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Harwood Union Middle School staff hit the ground running as they launched into the 2009-10 school year. In addition to school and district-wide curricular and climate-related goals, the middle school is taking on the task of restructuring the advisory program. Some aspects of the program will remain in tact, but on the whole the focus and direction of the program will look and feel different to teachers and students alike.
The new focus represents a shift in the structure and function of the advisory program. The Teacher Advisories (or T.A.s) of the past have been primarily used for administrative, curricular and advocacy functions, with a limited community-building element. As a middle school staff, the faculty has identified a need to strengthen the coherence of the middle school as a whole.
"Choosing to focus on the advisory program really seemed to make sense," explains Harwood Union Middle School Principal Lisa Atwood. "We wanted to bolster community spirit across the school, while bringing the seventh- and eighth-graders together on a more regular basis. By replacing the administrative and curricular functions with a strong plan for advocacy and community building initiatives, we hope to create a greater bond between seventh- and eighth-graders, boost connectedness and pride in the school, and fully ensure that each student has a personal adult advocate on whom they can depend."
Atwood added that one of the major changes in the structure of the program is a reduction in students from the previous 18 to 20 per group to 12 students and under.
With this in mind, Atwood joined special educator Jodie Curran and eighth-grade social studies teacher Sarah Ibson at the New England League of Middle School summer institute in New Hampshire this past July. At the institute, the triad developed a toolbox of community-based activities and lessons to build the advisory program the teaching staff envisioned.
Using a prioritizing method garnered at the institute, the attendees led a workshop with the middle school advisors aimed at examining and redesigning the mission and goals of the existing advisory program. The results were as predicted; all teachers were in consensus that the focus of the program needed to shift. Sarah Ibson states that an advisory program that isolates and targets advocacy and community-oriented skills and activities will strengthen the coherence and spirit of our school climate as it ensures that all students have access to at least one adult they can trust and rely on.
Advisory groups will meet two times a week as a trial so that returning students and teachers can get accustomed to the new style, format and timeframe. Behind the scenes, teachers are working to create and adjust the scope and sequence of advisory events to best meet the needs of individuals as well as the community. The staff at Harwood Union Middle School is excited for the advisory program to take off and is eager to build a true middle school community. More middle school musings will be coming, so stay tuned.