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The Providence Day Legacy

“The food is really good.” “It’s really easy to make friends here.” “Everyone is so welcoming and nice.” These thoughts are common refrains from alumni children who are following in their parents’ footsteps as Providence Day School students. 

Now that Providence Day is celebrating its 50th year, some families have second and even third generations attending the school. Three alumni who attended Providence Day spoke about why they chose to carry on the family tradition and how their experiences compare to that of their children.

Becky Montgomery Grubbs ’80 and Caroline Grubbs ’23

Becky Grubbs ’80, known then as Rebecca Sue Montgomery, started at PD during the fall of 1972 in fifth grade. She was named ‘Sweetheart Queen’ her graduating year and participated in the Liberty yearbook staff, National Honor Society, and was a student government officer.

“Probably my favorite teacher was Anita McLeod. She taught Upper School English when I was there and I was an English major in college, so she was an influence there,” she says. Her daughter Caroline Grubbs ’23 also had McLeod as a teacher in Lower School. “There are so many memories that stand out. My most enjoyable memories are junior and senior proms and the bus photo our senior year; that’s a really cool tradition that I love to see continuing.” 

Since the beginning, Providence Day has literally been about family for Grubbs. “I graduated from PD, as did my brother, his wife, their two daughters, my sister-in-law’s sister, our cousin, and now his daughter is in fourth grade here. My mom served pizza in the lunchroom.” 

There was no question that Caroline would also attend Providence Day. “My own experience and love and history of the school made me want to send Caroline here. It’s different but the same – the obvious difference now is the size of the school, but the community, the spirit, and the feeling are the same as it was in 1980.”

“We’ve had so many family members go through PD, and I’m just happy to be able to keep that tradition going and seeing that, like with my cousin in fourth grade,” agrees Caroline. When she started in kindergarten, her 10th-grade cousin got to be her school buddy, and when Caroline was in 5th grade, she got to be her younger cousin’s kindergarten reading buddy. She just finished her tenth year at the school.

“One special thing about PD is having all different grades around, from TK to seniors, and getting to know people that are not in the same grade,” says Caroline. “I just think it’s cool with the diversity of ages and the variety of experiences going on at once.” She also appreciates the variety of classes and opportunities. “I’ve been involved in field hockey since 5th grade with the school and do set construction for plays and musicals. One consistent thing throughout the years is my favorite class – band with Dr. Hough.”

Caroline also embraces the global focus of Providence Day as a normal part of her experience. “I’ve heard people say they’ve tried to incorporate other cultures at other schools, but I think our school does a really good job of teaching and learning about other cultures, celebrations, and other ways of living life. We see how it’s different everywhere around the world and how we can learn from that and be better as people.”

Jasper Ray ’87,
Aiden Ray ’25,
and Cam Ray ’27

Aiden Ray ’25 and Cam Ray ’27 transferred to PD two years ago from Idlewild magnet school and the transition has been flawless. “It’s just a great overall school,” says Aiden. “All of the teachers are supportive. The people are nice and allow you to talk and have fun. My favorite teacher is Mr. Smith, he’s smart and funny.” Aiden is an athlete who plays football, basketball, track, and baseball.

Younger brother Cam, who started at PD in fourth grade, feels the same way. “My favorite part of Providence Day is the community. Everyone is super nice, everyone always greets you when you come onto campus, and the food is really good. It’s really easy to make friends there. It’s hard not to enjoy that school.” Cam’s favorite teacher so far has been Ben Hovis, the alumni teacher known for his running accomplishments, and Cam says, “I haven’t raced him yet. I like football, basketball, baseball, and lacrosse.” 

What does he think has changed since his dad graduated in 1987? “The size, the school was much smaller in the 1900s. Now it’s a much bigger and healthier community.”

“They really love it,” says Jasper Ray ’87. “Aiden was always an introvert, always smart and straight As, but never really talked. Coming to PD with the change in environment, he is one of the most outgoing and loving people there. It warms my heart to see him opening up and growing. That’s a lot.”

Jasper started at Providence Day when he was in ninth grade and attended the school for four years. Prior to attending PD, Ray was a student at Our Lady of Consolation, a K-8 school on the west side of Charlotte, where his football coach’s wife worked at PD. “It was really a culture shock going from an all-black Catholic school to a prep school. I was one of the first few black people there. We were talking [about the] early 80s, so it was really difficult sometimes. There were a lot of really good people there but also a lot of people who had really old school perceptions, both students and faculty.”

“From my understanding, we were the ones to try to bring diversity to PD. Every year there would be one or two more, but Reggie and I were the only two who made it from 9th-12th,” says Ray, who maintains a close friendship with Clark. “I think it’s something that helped me grow as a person and I wouldn’t change it at all. I wish that I would have taken more advantage of the opportunities, in hindsight.”

Ray’s favorite teacher was Bobbie Hinson. “She was my savior in so many ways. I had her for biology and AP biology and she was just amazing,” he recalls. “There were a lot of teachers that I felt really good bonds with and some of the coaches. Gil Murdock was an amazing man who was my track coach.” In addition to football and track, Ray also played basketball.

“I think the school learned a lot. Throughout my senior year, I spoke with [former Upper School Head] Ben Topham and Gene Bratek who was headmaster then. They did an exit assessment to learn about our experiences and ways to best fill diversity in the community, and they were head and shoulders above other schools at that time,” he adds.

Ray hesitated to enroll Aiden and Cam at Providence Day based on his own experiences in the 1980s, but after attending Homecoming and seeing the changes on campus alongside former Director of Admissions Cecil Stodghill, he made the decision to do it. “PD is amazing, everything about it is amazing. I think the whole attitude of the school is different now,” he says. “There is diversity in terms of ethnicities, but it’s more about kindness. Everyone helps everyone and it’s genuine. That’s an amazing characteristic of a school. I’ve never seen anything like that before and it opened my heart a lot.” 

Cam knows things have come a long way at Providence Day since his dad’s time: “I know people from India, China, and Russia. I think diversity is where it needs to be.” 

When Ray is on campus, he looks around and tries to remember the way it was in comparison to how it is now. “It’s always been a great school, but now there is so much more. The teachers were always good, but now it’s that step above. It’s that time and effort and the love that the teachers have. You can feel how much they care about everybody and you don’t find that very often.”

Luz De Castro ’95, Valentina Olaya ’25, and Gaby Olaya ’27

Luz De Castro ’95 also began at Providence Day School in ninth grade, transferring in from St. Anne’s Catholic School on Park Road. Her daughters Valentina Olaya ’25 and Gaby Olaya ’27 started attending PD in first grade and kindergarten, respectively, and have a good sense of what things used to look like on campus. 

“My mom told us stories about before and I think the buildings have changed because of the AC [Academic Center], the DeMayo building, and the parking lots where carpool came in,” says Valentina. “When my mom was at school they didn’t have as many buildings as they have now. It looks newer now than it did a long time ago,” adds Gaby.

Their mom agrees. “My graduating class was only 62 kids and a lot of kids had been together since kindergarten, so I would say the transition was a little hard as far as transferring away from the kids I grew up with and starting new again,” she recalls.  De Castro became friends with upperclassmen in her higher-level Spanish classes in the ‘old language house’ and met others through the dance team and chorus. “We definitely spent a lot of time in the Dining Hall or what was then the senior lounge/senior patio area.”

Ms. Morris, current music teacher Dr. Grace Morris’s sister who was then the choral director, was one of De Castro’s favorite teachers. “Mr. (Jeff) Lucia who is an Upper School math teacher, and the last math chair Rhea Caldwell, (were) amazing teachers as well. For Spanish, I had Ms. (Guadalupe) Grier who moved down to Middle School Spanish. Mr. (Chris) Wallace was a great teacher even though I didn’t have art classes with him but he taught a 60s history class with Mr. (Ted) Dickson and Mr. (Roy) Garrison, so that was a cool collaboration that they did,” she adds. “Lots of people that are still there and lots of people who are gone. Even if they retire they still come back!”

Like Ray in the 1980s, De Castro did not feel the school was diverse enough during the early 1990s. “It was not a very diverse school when I went there,” says De Castro. “There were maybe five Latino students in the whole Upper School. The fact that there are people from all over the world now, it’s very welcoming. The school has a whole other vibe now. There’s a lot of preventative or teachable programs and moments that they do starting in TK which set the stage for a better environment for learning and friendship and growth.” 

De Castro has spoken with the minority student group in front of Dr. Glyn Cowlishaw about some hurtful experiences during her time as a student, but feels like “the school has done a complete 180.” She tells her former classmates that they have to come back and see what has changed, giving credit to school leadership for the improvements. “I like to focus on the fact that we’ve come very far – it’s an amazing place now full of warmth and diversity and family and community. We are very proud to be part of the PD family.” She believes that Providence Day has tried to make the campus look like the world around it. 

“I definitely got an amazing high school education and when I got to college it was almost too easy sometimes,” she says of her time after graduation. “I’m grateful. I went to UNC Greensboro, did a semester in Spain, came back to Charlotte, moved to Florida where both of my girls were born, and then moved back to Charlotte in 2012.” With De Castro’s parents and one of her siblings still living here, “The family was calling. Charlotte has changed a lot along with PD so it just felt right.” She tells alumni how different PD is now and encourages them to come back to school activities and festivals.

Both Gaby and Valentina say they are having a great experience at Providence Day. “The thing I like most, honestly, is all of the nice people there,” says Gaby. “I get to meet a lot of new people and make new friends and everyone is so welcoming. I also like how the food is so good there, too.” She enjoys gymnastics, PE, and art in addition to language arts and science. Her favorite teachers are Ms. Christine Stone and Ms. Caron Kelly in fifth grade. “It’s a great school overall.”

Valentina participates in fall and winter cheerleading to support PD football and basketball. “In seventh grade, I’ve loved history with Mr. (Brick) Smith. He has an energetic personality and is one of the most fun teachers I’ve had at PD,” she says. “I also like both of my math teachers, Mr. (Randy) Sienkowski and Ms. (Michelle) Garrity. They’ve helped me a lot – I used to struggle a lot in math, but I really got my grades up.” She thinks PD does a good job in Middle School of teaching about global diversity through guest speakers brought in by the school. 

“It’s easy to make friends here, the teachers are really nice, and the food is great,” Valentina adds. “The campus is also organized and clean. I like being the one to make friends with the new kids on the first day. We’ve had a lot of kids transfer from public schools and they usually make a lot of friends. People should definitely come to Providence Day if they are looking for a welcoming school.”  

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