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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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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DA debate: rags to riches in a decade

Having watched coach Jeff Welty establish the first viable DA debate team just a decade ago, I have been so proud and pleased to see our speech and debate program flourish. And "flourish" is an understatement.

Jeff (who continues as an Assistant Coach) and his successor (Robert Sheard, who has distinguished himself as one of the nation's top debate coaches) have joined with scores of talented and dedicated students to create a speech and debate juggernaut.

The team's performance at the 2014 National Forensic League's National Speech & Debate Tournament was one for the record books. Perhaps most notable, recent graduates Will Ruff and Justin Katz wrapped up their DA debate careers in style with a second-place finish in Public Forum Debate. As a result, the pair clinched the season-…

Posted by in Upper School, Other, Alumni on Wednesday June 25, 2014
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Teaching across the bridge on Ridge Road

Hill Center Math Teacher Sarah Hudspeth has organized a home-grown summer conference for math teachers to share their best teaching practices. Faculty will gather on July 28 and August 13 to trade strategies and continue cementing the professional bonds between DA and the Hill Center.

Topics on tap: technology integration, differentiation, grading, test creation, building conceptual understandings, graphic organizers, math journals, review games and activities, action research and more.

In her collegial invitation, Sarah offers some summer food for thought: “Why do we teach mathematics? Especially in the age of calculators?”

She also shares one person’s answer, in the form of Jordan Ellenberg’s new book How Not to Be Wrong; The Power of Mathematical Thinking.

Posted by in Other on Friday June 20, 2014
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Student U and You

I keep hearing about Student U but I don't know what it is."

I've heard this refrain several times in recent months. Now I have the answer.

On July 9 and 29, Student U invites any and all interested visitors to see the program in action and be amazed by the brilliance of our students. See classes in session, meet teachers, and hear from executive director Dan Kimberg, program directors and students.


The visits will be held from 8:30 AM - 10:00 AM at DA's Upper School campus. Click on one of the following dates to reserve a spot:


Wednesday, July 9th
Tuesday, July 29th


If you can't make one of the Visitors Days, check out Student U's new website and learn about one of Durham's most effective world-changing organizations.

Posted by in Other on Thursday June 19, 2014
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Sheppy's going-away present - to DA

Today on the DA Facebook page, First Grade Teacher/Filmmaker Rosemary Nye and our communications team posted the short story of Sheppy Vann's Ice Cream Social - a beautiful video about a beautiful woman doing beautiful work for the last 30 years. Click here to see the film.

In my column for the summer edition of the DA Record (due in mailboxes in a couple of weeks), I wrote about Sheppy, her trademark traits, and the ways in which she has shown us the path toward an even more caring, nimble, inclusive, and joyful learning community.

For now, let me just say this: those who wish to honor Sheppy can follow her instructions and make a donation to the Sheppy Vann Preschool Scholarship Fund, which aims to make the DA experience accessible to the widest range of children possible. We have raised…

Posted by in Lower School, Other on Wednesday June 18, 2014
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Containing Ebola

June seems to be DA alumni month on my blog. As the summer vacation begins for our current students, their elders are busy doing amazing things in the world. Today's example: Dr. William Fischer, whom I knew as the somewhat mischievious Billy Fischer in my first years of teaching at the Upper School. From UNC Healthcare's website:

UNC’s Dr. William Fischer II has been working in an isolation area in Gueckedou, Guinea since May 28, 2014, as part of team from Doctors without Borders (Médecins Sans Frontières/MSF) to try to help reduce mortality from Ebola Virus in rural communities. Dr. Fischer was recruited by the World Health Organization (WHO) because of his critical care medicine expertise. With Dr. Fischer’s, permission we are posting his descriptive emails …

Posted by in Other, Alumni on Tuesday June 17, 2014
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When We Were Young and Unafraid

I would love to imagine that I taught Sarah Treem to write in my 10th Grade English class at DA.

The truth: Sarah was so wise and graceful with her prose, even then, that I had little to offer her as a writer.

Now, nearly 20 years later, I couldn't be more proud of her work.

Sarah '98 (who has written for HBO's In Treatment, Netflix's House of Cards, and Showtime's The Affair) was featured last week in a New York Times article about a pair of playwrights. Her play When We Were Young and Unafraid opens tomorrow at City Center in a Manhattan Theater Club production.

Click here to see my earlier post on Sarah. Or here to see the full New York Times preview of her latest play.

Update on Wednesday morning: click here to see the enthusiastic NYT review of opening night.

Posted by in Other, Alumni on Monday June 16, 2014
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