The power of math

(Photo by Will Dendis)

(Photo by Will Dendis)

After years of calculus, statistical analysis and number theory, when the chips were down, Saugerties substitute math teacher Ashley Playford turned to math 101. It won her a brand new car.

An online contest last fall asked participants to estimate how many Armour Breakfastmakers — a shrink-wrapped breakfast pack with ingredients like ham, cheese, sausage and croissants — would fit in a Chevy Traverse sport utility vehicle.

“Me being a math teacher, I used the formula for the volume of a rectangular prism – length times width times height,” said Playford. “I multiplied those three and threw in the lucky number 36 for my birthday, March 6.”


The result, 4336, was astonishingly close to the real amount, 4338.

“I literally did this in 30 seconds,” she said.

This was back in October. Entering the contest was a spur-of-the-moment decision, and Playford didn’t give it a second thought until she received a voicemail from a company rep a few months later letting her know she’d won. But the voicemail didn’t mention the prize and she couldn’t remember. A lifetime supply of breakfast packs perhaps?

“Then I Googled it to find out, and I couldn’t even believe it. No one” — her friends, colleagues and students — “could believe it. Then when I told them how I figured it out, they thought it was so cool.”

The timing couldn’t have been better; her 2002 Nissan Sentra was becoming unreliable. That said, with eight-passenger seating, it’s a bit more car than she would have bought herself. It’s a nice family car, she says. Is Playford, 27, planning on starting a family?

“Hopefully soon,” she says with a laugh. “I’m waiting to get the ring. I told my boyfriend when I won I’d have more room for kids, and he said, ‘No, more room for golf clubs.’”

In the meantime, she’s got a reliable vehicle for those early winter mornings when the call comes to substitute teach. Between attending SUNY Cortland, where she received a bachelor’s and, several years later, her master’s degrees, Playford has taught at Saugerties, sometimes filling in for months at a time for math teachers on maternity leave, other times, as now, filling in on a day-to-day basis.

Playford, like many young teachers, hasn’t been able to find a full-time position because districts across the state aren’t hiring many new teachers. She’s looked as far as Syracuse and Buffalo. Originally from Kingston, she’d love to teach full-time in Saugerties. The feeling is mutual.

“She’s a wonderful and enthusiastic person,” said Assistant Principal Fred Hirsh. “It would be great to have her. She just does a great job here.”

“If we ever had an opening in the math department, she’d be the first one we’d hire– in a second,” he added.