Sawubona. It’s an African Zulu greeting that means “I see you.” But it goes much deeper than that. For me, it speaks to the heart of inclusivity. “I see your personality. I see your humanity. I see your dignity.” This is how I introduced myself to the Graland community seven years ago when I began my tenure as head of Middle School. This is what I say to every eighth-grade student as they walk across the stage to collect the diplomas at graduation. Although this is how I choose to move through the world, I can tell you more about what this means to me at Graland.
Middle School is a transformative time in a young person’s life. It marks the transition from childhood to adolescence, bringing with it a whirlwind of emotions, challenges, and self-discovery. In a word, it’s messy. As Middle School educators, we are aware of the unique position we hold in the lives of our students and their families. We play a pivotal role in how Middle School students are seen and see themselves.
The Graland program is distinctly set up with grade-specific teams so that we can get to know our students. Each grade in Middle School has a core group of faculty and advisors focused on that grade level. Each teacher knows every student in their respective grade, and many times, that relationship extends to connections they make in advisory, athletics, service learning, ICE (Innovation, Creativity, and Exploration courses), school trips, or clubs. These grade-level teachers not only understand the needs of their particular age group, but they also have weekly collaboration time to discuss and focus on the collective and individual needs of the students in their grade. This collaboration extends to interdisciplinary themes in their classes with a sharp focus on the student’s social-emotional growth.
Graland Middle School’s approach and philosophy highlight the healthy respect faculty have for their students and their willingness to take a stand for their learning and growth. We do this by recognizing each student as an individual and getting to know them. This is not an easy task, but with our robust programming, we get to interact with students in a multitude of ways. From small advisory groups to school trips like La Foret, Mesa Verde, Washington D.C., and the American South, service learning, Upwords speeches, and Capstone, our strong relationships with middle schoolers support student agency and self-advocacy while encouraging positive risk-taking. With the guidance of trusted faculty and deans, we are confident that our eighth-grade graduates depart Graland equipped to be “engaged citizens and thoughtful leaders” who are empowered to take on more responsibilities as students when they enter high school.
Care, Connection, Balance, and Belonging are the building blocks upon which advisory is built. It marks the beginning of each day and is the space where faculty serve as guides to help students navigate not only academic challenges but also provide support and guidance in personal development. Beyond advisory, faculty members make personal connections with their students. Over the course of a school year, our grade-level teams inspire and motivate students by recognizing their potential and encouraging them to try new ideas, iterate on old ones, and embrace failure as a learning opportunity.
Being seen by faculty means Graland Middle School students are not just another face in the crowd but individuals whose growth and well-being are genuinely cared for by their teachers. It’s a fundamental aspect of the Graland Middle School experience and has a profound impact on our students’ growth.
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.