The years from third to fifth grade were the beginning of a critical time in Chip Lupa’s young life. His mother became very sick with diabetes when he was in third grade, an illness that led to kidney failure, transplant surgery and her death when he was a high school student. “My fifth and sixth grade teachers, in a big public school classroom, still found a way to support me, help me and guide me through some of that.”
Now, as a fourth-grade teacher and Middle School lacrosse coach, Lupa is making a difference in the lives of Durham Academy students.
Lupa grew up in Clifton Park, New York, a place he describes as similar to the Durham-Chapel Hill area. There were lots of suburbs, but Lupa’s family lived farther out because his city-raised dad wanted to have chickens, ducks, geese, sheep, goats, turkeys and bees. “I didn't appreciate it then, but I love looking back on that experience now.”
He didn’t play sports until high school, but it was lacrosse that led Lupa to Canisius College in Buffalo, New York, where he played, and it was a lacrosse connection that eventually brought him to North Carolina.
Lupa took a circuitous route to teaching. After college, he moved to England for a year and taught PE and coached lacrosse at Stockport Grammar School — a school that was founded in 1487 and had lacrosse trophies from the 1800s — and thought he would go into teaching when he returned home. But when he came back to the U.S., college friends who were working in sales “kind of lured me into doing that.” He went from payroll systems to pharmaceutical products to medical equipment. He was on the road a lot and made more money with each job.
“It was fun when I was in my early 20s, but as I got closer to 30, I was thinking that it wasn't really right for me. I talked to a few friends and decided that I wanted to go back to school.” He sold his house in Saratoga Springs and headed to the State University of New York at Oswego to a graduate program for students who had been in the working world and wanted to teach.
As Lupa was nearing the end of Oswego’s two-year program, “I remember sitting on my couch one gray, snowy evening and they had a contest on the TV. One of the news stations asked when was the last time we saw the sun and it literally was 29 days, 27 days or 30. Whatever it was, that's when I was thinking, you need to think about being somewhere else.” The “somewhere else” turned out to be North Carolina, thanks to a lacrosse connection.
Lupa had met Jon Lantzy, now DA’s varsity lacrosse coach and a Middle School PE teacher, when he was playing lacrosse at Canisius College and Lantzy was a graduate assistant coach. After Lantzy became an assistant lacrosse coach at Duke University, Lupa and a college friend routinely came south in the summer to help coach at Duke Lacrosse Camp. When the Wake County Public School System was recruiting teachers at a job fair in upstate New York, Lupa signed on and taught for two years in Cary. He met his wife, Concetta, a pediatric anesthesiologist, in North Carolina and moved to Pittsburgh, where she did a fellowship and he taught at Sewickley Academy, an independent school.
Back in North Carolina, Lupa taught in Cary until the couple had their first daughter, Anna, and “decided it made sense for me to stay home. I was a stay-at-home dad for about five years.”
Lupa cherished his time at home with Anna and then Emilia, but when his daughters were both enrolled at St. Thomas More Catholic School, he became a full-time substitute teacher there. And thanks to his connection with Lantzy, he began coaching Middle School lacrosse at DA. In 2015, when Lupa was ready to become a full-time classroom teacher again, he interviewed at DA, and “I was lucky enough to have an option to come here.” His daughters are now third- and fifth-graders at DA.
Lupa feeds off the energy he experiences in the classroom. “It really is a lot of fun to come into a classroom like this with kids who are motivated. They want to learn, and they really get it. I love seeing those ‘aha’ moments.”
He likes coaching lacrosse with seventh- and eighth-grade boys — “it’s much different than being in a classroom” — but thinks third to fifth grade is his sweet spot when it comes to the classroom.
“Kids at that age really start to want to be independent, and they make great strides at being independent. It's that ability to start kind of thinking for themselves, forming their own opinions and being asked to explain why they have opinions.”
DA’s fourth-grade social studies curriculum touches on intense topics: the Civil War, slavery, World War II and the Holocaust. “It’s interesting to hear the questions they ask. They are forming their own ideas about all of these things that we’re discussing.”
When fourth-graders leave Lupa’s classroom for Middle School, he wants them “to leave with confidence and know that they are ready to handle what’s coming their way. It’s that independence piece: knowing that they are going to be able to navigate their way through the buildings, navigate their way through the classes, know how to handle and manage time with homework, and navigate personal relationships.
“It’s making sure they understand how to interact with others and interact with others who may not share the same opinion. Being able to ask questions, helping with their own learning. Having the confidence, if they don’t understand something, to go find an answer and talk to someone who can help them. And just to enjoy school.”