New advisory class fosters school community

September 28, 2010

By Laura Geggel

Lynx Life adviser Caroline Friesen gives McKenzie Bostic a sheet containing her online username and password for accessing her grades. By Laura Geggel

When Pacific Cascade Middle School teacher Caroline Friesen asked which clubs and sports her students had joined, she wasn’t going off-topic in a humanities conversation, and she wasn’t engaging in chitchat between classes.

The topic of sports and clubs was the focus of her lesson plan Sept. 23 for Lynx Life, a bi-weekly, half-hour advisory class new to Pacific Cascade this year.

“Raise your hand if you’re involved in sports,” Friesen said.

The majority of her students’ hands shot toward the ceiling, and they stayed up when she asked them why it was important to be part of a group.

“Being involved is good, because you get to do activities and stuff, and you get to interact with other people,” Jack Guggenheimer said.

Sebastian Diaz said activities would make a college application more attractive, and Friesen added that people in groups get to make decisions, which leads to leadership opportunities.

“School has so much to offer,” Friesen said. “You guys are really lucky.”

Lynx Life, the only class of its kind in the district, provides time for students to learn life skills not traditionally taught in core curriculum classes. Other schools have counselors come into homeroom to teach some of these skills, Friesen said.

The multigrade class of about 25 students assigns each child an adviser with whom they stay with all three years of middle school, allowing them to forge a connection with the teacher, as well as with classmates in other grades.

“You get to be with people of every age,” seventh-grader Michael Figg said. “It’s fun to meet new people.”

Figg and other seventh- and eighth-grade students have already given the sixth-graders strategies for how to stay organized and get through middle school successfully.

Sixth-grader Amber Chong said she liked having friends in all grades. Her other classes only have sixth-graders, and she looks forward to Lynx Life, where she can laugh and learn with her older friends.

“If you need help, the older kids will help,” Chong said.

Each advisory class is assigned to a color, and when the school has competitions, it is held between the colors — a departure from the days when competitions were held between grades.

After reviewing sports and clubs, like Frisbee golf or knitting club, Friesen taught the class how to access their online student grades.

“Strong students know their grades,” Friesen said, showing them how to check grades and which assignments they were missing.

If a student were struggling in science, the adviser would set up a conference, telling the child about his or her grade.

“We will make sure the student has talked to the teacher,” Friesen said. “A lot of times, they don’t even know they’re struggling.”

As the student’s advocate, she would encourage him or her to speak to the science teacher. If the grade did not improve, she might call his or her parents and set up a conference with the science teacher.

The idea for Lynx Life came from Assistant Principal Condee Wood. She learned about advisory programs after working in the Puyallup School District, and she brought the idea with her when she started at Pacific Cascade Freshman Campus.

“When I came here, I was like, ‘We need advisory. It’s so powerful.’ When it works, it’s so amazing,” Wood said. “It’s like the pulse of your school, because the kids connect to the adult and the adult becomes their advocate.”

Wood and the school started the advisory program, Freshman Focus in 2007-08, with help from a grant from the state Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction.

Freshmen Focus lasted only one year after an end-of-year vote showed that 24 teachers liked the program, and seven did not. Wood said some teachers did not like giving up class time for Freshmen Focus, while others said they had a hard time holding their students accountable, since the class was not graded.

But the majority of teachers, students and parents liked Freshman Focus, because it gave students an adult advocate, greater school connectivity and taught them about survival skills, social choices, wellness, relationships and planning for their future, Wood said.

When Pacific Cascade became a middle school this year, teachers and administrators decided to implement the advisory program, this time with an $8,000 grant from the Issaquah Schools Foundation.

“It was an opportunity for our whole school to come together as a community, because it’s our first year,” as a middle school, Lynx Life teacher Kim Bailey said.

Some students in her Lynx Life class have already stopped by her room to talk to her about themselves, which helps both of them get to know each other better, Bailey said.

Throughout the year, teachers, students and parents will receive surveys about Lynx Life.

“It seems successful so far,” Bailey said. “We hope it’s going to continue.”

Laura Geggel: 392-6434, ext. 241, or lgeggel@isspress.com. Comment at www.issaquahpress.com.

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