Sustaining the Sisterhood Through Shared Interests

In one room, a group of girls are huddled around their calculators as they quiz each other’s problem-solving prowess. In another, students are discussing the logistics of hosting a mug drive on campus to reduce the need for plastic coffee cups. Just down the hall, girls are pitching story ideas and writing assignments for their very own newspaper. No, it’s not summer camp (though the energy and fun could make you believe otherwise)—it’s Middle School clubs.
At Ellis, Middle and Upper School girls join, lead, and participate in a wide variety of clubs. From the Sign Language and E-Games clubs in Middle School to the Jazz Band and Pre-Med clubs in Upper School, student-run clubs enhance Ellis girls’ relationships with each other while simultaneously introducing them to new activities, ideas, and hobbies.

Gina Kilpela, Middle School English Teacher, leads the Young Adult Book Club, a lunch club for Middle School students that she began last year. In it, students read current young adult texts and then meet to discuss the latest chapters, characters, and plot developments.

“Middle School is a time of development, and I think it’s crucial for the girls to connect with their peers who have similar interests,” said Ms. Kilpela. “It’s a time for them to come together over a common experience and relate to each other and the books we read. Reading for enjoyment is incredibly important, and the club is a great way to expose girls to places and people they might not have a chance to know about otherwise.”

In the Middle School, grade 8 students can propose clubs they’d like to see on campus. Student-run clubs must have a faculty advisor, but other than that, once girls enter eighth grade, they are encouraged to start clubs that match their own interests. For instance, the Middle School Environmental Club was formed this year after a group of students held a peaceful demonstration to raise awareness on climate change last spring. Eager to do more than take a one-day stand, the group proposed the idea of starting a club to faculty members, and Jackie Prepelka, Middle School Spanish Teacher, agreed to act as their sponsor. Now, they’re considering ways to reduce waste and increase sustainability initiatives on campus.

Some clubs at Ellis are led by faculty members who desire to share their own passions with students outside of the traditional classroom setting. Edie Hazlett, Middle School French Teacher, has led the Needlework club at Ellis for three decades. She’s taught generations of Ellis girls how to skillfully craft, knit, stitch, or embroider and focus on a task at hand. Ms. Hazlett shared that needlework is a spirited way for the girls to relax, learn from each other, and take a mindful break from the hustle and bustle of the school day. 

In the Upper School, students are allowed to join two student-run clubs in addition to their optional participation in specific clubs that hold elections, take applications for membership, or are comprised of students’ who share a specific identity. Those clubs include Affinity Groups, Ellis Athletic Association, Student Council, Guild, and Yearbook. 

Tristan Matthews, Class of 2020, is this year’s Editor-in-Chief of the Yearbook, a role that she looked up to when she joined the club her freshman year but never thought she’d take on herself. Once she started designing pages for last year’s edition, her confidence in her abilities grew. With the support of last year’s Editor-in-Chief (Sierra BRANDEGEE ’19) and Ms. Sturdevant, Tristan realized now was the time for her to step up. 

“Yearbook helped me find my voice as a leader,” shared Tristan. “It made me realize that I do have the capability to be in charge, delegate, and make sure things are done well. My goal is to make sure all of my team’s ideas are represented and present a really well-done edition at the end of the year.”

For students that join affinity groups, the clubs provide space for them to explore their developing identities and have productive conversations on representation, inclusion, and equity. Within them, students regularly use their voices to identify issues important to them, promote ideas for action, and have honest dialogues about their lived experiences in a safe, non-judgemental environment. 

“Mostly, we get together over lunch to talk about current events or an issue someone is having,”shared Phoebe Brown, Class of 2020 and President of the Gender Sexuality Alliance (GSA) affinity group. “All four years in the Upper School I’ve been in GSA and it’s been really nice to be part of such a supportive community. It’s helpful to know you have a network of people to help you and who have your back. Wherever you’re at on the spectrum, everyone is welcome.” 

Aniya Ahktar, Class of 2020, Co-president of the Asian Student Union (ASU) affinity group, echoed that same sentiment. “I didn’t know what it felt like to be part of a supportive community with people who looked like me before I joined ASU. ASU makes me feel proud of who I am,” she said. “Clubs are an inherent part of the Ellis experience. It’s been really exciting to watch the progression of my class since freshman year. We looked up to past presidents, and now, here we are leading those same clubs.”

At Ellis, clubs offer students the opportunity to make new friends across grade-levels, try something new (Dungeons and Dragons, anyone?), and step outside of their comfort zone. It doesn’t matter if their pitch is perfect in Acapellis, Ellis’ new a cappella club, or if they are just learning how to program robots in FIRST LEGO League—clubs aren’t about doing something exactly right. In a world where girls all too often face pressure to be one certain way or another, clubs give them the space to simply “be.”
 

Middle School Clubs
Debate Club
E-Games
Ellis Athletic Association
Ellis Entrepreneurs
Environmental Club
FIRST LEGO League
Guild
Just Dance
MathCounts
Middle School Student Council
Movie Madness
Multicultural Club
Needlework
Rock Orchestra
Sign Language
Sisterhood Junior
Tiger Ink
Young Adult Book Club

Upper School Clubs
Acapellis
Asian Student Union
Current Events Club
Data Jam
Debate Club
Dungeons and Dragons Club
Ellis Athletic Association
Ellis Tech Company
Environmental Sustainability Club
Feminist Student Union
Gender Sexuality Alliance
Guild
Jazz Band
Jewish Student Union
Junior Classical League
Keep It Clean
Mental Health Club
Model United Nations
Philosophy Club
Pre-Med Club
Sisterhood
Student Diversity League
The Ellisian Journal
Upper School Student Council
Yearbook
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