Ashley Hall, the only all-girls independent school in South Carolina, is experiencing a tremendous time of innovative growth. For 110 years, the school has remained faithful to its original mission “to produce educated women who are independent, ethically responsible, and prepared to meet the challenges of society with confidence.” A mission that is just as relevant today as girls’ schools inspire the next generation to lead with courage, competence, and empathy. As Ashley Hall prepares to celebrate this month over a century of innovation in girls’ education, the school expands its footprint globally with the launch of a new Global Learning Center in Charleston’s cultural sister city of Spoleto, Italy. Whether it’s a school that was founded 200 years ago or two years ago, inevitably, girls’ schools involve trailblazing: the creation of learning communities where teachers can challenge limits and inspire girls to imagine and explore new possibilities.
I recently spoke with Jill Muti, Head of School at Ashley Hall and a member of the NCGS Board of Trustees, about her school’s current curricular innovations.
Megan Murphy, Executive Director, National Coalition of Girls’ Schools
Q: How has Ashley Hall thrived for well over a century, and why you are expanding globally?
A: There has never been a more important time for young women’s voices to be heard here in the U.S. and globally. At Ashley Hall, we prepare our students—from the time they are two years old through high school—to be self-reliant, independent thinkers who advocate for themselves and others in a complex, connected world.
This courage and confidence were demonstrated 110 years ago by our founder Mary McBee, a suffragette who could not find a college preparatory school for herself. Once she had propelled herself through Smith and Columbia graduate school, she started an all-girls school to prepare others. It was a groundbreaking act that defined our school’s character and continues to inspire our students to lead and take risks that enable innovation.
Today, we believe a global mindset is an urgent goal for educators. We are living in a time when many communities are isolating themselves from the dynamic changes that are occurring throughout our world.
Instead, we want students to look beyond their horizons. That is why we launched our Global Learning Center in Spoleto, Italy. This offers our students and teachers immersive, experiential learning opportunities that connect cultures, languages, the arts, and sciences against the backdrop of an ancient Italian town.
The location itself, dating from pre-Roman times, is an incubator for cultural competency. It is known as a place where curious and talented people come together to study and explore ideas that influence thought leadership.
Q: Ashley Hall offers a cross-curricular education. What does this educational philosophy mean to you?
A: We believe the arts and music are not optional but are essential, giving us meaning and an appreciation for the role of beauty in our lives. They are also vital within the right brain-left brain interplay that fuels creativity and enables complex thinking.
That is why Ashley Hall is firmly committed to a Classical education, rooted in the arts and humanities, and encompassing STEM. We get feedback from colleges and employers that our students have the capabilities they will need in the workplace and society. Faculty and families see benefits as early as kindergarten, when girls taking string instruments gain proficiency in math.
Leonardo DaVinci is a timeless example of this approach. His mastery of science, medicine, and optics infused his art and enabled him to create the iconic smile that has captivated admirers for centuries. He was also known for his boundless curiosity, a key ingredient in innovation that we believe is fed by a cross-curricular education.
Q: Speaking of innovation, tell me more about your new Global Learning Center. What type of opportunities will it offer for students?
A. The campus itself includes a restored 16th century property that offers study spaces, dorm rooms, and shared community areas, including a Renaissance garden. Positioned between Rome and Florence, Spoleto is a departure point for some of the most important artistic, cultural, and archeological projects in central Italy.
Ashley Hall 9th and 10th grade students recently returned from the inaugural trip to the new campus as part of a year-long Amalthea Scholars course exploring historic, artistic, and scientific sites in Italy. It is a “town as text” approach in which each student researched and selected her own topic and city for exploration and led the group’s educational experience through that location. One student, for example, carried a Geiger counter into ancient Etruscan caves, illustrating the integration of science, geography, archaeology, and culture.
Q: Spoleto is a shared campus model with two other schools. How did this collaboration come to fruition and what are its benefits?
A: The Global Learning Center is a collaboration with The Culver Academies (two academies on one campus: Culver Military Academy for boys and Culver Girls Academy, which is a member of NCGS) and Rabun Gap Nacoochee School, under the umbrella of Spoleto Study Abroad, a non-profit organization of which Ashley Hall is a consortium member, supporting interdisciplinary study of arts and the humanities. Culver Girls Academy
I have been working with our signature school partners in this collaboration for many years as part of Spoleto Study Abroad. The leaders of the partnering schools are remarkable academicians and strategic thinkers, and our schools are aligned around values of leadership and service.
This collaborative model enables each school to provide its students with access to language and cultural immersion at different times throughout the year and offer exhilarating professional development for faculty.
Our new Italian campus, 110 years after our founding, is a bold step into the future and lives up to Ashley Hall’s commitment to deep learning, healthy development, high achievement, and community impact.
Related tags: Academic Achievement, Advancing Girls, Advancing Girls' Education, All-Girls Environment, All-Girls Schools, Building Self-Confidence in Girls, Developing Confident Girls, Girls Education, girls' school advantage, Girls' Schools, Global Citizenship, Global Education, Global Leaders, Inspirational Environment, Self-Discovery, STEAM, Inspiring Girls, Cultural Competency, Community Involvement, Curriculum Innovations, Critical Thinking, Collaboration, Courage, Cross-curricular Education, Cultural Immersion