UTA Magazine
Not afraid to take a risk: Ashley Murphree
Seizing the day

Ashley Murphree was 5 when her parents made the only choice they could and fled from Vietnam under a newly empowered Communist government. They, Ashley, Ashley’s sister, aunt and several cousins escaped under darkness and made their way to the sea where they boarded a boat for Thailand and, they hoped, the United States.

Ashley Murphree The boat carried about 100 Vietnamese seeking a better life. Shortly into the trip, it was lost at sea. The refugees floated for days before seeing a fishing boat on the horizon. They flagged it down, thinking they had been saved.

Instead, the fishermen held them at knifepoint, threw their food and water overboard and robbed them of the valuables they would use to start their new lives. The boat was then dragged to the middle of the ocean, and the people were left for dead.

The young Ashley was terrified as she and the others watched and waited to see land. Eventually, they found an uninhabited island somewhere in Indonesia. They ate coconuts and fish, drank water from wells they dug and slept in huts they built from bamboo.

"I never remember hunger," Murphree says now. "I remember longing for toys and playing on the beach. I tried to make a ball out of sand. It never bounced."

The refugees lived on the island for nearly a year before a group of Indonesians discovered them. The family contacted an uncle in the United States and finally arrived in Dallas three months later to a wealth of opportunity.

"I saw my parents working hard," Murphree says. "They had a dream to go to the United States, and they lived every day to see that dream come true."

More than 25 years later, Murphree, 32, is living her own dream as the owner of Carpe Diem Private Preschool in Richardson. She graduated from UT Arlington in 1995 with a bachelor’s degree in business administration with an emphasis in marketing.

She founded the school in the shadow of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, opening at a time when so many other businesses were closing and unemployment was rising. She opened one month later than expected with 10 teachers and only 26 of the 150 students needed to turn a profit.

In the first six months, she lost $30,000 per month and had to ask her banker to put her mortgage on hold.

"I wanted a high-end school built around what I wanted as a mom. I charge one rate that includes everything a child needs—from music and Spanish lessons to diapers and baby wipes. I think of it as buying a Lexus, but in child care."

Carpe Diem offers low student-to-teacher ratios and degreed teachers who earn a salary plus paid time off and medical benefits—something rare in the child-care industry.

"I wanted tuition to go to the teachers," Murphree says. "A happy worker is one who is treated professionally and rewarded. This really influences the quality of education that Carpe Diem students receive."

Students begin educational activities as early as 8 months, when they’re taught simple baby sign language to help them communicate before they can speak. In the first through fifth years, the curriculum focuses on language skills, gross and fine motor skills, physical development and creative and cognitive thinking through activities such as art, music, social studies, math, physical education, science and computers. Carpe Diem also offers an after-school program and summer camp for children 6-12.

"Children grow up fast," Murphree says. "We need to take every opportunity to nurture and help them develop to their fullest potential. I want students to find joy in discovery and that education is fun."

Today Carpe Diem is one of the most successful preschools in the Metroplex, boasting an 80-child waiting list and 2004 revenue of $1.5 million. Murphree is building a second location in Frisco. She hopes to open additional locations throughout the area and eventually across the state.

— Becky Purvis

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