BENNINGTON -- Mount Anthony Union Middle School students have been reaping the benefits of the school's "Advisory" class for years, according to Principal Tim Payne.
The 30-minute class, slotted each morning for students, is similar to the model lawmakers have been hoping to implement statewide under the recently passed Personal Learning Plan (PLP) legislation.
The new state law requires all secondary students in Vermont, with help from their teachers and school faculty, to design the PLPs with their aspirations in mind, therefore increasing educational relevance by bridging the gap between students' academic workload and their future career goals.
According to MAUMS Advisory Committee Leader Hannah Watson, she and her fellow committee members, including the school's physical education teacher and school psychologist, among three others, have been working hard to educate approximately 20 new faculty members on the importance of the daily advisories.
"It allows the teachers to really interact with their students," Watson said, noting that there are 46 advisory groups in the entire school, with almost every teacher in the school presiding over each one.
During the class, students can check their grades bi-weekly and chat with their advisor to make goals for classes in which they may be struggling.
"This is a great way for students to take more responsibility," Watson added.
In addition to the academic aspect of this PLP adaptation, the class also presents an opportunity for teachers to connect with students who may be having a hard day, emotionally, MAUMS School Psychologist Erica Fanning said.
"During this time, we can target kids who may be having a bad day, make a note of it and then catch them later in the day to check in," said Fanning. "That could be with a teacher or maybe with a guidance counselor. Then we can make sure that they are ready to learn."
According to Watson, each month denotes a different theme for the advisories. This month, in honor of National Bullying Prevention Month, October's advisory theme is respect.
Watson explained that each student was given a blue "Respect" bracelet stating three expectations: Respect others, respect yourself, and respect school property, which, she said, students have been wearing "with pride."
For the past week, students have been participating in, and will continue to participate in activities related to bullying prevention and building respect with their peers during advisory, including trivia games and "get up and move" games led by MAUMS Physical Education Teacher Tracy Galle.
As the month progresses, students will also be creating "action plans," according to Watson, which will be student-generated plans describing methods of bullying prevention and how they can improve their immediate environments.
"These activities will allow students to open up," Watson said. "We'll ask them what they think bullying is, how they see it here at school, if they've ever witnessed it themselves. We're letting them have fun but also getting into this ‘real stuff' that kids are facing during their middle school years."
Committee members and teachers are hoping that this concentration on bullying will help to quell its existence at MAUMS.
"Research shows that if a student intervenes during a bullying situation, over 50 percent of the time, the bullying stops. That's a significant number," Fanning said. "We're trying to make kids understand that they can really help each other and build a community in the school that's less unpleasant for the kids being picked on and also allow staff to identify when it's happening."
Fanning said that a survey would be conducted later this year to assess progress and perhaps identify areas that require more attention.
Watson has witnessed many of the bullying discussions in classrooms over the past week and said she is impressed with the work by both the students and faculty thus far.
"The word bullying has become such a common word in schools. I think students want to talk about it," she said. "I think that if we can focus on how to respect others and at the same time work on preventing bullying here in the building that if will be a very successful gain in our community."
Payne noted the value in this month's theme, explaining that he sees students acting out, many times, without thinking of the repercussions their actions may have.
Fanning said that, statistically speaking, seventh and eighth-grade marks the time when most bullying occurs.
"Now is the time to intervene and make sure we're on top of it," she said.
Rebecca Sausville-Smith, another advisory committee member, noted the importance of carrying over last month's theme of community into this month's advisory theme, as she believes both are important and paramount to the essence of what advisory really is.
"Advisory has been about community from the get-go," she said. "From the beginning of September, advisors were working on building community with their students, building trust. Now, the conversations that come with the topic of bullying are easier to have because the students have already built that trust. Both of these themes and ideas will be carried out throughout the year."
According to Watson, tolerance and diversity will also be advisory themes this year and the school is set to celebrate No Name-Calling Week in January.
Contact Elizabeth A. Conkey at email@example.com or follow on Twitter @bethconkey.