On a recent Thursday afternoon, the regular Upper School classes were suspended for three hours for advising groups to spend together. The goal? To build relationships.
Strong relationships among students and between students and adults are the building blocks of Waynflete culture. Such relationships not only make our students feel safe, but they are also essential to why they feel challenged, as I described in an earlier USNOW article entitled Living Up to Relationships. We build our strong relational culture through all facets of school life, including in the classrooms, on the athletic fields, in the theater, in the wilderness, and, quite naturally, in our advising groups. Thursday’s advising afternoon was time devoted to building advising group culture.
Depending on their needs, groups spent their three hours engaged in a wide array of activities. Many took on community service projects, using the opportunity to underscore the ethic of service as well as to build relationships. Several stayed right on campus. One group volunteered in Waynflete’s Early Childhood classroom. The advisor described the experience this way:
“We joined their morning meeting, introducing ourselves and giving us a chance to practice our self-introductions. After that we went out to the playground and played with the kids, swinging, digging, climbing the monkey-bars, etc. One of the EC teachers noted an EC’er walking around and around the playground with a new-to-the-school Junior, deep in conversation. After recess, we went back inside and ate lunch together in small groups and learned of their study of sea stars. Then we got out the favorite children’s books we had brought and individual US’ers sat on the risers reading their favorite books to small groups of EC’ers in a great pile of humanity and stories. It was then nap time and we took our leave. The EC teachers extended warm appreciation.”
Other groups volunteered off campus, some continuing to build relationships with community organizations. One advisor described her group’s experience this way:
“My advising group volunteered for the third year in a row at Roots and Fruits, a day care center in South Portland. The mission of this school is Mindfulness, and once again, we were enthralled by and respectful of a curriculum that has 3 and 4 year olds meditating and contemplating peace. What is most rewarding about this day is to see my advisees engage with the children. They leave their cell phones in their pockets and fully embrace, literary and figuratively, these children. To see a senior play a raucous game of tag, to witness a new advisee helping children wash hands after an art project, to hear a shy ninth grader laugh, push a child on a swing, and play Simon Says all illustrate the wonder of the morning. The joy of our kids is best captured when we gather in a circle afterwards and I hear them all say in one way or another, “That was awesome.”
A sampling of other off campus service projects includes:
- Sorting 5,000 pounds of peanut butter, soup, canned fruits and vegetables and other foods for the Wayside Food Programs as well as preparing a butternut and apple soup to be served the next day.
- Removing invasive plants from the Western Cemetery in order to restore the natural balance of native species that depend on each other for survival. In the process, that group learned to work together toward a common goal, building a spirit of teamwork and purposefulness as a group, as well as having lots of fun.
- Scrubbing and washing the large tent over the Sail Maine classroom, while enjoying the view of Casco Bay as well as the close proximity to Gelato Fiasco.
- Making decorations and washing hard foam blue blocks for the Children’s Museum. The group decided on that particular site because one of the group members volunteers there regularly and raves so much about it that she got everyone else excited to go.
- Volunteering with second graders at Reiche School, which included playing with them at recess, eating lunch together, and helping them learn about plants in the community garden.
Other groups focused on bonding. One group, which graduated seven seniors last spring, has many new members. They took up clerical tasks for the School that could be accomplished while the students were talking with each other, then ate lunch together, and after lunch watched funny Youtube videos together and laughed. The advisor watched with pleasure as her seniors stepped into their role as group leaders, taking charge of the tasks at hand while including the new members in the group. Before her eyes, the group dynamics shifted positively in just a few hours.
Another group, after much discussion, decided on rigorous physical play as the best means for building group rapport. They decided to spend time at Get Air, an indoor trampoline park that one might usually associate with children’s birthday parties. According the their advisor, “The kids had a really really fun time. They literally bounced, jumped and ran for over an hour. They played games together. It was ridiculous how much fun they had. Great bonding.”
In short, as this sampling of activities illustrates, in just three hours, the Upper School took a big step toward strengthening relationships. In the process, we managed to have fun and do good work. All in all, it was a very successful afternoon. For a sampling of photos, click here.