The Open High School Family
- List the desirable characteristics of family
- Safe, nonjudgmental atmosphere
- Everyone knows and uses members’ names
- Communications forum
- Organizing unit for school governance
- Special head/member relationship
- Fosters positive interactions with peers
- How do successful families achieve these characteristics?
- Have an agenda*
- Provide boundaries/guide activities and discussions
- Establish family guidelines
- Work toward a goal**
- Icebreaker/bonding/ activity
- Group Activities
- Group Discussions
- Wrap It Up
** Goal: A family should evolve from a group guided by the Family Head to one in which members assume growing responsibility for family meetings.
In 1989 the Task Force of the Carnegie Council published a report on adolescent development which noted that many adolescents lack access to helping professionals and resources, know and trust few adults, and thus frequently may feel alienated, isolated and disconnected from school. Currently students at Open High School may face similar challenges. Differences in academic preparation and social maturity may present challenges for some students. While most students adjust quickly to the academic, personal and social challenges while attending Open High School, it is imperative that we continue to support the total person as we assist in their transition and growth.
This year Open High will continue its Family system. The Family Head will help foster a positive school climate by providing students opportunities to develop personal relationships in a peer group setting. A positive peer group of support will also be established with other advisees, providing a comfortable setting for sharing student concerns and problem solving. Faculty Family Heads will provide individual attention for students, information and communication about Open High programs as well as make referrals to the academic teachers, guidance counselors, parents and /administration.
THE FAMILY PROGRAM
Students will be randomly assigned as freshmen, sophomores, juniors to a Family, which consists of an advisory group of 12-18 members facilitated by a full time teacher or family head. Seniors may select two or three staff members they would prefer as their family head and every effort will be made to assign the seniors to one of their choices. Family heads will monitor attendance daily and hold Friday sessions with their Family members. Family heads are encouraged to facilitate a discussion or activity generated by student issues and concerns, in addition to making announcements, planning school wide family activities and setting up monthly community service. In addition the Family head will meet individually with each advisee to review academic progress, schedule students for their classes and confer with parents or guardians during conferences. The guidance department can also provide structured activities for use with Family groups. Family heads are also encouraged to design their own materials and activities when appropriate. A source book, reference materials, and additional activities are available in the guidance department.
ROLES & RESPONSIBILITIES
THE FAMILY HEAD
Family heads are the heart of the Family and the key to its success. The goal of the Family head to assist the student in accepting responsibility for making the most of their Open experiences. Family heads will establish a climate of peer support while students explore personal interests, goals and concerns. Family heads are expected to serve as liaison between the school and the advisee’s parent or guardian. They will make referrals to the academic team, administration, or counselors as needed; and serve as an advocate, support person and source of information for advisees. Teachers are not expected to serve as guidance counselors or social workers.
- To establish a friendly and caring working relationship with each advisee.
- To monitor academic progress, progress reports, evaluations, discipline referrals, special concerns and provide general school information for each advisee.
- To confer with parents/guardians of advisees via telephone calls, parent conferences or mail at least two times a year, thus facilitating communication between home and school.
- To build group cohesiveness among advisees.
- To implement group activities which support advisory goals and objectives.
- To identify student needs and make specific recommendations to the school’s guidance department, academic team, individual teachers, and/or administration.
THE SCHOOL COUNSELOR
The goal of the guidance department is to assist in the development and implementation of the Family and to serve as resource personnel for advisors, students and parents. The guidance department will provide information and materials for use during Family meetings.
Welcome, get on board, check in…
The time you spend on this part of the Family will vary from week to week. In the beginning you may spend the entire time helping students feel connected to one another, establishing ground rules, creating the climate for the group. Later, when the Family is fairly well established, you will take much less time in this area, but always to remember to spend some checking in or getting back on board with one another. Lots will have happened in a week. Family heads need to pay attention to your role as keepers of boundaries. It is important, especially in the initial meetings, that you be very clear about what behavior is and is not appropriate. This may include keeping a lid on the amount and nature of sharing that the students do with each other.
Family theme, topic, educational piece…
Have a plan for how you are going to approach your theme each time. Know your material well. When you are planning experiential activities, don’t neglect the reflection piece of experiential education. Help students reflect on the experience in the light of the goal for the day but to be open to unplanned learning as well. At first, students who are not accustomed to experiential education may respond superficially. Be patient with this and expect profundity!
Use the same activity each time to bring your family session to closure. This is an important part of the predictability and consistency that some students may need. It’s a comfort to follow a ritual because this adds a sense of belonging in a ritual with a group.
TIPS FOR SUCCESS
Jot It Down
When adolescents are going to be asked to share information from a strategy with the larger group, ask them to write down. As students get more comfortable during later sessions, it may not be necessary to write it down.
Keeper of the boundaries
In the warmth or heat of the moment, there may be a temptation for a young person to reveal things that he or she may later regret. The advisor needs to monitor disclosure in the group to maintain an atmosphere of safety. A good way to do this is to focus on what is happening presently.
Lead by example
Participate in the group strategies as much as possible, doing as many of the activities as is appropriate.
Come to each session well-prepared, anticipating the length of time required for each strategy and knowing what comes next. Have several alternatives prepared. Be flexible.
Use time savers
Adolescents often complain about the time restrictions on the strategies, usually in the form of not enough time. Save time by using clever devices to determine who goes first…otherwise, a lot of precious time is wasted. Give clear instructions slowly before having students move to their partner(s). Post questions for activities on the blackboard, posterboard, or overhead transparency.
Young people are given so many messages that say enjoying yourself is wrong. Show them that they can learn, have a good time and feel good about themselves all at the same time.
Do lots of physical activities
The more your experiential activities include movement, role play and exertion, the more students will like them.