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2019-2020 Blog

A Guide to Surviving High School Admissions Season: Part 3

Blog Type: 
Date Posted: 
Tuesday, October 22, 2019

To round out our series on high school admissions for Eighth Graders, Registrar and High School Coordinator Suzi Horner offers us some big picture points to keep in mind.

Don’t discount your local public high school.

Having a working knowledge of your home school, information that you get directly from your school rather than word of mouth, can help alleviate the stress of application season. 

Many students are nervous about transitioning from an independent school to a public high school, but it turns out that mostly what gives them anxiety is the larger size and population, which is also a factor when moving up to an independent high school. However, they do understand that a bigger school means a bigger set of opportunities and potential social interactions, which leads us to an important point…

Recognize that what makes them nervous and what they’re looking forward to are often the same.

At a bigger school, there will be more activities, more classes from which to choose, and, in the case of our students, the new experience of a coed student population. A smaller school may offer more personal relationships. Yes, students are nervous about these things, but they are also excited about them. This applies across the board for all middle schoolers, whether they are coming from an independent or a public school. “We stress that it is normal for anybody, so reinforcing that they’re not the only ones who feel that way helps them go on and do well.”

Bloom where you’re planted.

This is Suzi’s mantra for anyone involved in the high school decision process. Personal input and outlook largely determine our experiences. Reinforcing this idea helps middle school students let go of the idea that only one specific school or program can fulfill a student’s needs.

“If you allow a child to feel like her whole future depends on getting into this one school, you’re setting her up.There are times that parents can inadvertently do this through their excitement about one program or another.” Instead, it is important to emphasize the wealth of opportunities that any student will have access to when moving up to high school.

“Some students end up with the message, ‘Unless I go to the right high school, I’m not going to go to a good college, and my life will be over.’ And they can be almost that fatalistic about it, which is a shame. So what I try to stress with them is that the harder they work now, the more choices they have for high school, and then if they apply themselves and bloom where they’re planted in high school, the broader their choices will be in college.” Opportunities open up exponentially based on how open students are to trying and working hard on new things.

“It’s just like a flower blooming. And then, the harder you work in college or the more you apply yourself and even try different things, the broader your universe is after that.”

A Guide to Surviving High School Admission Season: Part 2

Blog Type: 
Date Posted: 
Tuesday, October 15, 2019

In the second part of our series on making it through the high school application process, Orchard House School Registrar and High School Coordinator Suzi Horner gets down to the nitty-gritty when it comes to the balance between parents and students in high school choices, as well as the practical considerations parents should keep in mind when considering life beyond academics.

Be realistic about what is a good fit for your child’s interests and strengths.

It can be difficult to strike a balance when looking into the options for high school. On the one hand, if your child has an identified passion, it is natural to pursue that at a specialty program. “On the other hand,” Suzi points out, “you may not want to pigeonhole her at this young age. High school is one of the last chances you get to experiment academically a little bit, with photography or with taking a new language, and if you’re in some of these specialty centers, you don’t have that option, so that’s something to consider.”

By having a more generalized high school experience with options for electives, they may discover a passion they didn’t know they had. In terms of career preparedness, Suzi says, “I honestly believe that a lot of the jobs these students will end up pursuing don’t exist yet, so the broader the experience they have now, the better they will be prepared to go off in these various disciplines.”

Regarding the decision whether to stay at a single-sex school, Suzi notes, “For some girls it’s very appropriate., It really depends on the girl and the family. There are advantages to single-sex education even in high school just like here. They get an increased leadership opportunity, especially for girls who might be a little more shy, and they get that opportunity to speak up in class without feeling quite as uncomfortable as they might.” For the most part, though, they are ready, willing, and able to move on to a school with a wider scope of students.

Know and establish that parents should ultimately be making the choice.

“I think for parents to sit down and have a very serious and realistic conversation between themselves first before you even bring the child into it is crucial. Because kids can deal with parameters.”

“If you say, ‘These are your options. How do you feel about these?’ and then get the child’s input, they feel like they are part of the decision-making process.”

Parents should agree on what factors and priorities should lead the decision making process since adolescents don't yet have the maturity or perspective to handle a choice like this on their own.For instance, children may not always be tuned into the ramifications a daily commute can have on a family’s quality of life. “If your child wants to go to a school on the other side of the county and you’re going to have to provide transportation and you have two other kids to get to different schools, do you really want to live that for four years? Or even for two years until they’re drivers?” 

Missed the first part of this series? Read here about the very first steps of looking into potential high schools.

A Guide to Surviving High School Admission Season: Part 1

Blog Type: 
Date Posted: 
Wednesday, October 2, 2019

It’s the time of year when many Eighth Graders are experiencing a little tunnel vision amidst the pumpkin spice and fall foliage as they approach the first wave of applying to high schools. As parents, it can be difficult finding a way to offer encouragement while not producing or welcoming anxiety as our children navigate this process.

Suzi Horner, our Registrar and High School Coordinator, acts as a personal trainer for high school applicants. Suzi sends weekly updates to parents about the goings-on in the high school admissions scene. She also collects, distributes, and sends teacher recommendation forms, all while advising girls through necessary skills such as graceful and timely requests for recommendations and time management for producing application materials.

In her years helping parents and students juggle the moving parts of high school admissions, Suzi has developed some guidelines to help parents and students emerge from the high school application process with an idea of how to prosper wherever their next steps take them. 

In this series, we are going to break down some tools for moving gracefully through the fraught yet exciting transition to high school.

Research in advance to figure out school application schedules.

Suzi recommends going to the school websites to see when key dates are coming up to create your own admissions calendar for your family, especially because some dates for different schools will overlap. “Don’t wait until the last date to visit or take a placement test--look at how they all overlap first, then decide.” 

Also, hold off on making note of the key dates until you have narrowed down the list of potential schools so that you can manage your time and energy more fruitfully. A school’s testing schedule isn’t going to determine whether or not it’s a real contender—save this part until after the first conversation.

Visit outside of an admissions situation.

Visit the school for official admissions tours, but also try to work in some visits outside of the usual admissions program to see how it fits. “Go to plays, go to concerts, go to athletic events. See how it feels, because at the very least, walking into a building and thinking, ‘This feels like us,’ or going into a school and saying, ‘This doesn’t feel like us,’ gives you a lot of data, even if it’s subconscious data.”

Fill out all the forms all the way!

Take a moment to double check that every bit of information you are supposed to supply on applications and teacher recommendation forms are fully complete. Tensions are high when it gets down to the wire with due dates, and it can really add to the stress to have to be flagged down to finish a form at the last minute.

Also, when it comes to teacher recommendation forms, try to set deadlines for yourself that account for your current school’s internal process. Make sure you allow time before the high school’s deadline for a teacher to complete and return a recommendation in a time frame that is reasonable for them. Remember, teachers are filling out multiple recommendations while managing their course load.

How Can I Lessen Nightly Homework Drama?

Blog Type: 
Date Posted: 
Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Pencils and paper and pens, Oh My! 

At nine o'clock in the evening, an Oh my! is not the usual response when our children sheepishly mention there is a project due tomorrow instead of next week as they originally thought. The pacing begins and sometimes the overwhelming tears of disappointment in themselves follow. Or truthfully more often, the genuine fear of the parent response. I learned early on as a parent a lesson that I taught myself as a teacher: HOME SPOTS. 

In my early days of teaching, I was eager to have an area of supplies that were just for my students. A fully stocked drawer with all kinds of necessary supplies and tools was all that was needed to avoid frustration and lost class time. So, with three children of my own at home – why were there so many last-minute trips for the needed poster board or book report folders? As I was sharing one of my late night parent rescue stories to get poster board and glue sticks with one of my students, she simply encouraged me to have the same supplies at home that I keep in my classroom (one of the many reverse teaching moments I have experienced!). 

So, I took my student’s advice and created a simple student drawer and shelf for my kids. Nothing fancy. I didn’t purchase any special bins or furniture. I just cleaned out a kitchen drawer and one shelf. And Oh My!, did it make all the difference for the late elementary school and middle school years. I thought for sure when the high school years came upon us, I could clean out the kitchen drawer for my wooden spoons – but noooooooooooooo – not an option declared by my family. (I think my husband even benefits from the school system, but that’s another paragraph.) 

Sounds pretty easy, right? But here is the catch: HOME SPOTS. This is crucial to a successful student center on the home front. It means that everyone has to agree to put the stapler back in the exact stapler HOME SPOT. The scissors too. And tape. All of it! No floating paper clips on the family room carpet or magic markers rolling off the kitchen table to never be seen again under the stove. It’s the agreed upon rule in my classroom for all these years and at my home, too. At the end of every school year, all my classroom supplies are neatly resting in their HOME SPOTS – all proud to have survived another year. 



  1. Purchase a full complement of supplies: tape, stapler, pencils, erasers, paper clips, pens, sticky notes, rulers and protractors, colored paper, poster board, magic markers, crayons, stencils,and everything else a student at school would need to have a successful class experience. 
  2. Keep it simple - no fancy or expensive storage items are needed.
  3. HOME SPOTS - everything—I mean everything—is returned to the same place from which it came!

    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.