An Innovation Journey begins…

Cloud Institute logoSustainABLE DA, fueld by an Innovation Journey grant, launches August 9-10 

with forty-five teachers, administrators, staff members, Parents Council representatives, and Upper School student leaders working together in Horton Hall to create a shared vision. The effort is being led by Jaimie Cloud, who has been fostering Education for Sustainability (EfS) in public and private schools since 1995. As we consider how to incorporate sustainability into our curriculum and culture, we are building on recent work in Diversity, Equity, and Engagement. Both initiatives involve examining assumptions and practices, and many of the foundational concepts (such as “We are all in this together”) are the same. Sustainability also connects to the Wellness Program at DA as we pursue a healthy and livable future for our students.

Green Places logoIn addition to the conceptual work, we will get practical.

Green Places, a Raleigh-based firm, will guide us through a process of evaluating our operations and infrastructure. The Sustainability Leadership Team and Upper School students, especially those in the Environmental Sustainability in Action course, will gather data on electricity, water, transportation, waste, refrigerants, travel, etc.  Green Places will lead the analysis. By winter, we expect to be able to share our total institutional greenhouse gas emissions and their sources. From there, we will work with the Board of Trustees and the Administrative Team to develop goals for reduction, define metrics, and begin adjusting our operations and practices.

Some student perspectives

Fitting it all together

Through this Innovation Journey, Durham Academy will align its actions more closely with its values. We will prepare our students to be leaders as we strive as an institution to be a leader in the field of sustainability. Our mission to prepare students for a moral, happy, and productive life will take on a new dimension of care for the natural context of that life. Through this journey, DA will educate all constituents, cultivate student creativity, and demonstrate solutions in our curriculum, operations and culture.

For more information, see the full grant proposal here.

Who is the Sustainability Leadership Team?

Denise Shaw (PS faculty)
Tracy Riddle (LS faculty)
Theresa Shebalin (MS faculty)
Karl Schaefer (MS faculty)
Andrea Caruso (US faculty)
Kathy Pierce (MS Administrative Assistant)
Ann Leininger (Parents Council)
Sanju Patel (US student)
Tina Bessias (Sustainability Coordinator)

What are your hopes for DA’s Journey to Sustainability?

Please comment below or contact any of the team members!

Coming soon to a classroom near you!

DA Upper School elective course, fall 2022

Instructor: Tina Bessias, DA Sustainability Coordinator and Independent Study Coordinator

Students in this course will be at the center of Durham Academy’s transition to environmental sustainability. Whether you are new to sustainability or an experienced leader,  you will grow your knowledge base and develop skills that are much in demand as the whole world turns away from unsustainable practices.

Here are some questions the course will address:

  • How and when did human life become unsustainable?
  • What communities are most affected?
  • What countries, organizations, and schools are working effectively to improve?
  • What are DA’s carbon emissions, and how can they be reduced?

In answering the last question, we will work with Green Places, a Raleigh-based startup that we have engaged through a grant from the Innovation Journey Fund. They will help us gather and analyze data about energy use, waste production, transportation, etc.

Contact Ms. Bessias to share ideas or ask questions!

Summer Camp Goes Green

By Sanju Patel ’23 and Miller Roessler ’24

This summer, Miller Roessler and I have partnered with the Evergreen Summer Camp, DA’s all day summer camp for kids ages 4 through 13. Our goal was to develop curriculum about sustainability for the campers, as well as running the compost program at summer camp. Miller and I both worked at summer camp the year before, so we were excited to get to work. We felt that instituting this curriculum was right in line with our recent conversations with the administrative team about including more sustainability in DA curriculum, which has culminated in the assigned reading for teachers this summer. With this in mind, Miller was tasked with creating curriculum for the summer, while I worked out how to bring compost to DA Summer. 


child's drawing

Compost was a huge emphasis of the US Sustainability Committee in the past school year. We are thrilled with how it is going in the Upper School, though we’re still trying to catch up to the Middle School! Our next step was to bring that to success the Lower School and DA Summer. After determining that we would be able to have 4 compost bins at the Lower School over the summer, we chose to have compost start out in four locations: outside the camp store, outside the hock building, out front of the lower school, and back behind the lower school. We informed the rest of the staff of our plan, and most of the staff knew the basics about compost. We felt comfortable they would be able to explain how to compost to their campers, and after speaking with CompostNow to iron out the drop off and pick up of the bins, we felt ready for camp to begin. We did a small skit at morning meeting to introduce composting to the campers. However, we didn’t expect that lunch would be allowed to be eaten inside, since we started camp with an indoor mask mandate. That changed just as camp began, and the first week saw less composting than we had hoped for. Putting some bins indoors near the campers’ lunch areas brought significant improvement, and the bins started to fill up. Hopefully, we see even more composting in the last weeks of summer.


Diving into curriculum was a big task! We had no experience with teaching before, and trying to create lessons that kids from all ages could understand was a challenge. We struggled to highlight specific sustainability topics in the beginning with the limited resources we had, but once we did some more exploring into the large variety of books about sustainability, we came up with some exciting lesson plans. For example, in week two, we read a book called Ms. Fox’s Class Goes Green and created posters that advocated for being more sustainable.

child's poster about not littering

In the next three weeks, we will do some more inspiring lessons, like learning about shared resources and finding out what plants need to survive. 

We are so excited for how this summer has gone, and we are so grateful for Ms. Kantz for encouraging us to make Summer Camp more sustainable. Special thanks to Lucy Steiner and Talbot Waters for their work to make the camp store more sustainable, and to Ms. Mack for helping us with the lesson plans. We have learned a lot, and we can’t wait to improve these next few weeks and next summer.

It’s all happening: Earth Week update

120 members of the class of 2022 are doing 50+ projects (with a bit of assistance from upperclassmen)

Thursday, April 21 will be the 1st ever DA Sustainability Fair!

Video by Taylor Winstead

Earth Week 2022

The Class of 2025 and the Sustainability Committee invite you to participate in the world’s largest secular celebration!

Participate on campus:

  • Tuesday–create a trash mural, start the 72 hour Vegan Challenge
  • Wednesday–turn off lights wherever you can, help make chalk art in the quad, sign up for a Climate Change Workshop
  • Thursday–participate in the Sustainability Fair!
  • Friday–bring drinks and snacks in reusable packages, help make Special Olympics a Zero Waste event

Trick or Treat for Sustainability!

By Matthew Sun ’24, Connor Ennis ’24, and Sanju Patel ’23

On Sunday, October 31, 2021, Upper school Sustainability members Sanju Patel, Connor Ennis, CJ Nwafor, Matthew Sun, Siri Oehler, Holly Wilcox, and Nikolas Larson participated in a dumpster dive chaperoned by Ms. Bessias. Leading up to this, we had previously met with Mr. Benson, the Director of Business Services at DA, and discussed our desire to partner with Green-to-go to save money, reduce waste, and reduce emissions. To follow up on this meeting, and to determine if Green-to-go is a feasible option, the sustainability committee organized this effort to analyze the contents of our school’s waste. 

During the afternoon of Halloween, members of the dumpster dive team met in the parking lot by Kenan Auditorium. We emptied the dumpster and pulled trash out of plastic bags, sorting items into compost, recycling, TerraCycle, and trash.

We found that only a third of the stuff in the dumpster was actually trash.

The rest could be recycled or composted, and there was some TerraCycle material, too. There were a lot of paper towels, toilet paper rolls, food truck lunch waste, pizza boxes, etc., all of which can be composted. We’re working to raise awareness of the pizza box issue, and we have met with Mr. Smith, the Director of Facilities, to make a plan for composting paper towels in the restrooms. 

Compost bins will be placed in the STEM bathrooms after Winter Break, so make sure to look for signs about what to put in them. We are following a plan that the Middle School created at the beginning of this year, and we are so excited!

Another major trash source was just clearly not trash. Who is throwing out computer cases? Gatorade bottles? Come on folks, you are smarter than that! We hope that you consider what you throw out, because you never know who might be watching 🙂

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.