Sustainability at Durham Academy

By Shriya Dharmapurikar


Narration: This year, my school opened its very first overnight sustainability lock-in, called the Sustain-In. Students stayed overnight in the school, with the goal of generating proposal ideas. The chosen proposals would be funded with a $10,000, anonymous grant that our sustainability committee received. Okay I know, this sounds straight out of a movie. Literally, like the Breakfast Club 2.0. Let me take you back a little bit, to the origins of the Durham Academy sustainability committee. 

Narration: Our schools sustainability committee was founded 5 years ago with the hope of promoting sustainability at Durham Academy. One of the first projects done was a tree planting near our track field to encourage native plants on campus. Now, the Sustain-In is among thousands of projects DA sustainability has completed. Here I talk to Taylor Winstead, a member of the sustainability committee about some of the progress Durham Academy has made. 

Taylor: I feel like DA does a really good job of making the students feel like they can actually make a difference. And obviously there are a lot of issues that I care about, but I think DA has made sustainability really accessible where everyone feels like they can contribute something or like their ideas can be heard.

There was some sort of youth climate workshop that people were going to go to recently. I remember last year there was this day without water video challenge thing that me and Lydia helped do, where there was a prize if you could do the coolest video about what a day without water would look like.

And that was geared just towards high school students. So I think just recognizing or looking around for what options you have to get involved in your community or what already exists out there for you to get involved in is great. 

Narration: As you can see, sustainability is a key part of DA’s student life. So, you may be asking, what does the committee do? Well, here’s Sanju Patel, a senior, second time chair, and a “found father” of da sustainability. And if you’re wondering why it’s loud in the background, this sound was recorded at- you guessed it- the sustain-in

Shriya: So Sanju Patel is kind of a celebrity around here. He has been chair of the sustainability committee twice. And he has done so much for the DA sustainability program. And so here I’m going to talk to the man himself, Sanju Patel. Sanju, what drives your passion for sustainability?

Sanju: I am kind of a selfish person. And I don’t like to see things lost permanently. So, I don’t want us to lose the natural resources in our world and never be able to get them again.

Shriya: And what are some of the projects that you’ve done? I know you’ve done a lot, but what are some of the highlights that you’ve done on the sustainability committee?

Sanju: Right now, all I can think of is the Susain-In. I mean, this is a crazy event. But compost has been really important, Earth Day celebrations, and getting the Innovation Grant a lot of things like that. Right now, some of the ideas we’re working on are limiting parking spaces, so people drive less and also working on limiting paper usage.

Narration: Yep you heard that right, The Innovation Grant. A grant the sustainability committee applied for to receive upwards of $50,000, spent on paying for carbon emission calculations, more sustainable infrastructure, and celebrations. The way the sustainability program at DA is funded is largely through grants. And as Connor Ennis, sustainability chair explains, a lot of the ways to drive change at DA and in Durham is through activism:

Connor: I think with high schoolers, a great place to get involved starts at school, like with school committees, because that’s where you spend a lot of your time. And that’s a way you can pretty directly make an impact. But also, I think getting involved with the political side is another way, because we are the ones who are going to be living on this earth for a while. And I think it’s impactful to have the youth advocating for their own future with the people in power. So that’s probably something that youth can do, because like, we can’t run for office, yet, we don’t own any, like, major corporations. So it’s hard to make an impact like that. But I’d say just also making small individual changes, I have a whole TED Talk on why that actually is a good thing. But also, like I said, working with your school, and getting involved politically, I think are the best things you can do and also spreading the word educating others like I tried to do and what the committee tries to do. 

Narration: Now, you may be asking, what does all of this have to do with an overnight lock in? A literal sleepover at our school? Throughout countless meetings, tons of research, and school-wide events, the sustainability committee came to notice a common thread. Durham Academy students need a mindset change. Which is why we planned the Sustain-in. The goal wasn’t to plan an event with the least possible carbon footprint. It was to educate, create, and ideate with the broader DA community. We wanted to show the DA community that sustainability can be fun!

Narration: Weeks of planning went into this event. Mostly done at Sustainability committee meetings, led by our Chair, Connor. First, we started off with our faculty advisor, Ms. Besisas, explaining the auction that would be held at the sustain in. On the way in, guests would pick up a ticket, and throughout the lock in, numbers would be called to hand out prizes. 

Ms Besias: I have door prizes right here. This is something I’m proposing for the Sustain-In. These are wax wraps for sandwiches, a nice spork with a DA logo, a winter tree finder, Botany  For Gardeners, and a set of utensil reusable bamboo utensils. 

Committee: Excitement and commotion. 

Narration: Yep, that’s us getting riled up about bamboo utensils. To be fair, they’re pretty expensive! But really, we’re just excited to visualize what months of hard work will become. 

Next, I visited a couple different subcommittees. First I talked to some avid members of the committee about their plans for movies at the Sustain-In

Shriya: So what are you guys working on over here?

Mark: We get to be on your podcast? Welcome to the diversity quarter! Biodiversity that is. Here, we’re thinking of movies that we want to show in our Sustain-In campers. So we’re just doing a little bit of research right now. We’d have a semi good list Before The Flood Lorax, which is really good. It could be a nice late night one. Maybe as people start going to bed or dozing off. 

Thomas: I think a quality aspect of the Lorax even though you may not have the same informational quality, the emotional quality is just- I’ve cried multiple times to that movie. And I think the emotional aspect of it is really important for spreading this message. 

Shriya: What are your names? 

Thomas: I’m Thomas. Thomas Pollard specifically 

Mark: Mark Caveny.

Charles: Charles Charles is here too, Charles Wiley Hollenbeck, all of that. 

Mark: I think we’re debating between comedic relief, almost more of a fun feel. So that’s what we’re talking about now. Thanks for joining us in the biodiversity corner.

Narration: After that, I visited Paul and Nick, who were working on their room, Culture and Norms. 

Shriya: What are y’all doing over here?

Paul: We’re leading the culture and norms room. 

Shriya: Oh, what’s that? What’s that room gonna be? 

Paul: It’s gonna be about how sustainability is not super appealing to the general audience. And, we’re trying to figure out a way to make it more appealing, and more fun. And also a lot of people don’t know a lot about the full gist about sustainability. So we’re trying to figure out a way to better integrate sustainability into education and stuff.

Narration: So, as you can see, we did a lot of planning. And finally,  the day we were waiting for came. The Sustain-In. 

Live Foley: Welcome to our first annual sustain in!


Narration: As you can see, it got a bit chaotic at times: 

Shriya: Hey Charith, are you on the sustainability committee?

Charith: No

Shriya: So, what brought you to the sustain-In tonight?

Charith: CJ, Sanju, Owen, Nicholas, Paul, they’re all just really good salesmen and they just convinced me to come for a good cause. 

Shriya: Okay, that’s cool! Why are you at the Sustain-In today? What’s your name?

Imotep: I’ve actually been a part of sustainability. I have always been with compost bins, recycling, that kind of stuff. I actually set up the blender bike. I never actually joined the committee officially but if I could do it again I would. 

Shriya: Are you a senior this year?

Imotep: Yeah

Narration: So as you saw, the Sustain-In was a big hit. Right now, the committee is working on even more amazing projects such as implementing hand dryers into the bathrooms, planning an Earth Day celebration, and planning curriculum for younger students. If you’d like to do a deeper dive on sustainability at Durham Academy, check out our blog at

This has been Shriya Dharmapurikar for YR Raw. Thank you so much for listening.