Student Wellness

A vital component of a "moral, happy, productive" life — Durham Academy's goal for each student — is physical, social/emotional and mental wellness. Throughout our school, from pre-kindergarten to 12th grade, faculty work together to support students' wellness and to equip students with age-appropriate skills for lifelong well-being.

Aiming to enhance care for students and bolster our medical policies and procedures, DA also relies on multiple health professionals.

Licensed Nurse Practitioner Sarah Chaires is DA’s medical consultant. Occasionally, parents may hear from Chaires regarding health alerts and advice.

Dr. Walker Robinson serves as DA’s collaborating physician, supervising sports medicine education programming and schoolwide health care policies and protocols.

These health professionals support the front-line care offered already by Kim Allison in the Preschool and Lower School Infirmary.

Learn more about wellness at DA 

Physical Wellness 


Pre-kindergartners and kindergartners explore healthy food choices in cooking classes. Students learn beginner cooking skills, like how to chop vegetables safely and mix ingredients, and then experience the excitement of tasting the finished product. We find that students are more likely to try dishes with new ingredients if they have had a hand in creating them!

Three days a week, Preschoolers participate in physical education class, which offers a fun introduction to the importance of physical activity. The Preschool PE curriculum emphasizes basic body management, locomotor and non-locomotor skills, manipulative activities, games of low organization, rhythmic activities and gymnastics. In addition to PE class, time is set aside for free play during recess each day.

Lower School

Every day, Lower Schoolers participate in physical education class, where the focus is on developing habits that lead to a lifetime of good health. PE teachers lead students through units on nutrition; they detail the components that are present in healthy meals, and explain why those components are important for fueling healthy bodies.

PE teachers expose students to a wide variety of sports and games as a means of developing a lifelong love of movement and physical fitness. In addition to PE class, time is set aside for free play during recess each day.

Middle School

Twice every seven days with their advisory groups, Middle Schoolers participate in grade-specific programs that address physical wellness topics — specifically, healthy eating and alcohol/drug education. Complementing these regular discussions is a speaker from Freedom from Chemical Dependency, a nonprofit substance abuse prevention organization.

In addition, all Middle Schoolers participate in physical education class six days out of a seven-day rotation. In addition to continuing to expose students to games, sports and other means of physical exercise, PE teachers devote time to discussions about alcohol and other drugs, nutrition, personal hygiene, as well as the muscular, endocrine and reproductive systems.

The Middle School fields competitive athletic teams in a variety of sports for seventh- and eighth-graders — from basketball and soccer to Ultimate Frisbee. All fifth- and sixth-graders participate in intramural volleyball and kickball games after school with their advisory groups.

Upper School

All Upper Schoolers participate in annual substance abuse prevention programs led by the Upper School Assist Team, a group of faculty trained by Freedom from Chemical Dependency to offer support and education around issues related to drugs and alcohol. 

Each spring, the Upper School hosts a wellness fair during which students have the opportunity to chat with representatives from local health-related organizations, practice CPR, learn new exercise moves, get advice from nutritionists and sample healthy dishes (and learn how to make them at home!).

The importance of good sleep habits is emphasized in advisory group discussions, assemblies, and other contexts at the Upper School. In one recent assembly, the director of the UNC Sleep Center presented to students on good sleep hygiene.

The importance of developing and sustaining an exercise routine is emphasized in the ninth-grade physical education course, in which all ninth-graders participate. Students in grades 10, 11 and 12 must complete one approved PE activity per year. In addition, all students complete the Health, Wellness and First Aid Seminar.

Opportunities for developing physical fitness abound, from athletic teams fielded in more than a dozen sports, to a high-caliber dance program, to an after-school running club. A state-of-the-art weight room is open to all students before, during and after school.

Social/Emotional Wellness


For kindergarten and pre-kindergarten students, the value of healthy friendships, kindness, empathy and problem-solving is taught via books and through direct instruction modeling.

Lower School

The Responsive Classroom approach is at the core of social/emotional wellness efforts for students in grades 1 through 4. This evidence-based approach to teaching focuses on engaging academics, positive community, effective management and developmental awareness.

The Lower School guidance counselor addresses topics such as building strong friendships, problem-solving strategies and empathy.

Each year, fourth-graders are asked to complete a survey on their experience in the Lower School; these results are used to maintain and/or improve the school culture by establishing a community of belonging and support.

Middle School

Twice every seven days with their advisory groups, students participate in grade-specific advisory programs that address a wide range of social/emotional topics, including empathy, gratitude, gender, healthy relationships, bullying (with programming from the Olweus Bullying Prevention Program and an annual school climate survey), microaggressions and conflict resolution.

Affinity groups allow students to connect around shared identities and discuss their experiences at school and off campus. When students express an interest in an affinity group being established for any population of students, faculty work with them to make it a reality.

Physical education classes (meeting six days out of a seven-day rotation)address social health topics including communication, decision-making and healthy relationships.

The Middle School provides guidance for parents in supporting their children's social/emotional wellness through the Parenting the Love and Logic Way curriculum.

Upper School

All ninth-grade students participate in Self and Community, a class in which highly trained senior Peer Educators lead discussions about healthy relationships, positive social media use and good decision-making.

Each week, all Upper Schoolers participate in advisory programs that address a wide range of social and emotional themes, including positive psychology, gratitude, compassion and emotional wellness.

The Upper School’s affinity group program allows students to connect around shared identities and discuss their experiences at school and off campus. Affinity groups are student-formed and student-led; groups are only established if current students express an interest in participating.

Mental Wellness


Preschool teachers work with students to learn how to identify emotions, appropriately express emotions and to self-regulate their emotions.

Lower School

Each year in physical education class, teachers devote a unit to yoga, during which students learn about the physical benefits and mental benefits of the practice.

The Lower School guidance counselor works with students to develop stress-reduction strategies.

Middle School

Middle School physical education teachers work with students to develop stress-management strategies. Instructors from Duke University's Koru mindfulness program, a research-supported program for young people, work with seventh- and eighth-graders to learn mindfulness skills.

Upper School

Instructors from Duke University's Koru mindfulness program, a research-supported program for young people, work with Upper Schoolers to develop mindfulness skills.

Each year, the Upper School invites mental health researchers and psychologists to campus to present to students; likewise, our Cavalier Conversations series offers parents a unique opportunity to hear from experts on topics like stress management, mindfulness-based parenting and promoting resilience in teens.

Certified therapy dogs from Canines for Service visit campus multiple times each year to offer a fun form of stress relief and highlight the importance of self-care.

After-school yoga classes, led by an instructor from Blue Point Yoga Studio, provide students with a regular opportunity to unwind.

An independent, coeducational day school, pre-kindergarten through grade 12.
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