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.”
When Intermediate Program faculty members Katie Perez-Phillips ’07 and Kiki Sweigart began exploring creative ways to support their students in taking community action back in 2021, 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. To keep the box filled, each IP each advisory group is assigned 3-4 weeks throughout the school year when they will take a short Friday field trip to FUEL. “We ask each student in advisory to try and bring in at least 3 items by Friday during their assigned week,” says Sweigart. “Then they deliver them on Friday during their advisory time.”
The rest of Ashley Hall’s campus also embrace this unique opportunity to make a difference in their community throughout the year. “The Lower School and Nautilus programs have all helped us keep the box stocked with each group taking a week that is assigned to them,” says Sweigart. “We also encourage all faculty to bring in items and any families are always able to drop off items—or they can just stop by the Blessing Box and fill it themselves! Last summer a group of Lower School families set up a schedule for a weekly ‘fill’ which was so helpful when we are not in school.”
This December, over 150 students took part in Ashley Hall’s annual holiday production of The Christmas Play which has been performed every December for nearly a century. Due to its longstanding history, hundreds of current students and alumnae alike have played multiple parts in the play that offers a beautiful retelling of the Nativity story, whether it’s as a shepherd, a king, a Red Choir member, or perhaps most special, an angel.
Each year, six first graders are chosen to be “baby angels” in the play, while seniors who have participated in the play before are invited to be “senior angels” to celebrate their last year as a part of this School tradition. This year, four members of the Class of 2023 felt their memories come full circle.
On December 9, 2022, former baby angels Emily Joye ’23, Julia Richards ’23, Jania Seabrook ’23, and Brice Tibbals ’23 (top photo above) made their entrance into the Cathedral Church of St. Luke and St. Paul as senior angels. Below, they can be seen on stage, prayer hands in perfect position, as first-grade baby angels on December 1, 2011.
No matter the part they played, all 41 members of this year’s senior class are soon to join the ranks of Ashley Hall alumnae who hold similar special memories from The Christmas Play, including our very own Head of School Dr. Anne Weston ’73.
“What I love most about this Ashley Hall tradition is the imprint it leaves not only on participating students, but also on the community at large,” says Weston. “The Christmas Play has been a part of my life since 1961 when my family and I, as a first grader, began attending this annual performance. Over the years, I was involved in performances that were staged in churches all around town, but the most special production of all for me was my final one. I was a senior angel and my younger sister, eleven years my junior, was a baby angel at the side of the manger. We still cherish sharing such a special and meaningful experience.”
Above left: Dr. Weston stands as a senior angel in December 1972 with her younger sister, Ama Thornhill Couch ’84, before the big show. Above right: Dr. Weston smiles with baby angel Elisa Waring ’34 before this year’s production of The Christmas Play.
Research shows that if girls do not develop interests in science, technology, engineering, arts, or math (STEAM) before or during their middle school years, they will most likely avoid future classes and careers in these areas altogether. At Ashley Hall, STEAM activities are an integral part of the Lower School curriculum to give girls the chance to fall in love with STEAM–and they don’t just happen in the classroom.
Science and math start inside the classroom and are a large part of students’ core studies. But students get a secondary layer of learning outside of the classroom by attending weekly enrichment classes designed to apply their new math and science concepts. Once a week, students also come together as an entire grade for a special STEAM class. “We do hands-on science and hands-on math to enrich what they’re doing in class,” says Lower School STEAM and science teacher Meghan Ward. “It’s seeing those skills that students are practicing, and saying, ‘Now let’s put it in place in the lab.’ It’s actually really cool to see both disciplines.”
Last month, the School opened a brand-new beautifully renovated 2,100-square foot Lower School STEAM Lab designed to host these enrichment lessons. Inside are stations for experiments, moveable furniture, risers for presentations, a sound-proof room for break-out teacher instruction, and so much more. But the added space and state-of-the-art tools for hands-on experiments and collaboration is just the start of how the STEAM education is evolving at Ashley Hall.
More Space, More Collaboration
Research by UNICEF shows that studying STEAM helps girls develop skills in collaboration and self-development which gives girls tools with which to become informed citizens and effective leaders. The new Lower School STEAM Lab, which can support a whopping four classes at one time, was designed specifically to be able to support the opportunity for girls to work together.
“Why STEAM is so powerful is it is focused on giving the girls a challenge to try and solve a problem,” Ward says. “We always have them begin the process by sketching their own idea, then they collaborate with a group and come up with one design. They always have minimal materials, just a little bit of time, and they have to problem solve. They debate the best design and have to learn how to bring each other together and come up with one idea. But then on the other side, they support each other, too.”
“They’re learning to communicate and be respectful communicators,” adds Lower School Math Specialist Allison Jordan. “It’s hard for them. It’s such a hard skill for anyone to learn. But they are doing it every day.”
A New Perspective on Mistakes
According to the Goodman Research Group, girls’ school graduates are 6 times more likely to consider majoring in math, science, and technology compared to girls who attended coeducational schools. Why?
“We’ve created a safe place to make mistakes so that young girls can learn,” Ward says. “We call them ‘oops-ortunities’ or oopsies that you can turn into opportunities. They happen all the time in STEAM. A student will say something is not working. Okay. So we go back and try again, try it differently.”
The confidence that comes with not being afraid to make mistakes is everything, explains Jordan. “All you need is confidence. We have a lot of tears in the lab. It’s sometimes due to frustration with your team, but a lot of the time it’s because students don’t have the faith in themselves. If they get a math answer wrong, it makes them feel bad. But if they have the confidence to say, oops, I made a mistake, and ask for help, then there goes all that intimidation. That’s my biggest goal in here with math at least is to make them feel safe to figure it out. This is your safe space to make mistakes.”
Integrating a Empathy
Science, technology, engineering, arts, and math are at the core of our STEAM education in Lower School. But as the program continues to grow, so do the pillars of Ashley Hall’s STEAM curriculum. “One of the things we’re adding is the idea of empathy,” Ward says. “Everything we’ve done in STEAM, we’ve encouraged them to think with empathy.”
For example, when Lower School students studied the body, they had to create a stethoscope out of basic materials like cups and paper towel rolls. Then Ward asked the girls a question: Who would use a stethoscope? “We talked about people who take care of us who use stethoscopes. Then I took it a step further and asked if they thought everybody in the world uses a stethoscope. We have great medical devices in our country, but does everyone have that? And what if you lived in a country where they didn’t have stethoscopes and these materials were all you had to work with to hear a baby’s heartbeat? Suddenly, we were talking about real people and real issues in the world.”
“Learning to think and solve problems like scientists and engineers can equip girls with the knowledge, confidence and creativity to address major challenges in their communities, such as generating sufficient energy, preventing and treating diseases, maintaining supplies of clean water and food, and solving the problems of environmental change.”
By adding a focus on collaboration, confidence, and empathy throughout every level of STEAM education in the Lower School, Ashley Hall is creating not only future scientist and engineers, but girls equipped to be the best version of themselves.
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.