SVSD introduces advisory course for middle schools

All three middle schools will have an advisory course for each grade level to help prepare students for high school and beyond.

The three Snoqualmie Valley School District (SVSD) middle schools are introducing a new advisory course this school year as part of the SVSD middle school program.

The advisory course includes 47 lessons per grade level focused on college, career and life readiness, community building, academic and learning success skills, and planning for high school.

Students will meet in grade-level advisory groups for 30 minutes, about twice per week, to engage in the lessons. The advisory course is not a graded course.

Ginger Callison, SVSD’s executive director of teaching and learning, said the district’s middle school visioning committee spent about two years developing the course. The committee also included staff and parent representation from all three middle schools.

“We wanted to address the questions of ‘What should we be doing to help these kids get ready for high school?’ and ‘What do we know about their developmental needs?’ and so on,” Callison said.

Members of the committee studied the developmental and academic needs of middle level learners and planned program supports for students based on the themes that surfaced.

The advisory curriculum draws from resources provided by the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) and the Advancement Via Individual Determination (AVID) program. Advisory lessons are different for each grade level and will build upon each other from year to year. The purpose is to send students to high school prepared to take advantage of all opportunities that align with their interests and goals. Students will also have the opportunity to get a jump start on the High School and Beyond Plan, a Washington State graduation requirement, beginning in the sixth grade.

“The goal is for them to go into high school having a good idea of who they want to be,” Callison said.

Over the summer, Callison said all the middle school teachers were trained in the curriculum.

Emily Rourke, an eighth-grade U.S. history, English language arts and AVID teacher at Twin Falls Middle School, was on the committee last year.

“After sifting through best practices and existing curriculum, we agreed that we wanted lessons that are scaffolded to build onto each other from grades six to seven to eight, with lessons that incorporated the district’s initiatives of AVID and college-career readiness,” she said. “We also agreed that the teachers teaching the lessons should not have to reinvent the wheel, but use materials that have already been created for this purpose.”

She said teachers do have the creative flexibility in how the material is presented.

“There are lessons to follow, but it is just as important to create a space, class culture and relationships where students feel they belong, heard and valued,” she said. “One of our most important responsibilities, I think, in this class is to let students know we see them, and that we care about them. Many of us experienced a homeroom class in our secondary education, and this is similar to that with very intentional purposes.”

Karen Deichman, a English language arts and AVID teacher at Snoqualmie Middle School, said the class is an opportunity for students to establish relationships with a smaller group of students along with their teacher.

“Lessons are designed to develop relational capacity in order for students to feel confident and effectively conduct themselves in collaborative settings,” she said. “Attention is given to becoming reflective learners as we give them tools for identifying their learning strengths. Students will be given a menu of options so they may advocate for themselves, and in turn, becoming active participants in their learning. Grade checks, reflections and tracking of growth over time will occur along with organizational strategies and binder checks.”

Overall, Callison said she and many teachers are excited for the new course.

“…We hope it serves our students well,” she said.

A survey will be given out to all students around the first quarter to gauge how effective the course is and if and what changes could be made to improve it.

To learn more about the lessons, go online to the OPSI website and search for “High School & Beyond Panning,” and look for “Link to the Lessons.” (https://bit.ly/2lGy1do)

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