When children “graduate” from the Lower School’s homeroom model to the Upper School’s model of moving between multiple teachers, students are welcomed into the advisory program. They meet numerous times each week with an assigned advisor, who in many ways serves the same role as a homeroom teacher. The advisor serves as a guide, coach, and counselor, guiding a small group of advisees through the year. He or she serves as the point person for the kids, and very often for their parents, as well. Students’ access to an advisor’s support is built into the academic schedule at several points throughout the week. Each day during the Extra Help period—an open half-hour during the daily class schedule for catching up on work, meeting with a teacher, or participating in an extracurricular activity—students visit their advisor for what can be anything from a brief check-in to a longer conversation about a specific concern. One day each week, advisee groups share informal conversation over lunch with their advisor, and during a dedicated advisory period, more formal sessions on specific topics are convened.
“Middle school is all about navigating social and emotional challenges,” emphasizes Shore’s school counselor Katie Hertz, “and the advisor helps to create a safe space where there’s room for being real with those worries and struggles.” Students look to their advisor for help with everything from mastering study skills to negotiating changes in friendships; the conversations may be free-form and one-on-one, or they may be group discussions connected to specific issues relevant to an entire grade, such as elements of the Community Code, or the use of social media. In Shore’s program, however, the advisor is not alone in providing this kind of support; he or she is at the center of a network of adults responsible for supporting children socially and emotionally, as well as academically.
As Hertz explains, students are encouraged to seek out help and support from any campus adults they “click” with. “We want every student to have at least one person they can turn to, whether or not it’s their assigned advisor. This can be an athletic coach, a teacher from a previous grade, or a member of the staff.” She continues, “But ultimately, the message we hope all our students absorb is that they’re not in it alone. Whether they’re reaching out to a specific teacher about a challenging assignment or to an advisor about a larger concern, we’d much rather have a student send an e-mail late at night, asking to talk the next day at school, than become distraught and lose sleep over something. I think our students genuinely sense this—that they’re accepted and supported by their teachers no matter what.”