Skip to main content

You are here

2018-2019 Blog

Challenge Grant from Mary Morton Parsons Foundation to Support Orchard House School’s Capital Improvements

Blog Type: 
Date Posted: 
Monday, June 10, 2019

We are thrilled to announce that Orchard House School has received a $150,000 Challenge Grant from the Mary Morton Parsons Foundation in support of the school’s capital improvements. In order for our all-girl’s middle school to receive the full grant amount, we must raise an additional $150,000 by May 2020. Exterior work has already commenced on Orchard House’s century-old building and will continue throughout the summer and into the fall of 2019. Repairs to the roof, window restoration, masonry repair, and landscape design are being undertaken so that the beauty of these spaces will endure.


Orchard House School has organized a fundraising campaign appropriately named Building With A Purpose.  The cost of the exterior improvements is over $500,000. Orchard House School is honored to have the support of the Mary Morton Parsons Foundation and is working to achieve our fundraising goals.


To support our challenge grant goal, make a gift to the Building With a Purpose campaign here.

Life Lessons from a Former Engineering Major

Blog Type: 
Date Posted: 
Wednesday, May 29, 2019

For the final installment of this year’s lunch speaker series, Dr. Tanea Reed, an award-winning biochemistry researcher and professor, talked to our students both about her own path to a career in research and education and about the divergent paths their professional lives are likely to take.

Dr. Reed started by outlining the trajectory of her dreams. The first dream, to be Wonder Woman, she achieved at the tender age of 6, thanks to Halloween. The other dreams did not come so swiftly, nor were they static.

From gymnastics to ice dancing, and then from engineer, to astronaut, and to chemical researcher, Dr. Reed’s goals shifted as she gained new information, both about her fields and about her own enjoyment of the possibilities she entertained. Her advice to students trying to figure out what they might want to study or pursue was to look and apply for any opportunities to try out something they had an interest in. From enrichment programs to internships or service opportunities, she let students know that when you give something a try, it’s completely fine to realize that you don’t connect with it in a way you’d imagined.

Dr. Tanea Reed's advice to students wondering how they're going to pursue their goals:"You don’t have to do everything in a straight line—it’s okay to take a different path.”

The same goes for traditional education. As someone who jumped at the opportunity to work in her field directly after getting her undergraduate degree, Dr. Reed urged girls to consider real-life applications as relevant to their ultimate goals. “You don’t have to go straight to school. You don’t have to do everything in a straight line—it’s okay to take a different path.” This goes for scientific pursuits as well. Surgeons, engineers, and chemists can all find benefits to time outside of school to get the perspective they need to engage with their dreams meaningfully, making connections along the way.

Early in her career, Dr. Reed stood out in her field as a female biochemist. As for feeling reluctant to be a trailblazer, she urged students, “You can’t be afraid to be the first.” If something seems out of reach for lack of precedent, all the more reason to break that barrier. In terms of reaching for opportunities that feel out of reach, she passed along clear advice for anyone feeling like they don’t yet have what it takes for a program, scholarship, or job opportunity. “You should always be willing to take a chance. You may think you’re not qualified for something, but Apply. Apply, and apply again.”

Dr. Reed ended her presentation by answering student questions, talking a bit about how many students a professor teaches at a time at the university level (it varies based on the university), how realistic she thinks medical and crime procedural shows are (not very), and how much school you have to attend to get your doctorate (“A lot, but it’s worth it.”).

Students had a wide range of questions for Dr. Reed, from school, to her experience as a woman in science, to the half-truths of medical dramas.

The essential message for our girls from Dr. Reed was clear. There are no shortcuts to self-discovery, and there is no fast track to figuring out fulfillment. “You’ll find your path to whatever your passion is through trial and error.”

OHS Alumnae Panel

Blog Type: 
Date Posted: 
Tuesday, April 30, 2019

As part of our lunch speaker series for students, we welcomed back some old friends. A panel of four OHS alumnae, facilitated by History and 8th Grade Homeroom teacher Taylor Hollander,  talked to the school about what they’re up to now, what they were up to in middle school, and how those are interrelated. Nathalie Oates ’05, Kate Belleman ’03, Melody Harrison ’06, and Iram Amir ’14 shared with us favorite memories, their take on goals and success, and their experience with pivoting.


A big focus on the talk was about how much students should be planning for their futures at this stage. Did they know in middle school what they were going to be doing as adults?


Iram Amir ’14, a current student at Virginia Tech, says she spent most of her middle school years fervently holding on to a dream of being a dentist. After trying out a dental internship in high school and feeling less enamored of enamel, however, she found herself more drawn to the work she was doing with data during an internship for local organization ChildSavers. “I’m studying finance now,” she says, “but as a first-year, there’s still time for me to figure it out.”


Iram '14: "OHS helped me find confidence in myself and my morals."

On the kinds of challenges she’s facing now, Iram says that a big part of her personal work is about time management, especially as it relates to learning how to say no in the face of extracurricular activities and organizations you feel inspired to help. “You need to know when to take time for yourself,” she says.


Kate '03: "Hold onto what you love."


Kate Belleman ’03 has established similar boundaries when it comes to balancing work life and a creative life. She currently works in event management and development and serves on the OHS Board of Trustees, but she was clear that she has made decisions specifically to allow her to pursue her passion of dance as a choreographer for local theater productions. “Hold onto what you love,” she told students. “We have to learn to be open and adaptable, and though I needed to do something that felt stable, I didn’t want to lose who I was while having a career.”

Melody Harrison ’06 had lots to say about how Orchard House affected her confidence during her middle school years. A self-described introvert, she told students, “Before I came to Orchard House I was so shy. I wouldn’t talk to anyone except my friends. I definitely credit Orchard House for bringing me out of my shell.” Melody has changed quite a bit in terms of her comfort level and now regularly speaks publicly in her career promoting green energy. Nathalie seconded the sentiment: “If you’re in an environment where you feel heard, it’s definitely much easier to come out of your shell.”


Melody '06: “Before I came to Orchard House I was so shy. I wouldn’t talk to anyone except my friends."


In terms of how single-sex education specifically contributed to her future, Nathalie Oates ’05, a graduate of Mount Holyoke College, shared, “My experience at Orchard House was why I considered applying to women’s colleges. When you are navigating college and starting to make a lot of decisions, there is a lot of space in women’s college for self-discovery and encouragement. It’s wonderful to have emerged with that camaraderie.”


Nathalie '05: “If you’re in an environment where you feel heard, it’s definitely much easier to come out of your shell.”

Furthermore, Nathalie pointed out, “The debates in Mr. Hollander’s class prepared me so well for high school and college. Class sizes at my small college were like those at Orchard House, so most classes were discussion-based.” Melody also gravitated toward a small high school and college, replicating the social and academic experience she found at Orchard House. Both Nathalie and Melody are currently officers in the Orchard House School Alumnae Association, which works to keep OHS alumnae connected to the school community and to each other.


All our visiting alumnae had much to share about the ways Orchard House helped them not necessarily to become a certain kind of student, but how it helped them bloom into the version of themselves that made them feel confident and authentic. “OHS helped me find confidence in myself and my morals, and that’s when I started covering,” Iram told the girls. ”It definitely taught me a lot about staying true to myself.”


Kate wrapped up that sentiment, remembering herself as a middle schooler. “I came to Orchard House with a lot of self-confidence issues, and when I was here I learned that the person that has to believe the most in me is ME. I went in thinking I wasn’t worthy, and I came out thinking I could conquer a lot more than I’d thought."


Alumnae Spotlight: Iram Amir

Blog Type: 
Date Posted: 
Thursday, March 28, 2019

Iram Amir

2014 Graduate of Orchard House School

High school and College:

The Steward School

Virginia Tech


What are you doing now? 

I am currently attending VT and hope to pursue a major in Finance.


How has Orchard House remained with you through the years? 

I'm still best friends with the girls in my grade.


What’s your favorite memory? 

My favorite memory was getting my 8 (in fifth grade) and my 5 (in eighth grade).


What was the biggest way you changed during your years at Orchard House? 

Orchard House gave me the confidence to be myself and gave me the strength to start wearing the headscarf (hijab).

Alumnae Spotlight: Joanna Bolstad

Blog Type: 
Date Posted: 
Friday, February 15, 2019

Joanna Bolstad

2004 Graduate of Orchard House


High School and College:

Trinity Episcopal School

Longwood University


What are you doing now?

I am a Legislative Information Officer for the Virginia Senate Clerk's Office. My responsibilities include providing historical/legislative research for Members of the General Assembly and their constituents as well as legislative education for students/civic groups. I also contribute to the planning, scheduling and daily operations of the Senate Page Leadership Program that many Orchard House students have participated in over the years. If you're ever at the State Capitol, stop by my office and say hello!


How has Orchard House remained with you through the years?

The friendships for sure! I have been so lucky that I have remained close and in touch with many of my classmates as well as faculty (Mrs. Imburg!). Social Media has been a great way to keep up with everyone, especially now that friends have moved around the country, are getting married, and are now having babies! 

My sister Emma Bolstad ('15) also attended, so I was able to visit the school's new location for many of her performances, and of course her graduation.


What’s your favorite memory?

Anytime we went outside with Mrs. Kiesler during Science Class. From playing "Oh, Deer" to building garden boxes on the LGRA basketball court, she could always find a way to get us excited about learning in nature.


What was the biggest way you changed during your years at Orchard House?

I was a very shy fifth grader, but because Orchard House provides a safe learning place for its students, I was able to gain confidence in myself and find my voice.


See more Alumnae Spotlights here!

Alumnae Spotlight: Kate Townes Schiefelbein

Blog Type: 
Date Posted: 
Friday, January 18, 2019

The Orchard House School girl has many versions. Our alumnae are reflections of our Mission and commitment to support girls as they take risks and develop their authentic selves.

In our 20th year, we are offering a showcase of our alumnae to highlight what they have been up to since their time in middle school. Our first Alumnae Spotlight is Kate Townes Schiefelbein, who is currently serving her first term on the OHS Board of Trustees.


Kate at her May 2017 wedding


Kate Townes Schiefelbein

2004 Graduate of Orchard House

Orchard House School Board of Trustees


High School/College:

Atlee High School/University of Lynchburg (formerly Lynchburg College)


What are you doing now?

Working on a wealth management team at BB&T Scott & Stringfellow.


How has Orchard House remained with you through the years?

Orchard House allows girls to develop their growth individually with opportunities to explore avenues they may not normally explore - through dance, art, theater, music, etc. Trying activities you may not have picked for yourself, but learning if you try, you might find something you enjoy. I’ve found myself “trying” throughout my life just to see if I’d be interested - whether it be a unique food or a college course. I “tried” economics in college and ended up with a degree in it. I also “tried” escargot and found I don’t care for it much... 


What’s your favorite memory?

I loved town meetings every Friday morning. It was always an open platform to speak your truth and hear everyone else’s. I never felt pressured to keep quiet or speak up. But when I did say something, I always felt supported by my classmates and the faculty.  We sometimes played a game (maybe duck duck goose). It’s always nice to start your day with a smile, laughter, and sense of community. 


What was the biggest way you changed during your years at Orchard House?

Orchard House allowed me to discover and LOVE me for me, as a unique individual - who matters. I felt confident with myself, being unapologetically me. 

Giving Tuesday is almost here!

Blog Type: 
Date Posted: 
Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Are you ready for #GivingTuesday? Make a plan to join this global day of giving fueled by the power of social media and collaboration! Celebrated on the Tuesday following Thanksgiving and the widely recognized shopping events Black Friday and Cyber Monday, Giving Tuesday kicks off the charitable season.

If you have yet to contribute to the OHS annual fund, this week is the perfect time to do so. OHS faculty, staff and trustees have already achieved 100% giving for the 2018-19 annual fund. (Have you checked on Grace’s progress up the stairs?) Now it’s our families’ turn. Our goal for reaching 100% parent giving is December 19, so we can celebrate at Winter Ceremony.

A new and fun aspect of Giving Tuesday this year is the UNselfie movement. You know selfies, right? “An image of oneself taken by oneself using a digital camera, especially for posting on social media,” says Merriam-Webster of this 21st-century coinage. For Giving Tuesday, folks are taking and posting “UNselfies” that explain how and why they are supporting a cause, organization or school. Search the #unselfie hashtag on social media and see how may OHS supporters you can find. Better yet, become one yourself! You can make your own caption sheet or use the template here.

For the past 20 years, OHS has guided more than 350 girls to volunteer their time and resources for dozens of philanthropic programs. As our daughters learn the importance of philanthropy, the greatest step we can take as parents is to join them. By giving to OHS, we model for our girls the importance of giving back to this most important community. If you have not made a pledge or a contribution, please consider a gift in any amount. Remember, even if you pledge now, your gift is not due in full until June 30, 2019.  

Give to the annual fund online at Then go take your unselfie!


Grit and Growth Mindset for Middle School Girls

Blog Type: 
Date Posted: 
Tuesday, October 30, 2018

What is Grit and why are we “Getting Gritty” at Orchard House?

When we think of grit, we think about passion, persistence, determination, and stick-to-itiveness or what we like to call “work-around.” There is a growing body of research explaining why grit matters. Basically, children with grit (regardless of IQ or test scores) are far more likely to succeed in school and in life than those without.

According to Angela Duckworth at the Character Lab,

“Excellence sometimes seems like the result of natural talent. But no matter how gifted you are—no matter how easily you climb up the learning curve—you do need to do that climbing. There are no shortcuts. Grit predicts accomplishing challenging goals of personal significance. For example, grittier students are more likely to graduate from high school, and grittier cadets are more likely to complete their training at West Point. Notably, in most research studies, grit and measures of talent and IQ are unrelated, suggesting that talent puts no limits on the capacity for passion and perseverance.”

Stanford professor Dr. Carole Zweck talks about student grit in terms of having a “growth mindset.” At Orchard House we recognize the importance of helping our students develop a growth mindset instead of a fixed mindset. We know that students with a growth mindset (or grit) are more likely to respond to setbacks by working even harder, rather than getting frustrated and giving up. By building the expectation of risk into their lessons, our faculty are encouraging students to speak up about uncertainty. They are celebrating the student’s willingness to tackle discomfort and get gritty!

Orchard House considers itself a process school. We help our girls get gritty along their personal journey of learning. We focus on the process of learning and not on the product of the learning. We know that the process of learning is messy, and sometimes you have to fail forward. We know that girls grow best and develop confidence through these learning experiences that are fostering their competence.

By getting gritty OHS girls develop a strong, authentic sense of self along with the confidence, tools, people skills, problem-solving ability and critical thinking to go out into the larger world and make a difference. Got grit? We do!

On Saturday, November 3, members of our faculty will be offering Let’s Get Gritty, a one-day meetup designed for 4th grade girls. During this fun and energetic day of investigation, exploration, and self-discovery, girls will explore their passions and discover their grittiness. Register here to get your daughter started on her journey to grit!


Blog Type: 
Date Posted: 
Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Have you met Grace, our new girl? She may be quiet, but she is on the move! Grace is the 2018-19 Orchard House Annual Fund mascot, and you can find her climbing the front stairs at school, leaping over hurdles as she goes from the first floor to the third. Despite her two-dimensionality, we’ve set her racing to show our girls a role model for community giving. Why did we name her Grace? It’s an acronym, of course: Great Results Achieved through Committed Engagement.

In celebration of our 20 years of educating and inspiring middle school girls, we aim once again to see 100% Annual Fund participation from our faculty and staff, board, and OHS families.  Last year, the families of our entire student body each contributed to the Annual Fund, and we believe our families can work together again to meet that goal by December 19. Grace will track our progress.  

Grace's race includes three 100% hurdles, each representing a particular OHS group. She will pass the first hurdle when all of the faculty and staff have given, and the second when every trustee on the board has committed to donate. Grace’s final hurdle is the most important, because it represents the largest segment of our OHS community: our families.

As our purple-and-teal girl advances up the stairs and jumps these hurdles, she will “talk” to the students via posted “thought bubbles” that focus on goal setting, persistence, and giving back to your community. Orchard House girls already demonstrate that they know the importance of community engagement through their class service projects each year. But reinforcing that awareness can’t hurt, especially when Grace reminds them that OHS is a community worthy of their support. While last year the grade levels competed against one another to achieve 100% Annual-Fund participation, this year we hope to reach the goal as a collective student – and family – body.

During this Annual Fund campaign, Orchard House will accept pledges and gifts through December 19 (the last day before winter break begins).  Pledges should be fulfilled by June 30, 2019. Receiving contributions sooner helps OHS plan the upcoming 2019-20 budget year more accurately, but a gift at any time will be welcomed with hearty thanks! The important thing is for all members of our community to work together to support our school. Keep an eye on Grace, and take your part in helping her clear that final hurdle of 100% family participation. We can then all cheer as she crosses the finish line!  

Welcome Back: Ms. Haskins Sets a Group Goal for the School Year

Blog Type: 
Date Posted: 
Monday, September 10, 2018

We start and end every week at Orchard House School with a whole-school circle, where we can see everyone’s faces, hear everyone’s voices, and map out our connectedness physically. The first Morning Meeting of the year is always a special one that starts us off with excitement, when the buzz of post-summer catching up is punctuated by the grand entrance of the incoming 5th Grade class.

The Class of 2019 receives a raucous welcome during the first Morning Meeting of the year.

This year, Head of School Laura Haskins began the year by urging students to focus on the practice of self-compassion. In practicing self-compassion, we rewrite the scripts of self-criticism, choosing instead to be kind to ourselves. We try to separate our stumbling blocks from our self-identity—we are not defined by our missteps, by our unfulfilled expectations, or by how much we have yet to learn. Maybe most importantly, while self-compassion has an inward focus, we do not practice it in a vacuum, but instead as a member of a larger community, as someone who has much to offer to others, even in our rough patches.

Ms. Haskins chose Maya Angelou as the beginning messenger for this lesson, screening this video that invites us to think about our obligation to be kind to ourselves as the interplay between rainbows and clouds.

“This school year and throughout your entire life,” Haskins told students, “you will experience rainbows in the forms of fun times with friends, scoring a field hockey goal, grasping a math concept you worked hard on, or trying something new.” It is naturally easier to be kind to ourselves when we feel like we’re measuring up to a conventional model of success. But we will also experience clouds, maybe in the form of an argument with a family member, a difficult time with a new academic skill, coming down with the flu on days we have something epically fun planned, or saying something we regret to a friend. “As we learn how to appreciate our rainbows and coach ourselves through the clouds so that we learn and are kind to ourselves, we become people that are well-balanced and ready for life’s challenges.”

Mindful Mondays, a segment of the Monday Morning Meetings where the school collectively takes part in a mindfulness exercise to begin the week, reinforces the need to develop a regular practice of taking our emotional temperature. Language and Theatre Arts teacher Lucretia Anderson reintroduced Mindful Mondays this week, demonstrating with a swirling solution that clouded a figurine in a pitcher until the solution had time to settle. The message was simple: we’re still in there, even when we’re hidden by our clouds; we just need to take the time to let the debris settle every now and then.

When we get better at being kind to ourselves, we become better at being kind to others. If we are able to be mindful of our emotions while separating them from our self-characterization, we can train our brains to keep rumination to a minimum. Even further, if we’re able to recognize that our setbacks can help us in acknowledging shared experiences with others, we can reframe personal challenges as assets to the community. In Angelou’s words, “Prepare yourself so you can be a rainbow in someone else’s cloud.”

Welcome back, Orchard House students—we’re excited to see you expand your capacity for so many things, but above all, your willingness to be kind to yourselves.