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Posted Monday, Sep 28, 2015 5:00:00 PM

Halford Has Begun!

Earlier this month marked the start of Halford, the Big/Little Sister mentoring program between Castilleja students and bright 4th and 5th grade girls from 10 different schools in East Palo Alto and it surrounding communities. Through a series of EOPs, after school sessions, and monthly science Saturdays, the "sisters" form close bonds and inspire each other to become the best leaders they can be.

This past Saturday, was the first Science Saturday for Halford run in collaboration with the Casti Robotics team! To start off, we split the 4th graders and the 5th graders into two groups. Then the 4th graders went to do interviews to find out more about the Castilleja Big Sisters while the 5th graders went to make drawing robots! After a brief lesson on circuits, conductivity, and electricity, the girls were tasked with building a drawing robot out of 2 markers, a motor, a battery and a small cup or box. Working together, the sisters constructed super cool robots that drew patterns when activated. Once every girl in 5th grade had completed her robot, the whole group came together for a classic Casti game of Spy before switching stations so the 4th graders could try their hand at robotics. All in all a really fun day with the bonus of a souvenir to remember all of the hard work the girls put in.

Cate Alder '17


To learn more about Halford check out our new website or stop by the ACE Center.



Posted Monday, Jun 8, 2015 9:20:00 AM

Sixty-two young women in white dresses filed into a large white tent in the middle of Castilleja School's central lawn. A small orchestra gently played "Pomp and Circumstance" as each member of the Class of 2015 entered clutching a bouquet of red roses. A stack of red diplomas awaited them on the stage. So began Castilleja School's 108th commencement ceremony on Saturday, June 6.

Friends and family listened as speakers reflected on the education and values Castilleja, an all-girls private school serving grades 6-12, imparted on the graduates.

"With the support of teachers who taught us not what to think but how to think we've learned to observe the world with a critical eye and to question the things that may seem obvious," class valedictorian Jolena Ma said. "The Class of 2015 has formed an incredible and unbreakable bond. An all-encompassing unity and sense of inclusivity."

Friendship was the theme of the day. Keynote speaker Dr. Pam Silver, who graduated from Castilleja in 1970 and is now a professor of biochemistry and systems biology at Harvard Medical School, reflected on what her high school experience meant.

"It was also about friends for life. I'm sure that all of you can point to at least one person that you will remain friends with forever," Silver said in a lighthearted, often humorous speech.

She encouraged the graduates to engage with science as college students. She brought along two examples of her work, a "bionic leaf" that looked more like a glass jar, and a large block of what she described as "cheese."

"It does not look like a leaf but this jar is capable of taking sunlight and like a leaf using it to split water and make hydrogen. The hydrogen is then used by organisms which we've engineered that live in the jar and can make fuel, drugs, or food. This is cheap and has potential for use anywhere in the world and even outer space," she said to impressed murmurs.

The "cheese" served more as a punchline. "One of my graduate students teamed up with a smell artist to make cheese from different parts of their body. So they made toenail cheese, armpit cheese, hair cheese, you get the idea. And they all smell distinct. I can still remember the lovely smell of Christina's big toe cheese."

Silver offered straightforward advice to the graduates.

"When you arrive at a college, everyone seems like a genius. But that's how you seem to them as well. Do not be intimidated, you are all geniuses in your own way. Take risks. I know everyone tells you that, but when I look back at my own success it's because of the risks I took and when I look at the disappointments it's because of the risks I didn't take," she said.

"Don't be too careerist, you won't enjoy yourselves too much and it's only college for heaven's sake. And don't follow the herd. As we often say the beauty of university life is that there really are no rules. You make the rules. And most of all, the world is your oyster. Go invent the future."

Graduates Megan Colford and Chloe Sales were selected by faculty for the Castilleja Award, which goes to the student or students who best exemplify the quality of the "Five Cs" (conscience, courtesy, character, courage and charity).

Colford described her classmates as fearless, though now they all face a new and terrifying challenge of taking full control of their lives.

"Our fearlessness does not just come from our classmates, but from our parents who always reminded us to get back up when we're down and to never ever give up," she said. "I don't view this award as a nod to my own personal achievements and abilities, but rather to the environment and family that we as a class created that has allowed all of us to thrive."

"(Castilleja is a place) where everyone is kind and caring and big-hearted," reflected Sales. "That is family. Familiar and warm. And this is what being at Castilleja feels like. It feels like coming home. What matters is that we remember each other. Though my classmates will disperse far and wide we'll remember our roots as we move on."

Head of Castilleja School Nanci Kaufmann, who was a member of the Class of 1974, recounted her reunion with some of her classmates when she turned 50, and urged the students to maintain their connections with their classmates.

"Friendships help us to live better lives. Today you graduate from Castilleja with so many gifts and all of them will matter in the future. But the greatest gift of all is the one I almost forgot to cherish for myself. So don't wait until your 50th birthday to reunite with your Castilleja connections. Grab hold of each other and don't let go," she said.

After the graduates filed out of the tent, with red roses and diplomas in hand, they gathered with family and friends.

"It's been amazing," said graduate Wings Yeung, who was surrounded by her family beaming with pride. "I think I've really learned how to work in a group and form a community, make friends and keep them."

Yeung is going to Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) where she hopes to study electrical engineering and computer science.

Margaret Lane, Megan Colford's mother and a teacher at Castilleja, had the great privilege to witness her daughter and her classmates grow up.

"Teaching her class was a dream. They're one of the brightest and most motivated classes I've had," she said. "I've really seen them grow up. But I have to say that one of the things I've been so grateful for is that my fellow parents have been very supportive. As a group the parents of this class have been very respectful of the teachers and supportive and critical when they needed to be. It's been a really great group of people."

--By Joshua Alvarez, Palo Alto Weekly
Originally Published June 7, 2015

Posted Friday, Jun 5, 2015 9:45:00 AM

Castilleja celebrated a year of fantastic achievements with Class Day. With speakers acknowledging all students' impressive accomplishments both inside and beyond the classroom, a handful of students and employees also received special recognition for their exceptional engagement:

Distinguished Teaching Awards: Elaine Middleman and Julian Cortella
Distinguished Service Awards: Bertha ValdiviasHA and Stacey Kertsman
The Kathryn Aguirre Worth '79 Faculty Enrichment Grant: Heather Allen Pang '84HA
Paintbrush Dedications: Graham Toben and Josh Genauer

English Awards: Hannah K. '15 and Victoria P. '15
Elyce Melmon Creative Writing Award: Chloe S. '15
Janet Lewis Poetry Award: Caroline H. '15
Pure Mathematics Awards: Yael G. '15 and Wings Y. '15
Applied Mathematics Awards: Jolena M. '15 and Mayuka S. '15
Science Award: Anna V. '15
French Award: Chloe S. '15
Latin Award: Nicole M. '15
Chinese Awards: Hannah K. '15 and Natalie S. '15
Spanish Awards: Megan C. '15 and Kat P. '15
History-Social Science Awards: Alex Z. '15 and Sarah D. '15
Computer Science & Engineering Award: Austin J. '15
Technical Theatre Award: Kat P. '15
Theatre Award: Kathleen K. '15
Choral Music Award: Abby A. '15
Instrumental Music Awards: Hannah K. '15 and Natalie S. '15
Visual Arts Award: Clare T. '15

Women Learning Award: Juliet O. '16
Women Leading Award: Molly L. '16

Alice Lynn Armstrong-Winkel '52 Middle School Athlete of the Year Award: Anika A. '19
Cecilia Burchfiel Krogstad '64 Upper School Athlete of the Year Award: Paige V. '15
Scholar-Athlete Award: Anna Y. '15
John H. Roberts, III Memorial Sportsmanship Award: Anna V. '15

Alumnae Association Leadership Award: Kathleen K. '15
Middle School Citizenship Awards: Divya G. '21, Ananya R. '20, and Athena N. '19

Peggy Booth Award: Eva S. '18
Margarita Espinosa Award: Jordan J. '17
Spirit of '76 Award: Meg J. '16

Middle School Community Action Award: Sophie N. '19
Frances Cook Arrillaga Upper School Community Action Awards: Teni A. '15 and Alex Z. '15
Joan Z. Lonergan Beyond the Circle Awards: Lindsay R. '16, Julie P. '16, and Gwen C. '17

Salutatorian Award: Natalie S. '15
Valedictorian Award: Jolena M. '15
Castilleja Awards: Chloe S. '15 and Megan C. '15

Cum Laude Members from the Class of 2015: Abby A., Kris A., Yael G., Heidi K., Kriti L., Jolena M., Nicole M., Tammy Q., Natalie S., Chloe S., Mayuka S., and Wings Y.

At the end of the ceremony, yearbook leadership revealed this year's yearbook theme: a Casti cookbook! The afternoon concluded with girls swapping both signatures and stories as they reminisced about a fun-filled year.

Posted Friday, Jun 5, 2015 8:42:00 AM

Frequency 49, of which Castilleja Instrumental Music Director Dr. Leslie Hart is a member, will be presenting a master class on Saturday, June 6th at 11am in the music room for MUSE members and the Castilleja community. They will also rehearse with MUSE and play alongside students at graduation. Frequency 49 is a San Francisco Bay Area-based wind and piano chamber ensemble dedicated to broadening awareness of compelling woodwind repertoire new and true through performances of the highest artistry. Featuring flexible instrumentation, the group explores the interdependent relationship between color and sound unique to this combination of instruments.

Posted Thursday, Jun 4, 2015 12:49:07 PM

On the 2015 National Spanish Exam, Castilleja students from 8th -12th grades earned a total of 11 gold, 16 silver, and 15 bronze medals, along with 33 honorable mentions. "Attaining a medal or honorable mention for any student on the National Spanish Examinations is very prestigious," said Kevin Cessna-Buscemi, National Director of the Exams, "because the exams are the largest of their kind in the United States" with over 154,000 students participating in 2015. ¡Buen trabajo!

Posted Wednesday, May 27, 2015 11:18:00 AM

Bourn Idea Lab Director Angi Chau wrote a guest blog post for EdSurge on the importance of maker education for girls. EdSurge touts itself as "an independent information resource and community for everyone involved in education technology," and features posts about everything from blended learning to digital tools for language acquisition. In Angi's post about the Bourn Idea Lab, she explores everything from why girls are less interested in STEM to how the Lab encourages STEM confidence with its all-girls maker environment. Read the post here!

Posted Tuesday, May 26, 2015 4:16:00 PM

Students were honored by a special visit from Condoleezza Rice, former Secretary of State under George W. Bush. With an illustrious career as a political scientist and diplomat -- including serving on the Council on Foreign Relations, in the National Security Council, and as a National Security Advisor and Provost of Stanford University -- she was also a trailblazer for African Americans and women in both diplomacy and leadership. While on campus Ms. Rice discussed her personal journey, from growing up in the segregated south to discovering her passion for politics. She also shared with students how grit, determination, and an open mind are key to success-- as well as to learning from failure.

Posted Thursday, May 21, 2015 10:58:00 AM

On Founder's Day alumna Pamela Hawley '87 came to campus for an inspiring keynote about her personal journey to the nonprofit sector and her current work as founder and CEO of UniversalGiving, a social entrepreneurship nonprofit organization whose vision is to "create a world where giving and volunteering is a natural part of everyday life."

Pamela's community service began at the age of 12, and has extended into the international realm. She has worked and volunteered in microfinance in remote villages of India, crisis relief for the El Salvador earthquake, digital divide training in the Killing Fields of Cambodia, and sustainable farming in the countryside of Guatemala.

While on campus she spoke about how her Castilleja education and transformative experiences abroad helped her find her passion for a life of service. She also gave listeners a window into her current work with UniversalGiving (an award-winning, web-based nonprofit allowing people to give and volunteer with the top-performing projects and volunteer opportunities across the world) and how her time around the Circle prepared her to thrive.

Wish you'd been at the talk? Watch the video recording here!

Posted Monday, May 18, 2015 10:51:22 AM

The Spring Concert is Thursday, May 21, at 7:30pm in the Chapel Theater. The concert will feature jazz, classical, show tunes, and pop tunes performed by the Middle School and Upper School music ensembles including Show Choir, Sound Sisters, MUSE, Jazz Combo, Flute Choir, and String Quartets. The concert is free and there will be refreshments and a raffle at intermission. The singers and musicians would love your support. See you there!

Posted Wednesday, May 13, 2015 1:31:00 PM

Congratulations to Senior Abby A., who was selected as a dance finalist out of over a hundred applicants for the Steve Silver Foundation and Beach Blanket Babylon's "Scholarship for the Arts." With a total of nine finalists in acting, dancing, and singing, Jo Schuman Silver (producer of Steve Silver's Beach Blanket Babylon) said, "I am really impressed by the quality of the performances that we’ve received and the dedication of the students to their craft. We look forward to having the nine finalists perform in front of our panel of celebrity judges and their family and friends on June 1st. It is guaranteed to be a great night!" The grand prize? $10,000 toward the winner's college education. Good luck Abby-- Casti will be crossing its fingers for you!

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Posted 03/06/2018 08:00AM

Castilleja School Among Nation’s First Schools to Join New Campaign Led by Harvard’s Making Caring Common Project to Bridge Divides, Build Stronger Communities

Castilleja is among the nation’s first schools to join a new national campaign to mobilize middle and high schools to prepare young people to be constructive community members and citizens who create a better world. Led by Harvard’s Making Caring Common project, the Caring Schools #CommonGood campaign aims to motivate schools to take action to help mend our country’s fractures and strengthen democracy.

The campaign seeks to advance the following specific goals by working with schools nationwide:

  1. Deepen students’ care for others and their communities;
  2. Increase equity and access for all students in the college admissions process; and
  3. Reduce excessive achievement pressure in communities where it is detrimental to students.

These goals align with and build on Making Caring Common’s successful Turning the Tide initiative that has engaged more than 175 college admissions offices nationwide.

“Our country is at a crossroads,” said Dr. Richard Weissbourd, Senior Lecturer at the Harvard Graduate School of Education and Faculty Director of the Making Caring Common project. “We need to mobilize the great strengths of Americans to prepare young people to build strong, inclusive communities and to protect democracy. This work has perhaps never been more important.”

To join the campaign, schools commit to taking substantial, meaningful action to advance one or more of the campaign’s goals and to engage in a self-assessment or evaluation process to measure the impact of their action(s). Schools that commit to, implement, and evaluate the impact of their efforts will earn a special designation from Making Caring Common.

More information about how schools, parents, and students can join the campaign can be found at

Posted 02/13/2018 10:00AM
Walk around campus on a January afternoon, and you will come across groups of Seniors tuning up their bikes, strumming guitars, building light sculptures, creating letterpress art, and getting to grips with budgeting.  Senior mini-courses are back for the second year! These no-homework, no-grade courses allow Seniors to explore new perspectives, build new skills and expertise, or dive deep into new topics under the guidance of fabulous Castilleja teachers and other experts. This January, students could choose between Bike Mechanics with Mr. Elgasseir, Guitar Basics with Mr. Thurston-Milgrom, Letter Press with Ms. Seroff, Making Lights Sing with Dr. Chau and Mr. Cummings, and Personal Finance with our friends at Next Gen Finance. Another session is planned for March.
Posted 02/12/2018 01:00PM

This past weekend, a cast and crew of 110 students came together for a performance benefiting Human Rights Watch in the 15th annual Arts with a Heart.

Bravo to our fabulous and hard-working cast and crew!

Arts with a Heart is a student-led dance production dedicated to creating awareness about an important social issue while fundraising for a related nonprofit organization.

For more pictures of this year's show, visit here.

Posted 01/29/2018 08:00AM

Castilleja's Mock Trial team, now in its third year, began the Santa Clara County Mock Trial Competition on January 23rd. The criminal case is a murder trial featuring a pretrial argument on the Fourth Amendment. The team had an impressive start in the opening rounds and the prosecution and defense will be back at it again next week. Junior co-captains Jacqueline H. and Madeline W. lead this young but mighty team of ninth and tenth graders along with their faculty advisors, Sue Kim and Jamie Sullivan. Outside attorney coaches are Michelle Melen '01 and Rachel Thomas. 

Posted 03/02/2018 01:00PM

Juniors Reese K. and Niav L. were awarded second place in the American Actuarial Foundation’s Modeling the Future Symposium in New York City on Monday.  This award came with a $15,000 prize ($7,500 each) that they will be able to use towards their college education!

The Modeling the Future competition asked students to write a paper that forecasts the impact of autonomous vehicles on the transportation industry, insurance industry, and society at large.  They were selected as finalists in December based on their original submission.  They received feedback from the judges, revised their paper and presented their findings to a panel of 12 judges representing actuaries from across the country. 


Posted 02/28/2018 05:00PM

"Do you solemnly swear that you will tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help you Shakespeare?"

With one hand on the play, sophomores swore in with these words as Macbeth faced trial for his crimes.

In this vivid roleplaying activity for English II, each class divides up into prosecution and defense with students becoming lawyers and key characters who can provide testimony for or against Macbeth.

Judges Smith and Sherouse presided over the trials, with teachers, juniors, and seniors serving as jurors.



Posted 02/05/2018 09:45AM

Five Castilleja students have been named recipients of 2018 Scholastic Writing Awards. Congratulations to juniors Sophia N., Sophie N.-L., Alyssa S., Angie W., and senior Ella N! These students' award-winning essays, short stories, and pieces of investigative journalism were named among the best of the west in this annual writing competition. Sophie, Sophia, and Ella each had pieces honored as "Gold Key" winners, and these works will advance to national competition. 

Posted 01/30/2018 05:00PM
Today was the final day of a mini-course for seniors on basic bicycle maintenance, affectionately known going forward as the Casti Bike Kitchen
Our special guest today was Arthur Rodriguez of We diagnosed and fixed a number of problems with two different student bikes. The students also went through a checklist of safety issues with bikes. 
Posted 02/12/2018 01:00PM

This past weekend, a cast and crew of 110 students came together for a performance benefiting Human Rights Watch in the 15th annual Arts with a Heart.

Bravo to our fabulous and hard-working cast and crew!

Arts with a Heart is a student-led dance production dedicated to creating awareness about an important social issue while fundraising for a related nonprofit organization.

For more pictures of this year's show, visit here.

Posted 01/16/2018 07:40PM

Today, our students were excited to welcome our 2018 Arrillaga Family Speaker, Mr. Bryan Stevenson, who spoke to us about his work as a lawyer challenging racial discrimination in the criminal justice system.

Among the many takeaways Mr. Stevenson shared with us today was a roadmap for how we can effect change: by getting proximate to the people and the issues we need to understand and want to address; by questioning the narratives we accept about poverty and justice, by being hopeful; and by doing uncomfortable and inconvenient things. In closing, he offered us the reminder that justice, not wealth, is the antithesis of poverty.


Posted 01/05/2018 10:00AM

"When I think about why I do the work I do, I actually think of my privilege first. All of my ability to affect any change, that’s what I use. Because no one in this room is privileged or disadvantaged; we have multiple identities that are intersecting—not equally, not identically, but humanly."

-Alison Park, founder of Blink Consulting, at this morning's Local Challenges; Local Solutions Panel


Our Local Challenges; Local Solutions Panel this morning was moderated by Head of School Nanci Kauffman. Joining us were:

Peter Fortenbaugh, Executive Director of the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Peninsula. BGCP provides the low-income youth of East Palo Alto, eastern Menlo Park, and Redwood City with opportunities that enable them to achieve school success.

Alison Park, founder of Blink Consulting. Blink is an educational consultancy that is critically rethinking diversity. Since 2009, Blink has collaborated with over 90 schools, as well as various community-based, government, and for-profit organizations to help create communities where all children, youth, and adults can thrive.

Raymond Plaza is the Director of the Office for Diversity and Inclusion at Santa Clara University. He works closely with many groups across campus to design strategies for the recruitment and retention of individuals from underrepresented groups.

Posted 01/04/2018 03:00PM

"What we know from data is that opportunity gaps are what drive achievement gaps.

There are kids who have access to elevators running at the speed of a bullet train versus kids that are on escalators moving very smoothly from floor to floor...and then there are some kids who are on stairwells with missing handrails and broken steps. And we are saying EVERYONE has to get to floor 16, or college graduation, at the same time. How could you possibly get there all at the same time if you're using drastically different modes of transportation? What we as researchers and educators and policymakers have been doing is comparing at what speed students get to that top floor, ignoring, often, the radical difference in modes of transportation to that top floor. "

- Dr. Prudence L. Carter, Dean and Professor of the University of California, Berkeley's Graduate School of Education


Our Thursday Global Week keynote speaker Dr. Carter's research agenda focuses on causes of and solutions to enduring social and cultural inequalities among social groups, especially in education and schooling. Specifically, she examines academic and mobility differences influenced by the dynamics of race, ethnicity, class, and gender in the U.S. and global society. Her expertise spans issues of youth identity and educational well-being; urban poverty, social and cultural inequality, and the sociocultural and organizational contexts of schools.

She is also an award-winning author, elected member of the National Academy of Education and the Sociological Research Association, Fellow of the American Educational Research Association, and Board member and Program Committee chairperson for the William T. Grant Foundation.

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