Middle school can sometimes be hard to navigate. With a change in how classes are arranged, the academic rigor that can be found, developments personally and socially, and new expectations and responsibilities set on students, it’s important that they are supported well in order to thrive and flourish. New this year, The Franciscan School has launched its first-ever Middle School Advisory Program. The program aims to equip students with academic, social, and emotional life skills that foster individual well-being and promote a healthy, faith-based community connection.
“As the Principal at TFS,” says Dawn Smith, “my role is to support new initiatives and help provide the time, space, and resources to introduce new programs that will strengthen our focus of faith, academics, and service.” The Middle School Advisory Program was created from a vision that Smith and Assistant Principal Colette Dziadul had for TFS’s middle school students as they both previously worked in schools with advisory programs. Smith was instrumental in building the advisory program at her former middle school twenty years ago. During that time, she served as an advisor for sixth grade students and continues to have relationships with some of her previous students to this day.
The middle school experience at TFS has been intentionally crafted to ensure that the students are surrounded by excellent academics, caring faculty, instruction in God’s word and programs (such as Advisory), all that focus on educating the whole child. Dziadul’s experience with a previous school’s advisory program has helped her understand the importance of this program at TFS. “The Middle School Advisory Program plays a critical role in fostering the development of the whole child,” shared Dziadul. “Advisory engages our students in meaningful and relevant activities designed to develop valuable life skills of teamwork, communication, empathy, and citizenship.” Through a variety of lessons and activities within the program, faculty will empower students with life-enhancing themes that will address developmentally-appropriate needs and concerns. Advisory time also allows students to foster relationships with faculty and peers, providing an opportunity to grow together.
Jari Pathenos, middle school teacher and mentor in the advisory program, believes the program is “essential as a supplement to academic studies as we focus on the social emotional well-being of ourselves and others. Kids need to learn how to handle difficult situations and how to problem-solve difficult tasks.” Pathenos mentors a small group of 6th grade students and provides a safe environment for them to express feelings, struggles, hopes, successes, and fears. “Sixth grade is a transition year, and we have focused on social and emotional changes that the kids are experiencing,” explains Pathenos. “I am sharing tools and authentic examples to help guide kids to self-advocate, to learn from setbacks, to keep pushing forward with a growth mindset, and to basically take the lead in their own life.”
Melissa Walsh, also a middle school teacher at TFS, is an advisory teacher with Rachel Espinoza, the school’s 3rd-8th grade Art teacher. “It’s nice for the middle schoolers to feel like they have a home base and a go-to teacher to ask questions,” says Walsh. “It also allows us to hold middle school-wide enrichment activities such as performances and guest speakers without disrupting our schedules, which we’ve never had the opportunity to do before.” Walsh enjoys working with Espinoza to help the transition to middle school a little easier for students while also providing the academic support they need.
During the program, students will be engaged in topics such as Digital Citizenship, Service Learning, Fostering a Respectful Community, Leadership, Self-Advocacy, Growth Mindset, Life Balance, and Personal Choice. Smith shares that even in the first semester of the program’s launch, they’ve received positive feedback from students. Two eighth grade students, Max Tenace and Indi Mareno, shared their sentiments: “Each week we have a new lesson that helps us live and learn as Jesus did,'' says Tenace. And Mareno shares that “This time is for good team building and learning leadership skills. I wish this had been in place since my sixth grade year.”
As Principal, Smith is committed to continuing this program and helping it grow and develop each semester. “This program is needed because middle school is an exciting and yet complex time for our students as so much is expected of them. A complete education encompasses not only academic discipline, but also expanded awareness of self, social interactions, and the world. A designated advisory time allows teachers to connect with a group of students to provide academic and social-emotional support and to strengthen the community of the school.”
We are excited to watch this program grow and our students flourish as they take new steps into middle school and eventually on to high school.