When I started teaching at Ellis, I taught fifth grade history and worked closely with the fifth grade team. I remember the excitement and joy with which the youngest members of the Middle School approached their learning and the many questions they asked in homeroom as they became familiar with a new division. After moving to the eighth grade team, I was surprised when we were out of homeroom very quickly with few questions. Instead, students were making announcements about sports and performing arts as captains and stage managers, and they were setting up meetings with faculty members to review assignments. This growth is partly due to developmental changes, but I believe that our comprehensive health and wellness and advisory programs––with their emphasis on self-advocacy––are key components to fostering independence and confidence.
Our health and wellness programming is centered around the students, and we believe that social and emotional health is the foundation of a successful Middle School experience. Our program is implemented through our fifth-grade health class, in class advisory sessions, and in advisory groups. Our content offerings are robust, and we consistently work to update the information we share based on research and current trends.
Knowledge is powerful, but students must also be able to develop and implement strategies to practice self-advocacy. Students become aware of their strengths and challenges and practice goal-setting with their advisors; however, much of the work of learning to communicate needs and seek help is likely to occur in teachable moments throughout the school day. Recently, I observed one of our advisors who had encountered an advisee who was worried as she had forgotten something at home. Prior to calling and asking a parent/guardian to bring the item, her advisor encouraged the student to develop a plan and prioritize different solutions to the problem. A quick fix was provided with a trip to the Paw Shop, and the student left empowered by her ability to tackle a situation and return to her routine. A student’s path through Middle School is paved with such “bumps,” whether academic, athletic, artistic, social, or organizational. By providing students with self-advocacy skills and guidance, they grow to become independent problem-solvers and decision-makers.