Ashley Hall Admin, Author at Ashley Hall

This summer, 14 rising seventh-grade students from the greater Charleston area spent six weeks learning financial literacy, honing their leadership skills, and taking wellness classes designed specifically for them at Ashley Hall. It was all part of the growing middle school program at Horizons at Ashley Hall, a tuition-free, all-girls community centered program expanding educational equity in Charleston.

Not only were these seventh-graders, many of whom have been with the program every summer since its inception in 2018, the oldest students on Ashley Hall’s campus this summer, but they were the oldest in the program’s history. “It is exciting to watch our middle school program grow, and I cannot wait for the years ahead as we build out the program even more,” says Executive Director Nolie Mangan who has been with the program for three years. “This past summer, it was incredible to watch our middle school students really step into a new role within the program as mentors and leaders.”

Since its inception, Horizons at Ashley Hall, which worked with 105 students in grades 1-7 this summer, has been growing. The program launched in 2018 with thirty first- and second-graders, and it’s been adding a grade ever since. Building out a specific set of programming for middle schoolers was a natural step to be sure the needs of every student are continually being met and our students continue to be empowered, explains Mangan.

“Our middle school programming is really about providing more choice, more opportunity, more agency in their educational experience, and more exposure to different future careers and future passions,” Mangan says. Next year, the middle school program will expand to include rising eighth grade, and in 2025, the program will reach its goal and max capacity of enrolling 135 students in grades 1-9.

Here’s a snapshot of just a few of the middle school program offerings at Horizons at Ashley Hall, including extracurricular activities and courses through local partnerships:

Financial Literacy

Led by Kionnie Epps (aka The Responsible Homegirl), this class explores entrepreneurship, financial literacy skills, and even gives students the opportunity to design their own business.

Cooking and Nutrition

Rising sixth grade students explore the world of cooking during sessions led by Lowcountry Food Bank featuring core cooking skills, activities, and delicious recipes, all designed how to show how food can make us our best and healthiest selves

Women’s Health

Both rising sixth and seventh grade students take women’s health education sessions through MUSC’s Lotus Initiative. Topics include female anatomy, puberty, and the menstrual cycle. Students are free and encouraged to ask questions and leave campus with information and resources so the conversations can continue at home.


Middle school students explore social emotional learning, mindfulness and mental health through a partnership with Empowered Family, a mental health organization in Mt. Pleasant. Empowered Family counselors and therapists are also available to all Horizons students throughout the summer who may benefit from additional one on one counseling.

Environmental Education

Rising seventh grade students dive into citizen science in their weekly class led by Coastal Expeditions. Through engaging hands-on activities, students learn about their surrounding environment and ecosystem.

Lessons in Leadership

Both rising sixth and seventh grade students took a field trip to James Island County Park Challenge Course this summer to develop leadership and teamwork skills. Rising seventh graders also left campus to participate in a mindfulness and surfing retreat at Folly Beach led by Waves 4 Women.

Did you know that Barbie went to the moon before women could have their own credit cards?

Invented in 1959, the trail-blazing doll depicted a woman who could have any career she wanted, whether it be an astronaut, Pulitzer-Prize winning journalist, or President of the United States. And this summer, Greta Gerwig’s movie “Barbie” shined a new pink light on the doll’s history.

“The ‘Barbie’ movie flipped a script for me,” says Upper School Literacy Coordinator Chris Hughes. “I used to think of pink as easy, soft, fuzzy. But now, I see it as an alarm signaling something new and exciting as opposed to being soft and background noise.”

To join the conversation on female empowerment, Hughes curated a Power of Pink display on the second floor of Rivers Library inspired by the film, complete with a Barbie dream house, Barbie dolls, and a selection of books that celebrate women for readers in grades 7-12. She also created a quiz starring famous female figures dressed as Barbies, from Rosa Parks Barbie to Frida Kahlo Barbie. During their breaks, Upper School students have been grabbing a quiz sheet and making their guesses of who’s who.

“It’s about bringing awareness about what it means to be a woman in today’s world,” Hughes says. “I hope the students strike up conversations about it, and I want to encourage them to do all you can not to be pigeonholed into one role or another.”

STAY TUNED | The Power of Pink display will be adapted to celebrate Breast Cancer Awareness month in October. “We will keep finding ways to bring in pink so it’s not stigmatized as ‘girly’ but that it’s a symbol of power,” Hughes says.

Now in its third year, Ashley Hall’s signature global education program is centered on making an annual school-wide commitment to creating a brighter and more sustainable future for all. This year, students and educators are focused on creating a world free of hunger by 2030. 

“One of the most important components of global education is to show the interconnectedness of peoples and cultures,” says Head of School Anne T. Weston 73 Ph.D. “Using the framework of the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals allows Ashley Hall to take a thematic approach to examining and appreciating the challenges faced across our world and provides focus for teaching, learning, and, most importantly, action.”

From ending poverty to protecting our oceans, the United Nation Sustainable Development Goals serve as a blueprint for a better world. Each year, Ashley Hall seniors choose a goal for the student body to explore, and this year, they chose to focus on Goal #2: End hunger, achieve food security, improve nutrition, and promote sustainable agriculture.

“I voted to focus on Goal #2 this year because I believe hunger is not only a problem that affects our country and world, but affects our local communities,” says senior Emorie Stockton ’24. “I feel as though creating a world free of hunger is only possible to begin working within our own communities, even within our own city blocks.”

Through specialized hands-on activities, community outreach, and visiting speakers, students will deepen their understanding of the intent of this global goal all year. “One of the special strengths of Ashley Hall is that we can introduce programming that creates connections across all the grade levels,” says Global Education Coordinator Jonathan Perkins who works with faculty to support curricular and extracurricular UNSDG-centered programming. 

This year, Perkins plans on doing even more on the community engagement front, especially with the greater Charleston community. Ashley Hall plans to expand upon its philanthropic efforts, including its students’ community service work with Lowcountry Food Bank and their contributions to the Ashley Hall Blessing Box

“Building awareness of local needs makes it easy for our students to understand this challenge on a global scale,” Weston adds. “I think it will be interesting for our children to explore the many systemic global issues that contribute to the problem of hunger so that they gain an appreciation for their complexity and the need for creative, courageous, and coordinated action to try to solve them. Our students will be the future leaders and citizens of this world, and we are equipping them to be thoughtful, discerning, and caring.”

At the start of the 2023-24 school year, Lower School students fell in love with a new face in Pardue Hall: Echo the owl puppet. But don’t let his cute and cuddly appearance fool you – he joined classrooms to bring some serious learning through the Fundations® program, an educational system helping Lower School students learn phonics, spelling, and handwriting in a whole new way.

“The Fundations® program is designed to provide direct systematic sequence phonics instruction at a pace that’s accessible,” says learning specialist Mary Allen Edgerton ’87. “The children learn sound by sound in order to learn to build them into words, then build into sentences, then build into fluency.”

With their new curriculum, classroom teachers spend a 20- to 30-minute block each day explicitly teaching a phonics principle, explains Lower School librarian and literacy specialist Allison Bischoff. Students will learn the name of the letter, a keyword, and a sound. For example, in Emily Matus’ kindergarten classroom, one of the three letters they were learning at the start of the year was T. “T. Top. Tuh,” she articulated for her students. This is where Echo comes in. 

“When Echo is facing the teacher, that’s her time to talk,” Bischoff says. “Then as soon as students see Echo facing them, that means it’s their turn to repeat her. It’s a visual cue for when it’s their turn to participate. It’s a lot of repetition, but repetition is what gets it from their short-term memory to their long-term memory, which is our goal.”

After learning as a group, each student picks up their own magnetic white board on which they practice letters and eventually build words. “What I love about this program is that it is more systematic and explicit,” Bischoff says. “It builds in a lot more vocabulary and really word study to teach kids the basic building blocks of language.”

This year, Fundations® is being used in kindergarten and first grade, then next year it’ll transfer to second and third. “The other thing that I love about this curriculum is that there’s only a small handful of activities and they never change from kindergarten to fourth grade,” Bischoff says. “The only thing that is changing is the actual phonic skill that is being taught. It’s the same character the whole way through to reinforce procedures and help our students learn.”

As a student-athlete, Ashley Hall athletic trainer Julia Lener never wanted to see her high school trainer. “I was that stubborn athlete who didn’t want to go into the training room,” Lener says with a laugh. “When I got hurt, I always tried to avoid it as much as possible.” 

But when she got tendonitis in her rotator cuff playing softball her senior year, things changed. “I had a trainer who took the initiative, and it made all the difference,” she says. “He took me out which was mentally really tough on me, but the relationship I ended up building with him was so important to me at that period of time in my life. Honestly, that’s what pushed me to athletic training. I knew how much he cared about me, and I wanted to give that to someone else.”

In August 2023, Lener joined Ashley Hall as the School’s first-ever full-time athletic trainer. “As our athletic trainer, Julia will play a vital role in supporting our athletes and coaches,” says Assistant Athletic Director Christian Alcantara. “She will work closely with the coaching staff to develop comprehensive training and conditioning programs, provide immediate medical attention during practices and competitions, and assist in the rehabilitation of injured athletes.”

As she gets settled in her new role, we sat down with Lener to hear more about her background, where her focus is as she works with athletes, and why she chose to join the Ashley Hall community.

Preventing injuries

Last year, Lener worked with the University of Alabama’s men’s and women’s tennis teams where she earned her master’s degree in health studies. “Working in tennis last year at the collegiate level, we were very focused on preventative and functional assessment,” Lener says. “That’s what I strive to do here because I feel like if we have that in place, we’ll see great results when it comes to decreasing numbers of injuries.”

Lener also stresses the importance of working with students before a season starts, especially when it comes to supporting young athletes starting a new sport. “A lot of training is knowing what to expect,” Lener says. “It’s about giving them guidance of what a sport entails strength wise, how you should train, etc. Once we inform them of how the sport works, it’ll not just educate them on how to play the sport itself, but build a sense of confidence, too.”

Building trust

“People stereotype athletic trainers as the people that take you out of the game,” Lener says. “So nobody ever wants to come to us, but taking an athlete out of competition is never our goal whatsoever. So that’s why one of my goals is to build relationships. Trust is everything.”

One way Lener is building those relationships already is her open door policy that encourages athletes to come see her even if they are not injured. “I’m not here to make changes in your life unless you want to make them,” Lener says. “I’m here to give you advice and support, so you don’t have to come to me if you just have an injury. You can come to me for nutritional advice, hydration advice, equipment training, things like that. It’s about having the door open.”

Supporting students through injuries

While playing softball at Southern Connecticut State University where she earned her bachelor’s degree in athletic training, Lener was misdiagnosed with an injury for about a year. The injury finally led to surgery and rehab. “I felt very alone when I was in rehab,” she says. “I just wasn’t getting the support I needed, and you’re at a very vulnerable point in your life.”

Knowing firsthand how important a strong support system is for athletes working through injuries, Lener chose Ashley Hall. “Something that drew me to Ashley Hall was the athletics staff,” she says. “They are just truly incredible, and feeling confident that I have a support system is exactly how I want our athletes to feel. I want them to know I’m gonna guide you through any injury, or if you’re not comfortable with me guiding you, we’re gonna find somebody to help you through this, whether that’s PT or an outside referral. That’s my biggest thing.”

October 13
For Early & Lower School Families

Early & Lower School grandparents and special friends are invited to campus to share an Ashley Hall experience. We ask that you RSVP for your child’s guests below, or share this message on and ask them to register.

Grandfriends’ Day Schedule

Early School (pre-primary through pre-K) 9:30-11:30 a.m. (arrivals may begin at 9:00 a.m.)
Lower School (grades K-4) 8:30-11:30 a.m. (arrivals may begin at 8:00 a.m.)

Programs start promptly. Please arrive in time to park and sign in via Smith Street gate.

RSVP by Friday, October 6, 2023

RSVP Today


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Ashley Hall is a K-12 independent school for girls, with a co-ed preschool, committed to a talented and diverse student population. We consider for admission students of any race, color, religion, and national or ethnic origin.