What if middle school girls would just say “I don’t need people to tell me I’m pretty on social media” …
They do. At Orchard House School. And we have the study to prove it.
As parents of middle school girls, we have all shared with one another our fears and frustrations that have been thrust upon us in this age of social media. We have all seen the selfies, the “shares” and “likes” and “posts,” that include not-so-subtle messages, both in words and pictures, that a girl’s appearance matters. Who hasn’t worried that the onslaught of social media messaging on our girls would contribute to self-esteem issues, including issues of body dissatisfaction?
Despite what seems at times like an insurmountable - and frustrating - social media culture, Orchard House families can be very encouraged by a study conducted by Virginia Commonwealth University’s Department of Psychology. At the risk of giving away the punchline here, the study confirms that the Orchard House school mission is working.
In 2016, Blair Burnette, Melissa Kwitowski, and Suzanne Mazzeo, researchers at Virginia Commonwealth University, initiated a study of Orchard House 7th and 8th grade girls to examine the nature and extent of early adolescent females’ engagement with social media and their perceptions of its impact on body image. The study is a fascinating read and is highly recommended. But the short abstract sums it up beautifully:
In this sample, social media use was high. Girls endorsed some appearance concerns and social comparison, particularly with peers. However, they displayed high media literacy, appreciation of differences, and confidence, strategies that appeared helpful in mitigating the potential negative association between social media exposure and body image. Girls reported these characteristics were nurtured by positive parental influence and a supportive school environment. Results support an ecological approach to the prevention of body dissatisfaction. Although peer influence strengthens throughout adolescence, current findings suggest that parents and the school environment are associated with girls’ attitudes and behaviors regarding social media and body image.
Many parents will be relieved to know that most girls who participated in the study did not endorse frequent selfie postings. Most of the participants acknowledged some form of parental monitoring of social media use. And while nosy parents were not universally “welcomed,” the study reflects that parental monitoring does have an impact on the girls’ decisions with respect to social media use.
And then there is the incredibly positive impact of the Orchard House environment. In describing how they girls acquired values that help them buffer the effects of appearance based influences, the girls mentioned media literacy, acceptance, appreciating differences, and confidence. They attributed much of these values to the learning environment at Orchard House.
“At this school, they teach us how to like yourself.”
“This is. . .a really inclusive school and it teaches you how you shouldn’t care how other people think of how you look . . .”
“Our teachers in health class, like all the umm teachers help us with confidence [and] teach us to build a really thick wall so that this stuff do[es] not get to you and I guess you are more immune to it because you know you are fine and so does your class, too.”
Student interviews revealed widespread interest in Mirror Mirror, Orchard House’s club that meets once a week to discuss body image, as well as media literacy in terms of body image and body diversity. While Mirror Mirror is a voluntary activity, it is popular among the students, who use the discussion group to gather “tools to combat the potential detrimental effects of social media exposure.”
The researchers presented the findings at a parent meeting on November 30. In that meeting, the researchers indicated that the findings were somewhat of a surprise given the prevalence of social media and the body image messaging to which adolescent girls are exposed. The research concluded:
Although mass media exposure is linked to body dissatisfaction, it is critical to examine the specific influence of social media on young adolescent populations to enhance prevention and intervention efforts. Results of the current study suggest that both parental involvement and school environment play crucial roles in the relation between social media exposure and appearance concerns. The perspectives gained from this study have important implications for future prevention research. (emphasis added).
How perfect a validation of the Orchard House School mission, which is to educate and inspire girls in a responsive, academically engaging community that fosters each girl’s intellectual curiosity, social responsibility, emotional integrity and physical well-being.
- Orchard House School Parent
With the holiday season upon us, many of us are getting ready to take part in any number and nature of family and community traditions. The same is true for Orchard House as we are gearing up for one of our most joyful occasions, Winter Ceremony, which is made up of many beloved traditions.
Each class plays a special role in this event by sharing their gifts with the community. They spend weeks preparing - rehearsing, baking, choreographing, planning, designing, painting, and stitching. Sixth Grade students present the dream quilt they created in the spring of their Fifth Grade year and bake cookies galore for the reception. Seventh Graders perform their adaptation of The Quiltmaker’s Gift, a story that focuses on the values of generosity and gratitude, featuring the annual Cat Dance, which the Eighth Grade choreographs, keeping the music and theme a tightly-held secret until they perform.
In fact, these built-in surprises and revelations are what heighten the significance of the Winter Ceremony for our students. Two weeks prior to the Ceremony, teachers carefully pair each Five with an Eight, who exchanges notes back and forth with her Five but is in the dark about her identity. During Winter Ceremony, each Five reveals her identity when she presents her Eight with a Throne designed and decorated in her honor. Each Eight will use this Throne when presenting her Throne Talk and when she graduates. It’s understandably tough to imagine average 14-year-olds getting excited about the prospect of passing notes with a 10-year-old, but the word “excited” does not begin to capture the animated conversations the Eights hold with one another trying to guess their Fives’ identities. Meanwhile the Fives are near bursting as they try to keep their secret until Winter Ceremony. A chair is not a chair, it’s a Throne, and a Five is not just a new student in a lower grade, but a person with distinct interests, quirks, and dreams that Eights share proudly and lovingly with their own classmates.
In the flurry of activities leading up to Winter Ceremony and the big event itself, I am constantly reminded of our school motto, Make of Yourself A Light. Our OHS light shines brightly and warmly during this special time. We embrace our connections with one another, share our community values, and find joy in giving. Ask anyone who has had the opportunity to attend a Winter Ceremony and you will see a light in their eyes as they talk about what a meaningful experience it is.
As special as Winter Ceremony is, it is only one of many traditions that help to create the kind, nurturing, and vibrant place that is Orchard House. From Terabithia to the Concord trip, from the 8th Grade vs. Faculty Broomball Game, to weekly afternoon tea in my office, each tradition at OHS includes girls in community rituals that strengthen personal relationships and helps them understand that they are part of something bigger than themselves - these notions are not lost on our girls.
Shortly after I was appointed as Head of School, I had the opportunity to have lunch with each class of girls in order for us to get to know one another. I quickly found that although each class had its own personality, there were common themes among all four grades. I found it interesting and an insight into Orchard House culture that each class wanted to know if I planned to change any of their traditions. The girls clearly articulated what these traditions mean to them as they spoke of belonging, rites of passage, opportunities for creation and self-expression, leadership, and just plain fun. Indeed, when I’ve had the pleasure of meeting alumnae who have come back to visit, many of them walk our halls and reflect on these traditions with a smile and an, “Oh, I remember…” and recount a personal experience that adds to our collective OHS story.
In real time with current students and reflections of alumnae, our Orchard House traditions help us create a sense of community that seems to have a longer history than you might expect from a school in its nineteenth year. I believe this is because the girls are heavily involved in the creation and nurturing of our community. They actively engage in processes that build relationships and a sense of belonging - important values in creating a place where adolescent girls can thrive.
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.
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
Their plots in their grouping books
Purple bookbags, hockey sticks
Crushed dead goldfish smile
This old rock will sit
Plants will grow around it, but
This old rock will sit
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.
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
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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)
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)