Purple & White Archives | Ashley Hall

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.”

And again, research supports just how much of an impact STEAM education for young girls can have on global issues. According to research presented by UNICEF in a report entitled Towards an Equal Future: Reimagining Girls’ Education Through STEM:

“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.

As an Ashley Hall Pre-Kindergarten student, Eads Hubbell ’23 had no idea she’d one day be Student Body President but she knew she wanted to be. “I’ve always looked up to the people who did it before me,” Hubbell says. In seventh grade, it was LouLou Byars ’18. Last year, it was Michelle Lam ’22. “I honestly didn’t know if I’d end up running then, but I always knew it was something I wanted.”

Fast forward over a decade to April 2022, and it was a phone call from a familiar voice that would make Hubbell’s dream of entering her senior year at Ashley Hall as Student Body President a reality. “There’s a tradition that when you win, the current student body president calls the newly elected one,” she says. “So Michelle was actually the one who called to tell me. Now I can text or call her for advice which is really cool.”

We sat down with Hubbell to get the scoop the responsibilities of the Ashley Hall Student Body President, her mission as a leader, and what’s to come this school year.

What are the biggest responsibilities of Ashley Hall’s Student Body President?

EH: “The required responsibilities include running morning meeting, assemblies, and running student council meetings in the mornings on Thursdays before school. A lot of it is having time that you have to fill with what you think would be exciting to the student body, or funny, or up-lifting. I feel like you can pick up as much as you want to though. You can make it a bigger job, and I feel like that’s what I’m trying to go for this year. I’m trying to hit all the marks I can within the year.”

What are those big marks you want to hit?

EH: “Well, I already got free feminine products in all the Upper School bathrooms. So that’s the first thing that I wanted for the first day of school and that’s done. Then I also have a committee for community service in the works for restocking that. Then I also had a few funny promises in my speech, like a celebrity cutout in the atrium. Students are voting on that right now. I’m trying to organize a form with like 200 responses with all their celebrity crushes.

But really, I’m trying to have one significant thing each month. Most of its fun stuff for the student body, like we’re getting a morning class off on Valentine’s Day to bring back giving Valentine’s and making boxes. But I also want to have a yoga instructor from Longevity come that I’ve been talking to to have a class on the turf. I’m also trying to move taco Wednesday to Tuesday. I guess it’s just mainly stuff for the students to get them excited.”

What kind of leader do you think you’ll be this year?

EH: “I definitely don’t have a super serious approach, but behind the scenes, I’m going to be working really hard. The Student Body President represents every grade all year, then morning meetings are 7-12 grades every Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday. Then there can be assemblies Thursday and Friday so potentially, I’m leading something every day. And even if it’s not on a stage, I will be.”

At Ashley Hall, athletics have always been more than just a game. Student athletes become both team and campus leaders, as well as part of a legacy left by a long line of women in sports who have been competing for the School for over a century. To support its athletes on and off the field, this fall Panther Athletics launched a new year-round strength and conditioning program aimed to not only change the way they play, but live.

“Dynamic athletes require dynamic programming,” says Assistant Athletic Director Christian Alcantara. “Now our athletes will be able to work year round to improve their game. This will not only help prevent injuries, build endurance and stamina, but it will also give them more knowledge on how to care for themselves day in and day out.”

Led by Coach Beatrice Puiu, Ashley Hall’s strength and conditioning program offers off-season and pre-season training programs, as well as in-season sessions that compliment regular practice schedules. Puiu will also be at the school during set hours of the week so anyone who is free can go see her for a workout.

With the goal of supporting all Ashley Hall sports teams, Puiu designed the program in a way that allows her to cover all her athletes needs, plus sports-specific needs separately. “The program covers the entire body,” Puiu explains. “The main goal is for each athlete to get stronger, more powerful, and more explosive. Strength training protects your joints from injuries, maintains muscle tissue, and improves overall life quality.”

As strength and conditioning coach, Puiu understands firsthand the science behind the female athlete’s body. A Romanian native, she has competed in international and national Track and Field competitions as well as European Championships and the 2018 Winter Olympics. Over the past 10 years, she’s been awarded 15 national titles with her strongest events in hurdles, high jump, and shot put.

“Now it’s my turn to educate Ashley Hall student athletes,” Puiu says. “My job is to work with anyone who shows up to a training session and share the best habits for the best version of themselves. In my perfect world, this program would be required for all girls. Even if they are not interested in sports, the human body was created to move. The skeleton needs strong, lean muscles. We can work and prevent abnormal positioning of the spine, prevent muscle fatigue, decrease the risk of back pain, increase energy, and increase confidence – correcting your posture can impact the way you feel about yourself!”

Puiu first joined Ashley Hall in 2017 as assistant coach of Panthers Track and Field, and returned to coach the team last year. As both Track and Field coach and strength and conditioning coach, she understands how the new program will support the entire athletics department. “It will take a lot off the coach’s shoulders, explains Puiu. “It helps so they don’t have to spend more time in the weight room and can use that time for the game plan.”

While supporting the coaching staff and giving Ashley Hall athletes an elite advantage through strength training is exciting, that’s only part of the big picture for Coach Bea, as her athletes call her. “Believing, encouraging, educating, and leading our girls into the future is the most exciting thing for me,” she says. It’s lifelong learning and development. We will be surrounded by strong young ladies inside and outside. Strong is beautiful!”

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.”

Learn more about Water Wellness Mission

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.  

Read the full article here courtesy of Bromeliad Society International

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.

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Ashley Hall is a private school for girls located in Charleston, South Carolina enrolling students in kindergarten-grade 12 with a co-educational pre-k program.