How low can we go? Reducing trash at concessions stand

By Ann Leininger, DA Parents Council Sustainability Liaison

Following the lead of the Middle School, parents in charge of the athletics concession stand near the tennis courts set up a waste management station to help customers minimize the waste that goes to landfills. Gatorade bottles, pizza boxes, snack packages, and plastic film (from the cases of soda and Gatorade) have the potential to generate a significant amount of waste!  But the parents adopted the system of fifth grade science teacher Dr. Shebalin and her students, who have set up waste stations with separate containers for recyclables, compostables, plastic film, snack wrappers and trash. Each container has a sign to indicate what goes inside it. The station at the concession stand was set up in time for Alumni Weekend events at the Upper School. Other trash and recycling containers were moved out of the area so that people had to go to the waste management station to dispose of their waste.  Sustainability Committee students were on hand to help with sorting.

The waste management station was well used by all in attendance.  Looking ahead, we hope to establish these waste management stations throughout the Upper School campus.

Preschool Faculty Embraces Sustainability

Jessica Whilden, Sloan Nuernberger, Lori Hanks, Elizabeth Parry

The Preschool faculty is embracing sustainability, even when it comes to sustenance.  At the Preschool’s back-to-school faculty meeting this August, our Director, Christian Hairston-Randleman, gave all the teachers culinary kits and water bottles.  She did this to actively support the sustainability initiative at Durham Academy.

Each TOPBOOC culinary kit contains a metal fork, spoon, knife, straws, chopsticks and a cleaning brush.  So, rather than ordering large boxes of plastic silverware as we have in the past, we will only have a few “emergency” supplies for students who have forgotten their utensils for lunch.   Also, the large, metal water bottles have reduced the need to order single-use plastic water bottles.  

Kindergarten teachers Mrs. Whilden, Mrs. Nuernberger, Mrs. Hanks, and Ms. Parry are showing off their culinary commitment to sustainability.

Faculty Summer Readings on Sustainability Theme

Each year, Durham Academy kicks off our return to school with discussions of summer reading. Most folks think that summer reading remains a student experience, working through an assigned text to be ready to discuss it in first week English classes, but faculty and staff do summer reading, too! Usually we pick a focus for our reading, choose from a series of texts and meet during the week of opening meetings to have book club-style conversations. And we have fun doing it. 

To help kick off the 2022-23 sustainability focus for DA, our summer reading was all about climate change, land use, environmental activism, dietary choices, activism, and most importantly, hope. We hoped to do what we do best: look at sustainability from the perspective of education. How could we learn more? Our choices represent a range of topics, viewpoints and genres, providing something for anyone and everyone. Curiosity drove individual selections, and while some texts were more popular than others (Jane Goodall, I see you…), each text drew at least a few interested readers. 

DA Sustainability Summer Reading List:

The Activist: A Novel by Alec Connon (2016)

Speed & Scale: An Action Plan for Solving Our Climate Crisis Now by John Doerr (2021)

The Book of Hope by Jane Goodall (2021)

The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History by Elizabeth Kolbert (2015)

How Beautiful We Were: A Novel by Imbolo Mbue (2021)

Oil and Honey: The Education of an Unlikely Activist by Bill McKibben (2014)

This Radical Land: A Natural History of American Dissent by Daegan Miller (2018)

The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals by Michael Pollan (2006)

The Overstory: A Novel by Richard Powers (2018)

The Ministry for the Future: A Novel by Kim Stanley Robinson (2020)

I chose Robin Wall Kimmerer’s Braiding Sweetgrass and found a gentle meditation on the ways that scientific and indigenous ways of knowing combine to help us understand our community as one of humans, animals and plants, interconnected and interdependent. My discussion with fellow readers allowed us to share the ways that we have connected and disconnected from nature in our journeys and to wonder if indigenous ways of knowing are compatible with our consumerist culture. 

Several faculty and staff members shared their experiences reading and discussing their text. Many made personal connections and others looked at ways to bring the learning directly to DA. US Dean of Students Tyrone Gould “enjoyed how Omnivore’s Dilemma balanced inviting readers to reconnect with the food industry while also challenging us to reflect on our relationship with the food we consume. Our group discussion brainstormed creative ways to both connect and promote local CSAs (Community-Supported Agriculture) with the DA community.” MS Assistant Director Gerty Ward shared that The Overstory “is often said to be speaking for the trees,” while Erika McCarthy pointed out the difficulty in connecting this perspective to DA’s sustainability goals because DA is in the business of children and none of the novel’s characters have children.

Other folks found personal connections to the stories and challenges presented in the texts. US World Languages Teacher Constanza de Radcliffe shared her group’s reactions to the novel How Beautiful We Were by Imbolo Mbue, a Cameroonian-American novelist, saying: 

As a group, we realized the novel hit close to home. A very similar case happened in the 90’s in my home country, Colombia, where the U’wa indigenous community took up a foreign oil company in court in an attempt to save their ancestral land. Several of us were familiar with the oil and mining industries through past jobs or family connections. All of us reflected on our use of non-renewable fuel, or the electric alternative, which in its own way still presents environmental challenges. At the heart of Mbue’s writing and our discussion though, was the humanity of the affected community, and our own humanity. 

Director of Marketing and Communications Leslie King shared the following about Rising

I grew up in Miami and the Keys and spent most of my childhood in or around the ocean. When you grow up in a place where hurricanes are prevalent, you develop a deep appreciation of nature’s power and its ability to change lives and livelihoods at any moment. Hurricanes destroyed my junior high/high school and my grandparents’ home. I grew up in and go home to a place where development continues in spite of that threat and where the ocean and increased storm flooding are slowly destroying not just the coastline but entire neighborhoods. Global warming is changing where I grew up, forever. Rising was a fascinating look at the impact of this slow-motion crisis on communities across the country and I loved its journalistic lens on storytelling.

If you, too, love to read, miss your youthful summer reading experiences, want to learn more about sustainability or just want to read what the cool folks are reading, we invite you to join us. All you need to do is select a book from the list, read it, share your thoughts in comments on this blog and/or reach out to talk with some fellow readers.

Here are the questions we used as a starting point for reading, thinking and reflecting on the readings.

  • What is your opinion on the book?
  • What did you learn about sustainability from your chosen book? What new ideas or information did you glean?
  • What was the author’s attitude towards the issues he/she/they addressed? 
  • How did the book make you feel about our progress (or lack thereof) on sustainability? Are you any more or less hopeful after reading? 
  • Is there anything you’ll do differently after reading the book?
  • Did the author propose or reference any solutions to our current sustainability dilemmas?
  • Are you curious about anything now that you’ve read this book? If so, how do you plan to carry that curiosity forward?

Please join us on our journey to a more sustainable future!

Change Your Search – Plant Trees

The Carbon Almanac Book Cover
A book, website, and movement.

I have long read Seth Godin’s writings; each day, Seth sends me a message to my inbox with his thought for the day. Over the summer, I read about his work with the crew working on the book and website The Carbon Almanac. I have been reading a lot of books lately about Climate Change. The Uninhabitable Earth by David Wallace-Wells, The New Climate Wars by Michael E. Mann, The World Without Us by Alan Weisman, and I chose The Sixth Extinction by Elizabeth Kolbert for this summer’s faculty discussion book.

I am a farmer and old enough to have celebrated the first Earth Day when still in high school. I thought of myself as a good steward of the land and planet. I do my part with how I live my life, and yet when I heard my then thirteen-year-old granddaughter explain that teenagers are so depressed because they know the world is going to end, I was and still am sad and confused about how we ended up here. We took on the Chlorofluorocarbons, found alternatives, and helped close the massive Ozone holes in our atmosphere. Each year in STEAM by Design, we use the theme of Sustainable Development Goals for projects and to raise awareness.

Yet, here we are with increasing Climate disasters and what seemed like fewer options going forward. That is when I saw the tag line to the book and website “It’s Not Too Late,” which is true as until we as a species draw our last breath of oxygen on this planet, it is not too late. That is why I like to spell the word Sustainable as Sustain ABLE since as long as we are ABLE, we can sustain this planet. That is why the actions Durham Academy have adopted are so important, as we are ABLE to put action and funding towards action for all of us on the planet.

We can all do something else that Seth suggests: to change our Search when we use the internet. I have done it and feel better already, although I have yet to plant a tree. It takes about 45 searches for that to happen. Read more at and make the switch today. I also like getting The Daily Difference message from The Carbon Almanac as it gives me something to think about.

We’re all in this together!

Lessons from the Educating for Sustainability workshop

Jaimie Cloud leading discussion

What does it mean to Educate for Sustainability? On August 9th and 10th, 2022, DA faculty and staff, upper school students, and parents, welcomed Jaimie Cloud of the Cloud Institute for Sustainable Education to lead us in answering this question for ourselves. 

While many folks anticipated hearing the refrains of “compost to reduce food waste”, or “reduce, reuse, recycle”, we were instead led in a more encompassing experience: exploring how schools can foster a sense of agency amongst all community members and can motivate learning and action in service of long term sustainability goals.  

The first activity involved a “fishing” simulation in a pool of finite resources. Jaimie led us to reflect afterward on the mental models that governed our choices as we competed, or unsuccessfully collaborated, with others to harvest from this “commons.” We realized that focusing on individual coping strategies, and thinking of ourselves as separate from ecosystems, resulted in failure. 

Through a series of lectures, discussions, games, and opportunities for reflection, participants bonded across ages, departments, and institutional roles. They came to realize the truth of the adage “we’re all in this together”. In exit surveys, adults described feeling inspired by the powerful contribution of students, and students wrote with appreciation about adults taking days out of their summer to focus on sustainability. Everyone seemed to leave with a sense of optimism.

Ultimately, Jaimie encouraged us to:

  • Find our own entry points into this work and recognize the different entry points of others. While the hope is for more collective action, recognize that individuals have their own motivations that drive them, and unique skills to apply.
  • Distinguish symptoms from problems and look at the highest level problem in our area of influence. She called this “looking upstream.” Sometimes we can feel empowered to make big change…other times, we need to start small and accept what we can’t control.
  • Avoid focusing on UNsustainability. Teachings and media that promote doom and gloom shut people down, whereas a change in mindset allows for more optimism and motivation to take action individually and collectively. 
  • Keep our eyes on the goal and monitor indicators of success along the way. 

With the coaching from Jaimie Cloud, participating faculty will “sustainabilize” lesson plans and curriculum, helping students develop more flexible, creative, problem solving mindsets. 

Concurrently, consultants from Green Places will help DA develop metrics to measure the carbon footprint of our four divisions. Through this work, we will identify the most significant and targetable sources of carbon emissions and pollution (e.g., waste generation, energy use, vehicular emissions, water pollution). Creative, collaborative action steps will develop from there (Jaimie recommends taking the most “visible, desirable, and doable” action steps first). 

Most importantly, all these actions require social contracts. Once we’ve identified our contributions to environmental problems, we must work together joyfully, creatively, and collaboratively, to discover and execute solutions. Whether we’ve been engaged in this work for years, or are just building awareness of environmental issues, all must recognize we only have one planet. We are all in this together!

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