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2017-2018 Blog

Girls and Grit

Blog Type: 
Date Posted: 
Tuesday, October 31, 2017

For 4 years, Orchard House School has hosted an annual Saturday event to cultivate determination and a sense of self in 4th Grade girls. Let’s Get Gritty: a Meetup Designed for 4th Grade Girls leads groups of girls through a day structured to convey the Orchard House Experience. The emphasis on this program is GRIT.


But what exactly is grit, especially when you’re talking about fourth graders? Melody Imburg, Director of Admissions and Diversity, defers to psychologist and Mother of Modern Grit Angela Duckworth, who defines grit as “the quality that enables individuals to work hard and stick to their long-term passions and goals.” And while it can sometimes feel like a buzzword--what makes developing grit any different from character building, for instance?--part of the essence of grit is the ability to acclimate when presented with change, either in the form of adversity or a shift in direction. Grit is not about withstanding something miserable to prove you can--it’s about recognizing that failure is a necessary aspect of the process of achievement that enriches the final product.


Sometimes we encounter students who have faced no academic hardships, and these are the students most vulnerable to a lack of grit. When they’ve sped through subjects and concepts using sheer brainpower, it is doubly difficult when they encounter something that isn’t a breeze. Without the skills to acknowledge and accept gracefully the need for a do-over, it is a great leap to make it to the doing over part! “They don’t know how to pick themselves up,” observes Melody. “It devastates them.” Often, students will abandon a task they do not “master” on the first go, creating a habit of looking for tasks they feel confident they will complete with ease without much need for reworking.

“You have to have that learning moment,” says Melody. “ Let’s look at this whole thing and see what we learned. What’s another path? What’s a workaround? We still want to get here. That path didn’t work, but how do we get there? How do you continuously tweak and redefine what you’re doing to get where you want to get?”


When Melody proposed Let’s Get Gritty to the faculty, she told them the basics, and each faculty team developed their own activity within the program that they felt fit the structure and purpose and aligned with their area of expertise. This variety speaks to the concept that grit and its development will mean different things for different girls, including different manifestations of it in their work and lives. Let’s Get Gritty specifically tries to show how grit is spread throughout the disciplines of drama, science, leadership, and the written word.

One way to approach the cultivation of grit is to instill a comfort with risk-taking, which is a built-in characteristic of the Orchard House Curriculum. Besides traditional risk-taking in core subjects--especially when it comes to acknowledging uncertainty and discomfort--the Arts Block program requires that each student participate in every art subject offered. Every student dances, every student acts, every student gives vocal and instrumental performances, and every student produces a portfolio of visual art to exhibit. The push to take academic risks is backed up by Orchard House’s decision not to subscribe to traditional markers of academic success, such as an honor roll or awards ceremonies.

We are trying to get students used to setting goals, regardless of whether they achieve them on the first try. Melody notes, “Those dreams and goals can change, but it’s just that learning how to work towards a goal is important.” What are we using to push them toward settings goals? Each grade has a capstone project--the dream wall and dream poem, the class quilt, the sanctuary box, and the passion project--focused on naming a dream, which highlights the fact that dreams are dynamic, just as our girls are. “We’re always asking girls at OHS, who are you? Whether it’s a dream wall, your quilt square, or your sanctuary box. And we don’t ask them to stick to the same goal, but rather help them to figure out how to take steps toward achieving a goal, because as you grow, your ideas change and what you want for yourself changes, but you’ve been getting used to working towards things.”

When asked about a correlation between grit and the Courageous Conversations we have at Orchard House--all grades are participating in a year-long unit on diversity of identity and diversity of thought--Melody answered exuberantly and affirmatively. It’s more personal when we talk about goal achievement, but when it comes to the conversations with one another, “grit helps you to not stop just because the conversations get hard. You may have said something you’re embarrassed about or you may not agree with someone’s point of view, but if you’ve got the grit, you can say, You know what, I’ve got to stick with it. This is worth pursuing.


We’re talking about developing grit as a skill, as a craft. Discipline isn’t a lifetime of doing something you hate, but rather the practice of doing something that doesn’t come easily the first time. Grit is the widespread application of that practice.


In terms of milestones that let us know our students are developing grit, it’s not about the grades or even the completed projects. We begin hearing students moving away from asking, Is this what you want? Is this how I should do it? Instead, they say, Let me show you what I did.


What can we as a school and as parents do to help guide our daughters toward discovering their gritty selves?  “Let go of what every other person’s child is doing.” Remember that grit and success is a moving target--in a good way--and that it differs wildly among different students and different projects. Make a commitment to celebrate progress, not mastery.


Let’s Get Gritty is on Saturday, November 4 from 9am - 2pm. Register your daughter and treat her to a crash course in self-exploration and grit.



Autumn Haiku

Blog Type: 
Date Posted: 
Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Ms. Anderson's 7th Grade Language Arts class ventured out on a nature walk to find inspiration for haiku and sat on our front steps to compose. Here are a few musings on their walk through the library and out into the neighborhood.

The blooming flowers

Are supported by the grass

Waiting for water


See people with care

Who are giving clean water

To their desperate plants

    Books are scrambled out

    Clutter, clutter everywhere

    In the creaky room


    Students whispering

    Their plots in their grouping books

    Exchanging interests

    Elmo lunchboxes

    Purple bookbags, hockey sticks

    Crushed dead goldfish smile


    This old rock will sit

    Plants will grow around it, but

    This old rock will sit

    The 100 Fears of Orchard House School

    Blog Type: 
    Date Posted: 
    Tuesday, October 17, 2017

    Every Monday and Friday, the entire school comes together in our auditorium for a Morning Meeting. Students make announcements, highlight their classmates’ accomplishments and congratulate them, go over the finer points of logistical issues like the Lost and Found Bin, conduct singalongs, and get to know each other better.

    Last week, we talked a bit about fear and asked that the girls share some of their fears with us. Many shared more than one fear, and we ended up with a total of 100 Fears.

    Here’s a breakdown of the stats―

    Head of School Laura Haskins shared in her post about courage how important it can be to share our fears with one another, to illuminate community, to build relationships via shared experiences, and to model healthy ways of confronting and acknowledging fears.

    Please join us this Thursday as Michelle Poler shares her expertise on viewing our fears as necessary components of courage, using them to expand our ordinary courage, and imparting this to our children.

    6th Grade Dictionary

    Blog Type: 
    Date Posted: 
    Tuesday, October 3, 2017

    The 6th Graders created their own words during their study of etymology and parts of speech. They were nercited to share them with each other but soon realized they were being focy about the scervous parts of public speaking and needed to resolve their mifusion by putting their neologisms into a 6th Grade dictionary. Indulge your readesion by familiarizing yourself with this vocabulary, and you’ll no longer be the nodon in conversations with the 6s.


    cegacorn (n.) – a horse with wings and a horn

    clopping (v.) – shopping for clothes

    cuggly (adj.) – used to describe something that is so ugly it’s cute

    focy (adj.) – when someone is so focused it is funny

    fusting (adj.) – when something is so disgusting it is funny

    harrying (v.) – crying for a happy reason

    icedae (n.) – an ice-cream sundae

    indispondentable (adj.) – beautiful, irresistible and amazing

    mifused (adj.) – not knowing whether to follow your heart or your head

    mineroom (n.) – a room where you can mine for gold and diamonds

    nercited (adj.) – a combination of being nervous and excited

    nodon (n.) – the person in a conversation who has no idea about what is being talked about but goes along nodding like they understand anyway

    oreoless (adj.) – when someone opens the bag of Oreos and finds there aren’t any left

    paffy (adj.) – when something is so painful it is funny

    parknastics (n.) – gymnastics in the park

    pretopian (adj.) – right before a Utopia or Dystopia is founded

    readesion (n.) – a love of reading

    scervous (adj.) – feeling scared and nervous at the same time

    shaseign (n.) – a shade that has a design on it

    smad (adj.) – when you’re sad and mad about something

    treecoverquilt (n.) – a quilt that ties into the ground by a post so that a tree does not die in winter

    veprother (n.) – a very protective mother

    Everyday Courage for Our Middle School Girls

    Blog Type: 
    Date Posted: 
    Tuesday, September 26, 2017

    Every summer, as I reflect upon the past year and my goals for the year ahead, I choose a theme to help guide me in the work I do. This year, I am focusing on courage. Courage, I believe, is a fundamental part of being a middle school girl and working with them as parents and educators.

    A quick review of the etymology and definition of the word tells us that courage originates from the Latin word for heart, cor, often used as a metaphor for inner strength. One definition of the word is “the ability to do something that frightens us,” but author Brené Brown offers another view of courage. She talks about ordinary courage as “the level of commitment required for us to actually speak honestly and openly about who we are and about experiences―good and bad.” All of this is particularly relevant to adolescent girls.

    5th graders on the first day of school, stepping outside their comfort zones (and into small spaces) to make new connections.

    Adolescents are in an intense developmental period of self-reflection and identity formation. As their intellectual development grows, they have an increased ability to understand and reason, are curious, and display wide-ranging thought. Adolescents are also marked by fluctuations in confidence and feelings of inferiority. This is a perfect developmental time to cultivate courage!

    7th Graders budget household meals and become familiar with the everyday choices families make.

    We need both honest self-reflection and some fear. At Orchard House, our curriculum is designed around these developmental markers. Opportunities for girls to take appropriate risks in their classes, to play a new sport, to try many different art classes, and regularly scheduled time for activities and discussion centered around understanding one’s self as an individual and in relation to others, all serve to build courage in our students.

    Older students modeling the ability to attempt new tasks, cultivating grit in themselves and the younger students.

    We have the privilege of watching girls confront fears, step out of comfort zones, and build inner strength over their four years at OHS. The shy fifth grader, slightly overwhelmed by a new school, asks a teacher she doesn’t know yet for help. A sixth grader sings at the talent show. A seventh grader seeks help for a friend in need. An eighth grader delivers her graduation speech to hundreds of people and courageously enters a new chapter of her life.

    Courage is a group project, not just an individual undertaking.

    Adults who care about and work with adolescent girls are in a unique position not only to challenge and support girls as they try on courage, but also to model it. Whether or not they admit it, adolescents look to us for information, security, and inspiration―another trait of their development. Are we honest about our own fears? Do we confront them, and do we talk about our experiences, good and bad? Leading a life of courage not only benefits us, but the girls who look up to us.

    Faculty share with each other the facets of diversity they are most and least comfortable talking about and why.
    Girls learn about the everyday notion of “peace,” constructing Pinwheels for Peace as a symbol of their commitment to conflict resolution in their own lives.

    Michelle Poler visits us on October 19 to share her personal journey into her own fears and how she learned to view her fears in a new light, confront them, and experience profound personal growth and new opportunities she would never have imagined in the process. She found that as she confronted fears, her inner strength grew. She became more courageous.

    We hope you will join us on October 19th and consider some ways to expand courage in your own life!


    First Week of School

    Blog Type: 
    Date Posted: 
    Tuesday, September 12, 2017


    The 5s show off their confidence in their collaborative exercise on Orientation Day.

    Fitting 22 girls inside a shrinking circle? Nailed it!

    Living on the fringes of carpool―an unofficial tradition of the Class of 2018.

    You know school has officially started again when you see Ms. Brookman's fishbowl water bottle everywhere (and Ms. Brookman searching for it).

    Sneaking in the last bits of conversation before names are called for carpool.

    An excited (and maybe orderly) descent for dismissal after the first day.

    Reading for recess.

    Back to School Tips

    Blog Type: 
    Date Posted: 
    Tuesday, August 22, 2017

    It’s that time again! While everyone is out enjoying the last bits of summer, we’re sharpening our pencils, breaking in new notebooks, and waiting patiently to greet students as they pour in next week.

    In between putting spine labels on library books and rearranging classrooms, we asked the Orchard House faculty to share their best tips for getting ready for the new school year.

    Gearing Up

    Start getting up early. Eat breakfast. Figure out your carpool ahead of time. (Ms. Brookman)

    Win the morning by preparing the night before. (Ms. Smith)

    Lay out your clothes the night before. (Ms. Russo)

    Make sure you get enough sleep and eat a good breakfast. (Ms. Payne)

    Protect your sleep. (Ms. Smith)

    Get into the routine of going to bed early. (Mr. Stevens)

    Gather your items, including your clothing, the night before. (Ms. Stickley)

    The Nitty Gritty

    Put your name on all your stuff. Your clothes, your water bottle― (Ms. Horner)

    Everything. Put your name on everything. (Ms. Lafoon)

    Start with your least favorite task and end with your most favorite. (Ms. Pelnik)

    Know the carpool rules and follow them! (Ms. Horner)

    Get in the habit of checking your backpack before you walk out the door. (Ms. Anderson)

    Transfer all the key dates to your planner at the beginning of the year, including all your extracurricular activities. (Sra. Jones)

    Acknowledge your true self and plan accordingly―if it seems unlikely that you’ll be able to stick to a routine that works for someone else, change your approach until you find something that works for you. (Mr. Ward)

    The 5-Minute Rule: Try something for 5 minutes, and if you aren’t getting it, bring it in the very next morning and let your teacher know at the beginning of class. (Ms. Pelnik)

    Staying Grounded

    Be mindful. Take 5 minutes to breathe when you wake up and set your intention for having a good day. (Ms. Anderson)

    Don’t get overwhelmed. (Mr. Hollander)

    From day one, reach out to girls in other grades. We are a community of 80. (Ms. Lafoon)

    Be Curious. (Ms. Freeman)

    Consider fear as an opportunity, not as a barrier. (Ms. Haskins)

    Be excited, because I am. (Ms. Arthur)