CA Curious

Beyond the Walls

November 2, 2023

Last month, at our second Upper School Town Hall of the year, students and faculty trooped into the Theater, ushered in by faculty and the sounds of one of the students playing piano. Once all were seated, we heard from various student groups; they asked for service project volunteers, shared updates for class spirit points, and generally did the good work of building community.   

Student Council let me close the Town Hall, and understanding the calculus of student concentration, time of day, and proximity to 3:30, I made economical use of time, keeping my comments brief.   

In that time, I reflected on two stories. First, I thanked the students for their joy, energy, and patience on Community Day for one simple reason: that day was an exercise in flexibility. Exhibit A: eighteen hours prior to Community Day, we learned that we could not take our sophomores to the fields to glean sweet potatoes, because the tubers weren’t ready yet. Without breaking a sweat, Ms. Grant and Dr. Meszaros pivoted from the service learning project, planning a viewing of A Million Miles Away and a discussion afterward.  The next morning, our sophomores arrived, willing to shift activities radically.   Exhibit B: on Tuesday morning, we were all set to give the PSAT to our juniors…except the College Board ran into technical issues. So more than one hundred 11th graders waited patiently in the CMS gym, relaxing even as we grew closer to the time when we would have to find an alternative for them as well. Luckily, at almost the last minute, the College Board figured out the issue, and our students were able to take the test, delayed by only an hour. Exhibit C: that afternoon, we welcomed alumnus Jonathan Williams to campus; an entrepreneur who focuses on creating engaging, site-specific scavenger hunts, he worked with CA to develop a fun, community-building experience for the Upper School. At 1:35 that afternoon, the student groups were running about campus, searching for locations and clues. Naturally, there were a few hiccups, but Jonathan was able to smooth them over, leading to a fun-filled time.  

As I mentioned to the students, that day—inadvertently—was a perfect metaphor for life. It’s a guarantee that not all will go according to plan, whether we are talking about big undertakings or small activities. What we can control is how we handle ourselves, and the students handled the various situations with aplomb and grace.   

Observation #2: I also praised the students for their curiosity, a trait I see every day, both inside and outside the classroom. For example, last month, three students stopped me in my daily peripatetic wanderings. “Have you always been a teacher?” One of them asked me. Our discussion morphed into one that went beyond my employment history. It drew upon a variety of topics, including the principles of Economics, as the students discussed how one defines success; they argued passionately, fiercely, and without a grade attached. They didn’t arrive at a final answer, but they explored the nuances of their specific arguments, all as we stood outside the CMS during break. 

For me, these two stories encapsulate much of what I love about education at Cary Academy. It is not about the grade at the end: it’s about developing ways of making sense of this world, and it’s about having the flexibility to adapt those ways to circumstances.  That’s what I see and hear as I walk into classrooms, and as I wander through the hallways, listening to the wash of conversations about me.     

Learning always extends beyond the walls of the classroom—as it should. 

Written by Robin Follet, Head of Upper School

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