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How the Middle School Advisory Curriculum Fosters Character, Community, and Powerful Advisor/Student Bonds


Last week, The Poly Pulse spoke with Catherine Welch (Middle School Advisory Coordinator; English) about the robust Middle School advising program and the many changes it has undergone in the last three years and again this year. Indeed, the Pulse was impressed by the careful thought, planning, and responsiveness to student developmental needs evinced by the Middle School Advisory team.

Middle School Advisory: Mission Statement

Since Poly is pre-eminently a mission-based organization, we asked Welch to describe the mission statement for the Middle’s Advising program. According to Welch, the Middle School advisory program fosters the development of students’ character through a relationship with an advisor who serves as an advocate, mentor and link between the school and Poly families. The program builds community by engaging students in guided discussions and activities that encourage meaningful, empathetic relationships that support a diverse community. Advisors support students as they develop unique roles and responsibilities within the Poly community and beyond.

Student Outcomes for Middle School Advisory

Welch then detailed the desired student outcomes for the Middle School Advisory curriculum. By 8th Grade/Form II, each Middle School student will:

1. recognize the benefits of diversity;
2. listen empathetically;
3. engage freely in discussions;
4. listen respectfully to others’ opinions;
5. agree to disagree amicably;
6. value community;
7. feel a part of a community;
8. work in a team;
9. own their own opinions;
10. trust their classmates and teachers;
11. stand up for themselves;
12. stand up for others;
13. resolve some of their own conflicts; and
14. feel good about asking for help.

Weekly Structure of Middle School Advising

Welch also outlined the weekly structure for Middle School advising, which includes homeroom time each morning with advisors from 8:15 AM to 8:30 AM and formal Advisory Class once a week for all Middle School grades. In addition, less formal opportunities for advising may include interactions during class time, form time or after-school activities and clubs.

Exciting Initiatives in Middle School Advisory This Year

Each year, of course, the Middle School re-tools and re-thinks its Middle School advising curriculum and engages in professional development, research, benchmarking, and self-assessment designed to improve the advising experience for all students.

“One of our new inititatives this year was that we really wanted to establish the 8th graders as leaders,” explained Middle School Advisory Coordinator Catherine Welch.

“For example, we began the year by having the 8th graders escort the 5th graders to the buses after school. We will also have 8th graders deliver presentation on the Middle School rules during Middle School Chapel.”

In addition, each Middle Schooler will be eligible for CIA Awards aka “Character In Action Awards.”

“We have teachers looking out for examples of character in students and we will highlight good character by having the CIA Awards later in the year,” Welch said. “Examples might include being generous to classmates, being welcoming or helpful and showing perseverance in the classroom or beyond.”

Middle School Advising: Professional Development & Innovation

Each year, Middle School Advisory Coordinator Catherine Welch (English) along with at least one representative from each grade attend a summer conference focused on advising. This past summer, the group attended an Independent School Management (ISM) conference, entitled “Hands-on Advisory: Curriculum, Themes, and Activities” in Philadelphia, PA. The conference focused on everything from the nuts and bolts of a strong advisory system to practical planning for the year ahead.

Later, during a two-day “Middle School Advisor summit” this past August, Middle School Advisors met to literally map out the advisory year for students. (Below, you can find a sampling of what is ahead in advisory this year!)

Most recently, during last week’s Middle School Professional Development Day, Middle School teachers received a visit from Nino Nannarone, a conflict resolution expert.

Nannarone is the Director of Resolving Conflicts for Safer Schools, which trains elementary, middle, and high school teachers in conflict resolution skills and classroom management strategies. For 3 decades Nino has worked in NYC public schools as a classroom teacher, a director of a middle school, and an educational consultant. He is a certified mediator at the Red Hook Community Justice Center in Brooklyn, an adjunct professor of conflict resolution at Bank St. College and a national trainer for the International Institute for Restorative Practices.

“The focus of Nino’s visit was really to get to the root of why kids act the way they act and understanding what’s behind conflict,” explained Welch. “The focus is really on why conflict arises and how behind a conflict in some emotional reaction to a need that is not being met.”

Nannarone also spoke with Poly’s Middle School faculty on recognizing conflict as an opportunity for learning and growth and pro-active ways to prevent that from happening by building a strong community.

In cases of bullying, Welch described Poly’s approach as being pro-active rather than reactive. “We really focus on preventing instances of bullying by addressing these issues before they arise and providing kids an opportunity to feel they can speak up about bullying they observe or experience because they feel safe within the Poly community.”

A Look at the Year Ahead: Middle School Advisory by Grade-By-Grade

Welch also provided the following information about the curriculum for advising in Middle School.
• In 5th grade, students focus on adjusting to Poly, becoming part of a 5th grade team, and becoming a “Blue Devil,” or
• In 6th grade, students explore teamwork, acting responsibly, and discovering their individual voices.
• In 7th grade, students gain independence, focus on identity issues, and prepare to lead.
• In 8th grade, the theme is leadership. Students also discuss making smart choices and prepare to move up to the Upper School.
Next, Welch provided a summary of the year’s activity highlights for each grade in Middle School Advisory during each of the three trimesters of the Middle School academic year.

Trimester One

Fifth Grade:
• Baby Picture Guess Who Game
• Campus Scavenger Hunt
• Creation of Homeroom Handshake and Logo
• 8th grade student visits with Questions and Answers
Sixth Grade:
• Creation of Advisory Contract
• Creation of Homeroom Quilts with each student and advisor decorating a square
• Team Building Games include building a tower with Twinkies and straws.
Seventh Grade/Form I:
• Discussions surrounding independence and how students experience greater independence on the Form I class trip to New England
• Academic Goal Setting
• Team Building Activities include Tower Building Contest using marshmallows and spaghetti
Eighth Grade/Form II:
• Beginning of Year Long Competition, Battle of the Advisories. Battles Include Trivia Games, Physical Challenges and Academic Competitions (Spelling Bees, Geography Challenges). (Each receive a different colored t-shirt with advisor’s name on the back. Points are kept throughout the year and winning advisory is recognized in June.)
• 8th Grade Leadership Presentations: each advisory presents one of the Middle School’s Top Ten Rules to the rest of the MS during Chapel. These may come in the form of a skit, a short film, PowerPoint presentation, etc.
• Public Service Announcement posters: students brainstorm what issues are important to them in terms of our Middle School and create “Public Service Announcement” posters that alert the student body to these issues.
• Academic Goal Setting
Trimester Two

Fifth Grade:
• Discussion of the forms of bullying: nonverbal and verbal. Share strategies of how to deal with a bully and anti-bullying skits.
• Team Building Activities
• Reviewing Poly’s Report Card Format and discussion of a report card as a learning tool
Sixth Grade:
• Academic Goal Setting and Report Card Review
• Discussion of Freedoms and Responsibilities inside and outside of school
• Film Clips & Discussions related to character
• Character in Action Awards: awarded to students demonstrating strong character
Seventh Grade/Form I:
• Interview An Advisory Group Member- create a recipe for this person, based on the interview
• Gender Based Discussions: Who am I? Who do I aspire to be?
• Describe A Time When… (Small Group Activity)
o You We Treated Unfairly
o You Stood Up for Someone
o Someone Stood Up for You
Eighth Grade/Form II:
• Discussion of Conflict and How to Resolve Conflicts: Use of Chinese Symbol for Conflict which translates to “danger” and “opportunity”. How are conflicts opportunities to learn?
• Student created conflict role plays: class helps students resolve their conflicts
• Cyber bullying videos and follow up discussions
• Sample Classes from Visiting Ninth Grade Teachers
Trimester Three
Fifth Grade:
Theme: “Please Allow Me to Introduce Myself”
• Teambuilding, Game-Building: towers with playing cards
• Relationship Squares: brainstorming and discussing “go-to” people in different areas of you life: home, school, extracurricular
• Report card review with advisor
• Researching graduation years from Poly for poster project to be displayed on Special Reunion Day
• Single gender discussions
• Transition to 6th grade: Q&A with current sixth graders, sixth grade teachers/deans
Sixth Grade:
Take a Stand! Game with opinion-based statements: “I usually feel heard by my parents/teachers/classmates, I stand up for my peers, I can handle more freedom, I am trustworthy” (followed by discussion)
• “Who am I as learner?” Creating analogies about yourself as a learner- to help students reflect upon their learning styles
• Single Gender Discussion: Responsibility/Freedom and Technology
• Transition to Seventh Grade: Q&A with current seventh graders, teachers/deans
Seventh Grade/Form I:
• Being Strong without Being Mean: activities related to voicing your opinions and standing up for yourself. Beginning to resolve conflicts on your own. (Role-plays, discussions)
• Advisor/Advisee Individual meetings with students: exit interviews
• Transition to Eighth Grade: Q&A with current 8th graders, eighth grade teachers/deans
Eighth Grade/Form II:
• Single Gender Advisory: Male/Female Relationships-fishbowl discussion
• Parent/Child Conflict Role-Plays (topics include: choosing friends, the desire for freedom, etc.)
• Discussion of Legacy and what it means. Reflect upon your year thus far and goals for the rest of the year. Write your own yearbook blurb about the legacy you left to the Middle School
• Transition to Upper School Activities: meet with 9th Grade/Form III deans, meet with 9th Grade/Form III students.
This Year’s Middle School Advisory Team

Finally, Welch noted that the Middle School had a strong Middle School advisory team in place.

*Grade Level Advisory Team Leaders

Scott Richman
9/16/2014 1:43 PM
Hello, I am a student at Judson University in Elgin, IL. I just wanted to thank you for your web page. We are discussing advisory programs in my Middle School Methods class and out of the sites that I researched, your site was far superior in providing much needed information that parents would want to know about your program.
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