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Care, Connection, Balance, and Belonging: Staples of the Middle School Advisory Experience

By Kimm Lucas, Grade 5 English Teacher
Care, connection, balance, and belonging are all aspects of life that Middle School students seek. At a time when students experience significant emotional and social growth, advisory provides them a safe place and a brave space to discuss feelings, challenges, and successes. The advisor can become a trusted adult in a place where students spend more time than they do at home in a typical week. Furthermore, students learn to develop or practice empathy, communication skills, self-awareness, advocating for themselves, study skills, and how to reach the optimal space of balance.

In the Graland Advisory Program, the mission states that “As a Middle School, we believe that having brave spaces for conversation, reflection, and partnership will help teachers and students build strong character and community.” Advisory is that landing pad to build a small community within the wider community at school, a place that is reliable and consistent, whether it’s the first day, the last day, or any day in between. At a phase in life when middle schoolers are simultaneously experiencing an increased need for independence, guidance, and support, Graland’s advisory program is a place where students can find the care, connection, balance, and belonging that they are seeking.

All advisors want a student to feel cared for like they have an ally in their court, someone who they can depend on for support. Advisors care for their small group of advisees beyond them just being another group of students. By spending time with this small group first thing every day, advisors inevitably come to know their advisees, their passions and activities outside of school, their challenging moments, what makes them laugh, and more. Through advisory greetings and shares, which start off the daily gatherings, to games and discussions, and even through journaling, advisories often become a mini-family. Advisors know when their advisees have an important soccer game, a school project that might be causing some worries, or if something funny happened over the weekend, and they aim to care for them and support them in a variety of ways. 

In the Graland advisory program, advisors strive to have all Middle School students feel like they are connected to at least one adult and a handful of students in their class. These groups stay consistent throughout the year, allowing students to form close-knit communities. These advisory connections, established first thing every day, facilitate a mutual experience for a small group of students and their advisor, and this common connection point lays the foundation for success in the school day and beyond. Whether it’s a trivia night on the Grade 5 trip to La Foret, a Grade 6 morning advisory game, a memorable meal shared on the Grade 7 Washington D.C. trip, or a Grade 8 grade-wide competition between each advisory, connections inevitably happen within these smaller micro-communities. 

With so many demands placed on Middle School students in sports, clubs, extracurricular activities, secondary school applications, and just being a student, kids today can feel overwhelmed and unbalanced. Advisory is a place where students can learn study strategies, how to prioritize what is important to them, and how to speak up when facing an obstacle. In addition, advisory groups can address physical and mental health topics, helping students develop healthy habits and positive coping mechanisms to bring balance back to their world. Advisors strive to provide balance to students and their families throughout their entire Middle School experience, whether they are navigating the change from Lower School to Middle School in Grade 5 or preparing for their next chapter as eighth graders in high school and beyond. 

By having a small group where students can meet daily, share hopes and dreams, strategize how to make it through a week with multiple tests and projects, laugh together, eat together, and more, students are more likely to feel like they belong. Additionally, Middle School Mingles, a new initiative in the advisory program, provides a space for students to gather for fun activities, games, and special treats related to a monthly theme to help students feel belonging, connectedness, and value. 

We Asked, and Middle School Students Answered! 
Q: How do you see the building blocks of Graland’s advisory program (care, connection, balance, and belonging) in your daily life at Graland?
A: “I feel belonging at Graland in clubs. They take time and effort to make what we do fun, even if someone doesn’t think they’d enjoy it!” - Luisa M., Grade 5
A: “I feel a sense of connection and belonging when I’m laughing and having fun with my friends at lunch and at recess. The buddy program is another place where I feel care and connection - shoutout to my second-grade buddy, Cole R.!” - Cooper B., Grade 6
A: “I feel a connection with my classmates during volleyball practice and games. Everyone is so kind and supportive, and I leave practice feeling that others care for me.” - Francesca N., Grade 7 
A: “In seventh grade at Graland, I feel connected to the class and community when we have opportunities to bond with one another, like playing fun games in advisory such as ‘Eleven’ or ‘Couch,’ or collaborating to build an advisory poster to hang on the wall.” - Ryan P. - Grade 7 
A: “I see the building blocks of Graland’s advisory program at Graland during recess when everyone is being included in all of the activities, including football, soccer, or even just talking with friends.” - Topher B., Grade 8

Q: How does Graland’s advisory program help you navigate the demands of Middle School?
A: “Advisory is a safe place where you don’t need to worry about stress. It is a place where you can hear ‘Good morning!’ not ‘Where’s your homework?!’ Advisory is a place where you can vent to your teacher or hang out with friends. Having a place where there is no pressure, no demands, and no judgment is important because it keeps students’ mental health and self-esteem well.” - Aubrey S., Grade 6
A: “I believe that advisory is a good addition to the day, and it helps us navigate Middle School extremely well because we have time in the morning to bond with our classmates, which I think is the most important aspect here at Graland.” - Andrew P., Grade 7
A: “Advisory helps me navigate Middle School by giving me a chance to create bonds with my peers and gives me classmates to turn to. Because of advisory, I have had the opportunity to engage with my peers much better throughout the entirety of Middle School. It’s a great place to receive tips and tricks for the day, week, or even throughout the year. It has given me the ability to engage with my classmates on a more personal level and get to know them much better.” - Fisher V., Grade 8
A: “Advisory helps navigate the demands of Middle School by being there for us and helping us succeed. Advisory helps us become more accountable, responsible, and helps us become more organized through our planners.”- Desi B., Grade 8

Graland Country Day School

Graland Country Day School is a private school in Denver, Colorado, serving students in preschool, kindergarten, elementary, and middle school. Founded in Denver in 1927, Graland incorporates a rich, experiential learning approach in a traditional classroom setting, emphasizing the development of globally and socially conscious leaders who excel academically.