Working together to transition freshmen & transform schools from the bottom up!
Having recently joined the Freshman Transition Network and introducing myself here, Scott suggested I elaborate on the ninth-grade Peer Advisory program I was fortunate enough to be a part of when I was still teaching:
Groups of 12-15 ninth graders would meet every Wednesday morning from 8:00am-8:33am in pre-arranged "advisory groups," participating in activities and games that would both acclimate them to the high school and foster and strengthen interpersonal relationships. Sessions were led by carefully selected and specially-trained high school juniors and seniors, or "Peer Leaders" of high moral standing; these sessions were supervised by a NYS-certified classroom teacher. Advisory topics included time management, communication skills, planning and goal setting, stress management, and dealing with positive and negative pressures.
On Wednesdays (and some additional days in the beginning of the school year), each of the nine class periods were shortened by four minutes to create the time needed to run the advisory, while remaining within the confines of a regular school day. This alleviated any bus/transportation-related issues, and teachers that were assigned to supervise an advisory group were relieved of other contractual supervisions (school plays, sports contests, etc).
There was also a 10th grade advisory program that follows the same schedule but meets in different groups/classrooms with different topics. Both advisory programs conclude in January, but the Wednesday "advisory bell schedule" continues to the end of the school year, allowing all students/faculty an extra half-hour of free study/prep time before first period begins.
Juniors and seniors selected to be a part of the "Peer Leadership" program were enrolled in a training class that was scheduled alternating with their Health Education course during the school day. During classes, students would assist in designing activities, role play certain situations, and share successful management/motivational strategies from their own experiences.
I was one of three teachers selected to train the peer leaders for their advisory sessions. I also volunteered to supervise an advisory group, in an effort to see the "finished product" and observe any transformation in my advisory group. During the half-year advisory program, I noticed a predictable increase in comfort amongst ninth-grade participants. Students formed friendships after discovering similar interests revealed through ice-breaker and other related activities. Upperclassmen would acknowledge and engage the ninth-graders in the hallways outside of the advisory setting (in hallways, during lunch, etc) and I'd say the program helped bring positive qualitative change to the school community during my time at this school.
Although I since left this school to begin my first administrative position, I believe their advisory program to be exemplary, and an important part of the ninth grade transition. I've attached a sample copy of the "Peer Leader Manual" we designed - this was distributed to student Peer Leaders and faculty involved with the program.
I hope others benefit from this brief write up and attached sample manual pages. Please feel free to reach out here or on Twitter (@Ryan_Fisk) with any questions.