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Class of '69 Alumna Inherits Fearlessness from Founding Headmistress

Valerie Morgan-Alston Current

Valerie Morgan-Alston ’69 graduated from The Colorado Springs School more than five decades ago, yet still considers the school’s founding headmistress Margaret White Campbell to be one of the most influential people she has crossed paths with throughout her life.

“She often comes to mind when I’m thinking about the past, and if people ask me about my life and my experiences, I always think of her,” said Morgan-Alston, currently a senior advisor in the Office for Civil Rights with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Morgan-Alston joined CSS as a 7th grader in 1963, after Headmistress Campbell fought for her to be enrolled as the school’s first African American student. Several Board of Trustees members reportedly threatened to resign if she was admitted and ultimately did resign when she enrolled.

“Knowing Margaret the way I did, I was not surprised she had done that. She was fearless, and she instilled that sense of fearlessness in us. She made us believe we could do anything,” Morgan-Alston said.

“Margaret’s action was one of those acts that helped change the face of America, that helped make America a place where a poor African American girl like me could have the opportunity to strive for and achieve a better life.”

Morgan-Alston attended Wellesley College, Pace University/New York Medical College, and the University of Colorado Health Science Center. Her degrees include a master’s in parent and child nursing and a master’s in nursing. She served as head nurse of a neonatal intensive care unit and as assistant director of nursing for obstetrics and gynecology.

When a friend mentioned she was thinking of attending law school, it piqued Morgan-Alston’s interest. She enrolled at Georgetown University Law Center, later earning a JD to practice law. She served as a prosecutor for the Denver District Attorney’s Office before serving as a magistrate judge in Denver Juvenile Court.

In 2000, Morgan-Alston joined the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services as a chief civil rights attorney. “Being able to fight for peoples’ rights called out to me,” said Morgan-Alston, who held several positions, including deputy director of enforcement and regional operations in charge of civil rights enforcement with HHS for the entire country. As senior advisor, she splits her time between Denver and Washington, D.C., and hopes to retire in 2023.

Valerie Morgan-Alston & Margaret White Campbell

She largely credits Campbell (shown here), a trailblazer who believed students learned best through experiential education, for her career journey. Morgan-Alston didn’t learn that the Headmistress had fought for her right to attend CSS until long after graduating.

“Because of Margaret, I have had the opportunity to try and make a difference like she did by standing up for people from all walks of life through enforcement of laws that prohibit discrimination on the basis of race, color, national origin, disability, gender, and religion,” she said.

In 2009, CSS recognized Morgan-Alston as the inaugural honoree at Founders’ Day, which is dedicated to a celebration of CSS’s history, character and values, as well as the accomplishments of those who have been a part of the school.

“Valerie is a model alum. Her success is representative of the experiences our alumni have had in the world,” said Susan Robbins, director of alumni relations at the time. “She is living a purposeful life and is having an impact and influence on the people around her.”

Morgan-Alston recalls her six years at CSS as full of extraordinary teachers who thought outside the box. “Some of my fondest memories are of my teachers and how they challenged me and made me think,” she said.

There were also struggles being the first and only African American student during her time at CSS. “I think any African American you talk to who integrated a school has mixed feelings,” she said. “It changed my life for the better and put me on a different trajectory – no doubt about it. It did a lot to help shape me. It opened my eyes to a world I had never seen, and it made me think that I could be part of it even if I wasn’t sure. But, it was definitely tough at times.”

One of her favorite memories is from Middle School on a winter day so cold the pond was frozen with a sky so clear that Morgan-Alston wanted to be outside enjoying it. So, she led a protest, asking the other students to join her in the hallway at a certain time.

“Margaret came down and said, ‘Girls, what are you doing?'” recalled Morgan-Alston, who explained that they were having a sit-in. When Campbell asked why, Morgan-Alston told her it was too nice of a day to be in school and that they should be ice-skating.

Valerie Morgan-Alston CSS

"She looked at me and said, ‘You know, you’re right.’ She called school off, and we went ice-skating. They made hot chocolate, and even the teachers were skating,” Morgan-Alston said. “We had the best afternoon.”

After Morgan-Alston graduated CSS, she wrote letters to Campbell, sharing updates about her college years and life because she wanted her to be proud. Campbell, who was headmistress from 1962 through 1974, died at age 95 in 2006.

“Margaret was a great role model for all of us. Through her vision, she molded [CSS] into a place where girls learned not only manners and etiquette, but also learned that girls should be valued for their minds, ideas, achievements, and creations,” Morgan-Alston said. “Because of Margaret, I left [CSS] believing that there was nothing that I could not achieve as a woman if I put my mind to it. That belief was a crucial component to my success.”

Reading & Writing Come Full Circle for Class of '83 Alumna

Deborah Yaffe Current

Consumed by literature even as a young girl, Deborah Yaffe ’83 devoured classics by Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, George Eliot, Edith Wharton, and others. She crammed a suitcase full of novels before heading off for a family vacation the summer she was 10.

In 5th grade, she sat cross-legged on the playground, absorbed in pages while other children played. With her teacher insistently reminding her that recess was meant for physical activity, she resorted to sneaking books outside beneath her coat.

Yaffe also discovered a passion for writing early on, partly fueled by her father, a writer and English professor at Colorado College. “There was a little of following in his footsteps,” she said. “I’ve always been interested in putting things into language and finding ways to say things in the most powerful and compact way.”

Today, Yaffe is an award-winning author and freelance writer living in New Jersey with an extensive journalism background in government, politics, education, and law. She credits the “intensive writing instruction” she received at The Colorado Springs School (CSS) for helping her hone those skills.

Yaffe, who joined CSS in the 7th grade, was assigned four research papers in Middle School and a handful in the Upper School division. Students followed detailed steps: choosing a topic, conducting research, using notecards to gather information, creating outlines, writing drafts, making revisions – as much as it took to get it right.

“When I think about how much our teachers had to grade, my mind boggles. But, it teaches you the process,” she said. “I outline everything I write now unless it’s incredibly short, and I have a bone-deep sense of structure as a result. I can see how useful it is when I see people who don’t have it.”

Yaffe recalls small classes where students received plenty of one-on-one attention from teachers who developed lessons based on their own unique interests. One such Upper School class that still stands out to Yaffe was on the English novelist D.H. Lawrence. Yaffe and her classmates spent several days exploring Taos, N.M., where Lawrence lived in the 1920s.

“How cool is it that high school students were getting a class on a single author? It sounds like a college class except it was being taught by a high school teacher passionate about the subject. There was a lot of stuff like that going on,” said Yaffe, whose two siblings also attended CSS. “Even at the time, I knew that was something special and unusual.”

Yaffe, who remains in touch with several of her former CSS teachers today, was a co-recipient of the 1983 Margaret White Campbell Award. Each year at Commencement, faculty gift a small silver bowl to select seniors recognizing their academic excellence, leadership, general character, and service to the CSS community. Yaffe’s bowl sits on a shelf in her dining room.

Deborah Yaffe - Past

After CSS, Yaffe went to Yale University, where she graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in humanities in 1987. She then went on to attend the University of Oxford on a Marshall Scholarship, awarded annually by the British government to American college graduates; she received a Master of Arts in politics, philosophy, and economics in 1989.

For nearly 15 years, Yaffe held several newspaper positions before authoring two books. Her first book, Other People's Children: The Battle for Justice and Equality in New Jersey's Schools, is a narrative history of the State of New Jersey’s efforts to equalize educational opportunities for rich and poor schoolchildren published in 2007.

Her interest was piqued while reporting on Jersey City schools and again while covering the statehouse. “I thought to myself, ‘Someone should write a book about this,’” she said. It received the 2008 NJ Studies Academic Alliance author's award for an outstanding non-fiction work about New Jersey.

Her second book, Among the Janeites: A Journey Through the World of Jane Austen Fandom, is an affectionate look at the quirky subculture of Jane Austen fans, published in 2013.

“I love [Austen’s] witty, elegant, and lucid prose, her deep psychological insight, and her uncompromising moral sense,” said Yaffe, whose collectibles include a Jane Austen action figure and bobblehead. “Her books seem fresh and contemporary two centuries after they were written, and I find something new every time I reread.”

Yaffe has been a fan for 46 years – since reading her first Austen novel, Pride and Prejudice, at age 10. As a CSS student, Yaffe even convinced one Upper School teacher to add Austen’s novel, Emma, to the syllabus for a class on Women in Literature, which she mentions in her book.

Grit & Perseverance Guide Class of 2015 Alumnus Through Global Pandemic

Carl Churchill '15 Present Day

Carl Churchill ’15 earned a master’s degree just four years after graduating from The Colorado Springs School. This is the story behind his fast track to higher education success and the pandemic that made him question everything.

As a junior and senior at CSS, Churchill took an impressive 11 Advanced Placement (AP) exams. He used these advanced standing credits to enroll at the University of Colorado Colorado Springs (UCCS) and – in three short years – graduated Summa Cum Laude with both a Bachelor of Arts in History and a certificate in GIS, a subfield of geography that focuses on its technological application. Not surprisingly, UCCS recognized Churchill as an Outstanding Undergraduate Student.

By age 21, he had graduated from an accelerated master’s program at Arizona State University and wasted no time entering the Geographic Information System field. Within six months, Churchill had secured a job as a cartographer preparing maps, figures, and applications for the Woodwell Climate Research Center in rural Massachusetts. Little did he know the emotional and physical toll the COVID-19 pandemic would have on his newfound role in the workforce. Churchill would spend the next 15 months in isolation, living and working alone.

“Going quickly from high school to undergrad, field schools, then a graduate degree, and professional work had mentally primed me to think that was ‘normal’ – and for it all to simply stop forced me to come to terms with what I really wanted out of life and my career,” Churchill said. “Living in an unfamiliar place with little to no support network locally also provoked deep soul-searching since I simply had no one else to distract me from my own thoughts.”

Churchill was resourceful, understanding that he had the confidence to trust he would move beyond this jarring and transformative time. “That helped me through the pandemic,” he said, “and CSS helped develop that in me quite a bit.”

In May 2022, Churchill took a job as a graphics reporter for The Wall Street Journal and is currently living in New York City. “I feel like a different person,” said Churchill, noting how satisfying his new career path has been. “It’s harder for me to draw a straight line. It’s a straight line that turned into a big, fuzzy scribble, then a straight line again starting in a different place. I’m sure many young people can relate to that feeling. But life takes unexpected turns, and you have to find meaning internally beyond simply the drive to check items off a list.”

Carl Churchill 3rd Grade

Churchill, who attended CSS beginning in the 3rd grade, credits the experience for much more than developing his strong academic foundation. “It made me a more mature, worldly, and resourceful person for sure – and internally disciplined,” he said.

He participated in Model United Nations, Matchwits, and Academic World Quest, which competed in the national championship. “I got such a passion for learning because of the teachers at CSS. They’re unique and interesting,” Churchill said. ”They bring a certain color to the material that makes it alive; a level of passion.”

He acknowledges and appreciates that CSS allowed him to better connect with his classmates in ways he may not have at larger schools.

"During Middle School and Upper School, I interacted with every single person in my class. I knew them all by first and last name," he said. "It was a community. Not just that it was a community, but that it was a supportive community. The cool kids were the ones who studied hard. The cool kids were the ones who were nice to other people. You can’t say that about everywhere."