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2017-2018 Blog

8th Grade Mock Trial

Blog Type: 
Date Posted: 
Tuesday, May 15, 2018

The 8th graders held their annual mock trial yesterday, acting as attorneys, witnesses, and jury while learning about the legal process in criminal cases. Students had the advisory help of Virginia attorneys Elizabeth Hanes, Kati Dean, and Britney McPheron, as well as the judicial oversight of Maria Jankowski, Deputy Executive Director of the Virginia Indigent Defense Commission, which provides public representation for defendants unable to secure an attorney.

Guest attorneys advise our student attorneys during cross-examination.

Students had some time last week to familiarize themselves with the case. Each witness, attorney, and juror received a case packet with information specific to the role she would play in the trial. After a brief meeting with the legal teams’ advising attorneys the morning of the trial, court was in session.

“It was really cool, and it was interesting seeing classmates in those positions,” said one student of watching the trial unfold. Some were surprised by how complex a trial could get, noting that media portrayals don’t capture every aspect of a trial, especially the sheer length of some trials. “I knew witnesses spoke, but I didn’t realize it took up so much of the time in the actual trial.”

Witnesses take the stand at the 8th Grade Mock Trial.

Student attorneys on both sides questioned and cross-examined witnesses, fielding objections in real time and adapting their line of questioning to stay within the boundaries of the court’s conventions. “I was surprised by the number of objections,” one frustrated student attorney relayed. Students also did not expect for the two expert witnesses to have opposing testimonies, further muddling the trajectory of the trial.

After the verdict was delivered, both legal teams talked about their difficulties, their strengths, and their frustrations. One student attorney expressed disappointment in the guilty verdict, wishing in particular that they’d all had more clarification on reasonable doubt. “There was not enough evidence!”

The overwhelming impression students had was that it was enlightening to be able to talk to the guest attorneys after the trial ended. “We got to ask questions and figure out things like when and why you would object, how to deal with the objections, and the difference between civil and criminal cases.” Some students made connections beyond the courtroom. “It was nice to have actual lawyers come in and hear about their takes on social justice aspects of the legal system.”

History teacher Taylor Hollander organizes this event every year. While the verdict changes from year to year, the more general outcomes are the same--students actively engage in a civics lesson that teaches them about the judicial process; the legal teams learn to think on their feet to construct arguments, building confidence along the way; and students get a chance to see and talk to female leaders and role models in the legal sphere.

History teacher Taylor Hollander meets with the defendant one last time before the trial begins.


Faculty Profile: Doug Welch

Blog Type: 
Date Posted: 
Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Here at Orchard House School, it’s common for our faculty and staff to play many roles, bringing their whole selves and their full talent to school. Doug Welch’s service is varied--while he works with students daily as a Fifth Grade Homeroom Teacher and Sixth Grade Math Teacher, he also works behind the scenes as Director of Operations and Athletics Director. However, one of his roles is a little more behind-the-scenes than usual.

Mr. Welch is--shhh!--the Birthday Fairy.


We caught him during a birthday-laden week and got the low-down on this aspect of his role at Orchard House.

Who do you make the birthday cards for?

We make them for all the Fifth Graders, whether their birthdays are during the school year or during the summer.

When do you make the ones for summer birthdays?

We do it that final week of school and sing happy birthday to all the summer birthday girls and they have the option of either bringing their card home on the last day of school or having it delivered over the summer for their birthday.

You have a few hats you wear here--does this feel divergent from some of those?

Well, it’s part of one of the most important hats that I wear, and that’s being a Fifth Grade homeroom teacher. Plus it gives me a chance to be a little artistic and creative. One of the things I sometimes share with students is that my favorite class in middle school was art. I used to love my art classes in middle school, so this is kind of a nice way to use a different part of my brain.

How do birthdays get celebrated here?

We sing “Happy Birthday” at Morning Meeting, and then we do a personalized card for each fifth grader and sing to her in homeroom. Then we coordinate a “surprise” delivery of the card, usually at the end of the day. All of the girls know it’s coming, but we all sort of pretend like it’s a surprise, which is a lot of fun. So they get their card normally at the end of the day, and all the girls have signed it and put little personalized notes in it.

How do you get the girls to sign it?

We have to be sneaky. We hide the card in Ms. Lafoon’s office and at some point during the day, each girl sneaks in there to sign it. We let them know when it’s there and when they can go in to start signing.


Do you personalize the card design to the student?

Sometimes there’s some general themes that I like--like in the winter I might do snowmen saying Happy Birthday, or sometimes I’ll do a birthday cake. Sometimes I’ll personalize them--if a girl is really into gymnastics, I might do a gymnastics-themed birthday card.

Are there certain non-seasonal themes that come up often, like gymnastics?

I don’t plan it out too much. I open up the card and go with the flow.


Have you gotten better at certain kinds of typography or designs? These are really good bubble letters.

Apparently I was a graffiti artist in my other life--

Or maybe in this one, but no one’s telling!

Ha, yeah! I sort of have a graffiti-esque look to my style.

In the end, the birthday cards are less of a birthday celebration and more of a celebration of the girl, as well as a celebration of the bonds formed by the Fifth Grade class, who are still just getting to know one another. In this simple act of camaraderie, the sisterhood that lasts through Eighth Grade and beyond starts with personalized well-wishes, conspiracy to celebrate, and one dedicated birthday fairy.

OHS Basketball: High Fives and Smiles

Blog Type: 
Date Posted: 
Tuesday, January 23, 2018


Each one of the OHS basketball teams had games this week, and they didn't disappoint! First up, the 6th Grade team faced St. Bridget's.

The teams were well-matched, with the ball spending as much time on one side of the court as the other. There was one catch, though--with no subs until the final ten minutes of the game, Orchard House was all in the entire time, using strategic timeouts to rest and leaving it up to the point guard to set the pace with a steady, methodical drive to the basket.

Pass plays were integral to the 6th Graders' style, saving energy by keeping individual drives to a minimum.











Above all, no number of subs or timeouts could outshine the most compelling quality of the 6th grade team--their utter positivity. Even while trailing behind their opponents with no significant time for rest, they played hard, encouraged each other, laughed, and high fived like champions.

Tuesday evening, both the 7th and 8th Graders faced off against some challenging teams. The 7th Graders battled Collegiate fiercely.

Defense was the name of the game, as the Cougars were not shy about heading right to the basket, but anyone sitting in the bleachers will tell you that OHS defense is no joke. Check out these shots of the 7s shutting the offense down:

In spite of the strong level of competition, the 7s toughed it out, making for a scrappy defensive line and an offense unafraid to take shots.

After having suffered from a lineup of injuries and illnesses, the 8th Graders brought their freshly healed limbs, their tenacious and positive attitudes, and most definitely their A game.

As was the case with the 7th Graders, the 8th Grade defense was not interested in letting anyone through, being sure to press hard for the ball when it would've been more comfortable to back off. 

Overall, the 8s served up jumpers and a good attitude, congratulating each other and checking in with opponents after falls. A job well done to all Orchard House basketball players this week!

A Parent's Take: Social Media and Body Image Research

Blog Type: 
Date Posted: 
Friday, January 5, 2018

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?


A 5th Grade project hangs where students can name their "Gender Thought Bubbles," pointing out frustrations they've encountered as young women.


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.”


A 7th Grade project includes "Respecting Others" in a cloud of the facets of life involved in belonging to a community--the Arts, love and family, health, flying to the future.


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.”


Students in Mirror Mirror participate in a weekly discussion group that tackles the specific issues adolescent girls face in regards to body image and social media culture.


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


Orchard House Traditions and Creating Community

Date Posted: 
Tuesday, December 5, 2017

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.

During the week leading up to Winter Ceremony, students and community members are invited to sit and add their stitches to the Dream Quilt.
The 6s prepare and host a reception that takes place after every Winter Ceremony.
Quilts from the previous eighteen years adorn the walls throughout the building.

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.

The Eights' Thrones feature prominently in Graduation, Throne Talks, and the occasional round of limbo.
A graduate reconnects with her Five at the Annual Alumnae Lunch. Paired Fives and Eights often stay in touch long past graduation, passing on a tradition of peer support during the rapid growth that happens in the lives of adolescent girls.

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.

Eights reflect at Walden Pond in Concord, MA. During the year leading up to this annual trip, they study the social, ethical, and historical implications of the Concord community.
Once they have completed an in-depth study of Katherine Paterson's Bridge to Terabithia, the Fives unveil their own Terabithia, a hideout in plain sight they design as an interactive space to explore the novel's themes of gender equality, friendship, and loss.

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.  

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