Lila Berg, a 6th grader, started the school year as a new kid in a new town after her family’s move to Wayland, Mass. from nearby Newton.
That change, coupled with the transition to middle school, would be a big adjustment for any student. No familiar faces, no inside jokes with classmates, and other feelings of uncertainty can make it difficult to focus in the classroom.
“I feel like it’s totally different being the oldest in elementary school and then changing to being the youngest in middle school,” Lila said. “At first it was kind of scary.”
But Lila says she found a foothold in school, and a lifeline for academic help, through her advisory group, a class period that brings students together regularly.
And it started with building a memory all of the students could share.
A Shared Experience
Sixth graders at Wayland Middle School study the poet and philosopher Henry David Thoreau. To better understand his work and ideas, they take a bike trip around the nearby Walden Pond with their advisory groups.
The groups emphasize BERT, an abbreviation that stands for Belonging, Empathy, Respect, and Trust.
Before the bike trip, Lila’s group made matching beaded bracelets together. Each student picked a bead and assigned it a meaning, like leadership or teamwork, and they all strung them on cords together in the same order. Lila picked a yellow bead to represent joy.
That shared experience became a stepping stone to connections with her peers, and it made school less intimidating.
“It made you feel like you fit in and belong to everyone,” Lila said.
The group also played a game called family. Each student wrote a fact about themselves on a slip of paper, and they took turns drawing slips of paper from a bowl and guessing who wrote them.
“I felt like the whole time I was getting to know people really well,” Lila said. “Now we have all of these fun memories that we bring up together.”
How It Helped School
Those memories led to trust and conversations about harder things, like bullying, trouble with school work, and setting goals, Lila said.
And Lila said the experience has helped her academically, too. Now the friends she’s made through her advisory are the people she calls at night when she needs help with her homework.
“I think that you can’t really learn when you don’t know the people around you,” she said.
A version of this article appeared in the March 13, 2019 edition of Education Week as Student Voice: Lila Berg, 6th Grade