By Verity Sayles, English Faculty and Assistant Head of Upper School

Building towers with spaghetti and marshmallows, learning your top five Gallup strengths, decorating cookies, twelfth and fifth graders having lunch together, signing up for classes, getting tech tips, and doing service in the community. These are just some of the activities that occur in the once-a-week Advisory time.

During the transformative high school years, the EPS Advisory program plays a pivotal role in fostering social-emotional development, building a sense of community, and providing essential academic advising support. This year in the Upper School, teams of Advisors, in conjunction with the Grade Level Coordinators, have been reimagining and reworking the Upper School Advisory program at EPS. Student-elected officials, called “Grade Level Representatives,” have been integral in providing feedback and ideas and running one class meeting per trimester. This year marks the first where distinct programs—focused on specific themes and sequenced accordingly—are being carefully constructed. Our ultimate goal is to use the values of the school and adapt the mission to guide a new program. This article will offer an overview of what each grade level has been focusing on during Middle Band Advisory time.


For our youngest Upper School students, ninth grade is a time in an Advisory to set expectations and have support from an Advisor in navigating the new high school world. Acting responsibly means learning academic norms, community responsibility, and personal strengths, and the program aims to foster a sense of responsibility and self-awareness among ninth-grade students. Each grade level has both a Social Emotional Learning (SEL) focus and an Equity, Inclusion and Compassionate Leadership (EICL) focus. Ninth graders learn about self-awareness and identity, and activities encourage students to develop positive social identities, understand the intricacies of multiple identities, and gain insights into their emotions, biases, and strengths. Students take the Gallup CliftonStrengths assessment and receive their top five strengths. They assess how their strengths in relationship building, strategic thinking, executing, and influencing impact the way they make choices. Using these strengths is a way for students to begin to consider their identities in tandem with others.

This January, ninth graders worked through a sequence called “Present Yourself,” where they chose a topic about themselves to present to their peers. Students chose topics about travel, their pets, life experiences, and food and offered presentations where they showed their peers something unique about themselves. Kip Wassink, the ninth-grade Grade Level Coordinator (GLC), said of this program, “Ninth grade is a big transition time; the level of responsibility is significantly higher. Some students are prepared for this and embrace it, and some are surprised. We are trying to build a program for students who are ready for more responsibility to provide opportunities and offer support and encouragement for those still navigating what it means to be in the Upper School.” Acting responsibly in a new high school setting is at the core of this Advisory program.


As students move beyond their own self-awareness, the tenth-grade Advisory experience is designed to address fundamental questions and goals of collaborative growth and community engagement. Students are encouraged to explore the dynamics of teamwork, time management, community belonging, leveraging personal strengths for collective benefit, and extending their impact beyond the school community. A key component of the tenth-grade experience is a series of service days—half-day field trips to local nonprofits. Students have traveled to Mary’s Place, Food Lifeline, Friends of Youth, and 21 Acres. In the fall, students did service projects during their orientation and returned to do service again in October. Upon returning, a group of tenth-grade students presented during an assembly.

Grade Level Coordinator Stephen Keedy said, “It’s important for tenth graders to get off campus—it’s part of our mission statement: to inspire students to create a better world by working with, meeting with, and interacting with others. It’s the only grade that gets off campus with some regularity for service.” The service begins at the fall orientation and is a theme that is continued each term. At the heart of the tenth-grade Advisory program is thinking about problem-solving and the skills necessary to do so. Students, led by their grade-level representatives, talked about the strengths they learned in ninth grade and then how they used them to problem solve. By pairing service with the EICL (Equity, Inclusion, and Compassionate Leadership) focus on diversity, students in the tenth-grade advisory delve into developing skills to engage respectfully with diverse perspectives. Simultaneously, the SEL focus on self-management equips students with essential skills such as emotion management, decision-making, problem-solving, goal setting, and perseverance, contributing to their overall personal and academic development.


The eleventh-grade Advisory program, centered around the theme “Think Critically,” aims to prompt critical thinking about improving the depth and quality of work, balancing academic and personal commitments, maintaining healthy habits and relationships, and effectively caring for others. With an EICL focus on justice, students delve into recognizing stereotypes and unfairness at individual and systemic levels and understanding the role of power and privilege in challenging injustice. Our Martin Luther King Jr. Day speaker, Andre Bradford, slam poet and author who goes by the stage name “S.C. Says,” visited campus and the eleventh graders made a point to do a follow-up conversation. Kate Lewellen, eleventh-grade GLC, says of this conversation: “They connected the speaker to the theme of social awareness and justice and talked about restorative practices at EPS. This allowed them to have a voice in community practices and talk about restoration and justice.” When students are able to connect outside speakers to their own understanding of their community, their learning is enhanced. According to Lewellen, her advisees said S.C. Says was “the best speaker and best assembly
we had all year.”

Complemented by the SEL focus on social awareness, students learn to consider others’ emotions and perspectives, contribute positively to the community, and respect human dignity and differences. This framework ensures that eleventh-grade students not only develop critical-thinking skills but also gain a deep understanding of justice issues and social awareness, contributing to their holistic growth within the school community.


The twelfth graders arrive at the pinnacle of their Advisory experience by exercising compassionate leadership on the very first day of orientation. Seniors gather in groups, make welcome signs, and stand in the parking lot to greet the youngest students on campus: the fifth graders. Together, our oldest and youngest students take a campus tour. This year, we have expanded upon this buddy system by making touchpoints throughout the year. Fifth graders wrote the twelfth graders letters wishing them luck in their senior year. They had lunch together in TMAC in the fall. They decorated cookies together before the winter holidays, and made valentines for each other in February. Anne Duffy, Grade Level Coordinator, says of this new buddy program, “The theme is compassionate leadership and the big age difference lends itself to compassion. The kids like the connection, especially the EPS Lifers (seniors who have been at EPS since fifth grade) because they can remember being fifth graders and wanting someone to look up to.” Duffy recounts how you can see the twelfth graders wave to their fifth-grade buddies around campus—and those fifth graders love looking up to the older grades.

By delving into topics like leadership styles, balancing trust and privilege with smart decision-making, and reflective thinking about the past and future, the program aims to cultivate a sense of responsibility and compassionate leadership.

The twelfth-grade Advisory program is tailored to equip students with essential leadership skills. By delving into topics like leadership styles, balancing trust and privilege with smart decision-making, and reflective thinking about the past and future, the program aims to cultivate a sense of responsibility and compassionate leadership. Students are encouraged to act as leaders in addition to learning about leadership.

In January, eight seniors offered Seminars for their peers on topics like stress management, sports leadership, and decision-making. Students actively leading each other fosters accountability and helps them collaborate for positive change. In the spring, seniors will engage in topics about life skills before heading off to college. While we don’t have eighty-four washers and dryers for them to use, we will offer them the chance to learn how to budget for food, run some interview questions, write a resume, and talk about the social pressures of college. The twelfth-grade Advisory framework is designed to prepare seniors not only as effective leaders within the school community but also as individuals capable of making a positive impact beyond its boundaries.

Working with Upper Schoolers on these four mission points, practicing life skills, and also enjoying food and games together forges a connection between faculty and their advisees. The relationships that students make with their Advisors go beyond the role of academic support and lend themselves to a deeper understanding of self. Our hope is the Upper School Advisory program can contribute significantly to the overall well-being and success of our older EPS students, equipping them with the skills and support needed to navigate the challenges of high school and beyond. At EPS, we prioritize the holistic development of students and want them to be inspired to create a better world. Our hope is to continue to tune the Advisory program to play an increasingly important role in shaping the leaders of tomorrow.