Global Girl 2014: How do we thrive–not just survive?

Orchard House School honors its 16-year commitment to serve as a resource to the community with Global Girl 2014: Thriving in the Age of Contradiction, a symposium exploring how to reconcile what society demands of us with with what we need as human beings.

When Orchard House School welcomed its first students in 1998, it wasn’t into the beautiful brick building it now occupies on North Allen Avenue.1 The school met at the Ginter Park Recreation Center for six years before reaching its intended capacity of 80 students and moving into its current space at the start of the 2004-2005 academic year. But despite its growth and change of scenery over the last 16 years, Orchard House still holds tight to its two-part mission to 1) inspire and to educate middle school girls,2 and 2) serve as a resource for others.

Orchard House’s traditions3 and overall approach to education show that the faculty and staff see those two ideas as going hand-in-hand. For example, when new girls arrive at Orchard House they each write their own “Dream Poem,” taking inspiration from the work of Langston Hughes. From there, each student translates part of her poem onto her own quilt square to serve as a visual representation of a personal goal or how she hopes to contribute to the world. The squares are then sewn together to create a class quilt that hangs on the school walls. As Rachel White, Orchard House’s visual arts teacher and Director of Outreach explained it, “When the squares are sewn together, it represents for the girls that while they are individuals, they are also part of a whole.”

Being mindful of how the individual works within that whole comes into play during the admissions process as well. Each year Orchard House works to “build a class” from the 60 to 80 applications it receives.

“By design, our classes are small,” said White. “We build classes based on personalities, not necessarily academics, so that allows us to build a class and then really teach to it.”

Every grade level is composed of 20 girls each,4 but, as White said, a class isn’t necessarily made up of the most academically gifted students from the applicant pool. Instead, the Admissions Committee works to create a “mission-appropriate” class with a variety of races, ethnicities, economics, family make-ups, and educational backgrounds represented.5 It’s all about creating a healthy, balanced, and ultimately successful “whole” where the girls can learn, thrive, and become the best versions of themselves.

This concern for “the whole” is where Orchard House’s desire to be a resource for others comes in. No one exists in a vacuum, and those at Orchard House find value in working towards the overall health of the community–in fact, one of its stated objectives is for each girl to “[b]e an engaged and giving participant in her home, in her school, and in her local and global communities.”

Naturally, Orchard House wants to practice what it preaches. In addition to the school itself, Orchard House serves the broader community through an effort called Orchard House Works. Orchard House Works is dedicated to encouraging and empowering all those involved in the lives of the students through one-on-one consultations, ongoing partnerships, and community events, the most notable of which is Global Girl, its annual and national symposium. This year’s Global Girl is scheduled for Tuesday, March 4th from 8:30 AM to 3:00 PM downtown at The John Marshall.

Now don’t let the name fool you. According to the Global Girl 2014 chairs (Courtney Dauer, Janie Moyers, Jan Starnes, and Robin Zinsser, with White serving as the faculty representative) this event is truly for everyone–particularly individuals trying to live a more balanced life. Focusing on the theme “Thriving in the Age of Contradiction”, Global Girl will bring together educators, parents, community leaders, and internationally acclaimed experts to address the challenges faced by today’s adolescents and adults. Guided by insights from four very different speakers, attendees will explore how we can reconcile what today’s society demands from us with what we need (physically and emotionally) as human beings.

The day’s speakers (and their respective topics) are:

The day will conclude with an hour-long panel discussion when attendees will be able to dialogue with these experts and one another on how to use the ideas shared to help the children in their lives (and themselves) navigate today’s world. But, as White was sure to point out, don’t expect to leave Global Girl with a silver bullet or end-all-be-all cure for what ails you in our fast-paced society.

“Our four speakers are seemingly unrelated. We did that for a reason,” she said, pointing out that they anticipate some possible tension between the presenters’ ideas and look forward to the conversations that will take place as a result. It makes sense, considering Orchard House School’s commitment to respecting the individual within the context of a whole with many working parts

“We don’t want people to leave thinking ‘XYZ will solve everything.’ We want them to have different perspectives to look at.”

That, after all, is the Orchard House way.

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Global Girl: Thriving in the Age of Contradiction is on Tuesday, March 4th from 8:30 AM to 3:00 PM at The John Marshall (101 N. 5th Street). A book fair will be held throughout the day, with book signings during breaks and lunch. Tickets are $145 and include lunch from Homemades by Suzanne. Registration is open through March 1st. Space is limited. Visit or call 804-228-2436 to register.

  1. Fun fact: the building was once home to the Martin Agency. 
  2. The school defines this as grades 5 through 8. 
  3. Another fun fact: Orchard House was named after the home where Louisa May Alcott wrote the diaries that would later become Little Women
  4. White also pointed out that it’s very rare for a girl to leave Orchard House before graduating, causing the students to become very close over the years. “Sister close,” she called it, laughing. 
  5. Consequently, Orchard House has a “waiting pool” rather than a waiting list. 
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Valerie Catrow

Valerie Catrow is editor of RVAFamily, mother to a mop-topped first grader, and always really excited to go to bed.

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