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Our new ISDenver Advisory Program for Middle Schoolers

The Middle School Advisory Program at the International School of Denver is a small group, curriculum-based safe space for students to engage in meaningful conversation. 

Katie Kroeger

This year has been anything but traditional. So, we’ve evolved, we’ve adapted, we’ve broken out of the paradigm - and in the shift, something truly beautiful was born. An ISDenver Advisory Program.

Advisory takes the traditional Homeroom concept as we may have known it during our formative years and flips it on its head. It is a shift away from a less structured format with groups of 15-20 students to a smaller, more intimate setting of 8-10. Each group, led by a Middle School faculty member, is engaged in an intentional curriculum built around social-emotional learning (SEL), current events (global perspective), and executive functioning (International Baccalaureate learner profile and approaches to learning skills).

Designed by faculty in collaboration with our Middle School Counselor, Annie Barocas, the Advisory curriculum has baked-in flexibility so that teachers can pause and pivot when something within the school or broader community warrants attention and conversation.

Each month, we have a different theme. For the month of February, we have been focusing on Character Traits and also tying our work into Black History Month.

Our daily advisory format based on the Developmental Designs model:

·  Greeting. Each Advisory begins with a greeting, which helps get the group focused. There are a wide range of greetings from “Would you rather” questions to holding a yoga pose.

·  Sharing. After the greeting we move on to sharing. This is usually a follow-up question from something we did the day before, but for this month, our sharing is discussing different African Americans who exemplify the character trait of the week. For example, one week the trait was responsibility, so we looked at Marsha Johnson, a black trans woman who was at the forefront of the LGBTQ movement fighting for equality. We talked about how she used her responsibility to fight for equal rights, not just for the black community but also for the LGBTQ community, and how she also supported those who didn’t have support at home by setting up shelters for homeless teens. 

·  Activity. Following sharing, we complete an activity related to the topic. For example, one activity we used recently is called “What is the difference.” In this activity, there are scenarios that students must work through and explain how the idea of responsibility ties in. So for example, they will discuss and respond to the question, “What is the difference between reporting dangerous behaviors and tattling?” Students will present to their peers how they use their responsibility to protect others but also discuss how they decide who to tell and when to tell.

Within the monthly structure, we have also built in a weekly framework.

·  Mondays are typically All Middle School Assemblies. (Held virtually right now.) These range from addressing school-wide matters or events, to student presentations on their 8th grade community service projects, to other special topics that seem appropriate to the moment.

·  Tuesdays we focus on Executive Functioning. For example, our Media Specialist, Alex Dunne, recently showed students how to compose a formal email and how to set up a personal signature in their school gmail accounts.

·  Wednesdays typically focus on Current Events. Depending on the week, advisory groups may watch the CNN-10 news program, have a discussion about the election, etcetera.

·  Thursdays and Fridays are geared towards Social-Emotional Learning (SEL). This allows us to be responsive to emergent issues, while also covering a range of set topics relevant to middle school life.

Earlier this year, our 6th graders focused on microaggressions in Advisory. Looking back at my 12-year-old self, I know this concept was not anywhere near my lexicon. When I asked a student about Advisory, she explained it as a “safe space” where she and her peers can share freely without judgment. This program encapsulates so much of what I love about the International School of Denver, and more specifically, our Middle School. Students engaged in meaningful conversations, learning to find their voice in a safe and supportive space. Beautiful.

If you have questions about Advisory or want to hear more about our Middle School, reach out anytime at admissions@isdenver.org

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