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Middle School Advisory - A School Family
Abbie Kurynak, 7/8 Science Teacher and 8th Grade Advisor

Every day, twelve 8th grade girls enter my classroom first thing in the morning, each one with her own stories, struggles, and joys. Some days, they burst in the door with energy, chatter, and excitement. Other days, a bit more sluggish, sleepy, or contemplative. As a middle school advisor, I have the distinct pleasure to help them start their day, answer their questions, and serve as a loving, supportive voice.

I've served as an advisor now for five years and view each of my advisories (affectionately called the K-Squad) as my little family, and not just for the school year. I’ve adopted these girls as my "school daughters." I celebrate their birthdays and achievements and empathize when they are struggling. You can see pictures of every advisory I've had at Clark hanging on the wall in my classroom, and they are all an important part of my Clark story. The Stanley Clark experience doesn't stop at graduation, and neither does my love for my advisees. This year, for example, I was honored to see two former advisees perform in "The Nutcracker." I love hearing about their success in high school and am sure to congratulate them when there is news of an achievement.

Past Advisory Photos

So, What is Advisory?

Every 5th-8th grader is assigned a grade-level advisory, where they meet four days a week (Monday through Thursday) for twenty minutes at the start of the day (and checkout at the end of the day). This time spent with my girls each morning might just be my favorite part of the day.

Based on Developmental Designs, created by Origins Education, our middle school advisory program teaches social-emotional skills. This is the same company that created the Responsive Classroom program that utilizes Morning Meeting (amongst other concepts) in our Lower School. At Stanley Clark, we've taken what we have learned about Developmental Designs and tailored it to meet the needs of our middle school students. For example, the advisories are of mixed gender in fifth and sixth grades. While in seventh and eighth grades, we separate by gender to allow for more specific discussions.

Advisory Holidays

The Value of Advisory

While the core of advisory is to teach social-emotional skills, that is just the tip of the iceberg. Clark students often establish strong relationships with their advisor and fellow advisees, many of which continue from year to year (and post-graduation). Advisees develop a familiar relationship by being part of this close-knit group. They feel connected by the stories and activities they share, so a very special bond is formed.

Advisors help support their students in all aspects of their lives. For example, if a student experienced a death in their family, an advisor would support them throughout the grief, inform their teachers that they might need extra support, and communicate with the parents.

The Nuts and Bolts

The beautiful part of advisory is it varies year to year and group to group. Yes, some things remain consistent, such as creating the Social Contract (more on that later), setting individual goals, team-building, and academic support. But advisory is tailored to students that comprise each group, their needs, and what issues arise during the year. I like to think of advisory as a "safety net" that helps catch students before they fall.

Middle School Social Contract

Establishing a Social Contract and Individual Goals

Across the board, at the beginning of the year, we create the Social Contract and establish individual goals. The Social Contract begins in separate advisories, with each advisory writing statements describing how they want the middle school to function. An example could be: "Treat everyone with respect." The advisories then come together (with representatives from each) and combine their ideas. For example, the statement above could morph into, "Treat everyone and everything with respect." After that, grade level representatives create the finalized Social Contract, which is then presented at our Friday Assembly and signed by all middle school students.

In addition, each advisor also works with their advisees to establish individual goals. While each advisor might do this a little differently, goals are revisited regularly to determine if they've been met or need revision. Advisors frequently check grades and offer support in this area as well. They meet with students regarding their progress, may update parents, and, in the event of academic probation, the advisor will write an Action Plan for improvement.

Outside of these essential topics, advisory meets the needs of the students it serves. As an eighth-grade advisor, choosing a high school and making the transition is often a big topic of conversation. Conversely, fifth-grade advisors support their students as they transition from lower school to middle school. We also work on study habits, stress management, friendship, gender roles, leadership, empathy, and more.

In eighth grade, the leadership component of advisory is taken a step further in our Ignite and Legacy Retreats. These retreats, held at the beginning and end of the year, focus on encouraging servant leadership and creating a Clark "legacy" to leave behind after graduation. At the end of the year, it focuses on igniting the journey into the next chapter, high school.

Advisory Thanksgiving

The "School Family"

Advisory isn't just for serious discussions and monitoring grades, though. We have plenty of fun together, too, with parties, celebrations, and tons of laughter! Each year, my advisory enjoys a Thanksgiving lunch together (contributed to by each student) with time to share what we are thankful for, which many times is our advisory! We celebrate the holidays together, and this year, my gift to them was matching pajamas. We had a blast wearing them during Festive Wear Day, and it was just another representation of the bond they share. We even had several days of Secret Santa gifts leading up to Holiday Break. I loved watching them spoil each other with small, thoughtful gifts and, personally, love being part of the festive fun as well! I support them throughout their final exam week, helping them plan and manage their stress, and am there for their graduation, with personalized high school t-shirts I make just for them. Perhaps the most challenging part is hugging them goodbye after Commencement, knowing I'll no longer see them daily (always accompanied by tears–mine and theirs). As they leave Clark, I hope they'll forever remember being loved and supported and can carry that into high school.

Advisory Thanksgiving

About the Author

Abbie Kurnyak

Abbie Kurnyak 

7th & 8th Grade Science Teacher
8th Grade Advisor

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