The Magic of ‘In Real Life’

For nearly two years, many of the once-familiar sights and sounds of Durham Academy’s campuses were missing due to COVID-19 mitigation measures. Campuses were closed in spring 2020, and the school operated in a hybrid remote/in-person model for much of the 2020–2021 school year. But — with students on campus five days a week in 2021–2022 — cherished activities and traditions have returned as the school begins to transition from pandemic to endemic COVID-19 and a “new normal” of school life.

Performing Arts

Performing arts productions — so often a dance between performers and an appreciative audience — just aren’t the same over a Zoom connection. So the return of in-person performances to Durham Academy auditoriums meant a great deal to the student musicians, dancers, actors and production crews.

One of the first groups to return to the stage was the cast and crew of Eurydice, the Upper School fall play, in October.

“It was really hard because it was my junior year and I didn't know if we would go back senior year to ‘normal,’” stage manager Neha Srivats ’22 said just before Eurydice opened. “I thought maybe Addams Family [the 2020 winter musical] would have been my last production at DA, and I was really sad. … It's really crazy because it feels like so long since I've done something like this, but also I feel like no time has passed. I feel like we're just getting right back to normal.”

Since then, there have been about a dozen arts performances in Kenan Auditorium, including musical ensembles, dance concerts, the annual A Cappella Jam and the winter musical, Twelfth Night.

On the Middle School campus, perhaps even more anticipation had built for the return of performing arts. After all, the brand-new Horton Hall — a 500-seat auditorium, now Durham Academy’s largest gathering space — needed to be christened. As students took to the stage this year for music ensemble concerts, movement shows, theatre performances and a musical showcase, the evidence of their hard work seemed fitting for the grandeur of the new space.

“[We] just got to witness an incredible feat of genius, humor, ensemble work and artistry this afternoon,” Middle School movement teacher Mary Norkus said in an email to colleagues after watching the seventh- and eighth-grade play. “… The laughter from the house and the courageous and polished energy of the actors was such a gift. It has been a long haul since the last drama production in Taylor Hall [the since-demolished former Middle School auditorium]. They are back!”

Speech and Debate

In early April, members of Durham Academy’s speech and debate program competed in their first in-person event since February 2020, and they did so in grand fashion: The team won the Governor’s Cup at the 2022 Tarheel Forensic League State Championship tournament, marking the school’s second consecutive state speech and debate championship. Highlighting a long list of individual student accolades at the tournament, Mukta Dharmapurikar ’22 was named the John Woolen Student of the Year.

“After over two years of virtual competition,” coach Crawford Leavoy said, “this tournament set up an unprecedented challenge: Compete at the most important tournament in the state in a modality that three-quarters of the team had never competed in.”

Versatility and flexibility have been hallmarks of the team, which has transitioned from in-person to online, honed skills in hybrid practices, and taken on the challenge of once again competing in person.

Team members also hosted a virtual version of the Cavalier Invitational & Challenge in mid-January, and their hard work was rewarded with the National Debate Coaches Association’s William Woods Tate Tournament of the Year honor. Durham Academy, which has hosted the tournament since 2015, is one of two award recipients this year.

This year’s Cavalier Invitational — run by Leavoy and student tournament director McKenna Morris ’23, with help from classmates — drew nearly 1,000 student participants and judges representing 91 schools from across the nation.

Watch a video documenting the Cavalier Invitational

Science Olympiad

When Durham Academy’s Science Olympiad teams traveled to Raleigh for the state tournament in late April, it had been more than two years since they last competed in a fully in-person competition.

15 Upper Schoolers and 15 Middle Schoolers qualified to compete in the state-level competitions by virtue of their performance at regionals.

“This was the first time in two years that the teams competed fully in person, and it was exciting to interact with other teams and students from across the state,” said chemistry teacher Dr. Jen Look, who coaches the Upper School team along with Upper School science teacher Andrea Caruso. “We are incredibly proud of all our Science Olympians who participated throughout the year. They explored their interest in a wide range of STEM topics, practiced great teamwork skills and had a lot of fun.”

The Upper School team won medals in six events, including first in the state in Anatomy & Physiology (ninth-grader Oliver Guan and senior Julianna Hallyburton). The Middle School team finished 16th in the state overall, medaling in five events, including first place in Bottle Rocket (eighth-grader Kent Lee and seventh-grader Adam Tsui).

“This team showed great spirit and also proved that the future of DA Science Olympiad is very bright,” said Middle School coach Howard Lineberger, who teaches Upper School science. “Our parental support was invaluable and was the best that I have seen during my 24 years as a DA Science Olympiad coach.”

Parents Association

The relaxation of COVID protocols allowed for the return of cherished community events hosted by Parents Association this year, including longtime favorites like the All-School Picnic and Turkey Trot.

Volunteers reinvented a few activities, like hosting grade-level-specific Dine With DA dinner gatherings for families. And in response to parents’ desire for more opportunities to connect with other adults, Parents Association hosted an evening of adult workshops focused on topics like cookie decoration, charcuterie board creation and dance for fitness.

After a two-year hiatus, students were particularly thrilled to welcome back Parents Association’s Used Book Sale and Bake Sale in April. For Lower Schoolers, the book sale marks a much-anticipated mini field trip and preview of the Middle School. The sale resulted in $9,500 being raised for Durham Academy and many thousands of books enriching the lives of DA students, faculty and staff — plus about 2,500 books being donated to literacy support organization Book Harvest and other community organizations.

Special Events

First- and second-graders staged a music performance for parents and caregivers in March with a theme that was representative of how much of the Durham Academy community has felt over the last couple of years: “We’ve MISSed You: Movement, Instruments, Songs, Stories.”

Preschoolers have been delighted to perform class plays and belt out their favorite Fall Songfest musical numbers for audiences filled with adoring family members. And Nanas, Papas and Abuelas were all smiles as they watched third-graders light up the Brumley Performing Arts Building stage for Grandfriends Day.

“We’ve missed you! And we are so excited to have you here to share some of our favorite movements, instruments, songs and stories from music class with you,” Lower School music teacher Luke Hoffman wrote in the program for the first- and second-grade music performance.
“… Despite the challenges of the past couple of years, sharing my passion for music in such a wonderful environment makes teaching a true joy.”