Every student in Wildwood’s middle school begins each day with advisory.
Advisory is a time and place intentionally positioned to provide a bridge between the school day and students’ lives outside of school. That sounds simple, even obvious, and Wildwood’s middle and upper schools were founded with this practice in place. Now, an increasing number of schools organize their students’ day around advisory, because it is meaningful for academic and social reasons.
What Happens Here
Students gather in groups of about 15, led by a teacher who serves as the students’ mentor and advocate. These adults provide an essential link between home and school. In this informal setting, students have the space to develop supportive relationships with adults they trust, and with a small group of peers. Advisory becomes a comfortable space where kids can try out new ideas and explore their identities. In the process, they cultivate a sense of self—academically, emotionally, and socially.
“I think it’s great to have a community of people that you can fall back on,” reflects 6th grader Jamie B. on her experience so far this year. “Your advisory is a group of people that you can trust.”
With this healthy combination of connection and learning students experience a curriculum that’s an essential part of the Wildwood Way. Our advisory program is guided by the most current academic and brain research, which correlates social/emotional support with academic outcomes. With years of data now solidly in place, our once pioneering Wildwood approach is now in high demand by schools worldwide seeking knowledge and training through the Wildwood Outreach Center.
A Week in Middle School Advisory
Monday: Begin with Community
Each Monday morning, the entire Wildwood student body and faculty, grades 6-12, comes together for All School Meeting. Twice a month, middle schoolers stay for a middle school-only meeting bringing together all 180 6th-8th graders.
Hosting responsibilities rotate among each advisory. Here announcements are made, and the host advisory engages their peers in fun challenges and contests, like sculpting a Pokémon character in 2 minutes with clay and straws.
Then, middle schoolers who have been “caught in the act” of positive, community-minded behavior and nominated for recognition by teachers will hear their names called out by Middle School Associate Director, Collette Bowers-Zinn.
Next, Division Two students (grades 7-8) head off to their advisories to engage in a Roses and Thorns conversation. Their rooms are set up with chairs in a circle, and each student—along with their advisor—share one “rose” from their weekend (something that went well, and that they want to share) and one “thorn” (something that didn’t go well or is weighing on their mind). It’s an effective way of helping students leave behind the weekend, and look ahead to the week.
On a visit to Megen O’Keefe’s Advisory, students share a range of roses; from sweet— “We went to my grandma’s house for her birthday,” shares Justin D. to silly—“I had a kazoo solo in my band,” shares Nolan G. Meanwhile, his advisory mate, Grace M., combines her rose and thorn: “I baked a cake—but it was a fail. So I made another one—it was way better!”
Meanwhile, Division One students (grade 6) have their own activity. All gather in Mrs. H and Louise’s Humanities classroom for their weekly Big Room gathering. Here the Division One teachers help students frame the school week ahead—noting any key work deadlines or upcoming events.
Big Room ends with the naming of the student of the week. This recognition goes to someone whose demonstration of the Habits of Heart stand out, and it’s also a way to have some fun. A key responsibility of student of the week is picking and popping a balloon from a bunch reveals a ‘fun Friday’ activity for the whole Division. This week: Friday is “dress up as a twin” day.
Tuesday: Focus on Personal Growth
Mindfulness characterizes Tuesdays in Division One—including focused breathing intended to promote relaxation and academic preparedness. In Division Two, Tuesdays are often devoted to Council discussions—offering a space and place for students to talk about academic anxieties, social fears, or even gratitude. The Council protocol, developed by the Ojai-based educational non-profit, Council in Schools uses a talking piece (it can be a shell, a stuffed animal, or any other object) that students hand to each other as they follow the four intentions of Council: 1) Speak and 2) Listen from the heart, 3) Speak spontaneously, and 4) Be brief.
Wednesday: Work and Wildcard
Mid-week brings collaboration time to Division One Advisory: All 6th grade students and teachers are free to work together—students on individual work and group projects, while teachers are available to help and also meet one-on-one with students.
In Division Two, Wednesday is Wildcard Day. This time can be to engage in Community Involvement work, Wildwood’s multicultural curriculum (see below), or spend the advisory session preparing for upcoming student-led conferences. Community Involvement activities include a division-wide drive to help homeless veterans in LA, through an organization called New Directions for Veterans, along with environmental stewardship activities in the spring, including beach cleanups.
Each middle school Division focuses on a multicultural theme. Division One this year is exploring the concept of School Dimensions—the range of ways students identify as part of different groups at school (e.g. by athletic interest, friend group, etc.). Throughout the year, 6th graders engage in lessons that look at the ways in which these identities affect themselves and others.
Division Two students are examining the origins and impact of conflict— which can emerge when engaging in dialogue across difference. This year’s curriculum is designed to help students understand different styles of conflict and leadership, as well as allowing them time to investigate their own inclinations.
One Thursday per month, all middle school students can opt into activities beyond their assigned advisory. One option: Students can join an affinity group (active groups include students of color and allies to members of the LGBTQ community). Students take their affinity groups seriously. As part of the allies affinity group, 7th grader Angela R. suggests an anonymous advice column for students who identify as LGBTQ as well as their fellow students who seek to support them. “We can make it part of The Howl [Wildwood’s online middle school student journal],” she says.
Students’ other option is to sign up for and attend a discussion around a specific contemporary multicultural issue. One recent Thursday students chose between six topics: Veteran homelessness in LA, the plight of Syrian refugees, an examination of white privilege, the voting rights of prisoners, the interplay between sports and politics, and a discussion on female gender roles.
These opportunities allow students to choose an area of study as well as to join a group that fits their identities and interest.
Friday: A Time to Bond
The end of the week brings opportunities for students and their advisors to simply enjoy one another’s company. The curriculum intentionally encourages fun. Division Two advisories might play a favorite game, celebrate a birthday, or compete in an inter-advisory Olympics. Division One students enjoy the fun Friday activity chosen at the beginning of the week. The goal is to spend fun time together with a purpose—to cement social bonds and build new ones.
On a recent visit, Division One students enjoy playing their favorite board and card games within their Advisory groups. Uno, The Game of Life, and charades offer students the opportunity to interact in ways that help build community. “It’s fun to see how other kids play the game,” 6th grader Skyler S. says during a hand of Apples to Apples. “It helps you understand their sense of humor and how they think.”
The Wildwood approach happens very intentionally in advisory, every day.
We are clear that relationships—between students, and between advisor and advisee are at the heart of all of these middle school advisory activities.