The advisory program is a historic and integral part of the ESD experience.
Nearly five decades ago, as Father Swann was formulating the kind of school ESD would become, he wanted to ensure that students would not be anonymous – that they would not “fall through the cracks.” He believed that within a larger community, there should be small, intimate groups where everyone felt accepted; where the power of cliques is minimized; where an adult could shepherd and guide. Gatherings in circles where no one is at the head, whether around the campfire or at tables on campus, now found in the Study Commons and Dining Commons, would serve as reminders of this inclusivity. Thus, the ESD advisory system was born.
“As an alumna and a teacher, I think that the advisory system plays a significant part in creating the unique and special community that ESD has,” says Assistant Head of Middle School Meg Fahrenbrook ’01.
Today, the advisory system underpins much of the day-to-day life of the middle and upper school students at ESD, continuing the warmth and care of homerooms at the lower school. Advisory groups also participate in community service projects, special programming, one-on-one meetings between the advisor and the advisee, and group activities at Wolf Run. These experiences foster strong advisor and advisee relationships, as well as allow students to get to know students of all backgrounds on a deeper level.
During distance learning, advisories played a vital role in keeping students connected and engaged. “Whether in-person or virtual, advisory is a core component at ESD and provides each student a smaller community to feel belonging and to engage in different aspects of the ESD experience,” says Head of Middle School Jonathan Chein.
A word synonymous with an ESD advisor might be advocate. Students trust their advisor to help them in innumerable ways and in return, the advisor strives to know everything about those in his/her advisee – academically, socially, and emotionally. This unique relationship allows advisors to mentor and provide students with the skills and knowledge required to be successful in school and beyond. Parents know there is an adult on campus that will serve as a conduit of information and a helpful resource.
In middle school, advisories change each year, whereas in upper school, advisories are kept together for two. This cadence supports developmental and academic goals. Two-year blocks allow upper school advisories to navigate the college application process; annual shuffling in middle schools encourages wider friend groups. New advisors are shepherded through the process by veteran advisors in their first few years, to guarantee their success.
“The advisory system is at the heart of everything we do here at ESD,” says Assistant Head of Upper School Jeff Laba. “It is the small family within the greater community. Advisories worship together daily and eat lunch together on a regular basis. Having that one adult watching monitoring the overall well-being of a small group of students ensures that every child is being cared for, and no one is slipping through the cracks.”