Heads Up

Welcome to Heads Up, a blogging experiment that aims to: 

  • connect the people, parts, and principles of Durham Academy;
  • share ideas about learning and human development;
  • spotlight a few of the many wondrous things I get to see every day at Durham Academy. 

Thanks for reading the posts below — and sending news, links and ideas worth sharing. 

Michael Ulku-SteinerHead of School 

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A BIGG deal

On Sunday at 4:00 pm, I’ll be at Durham’s Carolina Theater, supporting my friend and frequent hero Chris Rosati as he and his Inspire MEdia team premiere eight short films about BIGG projects (that’s Big Ideas for the Greater Good).

Tickets are free and the event is open to the public. Click here for tickets and more info.

For those who haven’t heard of Chris, his Krispy Kreme Heist, his appearances on CBS’s On the Road, or his profoundly moving speeches at DA this year, click on the links in this paragraph. Or read the one below (from Inspire Media's website). Or just come on Sunday afternoon. You will leave uplifted.

Three years ago Durham native Chris Rosati was diagnosed with ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s disease. Rather than let the disease get the best of him, Chris decided to instead …

Posted by mulkus on Thursday July 31, 2014
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The secret of effective motivation

Earlier this month, DA Middle and Upper School parent Frances Dowell shared an interesting article.

Frances is the author of of Dovey Coe, The Secret Language of Girls, Ten Miles Past Normal, Shooting the Moon and other novels for young readers. Click here to see her website.

The article describes a fascinating longitudinal study with relevance for every student, teacher, and parent at Durham Academy. An excerpt:

We analyzed data drawn from 11,320 cadets in nine entering classes at the United States Military Academy at West Point, all of whom rated how much each of a set of motives influenced their decision to attend the academy. The motives included things like a desire to get a good job later in life (an instrumental motive) and a desire to be trained as a leader in the …

Posted by mulkus on Tuesday July 29, 2014
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3 idealists + 1 mission + 8 years + 1000 allies = . . . come Tuesday and find out.

Eight years ago, I sat down with three college students who claimed they wanted to change the world. Such claims are not uncommon.

What proved entirely uncommon was the mission of that young trio and the way in which one of those three students has galvanized hundreds of people to support it.

The mission is simple: to empower students in the Durham Public Schools to own their education by developing the academic skills and personal well-being necessary to succeed in college and beyond.

The program that has grown to support that mission is Student U. Click here to see their website and read more about the program.

Today, nearly 400 DPS students spend their summers at Durham Academy and their autumns, winters, and springs pursuing their academic dreams at dozens of Durham public&…

Posted by mulkus on Sunday July 27, 2014
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Mr. Dan's well-earned summer vacation starts tonight

Dan Gilson might be the most popular person at Durham Academy. Long-haired, open-hearted, and abundantly patient, “Mr. Dan” directs our Extended Day and Summer Programs.

During the school year, Dan is a joyful pied piper around our playgrounds and gyms and a skilled administrator in the office. During the summer, he orchestrates a stunning array of academic, arts, athletic, and enrichment camps for children from around the Triangle and beyond. Next month, he begins his tenure as a DA parent (his daughter will begin in Pre-K). 

Today marked the final day of DA’s “Summer Adventure” programs. While thanking his teaching staff for all their work, Dan wrote,

“We had over 1100 children come through our camps this summer, representing over 800 families, many of whom were visiting …

Posted by mulkus on Friday July 25, 2014
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Happy Interdependence Day

3 amigos in AtlantaLast week I completed a long and fruitful trip with my father and son. We met in New Mexico and zig-zagged back to North Carolina via a series of baseball games in major and minor league parks: Albuquerque, Amarillo, Arlington, Houston, New Orleans, Jackson, Tuscaloosa, Atlanta, and home to Chapel Hill. 

During our daily car rides, we watched nearly all of Ken Burns' 18-hour Baseball documentary. We ate green chile enchiladas in New Mexico, barbecued brisket in Texas and gumbo in Louisiana. We sang "America the Beautiful" with the Texas Rangers. We survived a swampy thunderstorm in Houston. We did the tomahawk chop at Turner Field. 

Whether it was a once-in-a-lifetime three-generational retreat, a cultural sprint through the American South, or a refresher course on the culture …

Posted by mulkus on Saturday July 12, 2014
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Cool at 13, Adrift at 23

A flock of friends and colleagues sent me this article from the New York Times - perfect for our Middle and Upper Schoolers, and/or the parents and teachers who love their future selves. An excerpt:

At 13, they were viewed by classmates with envy, admiration and not a little awe. The girls wore makeup, had boyfriends and went to parties held by older students. The boys boasted about sneaking beers on a Saturday night and swiping condoms from the local convenience store.


They were cool. They were good-looking. They were so not you.

Whatever happened to them?

“The fast-track kids didn’t turn out O.K.,” said Joseph P. Allen, a psychology professor at the University of Virginia. He is the lead author of a new study, published this month in the journal Child Development, that followed these …

Posted by in Other on Thursday July 10, 2014
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Ms. Z on WUNC

July is typically quiet around my office on the Upper School campus. This summer, however, as some major renovation work on the Academy Road campus pushes Student U's summer program from their regular home, we are happy to host hundreds of Student U students and dozens of Student U teachers (most of them undergrads from NCCU, UNC, Duke, and NCSU) on our Upper School campus.

Among the most charismatic, tireless, and visionary leaders of Student U is Alexandra Zagbayou, High School Program Director.

Today "Ms. Z." was the main attraction on WUNC's The State of Things with Frank Stasio. Click here to hear the inspiring story of Alex's journey from Montreal to the Ivory Coast to Raleigh to UNC and now to Durham Academy and Student U.

Posted by in Other on Monday July 7, 2014
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The grandest story there is

Among the best guest speakers I can remember at Durham Academy was E. O. Wilson, “the father of sociobiology” and “father of biodiversity.” Wilson was over 70 at the time of his visit. Still he riveted our students like few ever have – with tales of his research on ants, his travels to all parts of the globe, his love for various ecosystems, and his passion for the powers of simple, wide-eyed observation.

Click here for a great (multimedia) introduction to Wilson (named in 1995 by Time magazine one of the most influential 25 Americans and in 2005 by Foreign Policy one of the world’s 100 leading intellectuals).

This week DA parent Catherine Clabby was happy to announce a birth of sorts. For two years she has worked as Senior Editor on E.O. Wilson’…

Posted by in Other on Thursday July 3, 2014
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Teach your daughters well

DA alumna Meghan Scott '13, along with MS Science Teacher Randee Haven O'Donnell, is spending part of her summer inspiring young women at Duke's Action Science Camp, which just completed its 24th year.

Meghan shared a poignant video: "What a little girl hears when you tell her she's pretty".

As did another video I watched this morning (#LikeaGirl, shared by my colleague Leslie King), this one broke through my skepticism of corporate-produced moral messages and brought tears to my eyes.

Here's to a school full of powerful young women who run, throw, and do science like girls!

Images above: #LikeaGirl and Meghan Scott.

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