4809 Friends School Road

Durham, NC 27705

School Type: Coed Day

Grades: Pre-K – 12


Hands-On Service and Learning

It is no coincidence that students at CFS begin their high-school careers with a work experience at the Episcopal Farmworker Ministry in Newton Grove, North Carolina. Students labor in the fields, tutor at Head Start programs, teach English, play soccer, and learn about the lives of migrant workers. “It is an incredible experience for the kids that will stick in their minds far longer than the facts they have learned,” said Carrie Huff, Head Teacher of the Upper School.

Trips to Newton Grove set the tone for four years of learning through doing. In the aftermath of the 2008 presidential election, the whole high school packed up for a trip to Washington, DC. When Susan Kincaid’s class on the Civil Rights Movement was studying the march from Selma to Montgomery, it did not merely read about it in books. The class traveled to Selma, interviewed twelve citizens who remembered the march, and produced a video about the experience.

The Selma trip, and many others, take place as part of the upper school’s two-week End of the Year Experience Program. In recent years, individual experiences have included conservation work in Yellowstone Park, interning with the Duke University Pathology Department, and service work with Habitat for Humanity, among many others. Group trips have included biological research in Costa Rica, ecological studies in the desert Southwest, and service work in the remote El Salvadorian village of La Isla.

The best learning is not necessarily far from home. When CFS’s Global Citizenship class studied the international economy, the teachers took students to a local mall for 90 minutes to see how many people of different nationalities they could locate. The unifying thread to it all is a commitment to learning and service outside the walls of the school. “Our purpose is not to create a safe haven for our students,” said Principal Mike Hanas, “We have an obligation to engage the world.”

Small School, Big Success

After thriving in a small community, how do CFS students fare in the impersonal halls of a big university? Better than you might think.  “Friends School gives students the ability to go up to a professor and say, “I’m happy to be in your class,” said one student.  Having had significant ownership of their learning process in high school, Friends School alumni are never content to sit in the back row of a lecture hall. In any educational institution, large or small, those who proactively seek opportunities are most successful. It is a lesson that students at CFS learn at an early age.

Carolina Friends School

“Working For Your Own Education”

The Advanced Dance class at Carolina Friends School is typical of the school’s all-out approach to learning. The students don’t just dance; they choreograph, write sound scores, and create dance interpretations of work in media ranging from poetry to visual art. Recently, the dance students visited a retirement home, interviewed the residents, and created dances to dramatize the stories that were shared – to the delight of their new senior-citizen friends.

Advanced Dance includes a cross-section of CFS upper-school students – and one 40-something year-old man. He is Mike Hanas, the principal at Carolina Friends. And no, he did not intern with the Bolshoi Ballet as a teenager.  He simply wanted to learn more about dance and was willing to risk sore muscles and occasional embarrassment to do so alongside the students. “It is crucial that our students see faculty members modeling lifelong learning,” explained Hanas, “We set a powerful example when we show our curiosity. And we keep ourselves alive and vibrant.”


“Our teachers use all of their energy to design courses that work for everybody – not just the students who are interested or the ones who do well, but every student,” said Philip M., ’09.

Alive and vibrant are good words to describe the entire CFS community, and it all begins with a learning environment that honors the passions of both students and teachers. One student explains it this way: “My friends at other schools have a ton of work but it doesn’t seem that meaningful. They are at school only to get into college. At Friends School, the focus is on each student getting a real education. If you choose to work for your own education, you get so much out of it.”

The students at CFS take ownership of their learning in myriad ways. A prime example is CFS’s Senior Seminar, which allows students completing the course to choose the theme to be studied the succeeding year. A recent theme was “Public and Private,” an analysis of freedom and responsibility in various spheres of life. The students read authors ranging from Plato to Foucault, but the life-blood of the class is interaction with other students, and with co-teachers Jamie Hysjulien and Elise London. “Class is exciting when people are willing to share their ideas,” said one Senior Seminar participant, “It builds up the individual as well as the community.” The class culminates in a series of public oral presentations in which each student defends ideas expressed in 10-page paper related to the theme. The crowd of attendees invariably includes a cross-section of the community, including fellow students, family, and faculty.

CFS’s curricular freedom allows it to teach advanced courses on engaging themes. In the fall of 2008, the presidential election transfixed the nation and it was only natural for CFS to offer Campaign ’08 as a full-fledged class. (Since CFS operates on a trimester calendar, the class ended only days after the election.) As part of their work, students volunteered for candidates, contributed to a “wiki” devoted to the election, and kept classmates apprised of on-going developments. An election-night party, thrown by the class, attracted more than half of the upper school.

One of the most eagerly anticipated events on the CFS calendar is the annual Student Teaching Day, in which faculty step aside and students teach classes on a variety of topics. “It was the best academic day of my life,” said an 11th grade student, who taught two Spanish classes during a recent Student Teaching Day. “I was really excited and wanted to get there on time and be as involved as possible. It was proof that people wanted to listen to us,” she said. Another student, who recently taught about the Cold War, was thrilled when graduating seniors showed interest in his topic. “I will never forget what I taught in that class,” he said.

“Our purpose is not to create a safe haven for our students,” said Principal Mike Hanas, “We have an obligation to engage the world.”

Though many schools shoehorn in occasional student-centered events such as these – before getting back to the “real” work of covering a prescribed curriculum – the beauty of CFS is that events like these are the real work. “It a student comes up with an idea, our teachers will take that idea and expand it into a full day,” said one student.  The fact that students help define learning at CFS feeds an atmosphere of mutual respect. “It comes naturally to Friends School students to interact with their teachers, and sometimes to challenge them. It is a meaningful relationship in which you can actually get something out of it,” said an 11th grader.

Perhaps because they feel as though they own it, students are intensely proud of Friends School, and of the faculty who so skillfully share control with them. “Our teachers use all of their energy to design courses that work for everybody – not just the students who are interested or the ones who do well, but every student,” said one student. Adds another, “CFS is a place that is always changing. It’s about the students.”

Learn more about Carolina Friends School.