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Cavalier Capstones Offer Upper Schoolers Opportunities to Explore Interests, Locales

Story by Kathy McPherson

The Cavalier Capstones program — comprising culminating, end-of-year experiences for Durham Academy ninth-, 10th- and 11th-graders — is back in full force with a wide range of experiences set for late May 2023. 

The capstone program began in the 2018–2019 school year but was suspended in May 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic and was somewhat limited by COVID-19 in 2021 and 2022. 

Ninth-, 10th- and 11th-graders have pored over the 36-page catalog and ranked their choices for a variety of experiences — those both on and off campus, academic and just for fun, in pursuit of an existing interest and exploration of something that’s completely new.  

“Students who are going on an international trip have been notified because that process has to start now,” said Upper School faculty member Kelly Teagarden '04, who coordinates the Cavalier Capstones program. “Students who are going on domestic capstones do not yet know [their assignments]. We're still placing them and they'll find out next week, hopefully.”

International trips are being offered for the first time since 2019. “It's a big deal that they're back,” Teagarden said. “We're offering six this year [to Mexico, Spain and Morocco, Peru, Greece, South Korea and Costa Rica]. Because of COVID, they haven't been offered the last few years.”

Durham Academy covers students’ expenses for all Cavalier Capstones other than international trips, and families receiving tuition assistance can apply for financial aid to cover a portion of trip costs. 

Equally exciting are adventures that stay close to campus, like Marvel Comics as Cultural History, or travel domestically — and the Civil Rights Tour is a perennial favorite. 

For 11th-graders who’ve spent years studying U.S. history, “it’s seeing history come to life. It's a profound experience to walk across the Edmund Pettus Bridge [in Selma, Alabama], and to meet with foot soldiers who were a part of the movement and a part of the Selma-to-Montgomery marches. They have history become real that they learned about from the textbook all year,” Teagarden said.

Among the new offerings for 2023 are Breaking the Code, which focuses on math and cryptology and will visit the National Cryptologic Museum associated with the National Security Agency; History of Basketball, which includes a four-day trip to the Northeast; Animal Lovers Unite, featuring time with domestic and exotic animals; Coastal Sustainability in Action, in which Upper Schoolers will work with DA third-graders in their coastal ecology study and spend time at the North Carolina coast; and Exploring the Wonderful World of Museums, which will explore the purpose and value of museums.

There are also outdoor adventures — both in the North Carolina mountains and in Eno River State Park — that offer hiking, biking, kayaking and paddle boarding.

“I think the immense value of Cavalier Capstones is that students get to choose [what they want to pursue],” Teagarden said. “They get to experience things outside of the classroom.”

That could be something a student is already dedicated to — an avid  rock-climber could choose a rock-climbing trip — or something entirely new.

Teagarden said she met with a student who's enthusiastic about being in the Top Chef cooking capstone. “He is interested in culinary skills and learning more about culinary arts. He's never done anything with it, but he's really excited to start to learn more about that field, and to be at a cooking school.” 

It’s all up for grabs with Cavalier Capstones.


Want to know what students think about Cavalier Capstones? Here’s what students said about the capstones they participated in May 2022 — Finding American Dreams in Chinatown, Civil Rights Tour and DA Top Chef — and what students are looking forward to with the capstones to Mexico, Spain and Morocco in May 2023.

Emerson Levin ’23:

"The Civil Rights Tour was a life-altering experience that immersed me in communities who keep hope and love alive even though they are still plagued with trauma and injustice. The trip greatly inspired me to bring awareness to these stories and do something to change them."

Amani Diallo ’23:

"The Civil Rights capstone didn’t just provide clarity about Black Americans’ struggles and triumphs, it also invited me to re-evaluate what it means to be a leader in this country. I learned that it is not good enough to just hope for change, you must take action to enact it."

Maika Quiambao ’23:

“The Chinatown capstone was a memorable experience for me because it opened my eyes to the expansive history of the Chinese diaspora in America. As an Asian-American, it made me reflect on how my family assimilated into America while also continuing to celebrate their heritage and culture.” 

Brian Zhou ’23:

“The [Chinatown] capstone was an incredible experience because of the depth of knowledge it provided of seeing and experiencing the effects of gentrification in NYC's Chinatown and hearing from the people who endure it daily. Through talking with locals, especially those taking action to preserve their community like Anna, co-founder of Mott Street Girls, I have hope for a future where NYC's Chinatown will still provide the same feeling of home that it provides today for so many people.”

Lulu Burnside ’24:

“Helping to plan the DA Top Chef capstone was an unforgettable experience and I couldn't have been happier with how it turned out. Everyone that works at C’est Si Bon is like my family, and I’ve learned so much from working with them, so it meant so much to me that my peers expressed so much interest in learning how to work in kitchens! I feel like it was an amazing way for me to give back to my community because cooking is such an essential skill that anyone can learn. I want to thank all of the teachers and students who participated because cooking is only productive with a positive and loving community to work together!”

Camille Moore ’24:

“I was very intrigued when I heard about the Mexico capstone. Mexico was my number one choice because, as someone who has Mexican heritage, doing this capstone and traveling throughout Mexico will give me an authentic view of my own culture, helping me to understand and appreciate it more!” 

Kate Parker ’24:

“I am thrilled by the capstone selection this year because it allows students to explore international history firsthand and immerse ourselves in cultures abroad! Spain and Morocco have such unique customs and traditions, and I am truly looking forward to tasting local dishes as well as visiting architectural wonders like Alhambra.”