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Innovation Journey Fund: Agile Thinking Seeds Meaningful Change

In the year since Durham Academy launched the Innovation Journey Fund (IJF), 22 out-of-the-box proposals from faculty and staff have been approved to move from concept to concrete. The fund — an outgrowth of the Strategic Vision’s Goal 3, “Innovate more boldly” — encourages discovery, design and implementation of innovative ways of teaching, learning and operating as a school.

Examples of IJF-seeded projects can be seen throughout this magazine, including the two initiatives featured here (and on these pages New College Counseling Team Member Seeks to Build Connections, Help Students Envision Life Beyond CollegeDurham Academy Designs Its Own Advanced, Rigorous, Flexible Upper School Curriculum to Replace AP Courses in 2024–2025, and An Ever-Greener DA Sustainability Efforts Further Take Root in Milestone Year). Proposals are considered three times a year, so some projects have come to fruition and others are in the planning stages.

Math Modeling Club Provides a Launch Pad for New Advanced Course.

While traditional math classes are critical components of a student’s math journey, they don’t have to characterize one’s entire mathematics experience, as Upper Schoolers competing as part of a new extracurricular math modeling club this year learned.

“Mathematical modeling is when you are using math to solve a big, complicated problem, where there may not be one easy right answer, that's based on some kind of phenomenon in the real world,” explained Forrest Hinton, who co-led the group this year with fellow math teacher Jarrod Jenzano. 

Math modeling empowers students to bring together all of the principles that they’ve learned in previous math courses and pair that knowledge with research, writing, coding and presentation skills honed in other subjects. 

Hinton and Jenzano will co-teach a new, semester-long math modeling course beginning in fall 2023. The course — one of the first Advanced (ADV) offerings next year — will be largely project-based, with students being assessed primarily through written reports and presentations. 

“Rather than focusing on abstract concepts — as math classes tend to — we were able to use those concepts in concrete, real-world situations,” said Michael Hansen ’24. “Even beyond our competitive success this year, being on the modeling team has made me understand that math does not exist in a vacuum but rather represents a valuable lens to analyze and describe the central issues that define the world around us.”

Learn more about DA math modeling at


Diaspora Kitchen Explores Communities via Cuisine

 Photos by Margaret Hulka '24    |   Video by Jesse Paddock

Food is about much more than nourishment for bodies — it can also be a reflection of history and a point of connection to one’s homeland, as students in a new Upper School elective course have learned. The course, Diaspora Kitchen, examines the role that food plays in immigration and acculturation, how culinary traditions help keep immigrants connected to their native lands, and how foods of diasporated communities have enriched the Triangle. 

History teacher Thomas Phu teaches the course, which traces its origins to Upper School Capstone that he and Victoria Muradi (now director of strategic initiatives) led in 2019.

“It is really important to think about food as a reflection of people,” Rinal Dahhan ’23 said. “There is so much history behind the food we are cooking, so much narrative behind the people we’re talking about.” 

The class split into small groups, with each concentrating on a different culture. Students spent time talking with people from different groups, exploring why they immigrated to the Triangle and how they’ve enriched their new community. Students then made presentations to their classmates on each diaspora and shared food created with recipes sourced from some of the people they met. 

Students voted to focus the course’s culminating project, a concept restaurant, on the Korean diaspora.

“We’re trying to share the culture we learned so much about with other people and we’re trying to kind of give back to the communities that were so gracious and let us talk to them,” said Maya Dolan ’24. “We want to be able to show that, hey, we really did learn from you and we want to celebrate your culture.”

See Diaspora Kitchen in action:

Other Innovation Journey Fund pilots include:


This project builds on a previous experience to further create opportunities for DA Upper School students to work with underrepresented minorities in STEM. DA is continuing to partner with Maureen Joy Charter School to match students in online mentoring/tutoring opportunities. The DA team is working to improve the structure and implementation of the program through more guided activities for the students. The grant allowed DA to purchase STEM kits.

Real Communication: Meeting the Needs of Advanced-Level Learners

This pilot is tailored to meet the needs of advanced-level Spanish students in practicing their interpersonal speaking proficiency. They will engage in communication with native Spanish speakers overseas through an online platform.

Third Grade Coastal Collaboration

Upper Schoolers participating in the 2023 “Coastal Sustainability in Action'' Capstone partnered with third-graders to learn more about coastal sustainability. Upper Schoolers led activities and writing workshops in the spring and joined the third-graders on their May field trip to the coast.

SteamCraft with Sewing Machines

Quality sewing machines can help students learn that engineering and design can be textile-related too, and that creating pieces that are functional and structurally sound can benefit them and their communities. This grant enables DA to acquire a "fleet" of 10 industrial quality machines and supplies that can be used on any campus at any point in the year for any class in which they could enhance STEAM programming or fine arts.

Competency-Based Learning Pilot Learning Management System

In order to continue to grow the Middle School Competency-Based Learning pilot, teachers need a learning management system designed to track and communicate learning in this way. Two purpose-built learning management systems are being tested to see if either can meet the CBL pilot’s needs.

Faculty & Staff Well-Being Survey

DA’s human resources and wellness teams conducted an anonymous survey to assess faculty and staff based on a number of mental health indicators. Based on the spring survey, the teams will identify priorities and develop wellness programming around priority areas.

Upper School Life Skills: CPR/AED/First Aid Certification

From the spring 2023 semester onward, each ninth-grader will be taught and become certified in CPR, AED and First Aid. Medical emergencies are unpredictable and can happen anywhere. Rather than only a handful of community members being equipped with the tools to provide care during a medical emergency, all students will be knowledgeable and prepared to assist if necessary.

Learn more about the Innovation Journey Fund and other Strategic Vision initiatives at