March | 2023
Ashley Hall’s School-Wide Book Festival Celebrates the Power That Comes from Reading All Year Long
The last week of March, every corner of the Ashley Hall campus was filled with books. Venders were selling new finds in the LoDome and Jenkins Atrium, while students read old favorites together dressed as their favorite book characters in the sun.
The events were a part of Ashley Hall’s annual week-long Book Festival which aims to encourage students to read for fun, and this year’s theme was Reading is a Superpower. But while the Book Festival was once the only major literacy event at Ashley Hall, that’s no longer the case.
“This year, we’ve started to do a thematic literacy initiative each month,” says Upper School Literacy Coordinator Chris Hughes. Whether it’s A Blind Date with a Book for Valentine’s Day in February or a curated collection of books written by Ashley Hall authors for Women’s History Month, Hughes works with students in grades 7-12 to bring a theme to life each month in the library, then spread the word around campus. “It’s all about getting girls in to read,” Hughes says. “Our goal for the future is for majority of literacy initiatives on campus to be completely student driven so that they are coming from the heart. When the reason you’re reading is purposeful, you will gain a true superpower.”
Planting Seeds for the Future: Early School Families Help Students Transform Campus with a New Native Plant Garden
Ahead of the arrival of April showers, Early School students and parents spent five sunny days planting over 400 plants outside the Ross Early Education Center to complete the School’s second native plant garden. Led by Ben Buckley-Green, Ashley Hall’s general contractor, they placed everything from tall trees to edible herbs into the ground. But every plant had one thing in common: It was selected by a student.
“Children identify with different kinds of plants that are part of their memories,” explains Early School Director Diane Fletcher. “Whether it’s a rich strawberry plant they have tasted or a feather plant. So to create our garden, our teachers asked them what they’ve experienced and what they would like to plant.” The list they provided did not disappoint.
Each class submitted their top picks which included “big flowers like my arms,” “little pink plants,” and “blue flowers with butterflies,” just to name a few. From there, Buckley-Green carefully culled through requests and ordered plants suitable for our campus with similar traits. For example, he chose Bee Balm to attract those butterflies and “yummy” native strawberry bushes. As for the “sparkly trees with sparkly stars” which are loved by Ms. Carter’s class? “That’s a White Fringetree,” Buckley-Green says with a laugh. And yes, one was ordered, and it now happily calls Ashley Hall home. “Their list became our garden.”
“The littlest ones on campus truly were the masterminds behind this massive installation of a native garden in the middle of campus. It’s a gift to our entire School. I see it as a not so little gift from the littles.” — Ashley Hall General Contractor Ben Buckley-Green
Sailboats “Dock” on Campus for Lower Schoolers Studying Simple Machines
The wheel and axle. The lever. The pulley. These are just a few examples of simple machines which were the focus of science lessons in kindergarten classrooms last month. They also all happen to be used on a sailboat.
“The central idea we’ve been studying is that simple machines make work easier,” says kindergarten teacher Emily Matus. “We keep talking about how these things really do make work easier and one discussion has been about boats. I asked them, ‘How does a boat make work easier?’ And they said, ‘Well, you’d have to swim a really long ways to get somewhere versus going on a boat.'”
To create a hands-on lesson in simple machines, Matus enlisted the help of Rob Bowden, sailing aficionado and husband of Upper School biology teacher Allison Bowden. He brought two of his boats to the middle of campus to allow the girls to ask questions, tug on ropes, and show off what they’ve learned by pointing out different simple machines they recognized. And let’s just say he drew a crowd!
“Third grade has also studied simple machines this year,” says Lower School faculty member Tyler Moseley who brought her class out to the turf. “They even invented their own simple machines in STEAM, so it’s just so wonderful to have their studies come full circle,” Moseley said as her students climbed in and out of a sailboat. “Now they’re seeing it in action, in real life.”
Seventh Graders Begin Their Capstone Humanities Project at the Gibbes
Each March, you can find Ashley Hall seventh graders wandering the galleries of the Gibbes Museum of Art with a very specific purpose: to select a piece of artwork that will become the focus of their humanities studies until May.
As a part of the Gibbes Museum of Art Junior Docent Program, students explore reputable sources in art history and art criticism to help them craft their own interpretation of a painting or sculpture. “They then write an extended academic essay to support that interpretation before presenting their findings and acting as experts on their piece of art,” explains Upper School humanities teacher Joanna Westbrook who is currently guiding students in their research and interpretations for the fourth year in a row. That presentation, however, doesn’t happen in the classroom.
To complete their project, students return to the Gibbes to act as docents and share their unique interpretation of the piece of art that sparked their interest with friends and family. “My favorite part of this 7-week project is the way students come alive and feel empowered to share their views,” says Westbrook. “Through this work, they begin to realize that they have an original, fresh perspective on big ideas artists explore. They then grow and bolster that perspective with academic research. It is true learning and, as a teacher, it is exciting to watch and be a part of the process of each girl’s success with this demanding project.”
Countdown to Commencement: 37 Seniors Present a Year’s Worth of Research to Classmates and Faculty
From stepping into The Shell House for the first time to performing as an angel in The Christmas Play, there are many moments during an Ashley Hall students’ senior year when the reality of graduating begins to set in. But there is one academic milestone that marks a turning point like no other: Senior Thesis Presentation Day.
Each year, senior class members complete Ashley Hall’s signature year-long Senior Thesis course which is devoted to completing a 10-12 page research paper and giving an oral presentation to support their findings. As for the topic of research?
“It’s all up to them, and it all starts with their interests,” says Upper School English teacher Christina Trimarco who taught the Senior Seminar course for the first time this year. “Then for their thesis, they have to come up with a claim that they are supporting within that interest.” Topics this year ranged from How School Start Times Affect Teens’ Long-Term Health, Ghostlore and the Holy City, The Importance of Ocean Exploration, and Social Media’s Contribution to “Unhealthy” Healthy Habits.
“My favorite part of the thesis process may be their favorite part, too: It’s those eureka moments that happen along the way,” Trimarco says. “You think you are interested in one topic and it basically snowballs into another topic. That discovery, even though it’s a research discovery, it’s also a little bit of self discovery. You didn’t realize you would be really interested in something new, but you are. That is my favorite part. The discovery.”
On Senior Thesis Presentation Day, seniors are divided among rooms all over campus and Upper School student audiences are assigned to different spaces accordingly to listen — and learn. Once seniors are done with their presentation? “They’re done,” says Trimarco. “That class becomes a free period and a well-earned reward for our seniors.”
Students Jump for a Good Cause During National Kids Heart Challenge
Who says fitness can’t be fun? Last month, students in grades K-6 jumped — and danced! — to show the importance of healthy habits as a part of the American Heart Association’s Kids Heart Challenge. This national event combines physical fitness and philanthropy, but its reach goes far beyond a single day of the year.
Beginning in February, the Ashley Hall community began rallying together to support the work the AHA does year-round to reduce the risk of heart attack and stroke. Families joined together as Team Ashley Hall to raise a money, while students got to work in the gym learning different aspects and benefits of jumping rope. “We start with long ropes and then move to individual ropes,” says Athletic Director Franny Slay ’80 who spearheads the Kids Heart Challenge each year. “It is especially rewarding to see the younger students master jumping rope on their own. They are experts by the time they are in second grade.”
To show off their skills and complete the fundraising event, students competed in their very own jump rope challenges from March 13-17. From Purple vs. White jump-offs to interval-style team competitions, the joy in the gym all week was palpable — and thanks to the entire Ashley Hall community, it was felt far beyond campus. In total, the School raised $38,776.74 for the American Heart Association this year!