Sophomores, administration respond to bonding event
Published September 13, 2012
The administration is using student and staff input to evaluate the sophomore community building event that occurred on Aug. 27 at Palo Alto High School to determine the future of such activities.
The event featured team-bonding activities by APEX Adventures, an organization that aims to improve cooperation within companies and high schools. The administration also included an introduction to Naviance and other Paly online resources to give sophomores a head start on the college and career search process.
The administration created this event to foster bonds among sophomores and between students and their teacher advisers, according to Ann Deggelman, coordinator of the Teacher Adviser program.
What this goal achieved? Participants gave mixed responses.
Advisory Class Bonding
Many sophomores felt that they got to know their advisory group better.
“I figured out how I should deal with certain people and how I should work with them so that all our ideas get shared and valued,” sophomore Janet Hashmi said. “Personality-wise, I got to understand every person better.”
Others felt like they did not get to meet new people because most people only talked with their friends.
“Since we often had to form two groups within our advisory, everyone just grouped themselves with the friends they already had,” sophomore Caroline Young said. “So I guess I didn’t get to meet many people that I didn’t know well.”
People responded differently to the effectiveness of the activities to bond teacher advisers and advisees.
“It was better than I thought it would be,” sophomore Sabrina Goyal said. “And it’s good that they are making us do this our sophomore year because we don’t get to meet with our advisory class much.”
Goyal, who met her adviser Charlotte Harris during EXPLORE testing freshman year, said that this event helped her get to know her adviser better, especially because she does not have class with her adviser.
“I got to see how competitive my adviser [David Cohen] was and what kind of personality he has,” Hashmi said.
However, others felt that the activities did not do as much to connect them with their teacher advisers.
“We didn’t talk or bond that much during the actual activities,” sophomore Esther Doerr said. “I talked more with them when we were sitting around and at lunch, but it was interesting.”
“We mostly did things with other people in our advisory, not with our teachers,” sophomore Tara Mirmira said.
For those who did not think they knew their advisers better through these activities, the most common reason was the lack of teacher participation.
“I think that this team building is a good idea,” Young said. “But we should have more games that involve the people and the adviser more–something that requires them to work together as a whole class and talk and come up with strategies or something.”
Introduction to Naviance
Besides bonding activities, students also took a personality survey on Naviance in the computer lab and were introduced to different features of the website. They then used their results to complete a worksheet and explore future careers.
According to Deggelman, many teachers have responded positively to the computer lab part of the experience.
“The TAs and facilitators found that kids were really engaged with what they did,” Deggelman said. “Not only did they learn the layout [of Naviance], but they gained future ideas for themselves.”
Students concurred that the lab time, especially the Naviance survey, was useful for exploring their future.
“It was helpful to show all the colleges and our future careers,” Halstead said. “We set up our accounts and had a blast.”
“I’ve never really looked at Naviance before,” Mirmira agreed. “It [the personality test] is pretty accurate. It gives you a wide range of questions that you can answer so they can give you accurate results.”
Mirmira recommended the Sophomore Community Building Event for students next year. However, while she thinks more in-depth training on Naviance can help juniors and seniors, the activities would not be helpful once students already know their classes.
Future of Community Building
The administration plans to make this event a yearly tradition given enough funding, according to Deggelman.
“We would like to do this again next year if funds are available, and we have found that the community is very generous if something benefits the students,” Deggelman said. “One improvement we can make to this event is to send out schedules earlier.”
The Paly Parent-Teacher-Student Association funded this event, which costs $15,000, as part of its budget for improving connections between students and teachers.
“We hoped that students would get to know their TAs better and feel that they are approachable,” PTSA President Rebecca Fox said. “And equally important, we wanted TAs to get to know their students better. The feedback we’ve received from TAs were extremely enthusiastic. We would like to continue funding for this next year.”
According to Fox, PTSA funding for special events like these is fairly common.
“As long as we are convinced it benefits a large number of students, we try to say ‘yes’,” Fox said.
On Aug. 28, journalism students asked Heidi Emberling, candidate for the upcoming School Board elections, for her opinions on this event. She recognized it as a site-specific way of increasing touchpoints for students by helping them to get to know their advisers better, but she recommended student input be put into consideration to improve the event.
“It’s good to have sophomores or past juniors on the planning committee,” Heidi Emberling said. “It give them ownership of the event. If they planned it themselves, they are more like to enjoy it.”
Deggleman said that there is a possibility that this kind of event would develop to include other classes beyond the sophomores.
“When we talked initially, we said that if this succeeded, we may expand it,” Deggelman said. “Other schools I’ve talked to [that used APEX Adventures] have expanded their programs.”
According to Deggelman, the goal of APEX activities was mainly to get students to connect with each other.
“In this school we have many social people,” Deggelman said. “But there are also quieter ones who need an opportunity like this to connect with other students.”
APEX activities included A-Frame Race, Amazing Maze, Pipeline, Calculator and Centipede.
“We chose a mix of activities, some more physical and some more cerebral so there can be a different opportunity to different people with different strengths on teams to contribute at different times,” APEX Adventures President Shaw Dunton said. “This is a good balance: there is enough physicality for some people who want that, and there is enough problem solving for people who like that.”
“It’s not all about strengths academically or physically,” Deggelman said. “We need team players from all areas to reach success.”
One of the most popular activities was the Pipeline, which involved students trying to transfer a golf ball from one end of the line to another using half-pipes that they put together.
“It was fun because you got to make a sort of rolly thing-y and keep running across to the end to keep the line going,” Young said. “Although I feel like the Calculator and Centipede Walk required more teamwork, they weren’t as fun in terms of games.”
Another popular activity is the A-Frame Race, in which one student stand on top of the A-Frame and command teammates to move the frame by pulling on ropes.
“[The A-Frame Race] was the best because it involves everyone in the activity,” sophomore Conrad Jones said.
“Extreme teamwork,” teammate Harry Halsted agreed. “Team Cohen won by 5 seconds.”
Dunton felt that they had accomplished their goal of helping people build connections.
“There were these two girls,” Dunton said. “Earlier they said they were meeting each other. Later in the day, I saw them at an activity, and they were high-fiving each other like ‘we just did something that was awesome.’”
While some advisers participated in the activities, others preferred to watch and let their advisees work together by themselves.
“My advisees are having a good time,” Teacher Adviser Jack Bungarden said at the event. “They seem to have it figured out. They’re doing a fine job getting together and sorting things out.”
At the end of the activities, students on Team Cohen received ribbons for third place with 930 points, while Team Guerard won second prize with 940 points. Team Chute won first with 980 points. As the APEX activities leader distributed the blue ribbons, Teacher Adviser Dianne Chute and her advisees erupted into cheers.
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