Composting Comes to Fourth Grade

Earlier this month, members of the Upper School Sustainability Committee came to speak to the fourth graders about the varied benefits of composting, with the intent of educating and motivating students to begin composting in the fourth grade pod.

Their presentation about the negative effects of food scraps ending up in landfills became a call to action for the students and they were eager to begin the process.

Beginning the next day, student volunteers began taking Compost Now waste bins to lunch with them so that food waste and other eligible items could be properly composted. For the last 3 weeks, the fourth graders have worked to make this part of our daily routine. 

4 foot tall Composte toteThis morning, their efforts were rewarded with a half full, large Compost Now tote, waste that otherwise would have ended up in the landfill.

As we continue to make this part of our daily routine, we hope to see the volume grow and open up conversation about expanding to other grades in the Lower School.

US Sustainability Committee Helps the Turkey Trot Go Green!

By Ann Leininger, DA Parents Council Sustainability Liaison

Sign directing visitors about food wasteSpecial thanks to the US Sustainability Committee who helped the Parents Association host a green event this past weekend. Students performed a waste stream analysis to determine the types of waste that would be generated during the Turkey Trot. They determined the best management method for each waste stream (compost, recycle etc) and then created signage, with re-usable white boards, so that all attendees would know how best to dispose of their waste. They debuted their new “official” tee shirts as they staged waste management areas with containers of various types and stayed on hand to monitor them and answer questions. The presence of the students and the informational signs created a great opportunity to educate all attendees while managing waste in a sustainable manner.

Sustainability Committee members sporting new tee shirts as they set up waste stations

T.A.M with Durham Academy Students

Frankie Stover & Ash Granda-Bondurant

“Ever since the seminar, I have paid close attention to how many trees houses have. For example, I was driving through a rural area that I was not familiar with, and I particularly noticed houses that had trees planted in the front, which made me realize how houses with trees just seemed more alive. This interpretation also told me a bit about the history of the house and maybe some of the challenges it may face. Overall, the value of trees in urban areas has increased in my mind.”

-Sanju Patel ‘23

A partnership between the Sustainability Committee and R.A.I.S.E  (Raising Awareness for Inclusion and Social Equity) leaders here at Durham Academy resulted in the successful 2021 Fall Seminar: Trees in the forest, City, and Campus. Twenty-one students across five different grade levels attended this event on Friday, November 5th. Our day was split into three parts: learning about trees in the forest with Duke Forest Director Sara Childs, learning about our trees in our urban Durham environment, and lastly focusing on planting trees around our campus. 

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Everyday Stuff: Environmental Impact

By Sophie Goin ’22, Ethan Goldstein ’22, Elijah Nambo ’22, Rocco Pacchiana ’22, Thomas Pollard ’24, Ben Taylor ’22

When you buy something, do you think about the life it had before it got to you? What about what happens when you’re finished with it? Our “stuff” contributes significantly to our impact on the environment. By analyzing the life cycle of everyday objects, we can make better buying decisions and reduce our impact. Life Cycle Analysis (LCA) is a tool for assessing the net effect of a product from creation to decomposition and/or recycling. Click on the images below to learn about the life cycle of the items. 


Seminar: Trees in the Forest, City, and Campus

Friday, November 5, 8:15-3:00

Upper School and 8th Grade Students may apply

This event is offered by the Durham Academy Seminar Program, which creates opportunities for students to learn about topics of current interest that are not part of the regular curriculum. This fall the focus is on trees. Why?

  • They’re Earth’s largest, longest living organisms.
  • They reduce global warming and enhance biodiversity.
  • Their distribution can reveal social and political forces such as redlining.
  • They improve human health by filtering air and water, providing relief from summer heat, and reducing stress.

Students have been involved with trees on the DA campus since the Sustainability Committee got started in 2019. In a seminar on climate change, students got excited about the ability of trees to pull carbon dioxide from the air and sequester it in the ground. They raised money and worked with the maintenance department and the Board of Trustees Buildings and Grounds Committee, and in 2020, they planted 80 trees between the track and Pickett Rd.

students sitting under young trees
Students recording observations in the grove of trees planted by the Sustainability Committee in 2020

This fall, DA students will plant more trees as part of the November 5 seminar and a collaboration with Keep Durham Beautiful on November 13.

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From Red Alert to a Greener DA

During our August back-to-school meeting for faculty, I challenged my colleagues (and myself!) to create environments and experiences that are more:

    1.  humane
    2.  sustainable, and
    3.  open to the genius of our students

I won’t dwell on the humane part here, but I do hope we are doing all we can to overcome the dehumanizing brutality of last 19 months. In many ways, the best parts of our humanity were robbed and blocked by lockdowns and masks, by fear and fatigue, by distance and screens. The pandemic too took simple pleasures away from us: things like touch. Or assemblies and concerts, CavDomes and dances. Or just being able to rub elbows with all our friends and classmates. What fun – and what a profound gift – to be fully back on campus together this year!

My second challenge is more relevant to this Living Sustainably blog. This summer’s report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change made clearer than ever the urgency of our work to give students knowledge, guidance and opportunities to engage in climate action if they have any hope of solving the planetary problems we oldsters have created.

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Parents Council seeks to Minimize Waste

Collaborates with student Sustainability Committee

By Ann Leininger, DA Parents Council Sustainability Liaison

This school year, Parents Council volunteers are excited to get back to what we do best:  planning events for our entire DA community to attend.  The Turkey Trot, Used Book Sale and Picnic give families an opportunity to connect and engage with each other and we are grateful that we will be able to hold these events in person during the 2021-2022 school year. 

Students and compost binUnfortunately, these events also have the ability to generate a significant amount of waste. Parents Council is working hard to implement sustainable practices at all our events and is partnering with the US Sustainability Committee. We are focusing on minimizing waste,  composting, and recycling to divert as much waste from landfills as possible. We are grateful to the US Sustainability Committee members who are providing information on composting and recycling procedures as well as initiating discussions with a variety of stakeholders around campus to continue making DA as green as possible. This collaboration between students and parents has great promise and our parent volunteers are looking forward to learning more about sustainability from our student leaders!

Compost: Sustaining Circles of Life

Student wrapping arms around "Feed me" sign on bin

Since the dawn of time, the world has used and reused and reused and reused all of its resources from water, to nutrients, to air, and anything else you can name. The Law of Conservation of Mass still holds true in everything that we do today. Sustainability isn’t stopping some intergalactic cloud from exerting demonic and destructive influence on us, it’s about oiling the machine of deconstruction and reconstruction that is the earth and everything living on it instead of creating substances that will rust and get wedged between the gears.   Plastic, styrofoam, and the production and disposal of such products that don’t decompose suffocate lives on earth—both literally and figuratively—that are the key to the cycle of renewal. If we do not maintain our planet and act now, our planet will not be the homeostatic oasis floating in space that it has been for billions of years. 

We each take our role in preventing this future, and Durham Academy’s role is found in a group of students and teachers called the Upper School Sustainability Committee. The ways in which the DA Sustainability Committee combats waste and pollution are diverse and plentiful. One that I myself find very interesting is composting.

Composting is one of the most important ways we return vital resources to the earth.  The most basic way we interact in the cycle of energy that exists on the earth is by eating.

Consuming food gives us energy to move, think, play, grow and live! But what happens to those scraps of food jam packed with nutrients that we just can’t consume?

Composting not only diverts this food waste from landfills, but it returns nutrients and microorganisms back to the plants that feed us, making them more nutritious, and even tastier in some cases! 

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First-Ever Summer Seminar!

28 students, parents, faculty, and staff talk trash for a day

How long do various items stay in landfill?

On August 11, the Sustainability Committee hosted DA’s first ever summer seminar to learn about recycling and how to reduce waste. The “Don’t Waste It!” workshop was hosted by Chatham County Recycling and Education Specialists, DA Sustainability Coordinator Tina Bessias, Science teachers Andrea Caruso and Theresa Shebalin, and the chairs of the Student Government Sustainability Committee, Mukta Dharmapurikar and Sanju Patel.

The workshop began with a fun activity that demonstrated how waste travels after it leaves your house.

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Our Home

The recent string of extreme weather events got me thinking about home. I mean “home” as in the Greek oikos (like the yogurt), which is the root of “ecology“: the study of our home.

Image of Earth from spaceToday we share our home with 7.7 billion people. We tend to focus on troubles and conflicts, but the dominant story by far is cooperation and mutual support. That’s the only way the population can increase so much. We live in all kinds of circumstances including extremely dense and sparsely populated areas, and by and large we don’t kill each other–that’s how the population can increase. (By contrast, it has been noted that if you put 150 chimpanzees in an airplane and flew them across the ocean, only one or two would walk off alive). The fact that we have 7.7 billion people living in our “home” is an amazing achievement.

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