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Character & Community

Character matters at Durham Academy. Every day, our teachers aim to help each of their students move toward a more "moral, happy, productive" life — embodying the character traits that drive our work, like empathy, authenticity and resilience. Childhood and adolescence are fertile ground for character development, and we have programs and curricula in place to help put students on the path to adulthoods filled with meaning, self-awareness and positive contributions to their communities.

Community & Belonging in the Preschool

The development of students’ character and their treatment of others are important to our community. At the Preschool level, the heart of belonging and social skill-building lives in the classroom, where students spend the majority of their time.

Just as we nurture and encourage students’ academic and physical growth, we also strive to support our students’ character growth. Teachers promote and model kind and respectful treatment of children and adults, and we value the acceptance, appreciation and inclusion of others.

By learning and playing with others, Preschool children are developing the social skills needed to be a part of a group. An accepting environment encourages a positive self-image and an awareness of others’ feelings. Learning how to share, take turns, negotiate, wait one's turn and make friends are by far the most important lessons learned in the Preschool.

Kindergartners sit in a circle for a morning check-in.

Community Beyond the Classroom

Preschool works to build community through regular assemblies, shared celebrations and special events — from Silly Sock Day to Grandfriends Day. Connections are also built across divisions via efforts like our buddy program (each kindergartner is paired with a fourth-grader), the All-School Pep Rally, and attendance at other divisions' special events — like the third-grade Pollinator Gift Shop and the fourth-grade play.

Lower School Classroom Communities

Second- and fourth-graders meet for book clubs.

Grade-Level Buddies

Each fourth-grader is paired with a kindergartner, and each third-grader is paired with a first-grader through our Preschool/Lower School Buddy Program. In addition, second-graders are paired with juniors from the Upper School. Over the course of the year, teachers plan opportunities for students to come together for academic and social activities. This program gives older children the opportunity to be leaders and to care for younger schoolmates, and it gives younger students role models and older students with whom to have warm connections. 

Several years ago, the Lower School adapted the Principles of Responsive Classroom. One of the important components of Responsive Classroom is the daily Morning Meeting. We believe this commitment to Morning Meeting builds community, fosters student ownership and leads to kinder, more understanding behavior between classmates.

Morning Meeting is an engaging way to start each day, build a strong sense of community, and set children up for success socially and academically. Each morning, students and teachers in each classroom gather together in a circle for 20 to 30 minutes and interact with one another during four purposeful components:

Community Commitments

Middle School Advisory Program

A Middle School student’s advisory is their “home away from home” while they are at school. Advisory is the place where students begin each day, eat lunch and engage in intentionally sequenced activities that focus on social and emotional learning. In advisory, they build relationships, develop friendships and community, and learn important information about their growth as an individual. About once a week, students engage in lessons that make up our advisory curriculum. This is a place for learning, risk-taking and growth. The Middle School counselor works in collaboration with grade-level team leaders and advisors to plan, develop and deliver advisory experiences to our students.

Middle School Advisory Curriculum 

The advisory curriculum at Durham Academy Middle School seeks to equip students to be prepared for life with the goal to build a healthy, engaged community that supports all. We accomplish this through supporting students to: 

  • Participate in experiences and build skills to identify one’s feelings and behaviors.

  • Learn to build and maintain healthy connections with peers and adults.
  • Understand and appreciate various perspectives and empathize with others.
  • Manage emotions, thoughts and behaviors.
  • Make thoughtful decisions about personal behavior and social interactions.

A seventh-grade advisory group gathers for a photo.

Middle School Advisory Groupings 

A Middle School advisory group is made up of 10–12 students of the same grade level that changes each academic year. In advisory groups, students are seen and heard each day, both by peers and their faculty advisor. Through multiple daily interactions, students deepen their connection with others and enhance their communication skills. Advisory provides a safe space to hone interpersonal skills, promote emotional growth, build confidence and stumble, knowing that peers and adults are here to support them. The advisory program strengthens growth and trust within an advisory group.

Upper School Advisory Program

Members of an Upper School advisory group gather for a photo at graduation.

Upper School Advisory Relationships 

In each student's first year at the Upper School, they are matched with an advisory group comprising a teacher and about 10 classmates. Students remain with their advisory groups throughout their time in the Upper School. That four-year-long runway of time together, as well as the small size of each group, allows students and their faculty advisor to create family-like relationships in which they support one another through tough times and celebrate one another in the good. 

Each Upper School advisory group is led by a faculty advisor, who serves as their advisees' primary mentor and advocate for the duration of their time in the Upper School. Advisors work to foster safe, trusting and respectful relationships between themselves and their advisees, and they regularly consult with each advisee's teachers and parents concerning their academic progress and well-being. 

Upper Schoolers meet with their advisory groups nearly every day for a 20-minute advisory period. This is a time for faculty advisors and students to check in with one another and enjoy their time together; an advisory meeting might include a group discussion about a topic of student interest, or it might serve as an opportunity to relax and play a quick game.

Upper School Advisory Programming

Once a week, advisory groups devote their time together to programming that is coordinated by the Upper School counselor.  This programming is typically related to the "moral" and "happy" pillars of DA's mission statement. Here's a sampling of previous advisory programming activities and topics:

  • Writing messages of gratitude to members of Durham Academy's maintenance/facilities team and security officers.
  • Preparing for upcoming programs like Cavalier Capstone experiences or Special Olympics.
  • Exploring tips for combatting test anxiety during exam season.
  • Activities related to cultural observances like Hispanic Heritage Month or Lunar New Year.