Durham, North Carolina is one of the most educated cities in the United States[*]. But the intelligence in the Bull City goes far beyond formal education. This is a city that prides itself on creativity, innovation, social justice, and emotional intelligence. There’s a reason why Durham has been setting the bar for how things ought to be done nationally for over 150 years.
I became friends with the founder of both Our PlayHouse Preschool and Studio School Durham, Danielle Sunde, because of her love of learning and innovation. She attended all of the DurGram Content Strategy Workshops - Social Media Marketing, Advanced SMM, and Blogging with Precision and Purpose. When she shared what she was creating content for I was all in. An educational opportunity for young bulls to learn about what excites them with an approach that is completely centered around them. If they have a question they’re able to explore it to its fullest potential.
As Danielle explained what a microschool is and the incrediBULL experiences the children have there, I honestly became really jealous of these kids. They get to explore what they are interested in to the fullest extent while never having to raise their hands in front of the entire class to ask to go to the bathroom. And if they want to take some time to read a book, they can. I mean, I can’t be the only one who snuck books into school to have something to do while the other kids finished up their worksheets. All ‘normal’ kids sneak in every moment of dinosaur research possiBULL right?
So what is this magical, microschool called Studio School Durham?
Danielle explained, “We’re a research-based, project-focused independent school for children in kindergarten through 5th grade with plans to expand through 8th grade in 2020. We believe children deserve and need a 21st-century education, so we equip them with a spirit of discovery, mastery, and adventure that will empower them to fulfill their greatest potential across their school years and beyond.
“We treat every child as a competent individual who can intentionally focus on project work, Projects that help students learn the skills they need for navigating the world and future that entails jobs that have yet to be created. By focusing on humanity and the rights of each child and giving them a say in their education, they thrive and grow exponentially academically because they have to buy into their community.
“Most schools focus on knowledge rather than skills. As a school, we value the skills that are transferable across disciplines and fields and believe that cultivating problem solvers, and thinking will enable children to be successful wherever their interests take them. Exposing children to interesting topics, experiences, and people will bring these learners to finding their own passions and future careers.”
The lead photographer for “Welcome to the Bull City” and the locations photographer for “The Bulls of Durham,” Brian Bonomo was recently one of those interesting people who went in and worked with the kiddos of Studio School. They were working on a project exploring who they are in this world and Brian did portraits for them. Not only did the children get to explore the concept of self, but they also got to learn about the career path of a photographer.
Danielle opened Our PlayHouse Preschool in 2012. It’s a Reggio-Emilia inspired preschool that focuses on play and project work and helping young children develop social-emotional literacy. They’ve served hundreds of Durham families over the last 7 years. Studio School Durham officially opened in the fall of 2018 and they have had a really remarkaBULL first year.
Danielle shares what they’re doing at Studio School. “We are an innovative elementary school focusing on 21st-century preparedness and really reimagining the structure and execution of school. School hasn't changed much in the past 100 years. It is very standardized and focuses on content rather than skills.
"Each child is unique and we create and deliver an individualized and customized approach to learning core skills of reading, writing, and math for each child. Instead of having children memorize things like geology definitions or historical dates we utilize a project-based approach for learning traditional subjects like science or math that focuses on skills and mindset. What they’re learning is applicable across all future pursuits and will help them reach their highest potential, succeeding in whatever path or career pursuit they choose.
“Design thinking has a broad application for education, and it’s one of our program passions. Students essentially learn design thinking - which is typically taught in high school and college - as elementary schoolers by spending time in our Design Studio. There, our students have the dedicated time to explore, discover, tinker, and create with a variety of materials which gives them a low stakes environment to fail early and fail often while they work through challenges in design and execution. The opportunity to do something as simple as taking apart broken appliances or play with magnets is such a great opportunity to cultivate and spark curiosity in children. We want our children curious and asking questions.”
Last fall I rounded up a group of my friends and went to one of Studio School’s Tinker Nights. A night where adults get to play in the design studio. It was an unBULLievaBULL opportunity to be a kid again, although with the grownup perk of wine. HIGHLY recommend going to the upcoming Tinker Night this Saturday, April 27, 2019, at 7:00 pm. It’s FREE and you get to play with Legos, take apart appliances for fun not repair, and participate in challenges. Plus there’s food. A great opportunity to unplug from this heavy world for a couple of hours and let your inner child out to play. Get your free tickets HERE.
What’s the one thing that Danielle wants people to know about the Bull City?
Danielle said, “I want people to know about the amazingly collaborative and inclusive professional and creative network we have here. As the founder of Our Playhouse Preschool and now The Studio School we've been so lucky to have amazing families with such great variety and depth of skills, talents, and abilities. All of them have been so wonderfully generous with their time and knowledge. Continuing that experience with The Studio School of Durham has been nothing short of amazing. We have already connected with so many talented and creative people who are willing to give their time to share knowledge and their own real-world experiences with our elementary students. I’d also want them to know that we have the best food scene and so many amazing restaurants.”
No interview is complete until I get to the most pressing question. Which bull in the Bull City is Danielle’s favorite?
She said, “I love, love, love the Bull in front of Foster’s Market created by Jonathan Bowling. He’s made out of recycled materials and is a tinkerer’s dream come true. I recently learned that he has real bones in him which blew my mind!”
For more information about Studio School Durham and Tinker Night go to StudioSchoolDurham.org.
The Bulls of Durham 1st Edition *Special Reserve
$50.00 - $60.00
Signed, first print copy of "The Bulls of Durham" living history book. Projected book launch is April 10th, 2019, Durham's 150th Anniversary. This purchase includes your book and support for the project.
"The Bulls of Durham" living history book blends Durham's rich history with stories and perspectives of our city's greats that are continuing to build upon that history. And in this way, this is the story of Durham, North Carolina through the bulls' eyes.
Learn how a city that literally started from a tobacco seed in the ashes of the Civil War grew into the best city on earth. Discover how a stolen bull brought about a history shifting, global tobacco empire; and how 150 years later that relates to a British mustard company having beef with Sheila. #NotSorry
Find out the backstory to how the now hippest, foodiest, tech-hub of the South also gave rise to the bullpen, billboards, branding and baseball cards. Delve into our city's strong Black history that proves "Do It Like Durham" isn't a passing trend and will give you a profound sense of reverence walking down Parrish Street.
Best of all, see the common thread that runs through the stories of teachers, politicians, business owners, hip-hop artists, painters, activists, historians, architects and the real Bull City OG's. Hint: it's the BULLief that in Durham anything is possiBULL.
Welcome to Durham the incrediBULL place where grit meets grace. Here all you have to have is a dream and faith the size of a tobacco seed, because well, tobacco seeds build global empires, not mustard seeds.
Project book launch date: April 10, 2019 - Durham's 150th Anniversary.
Cover Art by DeCario Allen.