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How Durham Academy Became Durham E-cademy


It seemed almost like magic the way school transitioned from Durham Academy to Durham E-cademy — poof, from classroom instruction to online instruction in the blink of an eye — but that was far from reality.

Head of School Michael Ulku-Steiner had been following reports of a new virus wreaking havoc in Wuhan, China, and spreading rapidly to other countries. On Feb. 28, he emailed parents that Middle School trips to France and Spain over spring break had been canceled, and said “We are also preparing for the potential that a coronavirus outbreak within our community may dictate a school closure for an extended period of time. … On Wednesday, our Administrative Team began preparing for remote instruction and the delivery of educational materials in case our normal school routine is disrupted.”

On March 5, one day before students and faculty left for a week of spring break, Ulku-Steiner emailed parents, “Because the situation is changing rapidly, we want to prepare our community should circumstances require a school closure. In that event, we are working with faculty to plan for remote learning. DA has an abundance of technological tools available to support online instruction should a closure become necessary.” 

The email advised, “Students should take all necessary educational materials and devices (including chargers) home with them on Friday, March 6. Faculty have been instructed to do the same, in the event that we may need to extend the break due to the directives of state or local public health officials, or due to our own health and safety precautions.”

On March 11, midway through spring break, Ulku-Steiner emailed parents that DA’s spring break would be extended through March 17. His email alerted them, “Beginning Wednesday, March 18, we will move to online learning for all grades and subjects.”

Faculty and staff returned to campus March 16 and 17 — meeting in small groups and keeping socially distanced — to refine plans for online learning. And on March 18 it happened. Teachers who had warmly welcomed students to their classrooms now enthusiastically welcomed them to remote learning. There was anxiety on both sides of the computer screen, but also excitement and optimism.

Ulku-Steiner predicted the disruption of moving school from the classroom to the family room would “spark useful innovation and unleash all kinds of creativity among our teachers and students.”

And did it ever! The pages that follow show how DA faculty, staff, students and parents
made school and learning work in new and amazing ways and kept the Cavalier community connected.