What happened on Dr. Ross’s sabbatical?

The second semester of last year, Dr. Valerie Ross, English teacher, became eligible for a sabbatical after working at Castilleja for 15 years. Although the Class of 2025 most severely felt the impact of her absence, with Ross teaching all four of their English I classes, her sabbatical left a gaping hole for all members of the usually lively Castilleja community.

Whether you have been in a class with her or have seen her walking around campus rocking an amazing outfit, almost everyone recognizes Ross as a pillar of the Castilleja community. Now that she has returned in what seem to be extremely high spirits, I think we have all been wondering: What happened on Ross’ sabbatical?

In the years leading up to her sabbatical, Ross had exciting plans to travel to the South Pacific to visit Tahiti, Indonesia, and the Australian islands. “They almost happened,” she exclaimed, laughing despite the pain in her eyes. Unfortunately, Ross tested positive for Covid three days before her planned travel to the South Pacific, resulting in her travel plans being canceled. Although her plans to visit the South Pacific ultimately fell through, Ross did travel to the Caribbean twice, both trips reuniting her with some of her oldest friends. One particularly memorable day was spent exploring the small beaches surrounding the island of St. John by sailboat. Ross explained that her adventure snorkeling with baby sea turtles and diving off the sailboat into “clear, turquoise water, feeling like a mermaid” was one of the highlights of her sabbatical.

In addition to her fun experiences in the Caribbean, Ross dedicated much of her sabbatical time to finishing her novel Time Slip, the first novel in a four-part series she plans on titling “Slipstream.” The plot is centered around an “intrepid, young female heroine,” and is inspired by Ross’s awesome 9th-grade students, as well as the Heroine’s Journey book circles unit that she used to teach in ninth grade. The book is currently being reviewed by an editor, and Ross hopes to find an agent to publish it this summer.

Ross also worked on many other creative projects throughout her time off. Some of her favorites included painting classes, poetry writing, and guitar playing. Ross gave Perry McElhinney ‘24 credit for teaching her how to quilt and inspiring Ross to make four different quilts during her sabbatical.

Ross expressed her gratitude to Castilleja for giving her the opportunity to dive deep into her creativity, stating that she hadn’t had “that kind of renaissance of [her] creative soul, since [she] was a kid.” She explained that her new appreciation of the importance of creativity, and the books she read on Culturally Responsive Teaching and antiracist pedagogical theory have changed her teaching style upon her return to Castilleja. She is experiencing “a new openness and flexibility, and inspiration.” While prior to her sabbatical, Ross’s teaching style focused on her being “the sage on the stage,” she now sees herself as being “the guide on the side.” She has transitioned all of her English classes to standards-based grading, and Ross has noticed a difference in students’ attitudes toward work in her classes.

Ross’s gratitude for her time spent being creative has given me a new perspective on the opportunities that I have as a student at Castilleja. I am excited to explore the art of quilting, and to enjoy Time Slip as soon as it is released.