, I’ve had to schedule things on a larger scale, manage everything going on, and stay accountable for both our schedule and the kids in our DT. It’s been a lot of fun to learn and grow as I work. In the future, hopefully after this experience I can feel more confident in my capability of handling larger-scale events and leading them.  

— Zoe Koo, ’23, Reuse, Recycle, Recreate Leader 

Written by Mandy Dailey, Director of Communications

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Trying it on for size

February 4, 2021

What’s your passion? What motivates you? Where will your curiosity take you in life?  

When you think of that dream job, what does it look like? 

These are important questions, and heady and demanding ones—particularly for high school students caught in the high-pressured whirlwind of college planning and future charting.  

At CA, we’re dedicated to helping our students engage with these life-altering questions by creating immersive learning experiences that expose students to new ideas and new fields of inquiry; by giving our students ample voice and choice in their learning journey; and empowering them to take smart risks, to experiment, and to follow their curiosity where it leads.  

In the Upper School, the Work Experience Program organized by our Center for Community Engagement and led by Dr. Michael McElreath, is just one such innovative initiative, designed to give juniors the opportunity to explore their interests by trying a career on for size. 

Initially born out of a desire to offer students a learning alternative to leading a Discovery Term course, the program has grown in popularity, with over 200 students participating with placements in over 100 sites (Laber-Labs, law offices, hospitals, ground-breaking research centers, NC Symphony, Durham Bulls, and NCSU Aerospace Engineering program and SAS to name a few). 

These work placements aren’t just for show. No inconsequential administrative tasks here; we ask that our collaborators allow our students to do meaningful introductory-level work.  We want our students to stretch themselves and their thinking, to challenge themselves, and get a true glimpse into what it would be like to do the job.  

Along the way, they develop crucial soft skills—leadership, communication, collaboration—and begin the important work of building a professional network that can be leveraged long after they leave CA.  

“Helping students broaden their view and giving them exposure to adults expands their horizons” says Laura Sellers, Director of College Counseling. “There have been many stories from alums who are currently doing work in college based on their time during the Work Experience.”  

Take a look at just a few of the comments that we have received from WEP partners that have hosted CA students: 

“She contributed to the analysis of DNA using electron microscopy. She contributed to the execution of the biochemical assays,” Dr. Oya Bermek, Lineberger Cancer Center UNC. 

“[Your student] is a quick study and did not miss a beat.  She interacted professionally with both clients, legislators, and other lobbyists. She will be a success in whatever profession she chooses,” Ashley Perkinson, Lawyer & Lobbyist. 

“The student was respectful, capable, and independent. I gave her a project to model airplane geometry using an open-source program. She was able to learn about the software from internet resources and complete the task. I also arranged for her to meet with several graduate students from my lab and others. She was good about setting up appointments with them and making the visits. At the end, she gave a presentation to my group on her experience,”  Prof. Ashok Gopalarathnam, NCSU Aerospace Engineering​. 

While such professional and soft skills developed through participation in WEP are important, perhaps most crucial is the increased self-awareness that students gain as a result. To facilitate that important work, the WEP incorporates reflection time for students (where some of the most important discoveries are made).  

Through a guided process, students are asked to reflect on what they learned, what went well, and what they could improve. This time also allows them to deeply process the experience. Was it what they thought it would be? Is it worth further pursuit and a deeper dive? Or, equally important, something to cross off the list and move on from? 

The success of the Work Experience program relies heavily on our community. Our robust and diverse collaborator network is the result of tireless network weaving by Dr. McElreath (for whom I am always so incredibly grateful) and the CCE’s Parental Advisory Board led by current parent and Vice President of CA’s Board of Directors, Trude Bate (thank you!).  

Thanks to their tireless efforts and the countless hours spent soliciting, vetting, and confirming partners, we’ve yet to encounter a student’s interest that we haven’t been able to match with a professional, relevant placement.  

Unfortunately, however, given COVID, things may have to look a little different this year. In-person placements may prove more challenging given COVID protocols. While we are hoping to accommodate the same number of students as in years past, we need to expand our network. 

And that is where you can help:  if you or anyone you know has a business or job that would be willing to host one of our students, please do not hesitate to reach out to myself or Dr. McElreath. 

And juniors, the time is now! Applications for WEP are now open. 

Maybe you are ready to fight for change alongside a local lobbyist? Or learn the ins and outs of managing a professional sports team? Want to get an inside look at video game development? Participate in ground-breaking research that might contribute to a cure for cancer or advance aeronautic engineering. Or perhaps *gasp* you just don’t know just yet (it’s okay!), but have a vague idea that you’d like to discuss and explore.  

Whether you are interested in a pursuing a fervent passion or investigating an emerging curiosity–we want to hear from you!  

Written by Danielle Johnson-Webb, Director of Equity and Community Engagement

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