Faculty Focus: Ashley Zanca

Tenley Rooney
Creating a house and a home

Walking down the brick-lined corridor of the Kitts, the entrance to Kittredge III stands out. Colorful chalk drawings announce the presence of the girls who live there, in pinks, yellows, and blues. It began when the head of house Ashley Zanca wrote the house name on the wall and left the chalk out for the girls to make additions. The resulting mural, full of flowers, fish, and bubbles, illustrates the spirit, teamwork, and camaraderie Zanca strives to instill in her students through house life.
“Establishing our house culture and the character of who we want to be, what is it that we are going to create and pass on and be known for is really important to me,” says Zanca, who has served as a head of house for four of her six years at St. Paul’s. “I want to empower strong, thoughtful and kind women.”
Advisee dinners, weekly house meetings, and a house-bonding day trip at the start of school help foster community, but Zanca infuses other touchpoints to create unity. “If my goal is making members of the community resourceful, responsible, and accountable in a safe place to grow and have it be fun, I think about what opportunities I give them to develop those skills,” says Zanca.
Her work begins from the moment the girls step through the door. Zanca uses the bulletin board by the entryway in much the same way families use their refrigerator doors. The space celebrates the residents with snapshots from activities throughout the year. “It gives a sense that this is our house, our home," says Zanca. House activities help develop personal and social awareness. One way Zanca incorporates this mindset is through culture feeds where each resident shares a taste of home with their housemates. Recent noshes have included homemade scones and bubble tea.
She also inspires socio-emotional growth through “secret sunshine,” random acts of kindness that helps younger students find their unique voices and begin to develop leadership skills. “How can we get others to feel that someone other than recognized student leaders are doing good deeds?” asks Zanca. The girls are encouraged to contribute by posting positive notes around the house, for example, helping plant the seed into all of the girls' minds that everyone is capable of taking charge.
It is behavior that Zanca and her team of advisers mirror as well. It’s not unusual to find several adults engaging in conversation with each other and students in the common room. “I have an expectation of making this house a family,” says Zanca.
By the middle of the Fall Term, Zanca could already see the effects of these efforts taking shape. She passed through the communal area one evening to find the girls gathered for an impromptu viewing of the Disney film Hocus Pocus, while other housemates made brownies. “One of the pride and joys of being here is just being with the students and helping them grow into good people outside of the classroom,” says Zanca.