Parents Association & Parents Council
The Durham Academy Parents Association supports the school's academic, social, fine arts and athletic objectives. Parents Association encourages volunteerism, raises and disperses funds, promotes communication and cooperation, and provides input to the school on issues of concern and interest to parents. All Durham Academy parents are members of the Parents Association.
The Durham Academy Parents Council is the governing board of the Parents Association. This group comprises members of an executive committee; division representatives; members of schoolwide committees on matters such as diversity, wellness and athletics; and parents who organize both community-building and fundraising events. See a list of the parents who serve on Parents Council.
Parents Bulletin Board
By Ben Michelman
Eighth-Grade Language Arts
When I was in middle school, I can remember signing up for community service, walking to the nearby senior living community with a group of my classmates, and spending an hour or two walking around nervously, trying to find a way to engage with the residents. It was a positive experience: I was pushed out of my comfort zone, and maybe, I was able to bring a bit of light to someone else’s day.
However, I never made any sustained connections. I didn’t learn empathy. I left the senior living community with the same single story about the residents that I had entered with: They were old.
As an educator, I’ve had a handful of similar experiences: I bring a group of kids somewhere to “help out.” They experience something new. They do some good. Then, we go home.
It’s difficult to foster true empathy or understanding through isolated interactions. That’s why, as a community, Durham Academy is shifting toward service learning, which works to incorporate projects into class or advisory curricula. It’s essential that our students possess context before entering a project and that they are able to reflect after they see a project through.
Over the course of two recent Fridays, eighth-grade students traveled to The Durham Center for Senior Living, Croasdaile Village, Durham Regent and Emerald Pond to conduct interviews with senior residents. The residents were asked to discuss a moment in 20th century history that impacted them in a meaningful way. The topics varied in scope from international (World War II) to local (the integration of Durham Public Schools). Some seniors were directly impacted by the event (our students talked with veterans of World War II, Korea and Vietnam), while others were indirectly influenced (a number of residents wanted to talk about when they heard about JFK’s assassination). In the days leading up to the interviews, the students prepared questions and learned interviewing techniques. Once they were assigned an interviewee and a topic, they conducted some background research about the event so they could ask more specific, informed questions.
The interviews were recorded and are now being used to help students write graphic novels about their interviewee’s experience. Earlier in the year, eighth-graders read Art Spiegelman’s Maus, a graphic novel that depicts the author interviewing his father, Vladek, about Vladek’s experience surviving the horrors of Auschwitz. Maus became our model and inspiration for this project. Our students are now structuring their stories in language arts class, using the elements of stories that they’ve learned about throughout their time in Middle School. In addition, they are conducting background research in history — a 20th century U.S. history class. They know from Maus that research is essential in order to depict the historical details accurately.
In scheduling the interviews, I worried that an hour was too long for the patience and focus of both parties. In reality, when the hour was up, we had to pry our students away from their conversations. One interviewee, who discussed growing up in the time of Jim Crow, practically chased down her eighth-grade interviewers in order to get a picture of them together. Her enthusiasm was reciprocated: On the bus ride home, I heard students energetically recounting the stories just told rather than their usual gossip, talk of Fortnite or off-key singing. The context and stakes helped produce a true partnership, a mutual exchange where both parties benefited in real ways.
Now, students have a genuine audience and authentic motivation for the creation of the book: We will deliver the finished product to the residents at the end of the year. In years past, the eighth-graders have created graphic novels without a service-learning component. Adding the service learning component has increased buy-in from our students. Fellow language arts teacher Jeff Boyd, history teacher Tim Dahlgren and I didn’t plan this in order to check a “service learning” box; we planned this in order to strengthen our teaching. We’re confident it has.