Campus News

Ellis Outdoors: Supporting Pittsburgh Parks
The Ellis community took to the outdoors on several occasions this past year, joining with parks and regional organizations to plant trees, clean up local spaces, and educate the public about important Pittsburgh landmarks.

In October, the fourth and seventh grade classes volunteered with Tree Pittsburgh to help revitalize the area around Negley Run Road by replacing invasive plants with native trees. They helped plant about 100 trees in the area. The project was part of the One Tree Per Child Pittsburgh initiative.

In November, the Upper School Environmental Club worked with Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy to plant 38 trees in Frick Park.

As part of their Culture in Context course, Ellis tenth graders partnered with Friends of Mellon Park to create podcast episodes answering questions like, "How does art get in the park?," "What happened to the Mellon mansion?," "What kind of trees are in Mellon Park?"—and much more. In May, students posted Ellis signs around the park with QR codes that pointed to the podcast episodes. The students also held in-person presentations of their work. The podcast episodes can now be found on the Friends of Mellon Park website.

As a part of a focus on leadership and service during their CoLab time, eighth grade students volunteered with Friends of the Riverfront during their Trail Tuesday event in October. The event was held at Duck Hollow in celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Clean Water Act. Students cleared invasive overgrowth and litter along the Three Rivers Heritage Trail, and learned about watersheds and water stewardship from Upstream Pittsburgh.

Ellis Expands Annual Heritage Day Celebration

Heritage Day, a long-standing daytime tradition organized by the Ellis Parent Association (EPA), is a day of food, fun, and festivities that brings the Ellis community together to celebrate the diversity and cultures of our students and their families. This year’s event included 36 different countries, with parents serving traditional foods from their countries in Alumnae Hall during lunch periods.

Expanded into the evening this year, the event brought more than 200 guests to Ellis for crafts, stories, and traditional dances. Table themes and features included Henna art, Diwali, Russian folk art, food from Uzbekistan, a Moroccan tea ceremony, Han-style Chinese costumes with related books and calligraphy activities, Iraqi food and decor, Korean-American kids' books, cafe de olla with besitos de nuez and a Lotería card game from Mexico, the history of the Kunitz German Bakery, the culture of Guam, and Persian New Year with handmade crafts from Iran.

"Heritage Night provides an opportunity for families to not only enjoy cuisines from other countries but to learn about traditions through the elements of storytelling, textiles, crafts, ceremonies, and dance,” said then-EPA President Sharae Curd. "Extending the celebration to the evening gives families the chance to explore culture together and with other families in the Ellis community.”

Ellis' Annual Culture Jam Brings Schools Together to Celebrate Diversity

In January, Ellis’ Student Diversity League coordinated the school’s annual Culture Jam, a student-led, student-produced conference focused on diversity. This year, 50 students from five Pittsburgh area high schools including Winchester Thurston School, Chartiers Valley, Justice Scholars (a part of Pittsburgh Public Schools), South Fayette, and Seneca Valley visited Ellis for the day to participate in programming.

The 2023 event was themed "You've Got the Power” and focused on the power of self-advocacy. Trinity SIMS ’23 said her experiences with Culture Jam inspired her own advocacy work with Pittsburgh-based organization Brown Mamas, and with the Fund for Advancement of Minorities Through Education (FAME).

"My first Culture Jam inspired me to do what I do now in terms of activism, making sure my larger community is welcoming to everyone and that everyone gets treated equally. It’s inspiring to see students speak up and do what we’re doing for the Ellis community,” she said.

The 20th annual Culture Jam will be held in 2024.

Fine Arts Festival Returns to Ellis

After a four-year hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Ellis’ Fine Arts Festival returned in April with an evening of musical performances, dancing and singing, clay throwing, artwork, and more.

This celebration of the arts at Ellis is usually held every other year. Students from across grade levels performed, exhibited their art, and led art talks and hands-on activities. Artwork from students in all divisions was displayed across campus, and student performances included a sneak peek of the Lower School musical, Seussical: The Musical. There were also roaming ukuleles, performances by the Lower School String Squad, Middle School String Quartet, Upper School Glee Club, and the Upper School Orchestra, Middle School acting, and Shakespearean monologues. The event wrapped up with a combined performance of "Singin' in the Rain" from Ellis performers in Middle and Upper School.

Middle and Upper School Performing Arts Teacher and Department Chair Elisa Hill said the sense of community and support was palpable.

"The kids cheering for their classmates and having so much positive energy around all of the performances is a feeling we can't recreate,” she said. "There was so much good cheer going around. I'll be carrying that energy into summer and hoping to recreate it bigger and better in 2025!”

Welcoming Lauren Fajobi, Upper School Division Head

Lauren Fajobi has been named Upper School Division Head, effective July 1, 2023. Lauren previously served as the Associate Director/Dean of Upper School and Science Academic Chair at the Thaden School in Bentonville, Arkansas. Prior to that, she spent five years at international schools in Turkey, where her roles included Academic Dean, Science Teacher (grades 6–12), and Spanish Teacher (grades 7–12). She also served as a Spanish and biology teacher in Mississippi at the start of her career.

Lauren holds a B.A. in Spanish Language, Literature, and Culture and a B.S. in Biological Sciences from the University of Maryland, College Park, and she earned her Master of Arts in Curriculum and Instruction from the University of Mississippi.

Lauren succeeds Amanda Finigan, who had served Ellis in this role since 2021. Amanda has accepted an opportunity in her home state of New York that allows her to live closer to her family.

Ellis Recognizes 2023 Retiree Kim Mechling

Lower School STEM teacher Kim Mechling retired at the end of the 2022–2023 school year after 21 years at Ellis. During that time she served as a Middle School Science Teacher and later department head before moving to the Lower School. Her students have broken rocks open and studied how they form, explored the Frick Environmental Center in every season, built roller coasters, launched rockets, and much, much more, all under her careful guidance.

"My favorite things about Ellis, easily, are the kids and teachers. The teachers are empowering and just such lovely people. They’re a lot of fun to work with. And the kids are just so loving,” she says. “It’s the experiences you have and the people you work with who make you the teacher you are.”
    • The Upper School Environmental Club worked with Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy to plant 38 trees in Frick Park.

    • Ellis students look on while a parent demonstrates Henna art at Heritage Night.

    • Organized and led by Ellis students and held on campus, the 2023 Culture Jam included performance activities and facilitated dialogue on the topic of inclusion.

    • Middle and Upper School Performing Arts Teacher Elisa Hill leads the Upper School Orchestra during Ellis' Fine Arts Festival.

    • Lauren Fajobi joins the Ellis community as Upper School Division Head, effective July 1, 2023.

    • Lower School STEM teacher Kim Mechling retired at the end of the 2022–2023 school year after 21 years at Ellis.