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Orchard House Traditions and Creating Community

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 pancake breakfast, 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.