Story by Kathy McPherson
Moral. Happy. Productive. Those three words are front and center on the homepage of Durham Academy’s website. Scroll down a bit and you’ll see this: “The purpose of a Durham Academy education is to prepare each student to live a moral, happy and productive life.”
This mission statement is part of the DA DNA — starting with a student’s first days of Preschool and continuing through senior commencement — and a new part-time position at the Upper School is helping older students focus on how they can claim that as their own.
“We talk about being moral, happy and productive. Well, what leads to happiness? Hypothetically, we hope that you're doing something that you love,” said Lori Reade, who is the new student development and career exploration counselor at the Upper School. “It's not just for money, it's not just for status, but it's something that's purposeful and meaningful in your world. Hopefully, you're also giving back and contributing.”
Reade’s new position — she has worked at DA for 19 years in a variety of roles — is an outgrowth of Goal One of DA’s Strategic Vision: “Prepare our students for life.” The position was funded for 2022–2023 and renewed for 2023–2024 through the Strategic Vision’s Innovation Journey Fund, which supports discovery, design and implementation of innovative ways of teaching, learning and operating as a school.
Jazmin Garcia Smith, DA’s senior dean of college counseling, saw the need for adding a student development and career exploration counselor to the college counseling team. The new position is intended to introduce students to a range of real-life opportunities including professional work experiences, internships and potential career paths, and build a network of parents, alumni and community members who support students with opportunities for résumé building and career exploration.
DA’s three college counselors — Garcia Smith, Christopher Briggs and Katie McEnroe — typically begin meeting one-on-one with students in the 11th-grade year.
“In that first conference, my colleagues and I saw that our students were coming in not really sure of what their academic interests were, still unsure of what career paths might be available to them,” Garcia Smith said. “And we felt very strongly that there was a real need for some of that development to happen in both the ninth and 10th grade.”
Reade partners with DA’s three college counselors, working with ninth- and 10th-graders “to help them develop and have conversations about who you are, getting them ready and giving them career exposure. They can start thinking about the college counseling process a little bit earlier on, and also get some experience so that when they move into the college counseling process they are better informed.”
Reade is a resource for all Upper School students, but her focus right now is on students in grades nine and 10. She has held a 30-minute, one-on-one meeting with all 114 members of the sophomore class.
“The initial push to meet with all of the sophomores has been great, because it establishes a relationship with them,” Reade said. “It helps them kind of dispel a lot of anxieties that they might have about moving into college counseling and not feeling known. Coming off COVID, it's been just kind of a really unusual transition into high school.”
Reade asked each sophomore about their experience entering high school: “What was the highlight of your freshman year? How did you manage COVID? Were there any frustrations with that?” she explained. “Who are you? What kind of classes are you enjoying? Are there classes that you wish DA had? What are some things that you're most looking forward to? Have you started thinking about a career path?”
Her goal is to take them outside the realm of just thinking about college and get them thinking about the bigger picture. “Really, it's building a connection with a student so that somebody sees them and they feel more known on campus. I think a big piece of what we learned from COVID is that kids felt disconnected.”
Zara Miller ’25 said speaking with Reade “has been really useful as the first couple of steps to learn about colleges, and just to talk about my future with an adult who already knows so much information about different careers and paths and stuff. It was really good that we got to speak about my interests specifically, and how I can use my interests to then think about what are the passions that fuel me and how that could be useful.”
Miller is interested in environmental activism and politics. Reade helped her apply for the N.C. House of Representatives page program. She was accepted and will serve in Raleigh this summer. Miller is waiting to hear from Yale Young Global Scholars, a program Reade helped her find.
Andy Ye ’26 and his mother met with Reade for help with selecting classes for sophomore year. “She told me which teachers had teaching styles that really benefit me, and she gave me a ton of resources. She gave me a website, it's called O-Net, where basically you list your interests, and it helps you find a job based off of your education. And it was really useful. … I'm really interested in the STEM field, and Ms. Reed helped me pick out classes for next year.”
Ye said Reade also gave him “a really helpful strategy. She told me that I should actually get a piece of paper and write down all of my strengths and weaknesses. That way, I know what to work on. … I definitely need to work on my time-management skills. Being able to really sit down and focus on one thing is something I have trouble with. And something I'm good at is I like to learn new things and really dive deep into them.”
Reade was also a resource for Mia Kirdar ’23 as she’s heading toward college. “She helped me practice for my Northwestern [University] interview. She was really helpful in telling me what things that I should point out and explaining how interviews work. And she helped me with a résumé. It's something that as a senior, it's important to have. … I want to major in psychology, but I don't think I want to be a psychologist. She talks about all the things that [one] can do with a psychology major, and all those things and people that she knows.
Kirdar said one of the biggest ways Reade has been helpful is “that she is most interested in what you're passionate about, not what's going to make you the most money or whatever, but what you're passionate about in a sustainable way. …. She has like the perfect balance between support and go chase your dreams but also how are we going to do that? Make sure that you can chase your dreams in a way that's going to keep you afloat and you know, surviving.”
Reade spent four years as a teaching assistant at the Lower School, worked with the DA Enrollment Management office for 13 years and has been an Upper School advisor for three years, but her training is in counseling. She majored in psychology at UNC-Chapel Hill, earned a master’s degree in community agency counseling, has a post master’s education specialist degree in marriage and family counseling, is license eligible as a school counselor and recently was credentialed as a board certified coach, focusing her coaching hours on personal and career coaching.
Reade said the highlight of any day is meeting with students. She helps them to be more reflective about who they are and encourages them to think about possible career paths. Reade has set up extensive lists of internships, volunteer opportunities, job-shadowing possibilities and other resources on a Veracross page (accessible to DA families with a login) and promotes upcoming events via the @da_careerconnections Instagram feed. She serves as an advisor to the Upper School Career Club, which has brought a series of speakers — a voice actor, an auction house professional, a N.C. Superior Court judge and a panel of recent DA alumni — to campus this year.
Reade encourages students “to spend some time being introspective about who they are. Because the better informed they are about what makes them tick, what they like, what motivates them, things that they're just fascinated by or curious about, those things can better inform choices that they make as they pick classes, as they think about potential career paths, as they think about colleges. It helps better inform the process, and I think you make better choices when you're more informed.”
And as for Reade, “It is truly a gift to spend meaningful one-on-one time with our students, exploring who they are and hope to become, and without the focus being on grades and college. To have them trust me enough to share the things that have meaning in their lives, both inside and outside of school, is something that I cherish.
“Establishing these personal connections and hopefully helping them find future opportunities to build their skills and knowledge is the best part of my day. I am tremendously grateful to DA for creating this position with the belief that it will have an impact on helping prepare our students for their lives ahead.”