Like most teenagers, Sasha DeCosta ’24 has some “stuff.” Stuff to process, deal with, reflect on, and work through. DeCosta also has the St. Andrew’s English Department, which, this year, offered its V Form students a new way to muck through all that stuff: Put it on the page.
English Department faculty members Will Torrey and Will Porter collaborated to create “Stranger in a Strange Dynamic,” a new creative nonfiction writing unit within the English 3 course for juniors that included work by stars of the genre like James Baldwin, David Sedaris, Roxanne Gay, and more.
“Even though it's so fun and important to read and talk about fiction and literature, we also want to keep things fresh and interesting for our students,” says Torrey. “Sometimes from their perspective, and even from ours, it just feels like, ‘Okay, now it's another book. Now it's another paper. Now it's another book. Now it's another paper.’ So much of what this course is about is to understand who you are and your identity through your own experiences.”
Adds Porter, “We noticed over the years that at [V Form/junior year] grade level, that age, the students have lots of questions. Looking to literature for answers is valuable, but so too is looking inward to have them think about how to tell their own story.”
For DeCosta, that story was one in which they weren’t the hero—and that’s precisely the point. “It’s hard to admit you've done wrong,” DeCosta says. “I think for a good essay, you can't paint yourself as a one-sided hero. In our class, we read a lot of personal essays where people weren't the hero or this perfect character, which made it easier for me to write about those times when I'm not perfect.”
While the culmination of the unit resulted in each student writing a 1500- to 2000-word essay, with additional writing and journaling exercises throughout the unit, there was also the non-rubric requirement to opt in.
“I think these kids naturally feel a little bit of reticence when there's this opportunity to write about their own truths or in some cases, their own families,” Torrey says. “But they really came to not only embrace that vulnerability through the writing process, but to also be present and listen to their classmates, who are talking about the mistakes they’ve made. It felt like something that was very useful, and powerful, and in some ways therapeutic, for them to participate in.”
DeCosta’s essay—which chronicled their failed attempt to eschew the “screenager” life and instead truly live in the moment at a concert they finally got permission to attend—used humor as a venue for deep self-reflection. “From the actual experience of missing an entire concert because I was trying to record it, I learned obviously living in the moment stuff. I was devastated for missing it, but was just going to move on and not think about it anymore,” DeCosta says. “But going through the writing process, I was forced to relive what happened, and to understand why I did what I did. I’ve never really reflected like that through writing.”
For her essay, Angela Osaigbovo ’24, the head of the school’s Creative Writing Club, wrote about a time she was in the spotlight at a national Scrabble tournament. Losing, her team rallied to win on the strength of some “crazy” words; the lesson there, Osaigbovo says, was not to give up.
“Since this was a recorded competition, it’s online, so I went back and watched myself and the decisions I made,” she says. “It is so weird watching yourself like that, but through the watching, and then the writing, I got to really relive the past in an interesting way.”
Osaigbovo, who took the course with Dr. Martha Pitts, says she wasn’t writing about “a big, emotional moment,” which is a notion Porter wanted to impart to all students in the unit.
“The main thing that matters is we're just looking for honesty,” Porter says. “We're looking for specificity. We're not looking for the sort of revelation where you have a day that changed your life, but look for a day where something small happened to you that made you approach an element of your life in a different manner.”
Osaigbovo appreciated the craft notes she received from Pitts, on elements like tone, narrative structure, tension, and mood.
“This is a completely new style of writing for me, and figuring out how to get your emotions and surroundings structured on a page in a way that makes sense, and that the reader can feel, was really helpful,” she says, “particularly right now as we are all juniors and have to think about college essays.”
Both Osaigbovo and DeCosta say they hope “Stranger in a Strange Dynamic” is on the curriculum to stay. “As we become seniors and leaders of the school, what we do in this class is really impactful,” Osaigbovo says.
“I just felt all of the best of St. Andrew's was encapsulated in the essays I read from my students,” Torrey says. “I felt so honored that the students believed me when I said that they could write about anything, and they could be vulnerable, and seeing that they trusted me enough with that—it was a joy. It was the highlight of my time with my juniors so far.”
Our academic program is built around a sequence of requirements in the core subject areas of English; history; science; mathematics; classical and modern languages; religious studies; and the arts. Course curriculums strive to be interdisciplinary: that is, in developing coursework, faculty consider what else a student is learning in that particular school year, and attempt to connect that work across classrooms, putting disciplines and methods in conversation with one another.
In all disciplines, coursework is intensely focused on the teaching of writing, critical reasoning and scientific investigation. Our course offerings reflect our goal of connecting students with contemporary issues, technologies, and innovations of the wider world, and our deep belief in the world's religious, philosophical and artistic traditions as a lasting source of wisdom and hope.
What's Going On In Our Departments?
Like most teenagers, Sasha DeCosta ’24 has some “stuff.” Stuff to process, deal with, reflect on, and work through. DeCosta also has the St. Andrew’s English Department, which, this year, offered its V Form students a new way to muck through all that stuff: Put it on the page.
It’s not every day a nationally renowned NASA theoretical astrophysicist who can pontificate for hours on supermassive black-hole rotations stops by your high school to hang out. It’s an even rarer occasion when that same pedigreed scientist judges a longest-curly-fry-at-lunch competition or commiserates with art students about how frustrating it can be to work with liquid gold leaf in paintings.
But St. Andrew’s is not an everyday kind of place, and theoretical astrophysicist Dr. Ronald Gamble isn’t your everyday kind of scientist.
In his own parlance, Gamble is “an anomaly.” When Gamble finished his Ph.D in 2017, there were only four doctoral graduates that year in STEM from Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs). “By that I mean, all of STEM,” Gamble told students at this year’s William A. Crump Jr. Annual Physics Lecture on February 10. Gamble, the cofounder of Black in Astro—a nonprofit that celebrates and amplifies Black experiences in space-related fields—noted he was often on the receiving end of comments like, “Yeah … theoretical physics isn’t really for ‘our’ people.”
The representation Gamble brings to the field—and which he brought to the stage in Englehard Hall—spoke to Brandon Blake ’25. “Dr. Gamble had a lot of firsts as a Black man in this field, and that really impacted me, and I’m sure others in our school community,” he says. “And the inclusivity wasn’t only that he was Black, but that he also has ADHD, which I think resonated. I liked how honest he was in talking about his challenges.”
Like, for example, failing.
“I failed calculus three times in college,” Gamble told students. “But am I an actual expert in general relativity and differential geometry right now? Yes, I am. How? Because if you’re gonna fail, fail hard, and fail up.”
That notion appealed to Mary Troy ’24. “I really loved that,” Troy says. “I whipped out my notes, and I was like, ‘Yes!’ One of my goals for this semester has been to focus less on my grades and more on the actual learning aspect of St. Andrew’s, and immerse myself fully in that experience. I don’t think I was given permission to fail, but it was nice to see someone at his level acknowledge that failing happens, and that it can propel you in an interesting way.”
The title of Gamble’s lecture could be a mouthful for the un-space-savvy: “The Nature of Cosmic Geometry: The Intricacies of Black Holes, Spacetime, and the Motion of Matter.” Yet Gamble kept things simple, fun, and human.
“I kept forgetting I was at a lecture,” Blake says. “He came across not only as a really smart physicist, but as a regular person that I can talk to.”
(Speaking of “regular people” stuff, much to the delight of students like Troy, Blake, and Sarah-Rose Odutola ’23, Gamble had dinner with a small group the night before his lecture in which he ruminated on the science in Marvel Cinematic Universe films. “It’s getting better,” Gamble told them with a smile.)
Troy says Gamble broke down complicated concepts in a way that made sense. “At one point he was talking about how if you got stuck in a black hole, you’d eventually see the back of your own head,” Troy says. “That’s so crazy, but he didn’t make it feel hard to understand.”
One of the reasons Gamble was selected as speaker, notes Science Department Chair Dr. Ashley Hyde, was because of how specifically he fit the SAS culture: not only is Gamble an astrophysicist, he’s an accomplished painter, too.
“One of the great things about St. Andrew’s is that we really don't have any students that just do science and nothing else,” Hyde says. “Students who love science, also love art. They love music, they love playing sports, they love history. I think it's really important that the people that we bring in show scientists not as these one-dimensional characters.”
Hyde is also cognizant of science’s problem with diversity. “It’s certainly no secret,” she says. “In some fields of science, it is incredibly difficult to find a Black or Hispanic person, which is terrible. We want to challenge the messaging that our students see when they look at the professional sphere of scientists. They typically see older white men who tend to win the Nobel Prize. They tend to be the ones who everything is named after. They get bombarded with that messaging. We want to give students access to people who look like them, that have the same background as them, that have the same kind of stories, in the hopes that student who's like, ‘This doesn't seem like it's something for me, maybe I shouldn't pursue it’ instead thinks ‘Wow, maybe there is space for me.’"
Blake, who this year was named to the Delaware All-State Jazz ensemble for his sweetness on the sax and who also hopes to enter a STEM field in the long term, was inspired to see the completeness of Gamble’s path. “I’m a person who likes visual arts, theater, and dance, but who also has a passion for STEM. I think Dr. Gamble further demonstrates how the arts can play a critical role in the sciences,” he says. “Seeing how he was able to bring the two things together is cool because you don’t have to choose.”
Odutola was particularly taken by Gamble’s closing remarks. “First, I have to say just seeing such Black excellence brought to campus meant a lot to me,” she says. “But also, he tapped into something that I, too, struggle with. He told us to always ask, ‘What if?’ Like, what if he had listened to the people who told him he’d never get to NASA? Or who told him he was ‘a minority?’ That really meant a lot to me because so often I think, ‘I’m not good enough.’ But what if I just try? What if I just believe in myself? That’s a really powerful message.”
The annual Crump Lecture in Physics is an endowment from Bill Crump ’44, who came to St. Andrew’s from a one-room school house in rural Maryland and graduated at the top of his class. Crump established this lecture series so St. Andrew’s students could meet and learn from most exciting physicists in the field today.
While most of the St. Andrew's community was enjoying a well-deserved “Free Day” on February 6, Chaplain Jay Hutchinson engaged in plenary sessions at the U.S. Global Leadership Coalition's Mid-Atlantic Summit held at the Hotel duPont in Wilmington, Delaware. The summit brought together senior national security and foreign policy experts, faith-based and community leaders, and public servants from around the world.
President William Ruto of Kenya joined virtually in the morning session to discuss U.S.-Africa relations and the future of the African continent with Sen. Chris Coons; Judd Devermont, Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for African Affairs at the National Security Council; and Dr. Donna Patterson, chair of the Department of History, Political Science, and Philosophy at Delaware State University.
Other sessions focused on global health and climate change, and meeting the moment of rising global crises. Panelists included Sen. Dan Sullivan; former Sen. Rob Portman; State Department Deputy Secretary Wendy Sherman; Teresa Christopher, Head of Climate, Sustainability, and Environmental Policy at Amazon; and Dr. Atul Gawande, who is currently serving as Assistant Administrator for Global Health at USAID.
For Chaplain Hutchinson, who was a classmate of Sen. Coons at Amherst College, it was an opportunity to think globally about our impact and opportunity here at St. Andrew's. "I am so grateful for the opportunity to sit in a room with so many global thought-leaders all considering the best way forward on some of the most pressing issues of our time—climate change, global health, and economic prosperity for all,” he said. “These are issues we discuss every day at St. Andrew's in classes, at School Meeting, and of course through Chapel services. I”m looking forward to continuing these conversations with the broader context and implications in mind."
Chaplain Hutchinson was invited to the summit as a faith leader in Delaware. He has served as Chaplain at St. Andrew's since 2000 while teaching in the Religious Studies department and coaching soccer, wrestling, and lacrosse.
While reading Toni Morrison’s Beloved as a community has been a tradition for St. Andrew’s VI Form students for decades, each new rising senior class experiences the book—and the resulting conversations and broadened perspectives—differently.
“One of the exciting things about teaching a rich and complex novel like Beloved to seniors is that the students are eager to engage in the intellectually adventurous critical thinking that the novel requires,” says Dr. Martha Pitts, one of the English faculty members involved with the annual Beloved project. “A potential challenge in teaching a novel like Beloved is addressing potential student responses about reading another book about Black trauma and the trials and tribulations of ‘the Black experience’ during slavery. But Beloved is not about slavery. It’s about love, kinship with other human beings, choice and accountability; ownership of property, self, and others; individual action versus communal action. It is ultimately about what it means to live a meaningful life post-slavery.”
For seniors Natalie Biden ’23, Emma Tang ’23, and Josie Pitt ’23, Toni Morrison’s 1987 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel about a family of former slaves living in post-Civil War Cincinnati transcended the classroom.
“I feel like most nights on dorm, when we could have been talking about anything, we were all talking about Beloved,” says Biden. “We’d gather in someone’s room and we’d either debate or just talk about it. It came up a lot at dinner. It was such a St. Andrew’s thing to be doing. It brought our grade together in a special way.”
That the noise around each year’s VI Form reading of Beloved trickles down to underformers is a testament to the strength of the tradition’s experience.
“I was a bit wary to begin reading it because it's so hyped every single year. Each senior is like, ‘I'm reading Beloved right now.’ And all the underformers are like, ‘What is this Beloved book?’” says Pitt. “Then I started reading it. Every sentence is so important that by the end, it is just so relevant. It is still so deep and meaningful today.”
The trio echoes one sentiment in particular: at times, having class discussion about the book, which delves into uncomfortable territory, was difficult.
“You had to really opt-in,” says Pitt. “I think St. Andrew’s is one of the best places to discuss a book like Beloved. It’s such an essential text because it gives the reader time to become vulnerable, and gives our class time to open up. It is heavy and just expands as you read. This is a place where we’re really asked to be authentic and vulnerable about how we feel about texts.”
Not that that vulnerability was an easy place to arrive.
“At first it was pretty awkward and hard to talk about,” Tang says. “But as we proceeded, the book really pushed us to have meaningful discussions. Everybody has their own past and background, and for some people, it may be harder to talk about this book than for others. But we really started to verbalize a lot of the feelings we had.”
Pitt still remembers the vibe in her classroom days after the first reading. “It was like, ‘Boom, okay, talk about it,’” she says. “But it was silence! But with each progressive reading, we were able to really get into the text. That was with the help of Dr. Pitts, who is so incredible, but also it was all of our classmates’ decisions to open up and invite each other in.”
Adds Tang, “The reason why it's uncomfortable is severely important. I think that's what Toni Morrison's trying to say: We have to sit with this uncomfortableness and be reminded of it to have a path forward.”
All VI formers read Beloved together over the first few months of the school year. In-class discussions and essays follow, culminating an exhibition on each student’s Beloved final paper with two students and one English 4 faculty member.
“In our exhibition, we talked about the controversy [around] the ban of Beloved. And the most important thing I took away was this idea of bearing witness to the past,” Pitt says. “We can’t overlook the importance of introducing teenagers to this important piece of American history. I don’t think that you can have a real education if a book like this is banned.”
While Biden notes that students refer to the “St. Andrew’s bubble” with a bit of an eye roll from time to time, in this case, the bubble was the perfect space within to explore the literature.
“Everyone brings their own context and past to something like this, but in this case, we all represent such different parts of our country,” she says. “Where we come from plays a part in how we understand things. It was so beneficial to be in a place where we are all from different towns with different backgrounds yet work together to interpret the foundation of our country, which is deeply intertwined with slavery. To come together in this moment, to learn and understand through each other's backgrounds and identities, was really critical.”
Pitts enjoys the immersive nature of reading along with her students. “We read the opening pages together in class, so that all of us, including myself, experience simultaneously the ways in which the opening is meant to destabilize the reader,” she says. “Morrison wants us to feel confused and displaced. … We become part of the novel’s community, and community is an important theme in the novel. Beloved’s narrative is neither linear or chronological, so the
community of the classroom became stronger as the students struggled together to understand how the narrative unfolded, piecing together details from previous pages and connecting them to other moments in the book. They were like literary detectives.”
One thing these detectives lit upon: Despite all, in the end, Beloved is about hope.
“I focused on the teenage daughter, Denver, for my final paper because no matter how much the novel is about—all the difficult stuff we’ve been talking about—Denver represents a transformation. She goes from this immature, not dependable character to someone who, at the end, is so strong and embodies this beautiful hope,” says Biden. “I think one of the major takeaways is that there's some parts of the past that you need to remember and bear witness to, but then there's some things that you need to forget to move on and have hope and love.”
As years go by, traditions tend to get tweaked and changed, visions realigned. These three seniors ask that that never happens.
“If St. Andrew’s took Beloved out of the curriculum, I would be so very sad,” says Pitt. “This is never a book that I’d independently choose. I am eternally grateful to Dr. Pitts, and all our English teachers, for introducing our class to this book for what it did for all of us.”
One of the many benefits of a St. Andrew’s education is the individual attention each student receives from not only their advisors, teachers, and dorm parents, but also from their college counselors.
Jason Honsel, who has been helping St. Andrew’s students apply and be accepted to colleges for the past seven years, says his team, which includes Anna Hastings, Martha Pitts, and Sheryl Rojas, starts meeting with junior students each fall. Meetings continue with students through their senior year.
“We are a very collaborative group, so while each student is assigned to one of us, we often work together to find the best options for each student,” Honsel says. “We are a tight-knit group and our focus is building a relationship with the students, understanding their goals, their strengths, and helping them get into the right school for them.”
During the course of the year, St. Andrew’s hosts representatives from 50 to 60 colleges and universities. “Each year we receive requests from upwards of 80 schools who want to visit and then we narrow the list down to about 50 to schedule visits,” Honsel says. “There just isn’t enough time to have every single school visit with our students. And, we know from past data where most of our students end up going.”
Speaking of data, Honsel and his team also keep track of student data—grades, extracurricular activities, and where that student ultimately was accepted and then went to college. “Having the past data and knowing each student helps us build a better list of potential colleges for current students because we know what worked for similar students in the past,” he says.
Writing the Essay
For many students, the essay portion of the college application is the most daunting part.
“Essays can be hard, but that is why our team is here,” Honsel says. “We have our entire team that can help read essays and we also partner with other faculty members for help reviewing them.”
His biggest tips for a college essay:
- Be honest and authentic: Each student should write his or her own essay so that it truly represents who they are today.
- Write multiple drafts and continue to ask for feedback so when the essay goes to college admissions, it is the best it can be.
- Do some self-discovery: Think about specific characteristics, goals, likes and dislikes, etc.
Is it all Ivy-League schools for St. Andrew’s students? Honsel says no.
“Our students are incredibly smart and coming to St. Andrew’s is a great benefit for them when it comes to college applications, however, I do often help students see outside the normal ‘brand-name’ colleges,” Honsel says.
The college counseling team helps students build a list of potential colleges. Then students should spend some time researching the schools, attending college rep visits at St. Andrew’s, and then make plans to visit the college campus in person.
“There is so much that goes into the college application process, but we are here for each student every step of the way,” Honsel says.
A Note About Admission Rates
When students sit down with their college counselor and discuss their ideas for where they want to attend college, it can often feel daunting. Just looking at the admission rates can make some feel overwhelmed. For others, it becomes a challenge they focus on overcoming.
In the past several years, admission cycles have seen more admit rates below 10% than ever before. In 1987, for example, Harvard had the lowest admit rate among colleges—16%. Today, schools such as Berkeley and Colgate have a 16% admit rate.
Overall, the most important point to think about is that having a lower admission rate does not mean the school is the highest quality nor does it mean it is the right fit for every student, even the highest achievers.
“Ultimately it’s not where you go, it’s what you do when you are there. Our students are smart enough to thrive anywhere, but it has to be the right fit and culture,” Honsel says. “There are a lot of great schools out there—from large universities to smaller liberal arts colleges. Our students have access to really everything because they have gone to a great high school.”
His best advice for students: “Approach the process with excitement. There are so many options and so many resources and opportunities out there. Just be open to learning about new places and work hard to find the right college fit.”
The College Board website
Fastweb - scholarship resources
Peterson’s College Search Tool
Collegevine College Admissions Calculator
The Fiske Guide to Colleges, Edward B. Fiske
The Best 388 Colleges, Princeton Review
Head of School Joy McGrath ’92 announced and welcomed the new trustees who have joined St. Andrew's Board of Trustees. View the full list of board members here.
Dr. Michael Atalay ’84 P’17,’19,’23 (son of Bulent Atalay ’58, himself a former St. Andrew’s board member) is a graduate of Princeton University, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in physics, and The Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, where he earned his M.D. and Ph.D. degrees in biomedical engineering. Following a medical internship at Beth Israel Hospital in Boston (where he met and married the daughter of one of his patients) and a research fellowship at Massachusetts General Hospital, he completed his residency and fellowship training in radiology back at Hopkins.
In 2003, Dr. Atalay joined the Department of Diagnostic Imaging at Brown University where he specializes in cross-sectional imaging and cardiac MR and CT. He is currently professor of diagnostic imaging and medicine (cardiology), vice-chair of imaging research, director of cardiac MR and CT, and medical director of both the Brown Radiology Human Factors Lab and the Brown Radiology Advanced Imaging Lab. He works closely with trainees at all levels including undergraduates, medical students, radiology residents, and radiology and cardiology fellows, and he annually runs a small group session for second-year medical students in cardiac pathophysiology at The Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University. He regards teaching as one of the great pleasures of academic medicine.
He and his wife Elizabeth have four children and live in East Greenwich, Rhode Island.
Porter Durham P’13,’25 is managing partner at Global Endowment Management in Charlotte, North Carolina. Durham joined GEM in May 2007.
Previously, he served as staff counsel and director of the Education Division of The Duke Endowment, and was chairman of the Corporate and Securities Department at Baker Donelson law firm. He is currently chair of the Duke Law School Board of Visitors and serves as a trustee of the National Humanities Center, the Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy, the Oxford American Literary Project, and Trinity Episcopal School. He is a former trustee of Johnson C. Smith University. He graduated cum laude from Duke University and Duke University School of Law.
Kate Sidebottom Simpson ’96 has worked for over 20 years in investment and endowment management, with specific expertise in private equity and venture capital. She is currently a principal at TrueBridge Capital Partners, where as a member of the investment team, she focuses on due diligence and industry analysis. She also leads the firm’s corporate partnership efforts and co-heads its separately managed account program.
Before joining TrueBridge in 2013, she worked as a director at Parish Capital Advisors and as an investment associate at UNC Management Company, where she helped oversee the endowment’s portfolios in private equity, venture capital, real estate, energy and natural resources, and enhanced fixed income. She has served on numerous investment fund advisory boards.
Simpson currently chairs the Finance and Audit Committee for the Board of Directors of the John Rex Endowment. She previously served as an advisor to Atlas Diligence and has been a member of the Private Equity Women Investor Network and the local chapter of 100 Women in Finance.
She graduated Phi Beta Kappa with a bachelor’s in history from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. As an undergraduate, she was a member of the two-time NCAA Championship Women’s Field Hockey Team.
Simpson grew up in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. While a student at St. Andrew’s, she played field hockey, basketball, and tennis, was a member of the Concert Choir, and was awarded the Henry Prize. She and her husband, George ’92, live in Raleigh, North Carolina with their two boys, Pierce and Whit.