Advisory groups immerse freshmen in McNicholas community

By Isabella Daley

peer mentors
Senior Peer Mentors lead the freshmen in their advisory groups in singing the McNicholas Fight Song on Friday, Sept. 1. The groups were competing to see which group could sing the loudest. Photo courtesy of @mcnicholashs, the official Instagram page of Archbishop McNicholas High School.

Archbishop McNicholas High School launched its new advisory program for the members of the Class of 2021 on Aug. 21, the first day of freshman orientation.

McNicholas replaced its traditional homerooms of 20-30 students with smaller advisory groups of 10-12 students, about 3 senior peer mentors, and a mentor teacher that stays with the group for all 4 years at McNick.  The peer mentors lead 2 of the 3 meetings each month, and the mentor teacher leads the other meeting with a focus on a deeper topic like “What does McNick mean to you?”  McNicholas aims to use the advisories to help students grow closer to their peers and mentor teacher during their time at McNick.

“This [advisory] should be a comfortable space,” said theology teacher Teresa Davis, a mentor teacher for 12 members of the freshman class. “Freshman year, it’s got to be intimidating, and [the freshmen] have got to find one place where someone has [their] back.”

Director of Student Life Mike Orlando is mainly responsible for the decision to transition from homerooms to advisories.  He, along with Director of Counseling and College Readiness Alaina Way and several other members of the administration, wanted to make the homerooms “more intentional and purposeful.”  He found inspiration in the Virtus-based Sports Leader Program in which he, as a football coach, has mentored 6-7 members of the team on a weekly basis.  Orlando saw the advisory program as a way to incorporate the “personalized education,” relationship building, and leadership aspects of the Sports Leader Program into the regular McNicholas school day.

Orlando said the advisory program has run smoothly for the first several weeks of the 2017-2018 school year, and he has received only positive feedback.  “I think the teachers and students are engaged,” Orlando said, “[and] the peer mentors have been fantastic.”  The peer mentors have led the freshmen in activities that help them feel welcome at McNicholas.  Similarly, mentor teachers have encouraged their advisory students to find ways to be involved.

Davis stressed the importance to her advisory students that they participate in activities at McNick and told them that “[they] have to get involved. [They] have to make an investment to want to be here.”  She has taken her role as a mentor teacher seriously and hoped her students would “find that [McNick] is a home, and they can know they’re loved.”

Senior peer mentor Paxton Albrinck believed she would have benefited from the advisory program if it had existed during her freshman year because she would have been able to grow closer to a small group of people instead of just sitting in a large homeroom. She said she was pleased with the small size of her advisory group since it would have been more difficult to talk with and lead a larger group of students.

Orlando believed the smaller atmosphere of the advisories adds to   McNicholas’ identity as a smaller high school with individualized attention. He wanted incoming students to know they would be able to grow as well-rounded individuals alongside each other before entering the real world. Orlando plans to continue the advisory program for each incoming freshman class.  He hopes to have every teacher paired with a small group of students by the fall of 2020 so that “everybody [will be] working as one.”

Davis said she was excited to be “breaking the barrier between [the teacher’s] desk and the students’ desk,” but she has one ‘concern’ about being with the same students for 4 years. “I’m worried they’re going to get bored with me!”

Math teacher Bill Losekamp’s advisory group, led by their senior peer mentors, wins a competition against other advisory groups cheering the McNicholas Fight Song the loudest on Sept. 1.  “[The freshmen] had a lot of fun, and it brought them together,” senior peer mentor Paxton Albrinck said. Video courtesy of Director of Communications and Marketing Shannon Kapp.

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