Each girl new to Orchard House School creates a quilt square. Starting from Langston Hughes poetry, students draft their own Dream Poem. They then translate a theme from that poem into a quilt square - a visual statement of hope for a personal goal or a vision of how she hopes to contribute to the world. The girls present their quilt squares and an excerpt from their poem at the end of the year Closing Ceremony, and then over the summer the squares are pieced together. During the next school year, family and friends are invited to December’s Season of Light to hand stitch the squares in silver and gold thread. The colors symbolize friends old and new and the stitches represent community support for the girls and their dreams. Dream Quilts hang proudly on the walls throughout Orchard House School.
In sixth grade each student creates a mask. The masks allow a girl to explore varying aspects of herself - who she is and who others might think she is. Through symbol and color each student expresses her personality, foundational values, and identity traits; creating a vibrant mask with hands reached out to offer the world a glimpse into the life of a sixth grader.
The seventh grade sanctuary boxes deal with the concepts of surrounding, nurturing, and sanctuary. Through exploring her own surroundings, each girl develops a space in which she is completely herself. The girls discover, nurture and honor their talents by literally constructing a room of her own – a place that would inspire her and identify her. They gain confidence and innovative problem solving skills by not only creating the boxes from wood, but every element of the room from scratch. These incredible works of art providing a window into the personalities and capabilities of Orchard House students are displayed in our building throughout the school year.
The eighth grade dinner party project provides an exiting opportunity for each student. She explores and shares what she will bring to the table in life. After studying Judy Chicago’s monumental project, The Dinner Party, each girl creates her our ceramic place-setting. The settings are displayed during graduation and for the following year at Orchard House. It is full circle to the quilt square, with some important conceptual changes. It is not just her hopes and dreams for the future, but her interaction with that future that this project explores.
A significant rite of passage at Orchard House School is the presentation of thrones to our eighth grade girls from their secret sisters in the fifth grade. For weeks the bond between and fifth grader and eighth grader develops as the girls send anonymous letters back and forth to learn about one another. Fifth graders then carefully paint the throne to be reflective of her eighth graders personality, strength, and spirit. The girls are presented with their thrones at the Winter Ceremony. The thrones are used at two more important times during the year; when a girl leads a morning meeting and then again at graduation. Many of our graduates still maintain contact with their 5’s and come back to see them graduate three years later.
In 2009 Orchard House School institutionalized the annual eighth grade trip to Concord, Massachusetts. During their last year at Orchard House, the girls study the social, ethical, and, historical implications of the Concord community. Along with visiting the original Orchard House, home of Louisa May Alcott, we also explore places such as the Old Manse, Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, and other activities driven by the interests and talents of the class. Last year after reading Kasey to the Rescue, we were excited to be invited into the home of Ellen Rogers to meet her son, Ned and his amazing monkey Kasey. The trip to Concord is about many things; learning from the past, getting ready to move on to the future, and understanding how people today are still creating change and living courageous lives.
Our school promotes and maintains an environment where differences are respected and conflicts are negotiated to positive resolution. One aspect of OHS life that helps resolve an issue or conflict is Town Meeting, where Letters to the Cow are read. Any girl who has a problem she feels needs the attention of the Orchard House community may write an anonymous note and put it in the cow-shaped mailbox (no names of other students or teachers can be used, and issues must be phrased respectfully). Town Meeting occurs every Friday and is led by an eighth grade student. Cow notes are read and put to the school community for collaborative resolution. Issues include everything from friendship questions to backpacks that are too heavy to the need for bells. The cow provides the forum for real leadership on a very practical level, as well as a safe environment to ask some challenging questions.
A newly added tradition (but already much loved!) is the Faculty vs. Eighth Grade Broomball Tournament. At the end of Spirit Week the eighth graders have a chance to take on the faculty members in a rousing game of broomball in the auditorium. Everyone in the school takes part in cheering-on both teams. This past year a hard-won victory went to the faculty – but who knows who will win the challenge this year!
A faculty favorite, the annual Pancake Breakfast is a held on the very last day of school. The faculty members cook a pancake breakfast for the students and serve them as they enjoy time together and sign yearbooks. It’s the perfect way to end the school year and a vivid example of the uniqueness of the Orchard House Community.