Girls’ school graduates are three times more likely to consider careers in engineering, and every February, Ashley Hall joins the national celebration of Introduce a Girl to Engineering Day. This annual event aims to provide students with shared STEM experiences to improve their understanding of engineering, and its focus is largely on facilitating educational activities led by women in engineering.
To bring this event to life at Ashley Hall, the Upper School has partnered with Glenn Edmunds Jeffries ’79, Chief of Corporate Communications for the Army Corp of Engineers (Charleston District) to create the opportunity for students in grades 7, 8, and 10 to interact with engineering professionals representing different federal agencies. This year, agencies included the Air Force, U.S Army Corps of Engineers, Naval Nuclear Power Training Unit, U.S. Coast Guard, Naval Information Warfare Center Atlantic (NIWC), National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science, and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Together, they worked with students on several STEM projects, including plant and wildlife identification, biotoxicity experiments, 3D printing, problem solving storm surges, and more.
The sessions also offer students a chance to ask questions about future career possibilities and meet new female role models. This introduction of girls to women who are working in math, science, and technology fields is an important part of encouraging more students to pursue engineering. “Although women are making progress in terms of proportion of degrees earned and percentage of workers represented in math, science, tech-heavy fields, we still have a long way to go,” says Upper School math teacher and physicist Claire Christensen. “I firmly believe that the gender gap at the post-secondary level can be narrowed by ensuring that we get our girls ‘hooked on’ STEM subjects from an early age—that we kindle their passion for these fields and that we build confidence in their skills and ability to pursue their interests in these fields.”
On January 16, 2023, more than 100 groups marched in Charleston’s annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day Parade including a spirited squad from Ashley Hall. The community outing was led by members of the Upper School Multicultural Student Union (MSU), and it was the group’s first event since the pandemic.
“Now that we’re back in person, we’re getting involved in the community in ways that we used to be involved before COVID-19,” says Assistant Head of School for Student Affairs and MSU faculty sponsor Cintra Horn. “The parade is just the beginning of what we have planned.”
From the group’s mission to upcoming events, here’s what to know about MSU at Ashley Hall.
THE MSU MISSION
“The purpose of MSU is to create awareness of diversity in the Ashley Hall community, as well as in our society,” says MSU member Selena Ruiz Luna ’24. During meetings, students dive into dialogue about different cultures, and brainstorm on ways they can create awareness around them, including taking part in community events.
MSU is open to every Upper School student, no matter race, gender, ethnicity, or cultural beliefs. “This group is for anyone,” says Director of Operations Rasheedah Harrison whose daughter Nadiyah McGill ’22 was also a member of the group during her time at Ashley Hall. “We are truly a diverse group, and we focus on every aspect of life where students may feel different. It’s about creating a sense of belonging and understanding across campus, and it’s for everyone.”
While the current MSU group is small, it has doubled in size since the start of the school year. Ruiz Luna, who will be a senior next year, has her sights on increasing involvement even more. “I hope to help grow the MSU group,” she says. “I will do so by having the group be involved in more events, and hopefully we will have a good impact so future Ashley Hall generations will continue the group!”
NEW MEMBERS, NEW ENERGY
This was not Ashley Hall’s first year proudly taking part in the city’s annual MLK Day parade. But it took a fresh perspective from new MSU members to get involved again after the pandemic.
“It was just perfect timing,” says Ashley Hall educator and operations team member Lamika Washington who submitted Ashley Hall’s application to walk in the parade back in September. It is Washington’s first year at Ashley Hall, and she joined MSU last semester. “As our new group members were really just getting started, it was the perfect first big event for us. It was the MLK holiday, it was the start of the new year—it all just came together.”
The morning of the parade, students met outside the School’s gates dressed in purple and white at 7:30 a.m. to head out into the community as a united front. “The students really showed up, including our amazing Panther,” says Horn. “It truly meant so much to people on the parade route. The children were especially excited to see our mascot, but everyone we passed was simply thrilled to see Ashley Hall.”
Next up for MSU will be a trip to Savannah in February to attend the Lowcountry Student Diversity Leadership Conference, an initiative to bring students together for leadership training, professional development, and networking. Now in its fourth year, the conference is hosted by Savannah Country Day School to promote diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI).
“This conference has been running virtually throughout the pandemic, but again, now we’ll be back in person to meet up with folks from five or six other schools in the Lowcountry,” says Horn. “It will be a chance for our student leaders in this area to think about what they’d like to bring back to Ashley Hall.”
As for participating in the MLK Day parade again next year? Consider it a plan. “I only see our parade group getting bigger,” says Washington. “I see more kids getting involved because it’s not just for students of different races, it’s for everyone. I just want it to grow and grow. I would love to get the young girls involved by having the older girls coaching them on what to do. I see younger girls on the float next year, and older girls leading the way.”
“Holiday pen on sale for 50 cents! There’s only one left!”
As third graders filter into Ashley Hall’s Student Store, four primed-and-ready fourth grade students are ready to help them shop. Located on campus outside the Dining Commons, the Ashley Hall Student Store is stocked with small trinkets like pens, notepads, stickers, and more, and it’s entirely student-run.
“We are in after-school Math Magicians which is how you get to work here,” says Caitlin Oliver ’31. Led by Lower School Math Specialist Allison Jordan, Math Magicians is made up of students in grades 4-6 who began working last semester to re-open the Student Store which had been closed since the pandemic. Club members come up with a staff schedule, work with a budget to order products to sell, and run the store during planned times.
Student Store hours are Monday, Wednesday, and Friday after Lower School and IP lunch periods. Items range from 50 cents to $3 with the exception of AH bears for $20 and AH puzzles for $10. When on store duty, the girls alternate jobs. “Someone is doing the money and counting everyone’s change, then sometimes I bag because I know what everything costs,” says Erin Brennan ’31. “Then someone is outside doing crowd control.”
Yes, crowd control. By 11:30 a.m. Lower School students are flooding by the dozen down the Dining Commons steps to be the first in line for their chance to shop. During their grand re-opening in December, the girls made a whopping $400 in a single day. Now they are in a groove and averaging around $200 each time they open their doors after lunch.
So where does all that money go?
“At the end of the semester, we count up all the money after school,” says Quincy Bagg ’31. “Then we pay back what we used to buy our products, and the rest goes to the Loyalty Fund. A lot of people ask us if we get paid or get discounts,” adds Bagg who usually works as cashier. “We just do it for fun though. I just like to add everything up, and I really like math.”
From wordly to intelligent, discerning to compassionate, there are many traits that every Ashley Hall student and alumna can proudly claim. But there are two in particular that just may evoke more pride than all the rest: Purple or White.
For over a century, Ashley Hall students have been split into two teams to inspire Panther pride, and of course, some friendly competition. Now, for first time in history, educators have officially joined in the Purple and White team tradition.
“We felt that getting teachers and staff involved would help raise school spirit by given everyone ownership as a Purple or White,” says Department Chair for Physical Education Jodie Runner who led the initiative. At the start of the school year, teachers drew a purple or white piece of paper at random to determine their fate. Then they kept their new team color a secret until last month’s Upper School pep rally on October 13 when Head of School Dr. Anne T. Weston ’73 announced that every Ashley Hall educator is now officially a Purple or White.
“As a senior this year, it means a lot to me that the teachers are now a part of our community through the Purple and White tradition,” says Jania Seabrook ’23. “It allows us as students to make a greater bond with our teachers knowing that they are truly a part of our team, no matter if it’s purple or white.”
Seabrook, who has been a proud member of Team White since second grade, kicked off the School’s new era of competition during the pep rally by participating in the first-ever arm wrestling contest against Purple Upper School faculty member Grant Vatter. “Arm wrestling Mr. Vatter was actually extremely hard,” Seabrook says. “He is very strong, but I’m glad to say I did take home the gold medal.”
As Purples and Whites, Ashley Hall teachers and staff will participate in different challenges throughout the school year, as well as many more skill competitions during future pep rallies. Let the games begin!
History of the Purple and White Tradition at Ashley Hall
The Purple and White team tradition dates all the way back to 1917. It began when Ashley Hall founder Mary Vardrine McBee divided the School in two to encourage good sportsmanship, teamwork, loyalty, and friendly competition. Today, students contribute to their team by earning points through academic and extracurricular activities and competitions. The team with the most points at the end of the year is awarded the coveted Team Cup.
DID YOU KNOW | Former First Lady Barbara Pierce Bush, Class of 1943, was a proud Purple! Another alumna to follow in her footsteps? Head of School Dr. Anne T. Weston was captain of the Purple team and was co-First Honor Graduate of the Class of 1973!
This spring in Charleston’s Post and Courier newspaper, alumna Betsy Cahill, Class of 1979, reflected on the exceptional leadership of Head of School Jill Muti, and we couldn’t agree more with her beautifully written words. You’ll be missed Jill, but your legacy will live on at Ashley Hall forever.
Ashley Hall students swapped their purple and white uniforms today for blue and yellow, the colors of the Ukrainian flag, to raise money for UNICEF as they work to scale up life-saving programs for children and families affected by the war.
Led by Upper School human rights students, the philanthropic initiative was born out of discussions in the classroom around current events in eastern Europe. “It’s gotten so big, we couldn’t not talk about it,” says Dulcie Fava ’22. “We focus on world conflicts in human rights class, and we completely pivoted our learning plan to talk about what is going on right now because it’s so important. Now basically we are just trying to raise awareness, starting with our school.”
The girls invited every student and faculty member to wear yellow and blue on Friday, March 4, and sign their name in chalk under a unified message on the wall in the center of campus: We stand with Ukraine. Lower School students added chalky handprints and asked seniors questions about the colors they were using to fill in a drawing of the Ukrainian flag. “I kind of explained it as we are a team, and we are rooting for the blue and yellow team,” explained Fava. “Because when someone smaller than you needs help, you should stand up for them.”
What’s happening in Ukraine is coming up in the human rights classroom because one of the main lessons students learn is about sovereignty. “Sovereignty is considered the main foundation of international relations,” says Upper School faculty member Andrea Muti. “And the main rule is no sovereign state can attack another sovereign state.” The impact of Russia violating this rule is what is being discussed in class. “What we are seeing is anything is legal, that order doesn’t exist, if we teach our students that taking another country by force is possible.”
The war was something students were having a hard time understanding before discussions started with Muti. “This is history in the making,” says Amelia Agosti ’22. “People are going to read about this in their text books in years. And social media spreads information a lot, but I didn’t really know about what was happening until this class. The flag we drew shows that we stand with them, but also that we know what’s going on and we acknowledge it.”
Muti agrees that students are not only witnessing history, but living during a crucial turning point in history. “There is a before and after in many world events,” he says. “You think of World War I, World War II, and what happened last week with the invasion of the Ukraine is the violation of the main principle of international relations and the UN Charter. And there is no going back.”
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.