Sampson County: Bread Basket and Dumping Ground of NC

“Should I stay or leave?” That is the question that Denise Robinson from the Environmental Justice Community Action Network (EJCAN) leading us through Sampson county asks herself every day. With the smell from the hog waste and landfill a constant presence, and accessing clean water and pure air almost impossible, it is an understandable question. Yet for now, it seems that she and her colleagues are staying, as EJCAN has launched a project testing the water in Sampson county, and monitoring the air quality. A minibus full of DA students toured Sampson County with Sherri White-Williamson, Denise Robinson, and Christian Felipe where we had the opportunity to learn about their work and the context around environmental justice in local government and rural areas.

Seeing where our waste goes and the price that comes with our food can be helpful in steering us towards better actions.

The runoff of hog waste that contains toxic growth hormones and other antibiotics is just one of the reasons that their research so far has only proved that the water in Sampson County is dangerous for its residents. Yet they have to walk an extremely delicate line.

Continue reading

Shining a Light on Sustainability

Think about all the lights you use throughout the day. More specifically, picture yourself in Kirby gym. There are 120 light bulbs, each with a specific life cycle and environmental impact. In a world where environmental sustainability is becoming a much bigger conversation, we often look for complex and big ways to reduce our carbon footprint, but sometimes these solutions are simpler than they seem.

Life Cycle of a Light Bulb Flowchart
Continue reading

Attack on Tree of Heaven

On October 1st, DA sustainability committee members, DA faculty members, parents, and experts came together to fight a common enemy: Tree of Heaven. It’s an invasive species from China that is spreading in east coast forests at an alarming rate. Another reason this tree is a problem is that it harbors the spotted lantern fly, an invasive insect that feeds on vegetation such as grapes, apples, hops, walnuts, and other hardwood trees.

During a long ago renovation project at the Upper School, DA acquired an 11 acre plot on Ridge Road as a drop zone for construction equipment. After years of disuse, this lot has turned into a grove filled with Tree of Heaven. The Biodiversity Subcomitee of the Student Government Sustainability Committee organized a workday to tackle this problem. Ms. Caruso (DA environmental science teacher) and Peter Schubert of the North Carolina Invasive Plant Council provided supplies and taught the group how to attack the trees. One method is “Hack and Squirt”, where on a bigger trees, one person uses a hatchet to make a diagonal chop for each inch of tree diameter into the base of the tree. Another person sprays a 20% Glyphosate solution into the chops while a third spray paints the tree to mark that it has been treated. On very thin trees, we used the “Cut and Paint” method: one member cut the trunk straight through and another dabbed the cut surface with Glyphosate. Lastly, there was a team that went around picking up trash and identifying the native and non-native plant and animal species that could be found in the lot. 

After several hours of effort, the work group had treated and/or cut roughly 200 trees in the grove. While we did great work out there, the job is far from finished and it will take many visits and treatments to fully eradicate the Tree of Heaven from the property. DA hopes that this area can be used as a place for sustainable education and future labs.

Internship with GreenPlaces

Business for Good and Operating a Sustainable Company

In the fall, Durham Academy partnered with Green Places, a Raleigh-based company, to measure our carbon footprint. Paul Wang, CJ Nwafor, Owen Brent-Levenstein, and I decided to continue working with them as summer interns. We started in the middle of July, meeting with Green Places’ head of business operations, Jess Porta. On our first day, we were given a tour of Raleigh Founded. Raleigh Founded is an office/community that hosts startups and fosters entrepreneurship in the NC State community.

Image of the Raleigh Founded office, courtesy of Raleigh Founded

Jess and a few other Green Places staff had previously worked for Raleigh Founded, and their mission resonates with the company as a whole.

Continue reading

Electric Bike

All summer I’ve been talking about electric bikes and riding the one I bought in late June. I’ve learned a lot , and many people seem curious, so I’ve pulled together some thoughts–plus a little advice :).

Tina Bessias riding bike in Upper School parking lot
The author on her bike. Photo credit: Kate Auger

Why get an e-bike?

I suppose there are as many answers as people to this one, but I wanted to get exercise and continue reducing my environmental impact. I also really enjoy riding and wanted to do more of it. Though most of my destinations are <5 miles from home, all involve climbing a steep hill that I can only manage once per day on my own steam. With an e-bike, I expected I could climb it twice or more. I could also carry more cargo in the form of growing grandchildren,  groceries, and miscellaneous items (not all at the same time). 

Continue reading

Educating for Sustainability Workshop

Such positive, inspiring, highly informed, data-based and comprehensive content. Not just science-y stuff, as many anticipated. There’s an entry point for all participants.

Andrea Caruso, US Science
Jaimie Cloud speaking into microphone

Jaimie Cloud at DA workshop, August 2022

On October 2-3, DA will offer Jaimie Cloud’s Introduction to Educating for Sustainability. This workshop was first held at DA in August 2022, when some 45 members of the community attended. It’s back by popular demand! The first day is  for a general audience, including parents, administrators, and teachers. The second day goes deeper into curriculum and will be most valuable for educators. Individuals or groups from other schools are invited to at a cost of $250; there is no charge for DA-affiliated participants.

Through simulations, presentations, and hands-on activities, workshop participants will learn about the mindsets and enduring understandings that support sustainability. The focus is NOT on environmental crises and the long list of bad choices that have caused them. Nor is it about tips and tricks for improving recycling. It addresses the underpinnings of sustainability and how they can be incorporated into any subject at any level of schooling. It is positive and empowering. 

Register by September 25 to join us for this event.

Here are some of the comments about the August 2022 workshop.

Brian and Amani

I learned a lot about human behavior and different mindsets and economics.

Brian Zhou ’23

Janna Cloninger ’25: Until this workshop, I hadn’t realized how focused I was on UNsustainability, and it has been really helpful for me to be able to shift that thinking… Another big eye-opener… was the realization that sustainability has to do with every single aspect of life, and so when you begin to learn about how to shift into a sustainable mindset, you begin to learn better ways to think, learn, and conduct yourself in life.

Tara Eppinger (US Faculty): It was thought-provoking, inspiring, and interactive. I felt like I walked away with so many ideas that I could immediately implement. 

Miller Roessler ’24: Education is the most important role in making a shift towards sustainability. Kids can create change and are the future generation that will be left with the power of how Earth will end up. Thus, in order for kids to create change we need to educate them about sustainability, so they can make their own decision on how to be sustainable on Earth. 

There is hope — but we have to do the math, get creative and develop social contracts for the good of the planet. 

Melody Butts, Staff

Kathy Pierce (MS Administration): a good mixture of learning, small group conversation, movement, large group sharing.

Sanju Patel ’23: Education for Sustainability changed the way I thought about education, and showed me the power of changing mindsets.

Michael U-S (Head of School): A fresh, thoughtful, broadly-applicable approach to a topic that can sometimes seem trite or tired. A healthy mix of lecture, Q&A, small-group conversation, large-group discussion, and activities. An approach that is positive and empowering but not Pollyannaish or starry-eyed. [Jaimie Cloud’s] deep experience shines through! 

Sloan Nueurnberger (PS Faculty): Jamie Cloud fully and successfully convinced me that education is critical in making the shift toward sustainability. I was so impressed with the students… and their knowledge and concern about sustainability.

Educating for Sustainability is an antidote to despair!

Amelia Fay ’25

Sustainability Fair 2023

The Class of 2026 took the lead in organizing DA’s Earth Week celebrations. They visited classes in the Pre- and Lower Schools, they organized a nature walk and a scavenger hunt on campus, they got 60 people to forego the diesel bus ride to walk through Sandy Creek Park to get to Special Olympics. And they created stations for the Upper School Sustainability Fair. Here’s what the action on the Quad looked like on Wednesday morning, April 19.

Tiny Climate Acts – Register Yours Today!

Woman on scooter

What small acts of kindness do you practice for the planet? Share them this month as Durham Academy participates in the Green Places Tiny Climate Acts challenge. Between now and Earth Day, April 22, you can register acts such as picking up litter, riding a bike, and composting food scraps.  We have lots of people making a difference! Let’s make that difference visible and encourage each other through this contest.  Students, parents, employees, and alumni can register as part of the DA team.

Green Places will plant a tree for every tiny act that’s registered. That could result in the removal of over 200 megatons of carbon dioxide from our atmosphere as those trees mature.

Sustain-In Results

Approximately 100 people attended the Sustain-In on February 23 and spent the evening–or the whole night–talking sustainability at Durham Academy. There was attention to nature, thanks to a presentation by Merritt Schulz ‘25 and a night walk led by science teacher Andrea Caruso. There was discussion of the role sustainability plays in the school’s culture and mission. And there was an element of competition. Thanks to an anonymous donor, $10,000 of seed money was available to speed implementation of proposals.  

Continue reading

DA Delegation to Youth Climate Summit

On Monday, February 20, seven members of the Sustainability Committee attended the Youth Climate Summit at the Museum of Life and Science. It was wonderful to hear from peers throughout our community about their passion for sustainability. We heard professional presentations about climate justice and a citizen science program to identify heat islands and create an equitable tree cover. We participated in workshops about lobbying elected representatives and designing a sustainable city. The event left us with a broader appreciation for the work of environmental scientists, lobbyists, and activists in our community. Change is happening in our area, and every student and adult can propel us into a future of stopping climate change!

Students in front of rocket

At the end of the Summit, student delegations were challenged to create a Climate Action Plan for our own schools. We discussed how we can advocate for carpooling throughout all three campuses of DA to decrease our carbon footprint. Students brought in different perspectives on how this could be implemented, brainstorming ideas about how to motivate parents, develop carpooling competitions, or even create quiet spaces that make students want to stay on campus. We’re excited to continue developing these ideas at the Sustain-In on Thursday!