Fifth graders entering Middle School are starting a new leg of the K-12 Journey. They still have homeroom teachers, but they will travel more to other classrooms and connect with more teachers and adults during the school day, including a House leader and an advisor, who may not be one of their teachers. For me, as an administrator, being an advisor and getting to know a small group of students over the course of a year is one of the perks of my job, as I know it is for the other 5th/6th grade advisors who are not faculty members.
“The advisory program, which begins in 5th grade and continues through the 12th grade, is part of our commitment to know every child,” explains Head of Middle School Polly Robb. Mrs. Robb appreciates the time she spends with her advisees because she says, “They teach me about the culture in our School and give me direction and ideas about what needs to be done.”
Every week, for half an hour I meet with my advisees. We take direction from Jon Bluestein, the 5/6 Dean, who oversees the advisory program and plans a sequence of activities that initiate conversations about character and shared values that help shape behavior and student culture in the Middle School.
Sometimes we have a House challenge or a discussion topic to tackle, other times we do a service activity. We might be counting bottle caps for the Middle School Green Team or talking about what it means to be a war veteran. Other times I help them assess how they think they’re doing with regard to their academic performance and set goals for being better organized about doing homework or more proactive about asking questions. Some days we go outside to burn off energy with a game of red rover or Ninja. Last year, my advisees liked the game of the infinite sentence, where each person adds one word to an increasingly absurd sentence until the syntax falls apart. This will be my third year as an advisor and I am looking forward to meeting my new advisees this Thursday.
The amount of growth and maturity that takes place over the course of the year is remarkable says Deb Silvia Brink, our director of information services. She was impressed by the thoughtfulness of her 6th grade advisees when they made valentines for the girls in the Ugandan school that Randolph sponsored and thank you notes to veterans for Veterans Day. “They would ask me, ‘is it okay to say this?’ to which I would respond, ‘you need to decide for yourself.’ As one adult with a group of only seven students you can have more thoughtful conversations,” Ms. Brink says. “Everyone is heard and is required to talk and participate. It is a comfortable environment. Another benefit I saw was the need for students to learn to negotiate with different personalities within the group, especially when collaborating or problem-solving.”
Fifth grade teacher Jenny Lenz had an all girl group last year. “The girls really engaged in conversations that were very personal. They were very open about personal struggles they were having at school and at home. We all got really close as a result of this!”
When advisory groups talked about the effect of put-downs and hurtful behavior, my advisory group put their ideas on paper and made this movie:
As the year drew to a close, we could see how they had changed, grown in maturity and thoughtfulness. When your advisee says he or she will miss you next year, when you’re all still going to be at Randolph, it’s funny in one sense, because it is the way that children see things grade to grade, but it is also true. And we will miss them, too. Seeing each other around campus is not the same as gathering weekly over the course of the year and enjoying the privilege of each other’s company.