Sure, a trip to Walt Disney World may sound like all fun and games. But Ashley Hall’s annual eighth-grade trip to Orlando, Florida, is so much more.
Now in its fifth year, this class trip gives students in eighth grade a chance to explore astronomy and the history of space travel, learn about the physics of amusement parks, and make real-life connections to their current math and science courses.
“Everything we do on the trip has a direct connection to the eighth grade science curriculum,” says Upper School math teacher and seasoned trip leader Crystal Wilkins. “We start with a visit to the Kennedy Space Center to learn about space exploration. Then we head to Disney World to investigate the application of physics to roller coasters through Disney’s educational workshops.”
As members of the Disney Imagination Campus series, students get to enter the park before it opens and go behind the scenes of big-ticket rides to learn more about the science that makes them work. “Each year we get a different experience,” says Wilkins who has chaperoned the trip four times. “The programming is always evolving so we get to focus on different rides. It never feels stale which is one reason I like going on this trip.”
Students start each scientific ride exploration with a hands-on demo focused on a specific concept. “This could be the animatronics of the ride, the special effects of the ride, or the actual movement of the roller coaster,” says Wilkins. The group then gets to experience this concept, whether it be Newton’s laws of motion or the electromagnetic field, firsthand by going on the ride. After, they reconvene to share what they observed.
“It’s truly just an extension of what they do at school,” says Wilkins. “But my favorite part of this trip is that it’s a chance for them to really show what they know in an exciting new context. When they’re raising their hands, answering questions, they make me so proud.”
While the trip’s unique hands-on lessons in STEM are truly unforgettable, they are not the only lessons eighth graders leave Disney World with each year. “When we’re in the park, they have a lot of freedom which comes with a lot of responsibility,” says Wilkins. “They must manage their time and look out for one another—without their phones. Afterward, there’s always this moment of pride for them: ‘Oh my gosh, we navigated Disney with our friends without our phones! We were responsible. We can handle anything.’ It’s almost become a rite of passage.”
As a freshman searching to give back to her community, Sarah McLean ’21 was immediately drawn to a new initiative being launched by the Lowcountry chapter of the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society (LLS): the Students of the Year campaign (SOY). An annual elite leadership development program for local high school students, the SOY accepts nominations for student leaders to participate in a seven-week competition to raise funds and awareness for LLC. Since its inception in the Lowcountry, SOY participants have raised over $815,000 for LLC to aid in research, advocacy, and patient support of those affected with blood cancers.
Besides the fulfilling work, McLean, whose cousin passed away due to blood cancer complications, recognized that by giving back, she would help ensure that one day no family would have to suffer the loss of a loved one from a blood cancer. Now a senior who has worked with the SOY campaign for the past four years, McLean serves as this year’s Chair of the Student Leadership Team. She recently shared her experience guiding the first all-female SOY candidate class through the campaign season and her deep appreciation for an organization that has profoundly impacted her life.
(Click HERE to learn more about the Students of the Year campaign)
Discuss your work this year as the Chair of the Leadership Team for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society’s Lowcountry Student of the Year program. What have been some of the challenges you have had to overcome because of the pandemic, and what makes you most proud?
McLean: “My work began in the summer of 2020. As the Chair of the Leadership Team, I worked with the team to brainstorm ideas for candidates, listen to ideas, and plan out the new year. At the beginning of this campaign season, I conducted meetings with the team, the manager for the division in the Lowcountry, the Student Leadership Team Vice-Chair, and the Executive Leadership Team Chair. The meetings occurred twice a month, then once a month when our candidate list was set. As the Chair, my job is to answer questions from the leadership team, build comradery, and work with the Vice-Chair to build new ideas and installments within LLS.
In a pandemic year, my roles changed, and the way we went about our tasks was transformed to a computer screen. Instead of meeting at a Starbucks and pitching our campaign to potential candidates or company sponsors, we met with everyone via Zoom. In preparation for these meetings, the student Leadership Team was tasked with reaching out to people within the Lowcountry community to participate in the SOY program. SOY is a very hands-on campaign, and without going forth in society, even masked and distanced, we used virtual methods to tell amazing students about our life-changing opportunity to raise money for cancer research.
My team adjusted to the inevitable and started to use Zoom to conduct meetings. These introductions to LLS included a PowerPoint presentation given by our manager to the SOY candidates and their parents. The students who nominated candidates are also present in the meetings to share their experiences and why they would make amazing candidates. Though it was not always the case that a nominee would agree to participate, we were still able to enlighten the community on what the SOY campaign is and what our mission is to better society. This year, we were able to secure fifteen candidate teams who are the first candidate class to be all girls.
We decided to make our Zoom meetings festive to make online SOY more exciting. This ranged from Christmas outfits and funniest hats to Halloween-themed Zoom calls. We tried everything to make these calls feel as if we were there together. Before each meeting, the manager, Vice Chair, and I would meet to discuss the upcoming meeting, prepare any questions, brainstorm, and review our speeches. My favorite part of these meetings is our Minute for Mission. This is the first minute of each meeting where we share an inspirational cancer survivor video, story, or advancement in the campaign. This Minute for Mission helps us to remember why we are fighting so hard to raise money for this worthy cause.
The first event for our candidates was our workshop where we helped the candidates start to think about their team and campaign and to feel comfortable about their life-changing choice to be a part of the LLS family. Within the workshop, they heard from former candidates, team members, parents, our Honored Hero who is fighting cancer, and a cancer survivor. This year, my leadership team has eleven active members below me. Every candidate team is assigned a Leadership Team mentor, who supports, guides, and teaches. Everyone who participates in LLS supports each other to the point that it is not only a competition but also a support group to fund the same fight.
For our mentees, we went to their houses for a surprise visit, during which we delivered gifts to welcome them and congratulate them on joining LLS. Each week I reach out to my mentees via FaceTime to encourage them, offer support, see what’s coming up, and be a sounding board for their ideas. I am proud of all the candidates who have taken on this fight and are staying committed to their job, even with a hectic schedule and school.”
How has working with the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society’s Student of the Year program enriched your high school years? What do you find most rewarding about the experience?
McLean: “LLS has helped me to find my identity through charity and giving back to people within my community who are battling cancer. LLS is funding research, and being a part of the SOY campaign from its first year in the Lowcountry has allowed me to watch it grow and reach almost everyone in Charleston. What I find most rewarding about being a part of the program is watching students realize they have a voice and can make a difference in a seemingly adult field. Though they have to work harder than anyone, I get to see the smiles that come to everyone’s faces when we lift the numbers at the end of the year, which is the total amount the high school students who are a part of the campaign have raised.”
Why is philanthropy so important to you? Do you have any plans to stay involved with the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society once you graduate?
McLean: “My cousin passed away due to blood cancer complications so giving back in any way helps me to ensure that one day a family will never have to go through the loss of a daughter, son, sister, brother, mother, father, cousin, loved one, or friend. Cancer in particular has affected almost everyone I’ve met, and until there is a cure, I will not stop funding the fight. Depending on where I go to college, I would love to be part of their local LLS chapter. With the adjustment to COVID-19, there might be ways to still participate in the Lowcountry’s chapter via Zoom.
This year I’ve had to be creative in my fundraising, so I suggested making an Instagram account for thrifted and gently used clothes where fifty percent of the profits go back to the LLS. I came up with this idea from watching successful stores on Instagram and added a twist to give back. I suggested it to my Vice President, and together we started our online fundraising store, @lls_thrifted. On the page, we have collaborated with SOY candidate teams to upload their items as well, and half will go to their campaign while half goes to the leadership team account, which funds the SOY campaign.
So far, we have uploaded one hundred and fifteen posts, worked with a candidate team clothing drive, received donations from two candidate teams, used the PSA drive team to collect clothing, and raised around $80 for LLS in three and a half months. The pandemic has made it difficult to reach a large audience, but with the help of social media we can connect with different social groups, adults, families, and friends online through the store. By combining the love for shopping, low prices, clothing from each other, and a wonderful cause, we can spread the word of LLS. This store includes everyone through artistic ability of the logo and fashion selection, social networking, financing, providing a product, communication, outreach, and teamwork.”
A cherished, longstanding Ashley Hall tradition, The Christmas Play assumed a digital format for its 2020 production in response to pandemic safety concerns. Against the backdrop of new technology, creative staging, and the need for the cast to socially distance, one thing remained clear: the love for this shared generational experience runs deep.
“This year we reimagined The Christmas Play in order to adhere to public health and safety protocols, and the spirit of this Ashley Hall tradition came to life in an entirely new way. Filmed outdoors on campus, the play allowed us to take full advantage of our cherished Senior Lawn as well as the Bear Cave, which served as the perfect backdrop for the Holy Tableaux.” —Head of School Jill Muti
Ask any alumna to name her favorite Ashley Hall memories, and The Christmas Play makes the list more often than not. Now in its 97th year, the annual performance is nearly as old as the School itself and draws together generations of graduates who relish memories of assuming roles of angels, shepherds, and jesters, reciting time-worn lines, and singing a repertoire that embodies the holiday season.
“The fact that you can reconnect so well with your Ashley Hall experience through watching the play makes it so special,” said Assistant Head of School and Upper School Director Anne Weston ’73, who treasures many fond memories of watching and performing in the play. “This year we worked hard to preserve the tradition of The Christmas Play in the face of challenging conditions.”
Historically, the logistics of The Christmas Play have adapted through the years to allow for location changes and staging demands, and the digital version represents the latest of these transformations. While the medium of delivery may change, it is reassuring to know the essence of this beloved tradition remains very much the same.
View the 2020 Christmas Play
The Christmas Play Alumnae Telegrams
Another special Ashley Hall tradition is the sending of alumnae “telegrams.” Each year, alumnae cast members of The Christmas Play share warm wishes with members of the current cast. Filled with fun memories and loving support, these “telegrams” offer a glimpse into the special bond our alumnae have to their School and each other. Happy reading!
Read the Alumnae Christmas Play Telegrams
In Visual Arts faculty member Raúl Miyar’s Foundations of Art class, students become keenly aware of their environment. Only by learning to refine their skill of observation can they begin to develop as artists. “Figure drawing is a pillar in beginning drawing lessons because of the complexity of the subject,” Miyar noted. “It requires intense focus and observation to attain accurate descriptions of shapes and forms. As one of the most important foundational drawing exercises, it expands the student’s perceptional skills.”
To hone their drawing skills and techniques this semester, students completed a series of figure studies using their peers as models. For Miyar, observing objectively is critical. “At the introduction to the course I explain that they are not learning how to draw but are instead learning how to see,” he said. “Most of them have probably not absorbed this information conceptually at this stage, but in time as they practice their observational skills, they will begin to comprehend the power of visual expression and how they are in control of what they communicate visually. As they develop their skills further, these conceptual ideas will become the basis of their practice, but before they reach that point they need to develop the technical skills that will enable them to communicate their ideas freely and uniquely.”
In their sketches, Miyar’s students capture their classmates in various poses during everyday life. As part of the campus environment, masks appear in many of the students’ compositions and reflect the reality of life during a pandemic. “The emphasis now in their training is technical, but whether the student knows it or not, when observing reality the result is usually compellingly honest and captivating,” Miyar pointed out. “The ordinary, which is normally overlooked, is not transformed; it is simply observed and highlighted. In acquiring the basic technical skills, the student learns to scrutinize that which is usually not noticed, consequently giving it new life and significance. The result is a direct window into each artist’s perception of the world and all the emotions connected to what and how each individual perceives.”
Sketches by (left to right): Elliot Tick ’24, Eads Hubbell ’23, and Elizabeth Perkins ’24
Ashley Hall proudly announces the release of its Statement on Civil Discourse. “The result of a collaborative effort between faculty and administrators to articulate how we embrace honesty, responsibility, and integrity as the guiding standards for daily interaction, this document represents our continued commitment to nurturing and modeling a culture of civil discourse as integral to campus life,” said Head of School Jill Muti. “It exemplifies how we are living our mission and preparing our students to confidently meet the challenges of society as ethically responsible women.”
During this morning’s Upper School Assembly, Mrs. Muti shared the Statement on Civil Discourse with students, who will work with the document in their English class over the month of November. They will collaborate on the creation of a code of student conduct that supports the tenets set forth in the Statement on Civil Discourse. “The goal of this exercise is for students to work together to deepen their understanding and appreciation of these universal tenets of civility,” noted Mrs. Muti. “Together we commit to a culture where civil discourse is embedded into the fabric of our community.”
Ashley Hall’s Statement on Civil Discourse
Post & Courier Commentary: How to Model Civil Discourse
Sometimes, it is the small, normal things that help to start a day off right: hearing class announcements and the lunch menu, celebrating birthdays and athletic team victories, and even having the thrill of being named student of the week. Most of all, the skits, videos, and inside jokes are what everyone eagerly anticipate; somehow, having a reason to laugh makes everything better. A much-loved tradition in the Upper School, Morning Meeting this year transformed to continue fulfilling its purpose: bringing a community together.
“It was important to our student leaders that we continue to gather in some way, and Morning Meeting has always been one of the ways we come together as a full community,” said Dean of Students Kelly Sumner. “Having a virtual Morning Meeting provides us with a common experience that helps us to feel as if we are all together, even if we aren’t in Davies Auditorium as we used to be.”
Most mornings, student body president Mary Scott Brisson ’21 joins other student council leaders to create that unifying force. Broadcast after the first class block of the day, Morning Meeting (and the associated expectations of an entire division) has fallen onto their willing shoulders. “My goals for Morning Meeting this year are to keep the student body and faculty engaged,” Brisson emphasized. “I want to attempt to preserve the ten minutes of fellowship every morning that we have had for so many years, even if it is over Google Meet. I want more underclassmen to be involved!”
Liv Hansen ’25 helped answer that call to action by re-establishing the Nautilus Program’s own Morning Meeting. In addition to tuning into the main meeting, once a week she leads her own team as chief promoter of fun. “Having a Nautilus Morning Meeting is important because it makes school fun even through this whole pandemic and reminds us all that we have each other to lean on,” she said. “I look forward to Tuesdays because we get to dance and start our day with positivity, and we get to have our own announcements so everyone knows what is going on for the week. I love to get everyone excited. It gets me in a good mood and awake for the day!”
Creating an environment where that positivity can shine is crucial, especially for a school that advocates for the benefits of student connection. “The tradition of Morning Meeting is important because it provides a sense of normalcy, but more importantly, it gives the younger girls a platform to gain voice and confidence while forging an even stronger connection among the Nautilus group,” said Assistant Director of Upper School and Director of the Nautilus Program Chris Hughes. As the student leaders fostering those ties, Brisson, Hansen, and their teams have worked hard to be a force of positivity for others. “It is important to preserve the essence of Morning Meeting this year because it is an integral part of the sense of community within our Student Body,” asserted Brisson. Through all the costumes, dance routines, TikTok videos, and shared laughter, they are bringing a school together, ten minutes at a time.