When Upper School faculty member Chris Frisby founded the Ashley Hall Investment Group five years ago, his mission was twofold: give students hands-on experience investing money in the stock market and give back to the community. This week, the group made local news headlines showing just how much their hard work has paid off.
After impressively turning $10,000 into $17,000, Frisby’s students teamed up with members of the student council and philanthropy board to donate their earnings to the Water Wellness Mission, a charity that builds wells for residents of the Sea Islands in need. Money raised by the Investment Club went directly toward installing a new water filtration system at a home that previously had no access to drinking water, and the girls got to watch the process from start to finish.
“It’s really cool to see that these things actually have an impact and just really getting to see how this really affects people,” says junior Ellerbe Mendez. “We hear about it, we are aware, but being able to really see it and see the people it’s affecting is really impactful.”
Water sustainability issues have been woven throughout the K-12 curriculum all year as a part of Ashley Hall’s “A Year of Water” theme. Students have learned about water scarcity throughout the world, but also that it’s not exclusive to less developed countries. “In our own backyard, we still have people who don’t have access to clean water,” says Frisby.
Around 25 percent of residents on Wadmalaw Island live below the poverty line. As a result, many families are forced to buy 100 percent of their drinking water due to wells that smell and have visible signs of rust. “Not all well needs are the same,” co-program director of the Water Wellness Mission John Carpenter told students. “But the need for fresh water is the same. The goal is getting clear, drinkable water that any of us would drink at home in everyone’s home.”
Ashley Hall funded the 239th water filtration system the charity has installed. The latest recipient was Michael Johnson who was born and raised on Wadmalaw Island. He lives in his childhood home with his daughter, and until now, their water was too polluted to drink.
“Now we don’t have to worry about the problem we had before. I really appreciate what Ashley Hall students are doing and the organization that got together and did this for me,” Johnson told WCBD News 2 in front of his home where students met him.
Over 97 percent of all donations to Water Wellness Mission go to the families in need. Each combination water well and filtration system that provides safe water for drinking and cooking is approximately $6,700, according to the charity.
“Partnering with Water Wellness Mission and taking the Investment Club’s funds and investing it into this charity is the perfect fit for us,” says Ashley Hall’s Global Education Coordinator Jonathan Perkins. “It helps the girls understand philanthropy, but also that their actions are making a difference.”
Tucked beneath the trees on the property surrounding the Elizabeth House, Ashley Hall’s greenhouse feels a bit like a secret garden. But now plant experts and enthusiasts around the world know it’s a special part of our campus thanks to the amazing work Honors Biology II students are doing with Upper School faculty member Allison Sill Bowden.
The course, which explores plant science through unique hands-on lessons, was recently featured in the latest issue of the Journal of the Bromeliad Society, an international publication featuring primarily peer-reviewed work. In the article entitled “Finding Botanical Belonging Through Bromeliads,” Bowden details how biology students dive into botany by studying bromeliads, a subtropical plant found throughout South America, Central America, the Caribbean, as well as right here in Charleston. (Our most famous local member of the plant family is Spanish Moss, which students learn is actually neither Spanish nor moss, but a bromeliad!)
Students start the semester with a trip to our bromeliad greenhouse to choose a plant. “The job was put upon us to be a caregiver, ensure its health, watch over its growth, and constantly learn more in order to be best informed about our plants,” explains Callie Cox ‘21 in the article. The girls then visit the greenhouse bi-weekly to care for and propagate their plants, an experience that was particularly meaningful during the pandemic. “While to some this may seem tedious and pointless, to me it became a stable variable in my life during a time where ‘normalcy’ and ‘consistency’ were no longer,” says Cox.
Their work in the greenhouse created yet another meaningful experience for Lower School students when Ava Piebenga ’21 and Wickie Fort ’21 planned a special project focused on teaching third graders their new knowledge of bromeliads using interactive techniques. On the last day of lessons, the seniors took the third graders to the greenhouse where each student potted their own bromeliad to take home. Not only did they learn a lot, but they were thrilled to get to care for their very own bromeliad.
All bromeliads are composed of a spiral arrangement of leaves called a rosette, and each produces one beautiful bloom in the center of its leaves. After the flower dies, however, this fascinating plant will produce a second stalk called a “pup” that can be repotted to bloom just like it’s mother creating an endless cycle of bromeliads for our greenhouse!
“By the end of each year, we usually have more bromeliads than the greenhouse can hold,” writes Bowden. “For two years we have held a plant sale with all funds donated to local non-profits of the Honors Biology II students’ choice.” Last year, they raised over $1,000 from plant and poster sales and split the proceeds between The Green Heart Project and Fresh Future Farm.
Top Photo Credit: Cover art courtesy bsi.org; photo courtesy Liz Lashway.
For students in Visual Arts faculty member Lynne Riding’s Honors Surface Design class, mastering the techniques and materials to best manifest their sketches has been only part of their creative journey. In order to truly grow as artists, they have discovered they must look within to embrace the freedom of self-expression and envision designs all their own.
“There is something magical about using a traditional skill and trying to recreate the effect while at the same time developing your own piece of art,” said Riding. “Creating by having one’s hands in the material is very grounding. The unexpected will happen, and if one is open to this, then it is an exciting process.”
Offered for the first time this year, Honors Surface Design introduced students to numerous methods of designing and creating patterns and textures on fabric and paper surfaces, including screen printing, block printing, marbling, Indigo Shibori dyeing, and fabric manipulation of quilting, collage, and dyeing. As Riding points out, surface design is pervasive in the contemporary world, and her goal was for students to gain a deeper appreciation of hand craftsmanship from around the globe.
“A few methods of surface design include Japanese Indigo Shibori dyeing, the heritage of Indigo dyeing here in the Lowcountry, block printing used in India, Bali, Thailand, Africa, and marbling used in Italy,” she notes. “So initially, students researched the prints made in these countries over time and how they are adapted by designers in our contemporary world. This gave them an understanding and appreciation of the various global cultures and the patience and skill required for these various methods and traditions which have been passed down through the generations. We have focused on the hand-applied methods used in different countries, but these patterns, once made, could easily be taken and developed digitally on the computer.”
While learning the foundation of the methods and engaging with different materials, students also have experienced growth in their own creative process. “Ms. Riding has really challenged me to go outside of the box with my designs,” said Georgia Dempsey ’23. “I was challenged to make more abstract drawings instead of the structured floral patterns that are my go-to. I adore working with fabrics and manipulating them into what I want. My favorite fabric technique by far is indigo dying or marbling. You get to make your own pattern and color scheme, and no one else in the world will ever have the same as you.”
Riding’s encouragement to embrace self-expression has been revelatory for students. “Ms. Riding has encouraged me to go beyond what feels safe, to be curious about the possibilities within design, and to express myself through a variety of techniques while using different mediums,” shared Clemmie Anderton ’23. “She taught me the more I am open to the abstract feel of the fabrics, the more creative the process becomes and the ideas flow.” Prior to Riding’s class, Kedi Jiang ’21 had adhered to a realistic style in her artwork without exploring a more abstract interpretation. “I really enjoy the fact that Ms. Riding always tells us to try out things boldly and let our thoughts flow,” said Jiang. “I found it really helpful when I designed my final dress by using a marker instead of a pencil. The methods she taught naturally pushed our creativity. I will continue to use these methods not only for art-related things in the future but also for any kind of projects that need brainstorming.” For Cecily Anderton ’23, Riding’s dedication to her students is key. “I’ve loved doing this class and the projects in it,” she enthused. “This class definitely helped me to imagine and create new pieces of art.”
With hopes to offer Honors Surface Design again this fall, Riding is already making plans. “As part of my professional development this summer, I will be experimenting more with natural dyes from material found locally such as acorns,” she said. Her goal is to always give students the best creative experiences possible so that they may manifest their own self-expression. “I have a wonderful group of students and look forward to this class each week,” she said. “Each student approaches her work with enthusiasm and brings something different to her work. They have all gradually developed their own style of design as their confidence grew, resulting in their personalities coming through loud and clear!” For Riding, that has always been by design.
When Intermediate Program faculty members Katie Perez-Phillips ’07 and Kiki Sweigart began exploring creative ways to support their students in taking community action, they sought a long-term initiative that would emphasize leadership, compassion, and collaboration. Thanks to some out-of-the-box thinking, they found the perfect opportunity for service right in Ashley Hall’s own backyard.
“We wanted an ongoing weekly or monthly idea that each IP advisory could take on in a collaborative effort,” said Sweigart. “In local neighborhoods we saw the Blessing Boxes, which are stocked with non-perishable food items, basic toiletries, baby supplies, and anything else that might be considered a blessing to people who find themselves in need. I contacted the Lowcountry Blessing Box Project, which pointed us in the right direction for building plans and locations. They started in 2017 and now have nearly 200 Blessing Boxes throughout the Lowcountry.”
Wanting to impact the immediate community, IP students partnered with the restaurant FUEL to install a purple Blessing Box (handcrafted by Ashley Hall staff member John Bartolotti) on its property, which is near one of the School’s satellite parking lots. Already, IP students have worked within their advisories to keep the box filled, and advisors are making plans to monitor the box throughout the summer. The rest of Ashley Hall’s campus is also taking notice, with pre-kindergarten students eager to visit with supplies next week. Students and faculty alike are embracing this unique opportunity to make a difference in their community.
Already a dedicated supporter of the Blessing Box Project, Early Education Center faculty member Ximena Yanez immediately took a trip with students Wally Coverdale ’35 and Yoshi Coverdale ’36 to stock the box. “We were very excited to learn of this new addition to the mission,” said Yanez. “They love that this box is purple, and Yoshi said ‘bye bye snacks’ and closed the door when we’d finished emptying the bag. Then as we were walking back to the car, Wally said ‘we share because we care.’”
While contemplating how to approach their bromeliad scientific experiment design process, Honors Biology II students Wickie Fort ’21 and Ava Piebenga ’21 knew they wanted to include a community approach to share the fascinating knowledge they had gained this year from Upper School faculty member Allison Bowden. With both having a passion for working with children, the solution was easy: nurturing the next generation.
“Based on their interactions as assistant teachers during Ashley Hall’s Horizons program, Ava and Wickie wanted to share their knowledge of bromeliads with that group,” said Bowden. “They decided to start local before branching out and proposed a plan to work with a group of third grade students at Ashley Hall. They developed an interactive presentation on bromeliads and came up with a pre- and post-test to measure their impact on the students.” In addition to teaching students about bromeliad growing requirements and their ecological importance to other plant and animal species, Fort and Piebenga led a separate day of potting and planting at the Elizabeth House greenhouse with students, who each took home a bromeliad labeled with genus and species name. Afterward, Fort and Piebenga shared their thoughts about leading the enriching experience.
Why did you want to include a hands-on teaching element to the bromeliad scientific experiment? What inspired you?
Ava Piebenga (AP): “Since I joined the Ashley Hall community in fifth grade, I have learned that I am a much better student in a ‘hands-on’ learning environment. When Wickie and I started to design our experiment procedure, we both knew that it was extremely important that we include some form of ‘hands-on’ experience, whether that be simply handling the plants and practicing the ‘two-finger-touch’ to identify the different parts or actually getting dirty in the greenhouse while planting the bromeliads.”
Wickie Fort (WF): “Including hands-on teaching elements was really important in our lesson plan. After three summers of working with kids in the Horizons program, we were definitely aware of how much a difference a hands-on and engaging lesson plan can make when it comes to kids paying attention and retaining information.”
What did you enjoy most about the experience? Were you pleased that you took this approach to your experiment design?
AP: “I loved how engaged and eager to learn each of the girls was during both the lecture style PowerPoint presentation and our time at the greenhouse. They truly showed me that they cared about our project (one little girl even said that she was really glad Wickie and I had given our presentation to them), and I was extremely impressed by their ability to retain knowledge. We gave them a ‘bonus’ during the presentation: the scientific name for Spanish Moss—Tillandsia usneoides. At the beginning they had to write it down to remember, but the next time we saw them (without their notes), they helped each other out while they tried to remember the name, and they did!”
WF: “I was extremely delighted by how excited the girls were to learn about bromeliads. They were super engaged and always gave very thoughtful answers to all of our questions. I was especially impressed by how well-spoken each of the girls was. I loved that Ava and I were able to go in a different direction for our final experiment. This social experiment gave us the freedom to tie in our passion for children and teaching into Honors Bio II. It was amazing to see our passion for educating and plants collide.”
Why is teaching (and especially sharing your scientific knowledge with the next generation) important to you?
AP: “I have been so fortunate during my time at Ashley Hall to have teachers, especially science teachers, who are truly passionate in their line of work. This has made a big impact on me as a student, but especially as a student who is interested in going into a teaching career. I believe that once you find something that makes you happy and excited to learn, it is so important to pass that love and passion forward to future generations.”
WF: “Throughout this entire year in Honors Bio II, I have been so fortunate to have a teacher as engaging and passionate as Mrs. Bowden. Any opportunity I have to pass on what I have learned from her—not only about plants but also general life lessons of positivity and gratitude—is an opportunity that I jump on. As Ava and I are starting a new journey with college next year, it is so important to have younger girls at Ashley Hall who are excited about the science, the Earth, and all the world has to offer. Working with these girls was a chance for me to pass along some of what I have learned from Mrs. Bowden’s class, and I am so grateful that the Lower School made our social experiment possible.”
This spring, as Ashley Hall’s campus bloomed with flowers, a new profusion of daffodils rose triumphantly near the Rutledge Avenue fence. Planted in December as part of The Daffodil Project, which aspires to build a worldwide Living Holocaust Memorial by planting 1.5 million daffodils in memory of the children who perished in the Holocaust and in support for children suffering in humanitarian crises in the world today, the striking trumpet-shaped blooms heralded the rebirth of spring and a deeper hope of a world filled with peace. Earlier this week, philanthropist and social activist Anita Zucker echoed that same vital message during a special virtual Assembly with students.
“What I have enjoyed most about seeing The Daffodil Project become a reality at Ashley Hall is the way it has been embraced by the entire campus,” shared Logan Tunick ’21, who spearheaded efforts to bring the project to the School. “I continue to be in awe of the teachers and students who have supported me throughout this year with this initiative.” After applying last summer to serve as a student ambassador on the Remember Project with the Charleston Jewish Federation, Tunick learned of The Daffodil Project. Immediately, she knew its message of hope would resonate with the Ashley Hall community.
“It is important for Holocaust awareness to be implemented in a visual way to Ashley Hall girls, especially in this time of heightened antisemitism and growing hatred,” Tunick continued. “As a School that is tasked with the responsibility of shaping the female leaders of tomorrow, it is crucial that we present a message of hope and renewal for a brighter future. The daffodil is resilient and returns with a burst of color each spring. It signifies renewal after darkness and hope after a rough period, such as during a pandemic.”
Zucker emphasized the same message this week during her virtual presentation to Upper School students. An ardent supporter of The Daffodil Project, Zucker spoke of the horrors of the Holocaust via the experiences of her family, many of whom perished in ghettos or concentration camps. “The daffodils bring back memories of those whom we lost so long ago, and it is so important that none of these victims ever be forgotten,” she said. “The lesson is that as long as any are persecuted, no one is free. We have to remember people of all kinds all over the world who continue, sadly, to be persecuted.”
Zucker honored the courageous ability of Holocaust survivors to overcome the great odds against them, with her parents eventually moving to America to build new lives motivated by hope and inspired by tikkun olam, Hebrew words that mean to “repair the world.” “My family and I consider tikkun olam the values we choose to live by,” Zucker emphasized. “We choose to do work that repairs the world, whether it is through our philanthropy, our volunteer work, our work with children in schools, or work in health care. To us it is finding ways to give people access and opportunities. We want them to be able to get education because we can repair their world if they can be educated, and we want to make sure we provide those kinds of opportunities for others.”
Zucker’s moving speech was impactful to many students, who were immediately inspired by her passion for philanthropy and social justice. “It was important to have Ms. Zucker speak to Ashley Hall because I feel that a voice and story are much more powerful than a history lesson filled with numbers,” said Tunick. “Going forward, I hope that The Daffodil Project continues to grow and bring light to our campus in years to come.”