Straight Outta Ulmer: Freshman Community Groups

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Straight Outta Ulmer: Freshman Community Groups

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When walking into Freshmen Community Groups, students see a helpful teacher awaiting their arrival alongside snack baskets which are put out by these leaders offering food such as goldfish and pringles. Desks are in a tight group with students from different academic experiences. As similar goals, tribulations, and snacks are passed around, students find comfort within an inclusive environment of students.

These Freshmen Community Groups, an active organization providing connection among students, were created by Mrs. Cussen, the guidance counsellor of the San Jose campus.

Although the administrative staff’s efforts to prevent any anxiety regarding school have been recognized, many students were skeptical of the groups because of their past experiences with bonding activities. Although Sage Kaye (22”) enjoyed the activities, she admitted she was skeptical about the groups beforehand.

Camden Pao, a new student to Bolles and a freshmen on the San Jose Campus, also commented on his doubts saying, “I will admit I was a little skeptical of the groups at first because I thought it was somewhat of a waste of time […] But now, while I’m still a little skeptical, I enjoy the groups because it gives a kind of mental break, to look over your own progress throughout the school year.”

The fifteen faculty leaders of the Freshman Community Groups all volunteered to advise students of issues including time management, multitasking, and emotional control. After being asked if she received positive reactions from teachers before the first Freshmen Community Group, Mrs. Marks states, “Yes, yes they all volunteered. The facilitators are all volunteer facilitators, people that were really interested in this kind of work.”

However, some students had negative reactions to the groups, Freshmen Sophie Grace Posick and Sage Kaye both wondered if the FCG had the potential of preventing time to do homework.

In responding to students’ concerns about lost homework time, Mrs. Marks points out in an email that, “[The administration] was cognizant of that fact when we scheduled the meetings only once every other week rather than weekly.”

Cussen’s Summer Experience

Over the summer, Mrs. Cussen went to a workshop for The Institute For Social And Emotional Learning at Holton Arms School in Bethesda, Maryland. When describing her experience at the series of conferences held by a team of instructors at the school, Mrs. Cussen said, “…facilitators just come and stay at the school and then they do a training for about a week.”

As a facilitator at the conference, she was informed of possible bonding activities among students. While at the conference, she also received a binder with activities whose purpose are to build community, foster empathy, and help with self-awareness. While Mrs. Cussen selects activities from these binders, FCG leaders have the power to select activities which they feel will help their group of selected students feel more comfortable.

To form the groups, Mrs. Marks, Upper School Principal, aided in the grouping process as she sorted female and male equally, assigning them a random letter while checking to see if the freshmen new to Bolles were divided equally into groups. These letters designated the Freshmen Community Groups.  

According to Mrs. Marks and Mrs. Cussen, days were assigned as regularly as possible to avoid confusion. They usually meet on Mondays every other week.

Mr. Drew, San Jose’s new Associate Head Of School expresses his opinion on the FCG saying, “In my opinion, it’s really important for students to have a positive experience in school [in order] to achieve the way they want to and the way the school wants them to academically they need to have a strong sense of community.”

Alexis Metzger, a freshman on the San Jose Campus points out she felt welcomed into the school as a result of the Freshmen Community Groups. She notes, “You feel more inclined to talk about how you’re feeling [.] You feel more comfortable to talk about how you’re feeling.”

Mr. Stam, a leader of a Freshmen Community Group with 14 students, reiterated, “[Freshmen] are in your silos, you’re very alone, but you have to realize you’re not.”. Stam stated, “For the first eight years I worked here, I taught freshmen.” His attachment to freshmen urged him to host one of these groups despite teaching English and other electives for upperclassmen.

Freshmen Community Groups organize all freshmen together on specific dates and times not unlike past attempts at bonding students through small group discussions. In earlier years, however, small group discussions featured after convocations. Mrs. Ashman, the director of cultural competence on the San Jose Campus and an academic advisor who conducted small group activities in the past remarked in an email, “In small groups students are more willing to participate in discussion and discuss their experiences, knowledge, and opinions about the subject matter when they are comfortable with the students in their group.”

Mrs. Ashman, “The students who do not know each other and are not aware of a particular stance on a subject matter are less likely to fully participate and engage in discussion”.

In remarking about the first FCG meeting Mrs. Marks recognized, “[Freshmen Group Leaders] said it was a little tentative at first.” While describing her experience as a participant in the first freshmen community group meeting, freshmen Sage Kaye thought, “No one was really interested, not really. We were all kind of tired.” Although Camden Pao enjoyed the activities within the groups which overviewed students’ progress in school during the first meeting.

The success of the program is unknown to the administrators at this time, but Mrs. Marks revealed that the results of the program will determine if it stays or not. This success or failure is determined by both students and leaders’ attachment to the groups. Leaders also have the power to evaluate their students’ likes and dislikes within the groups. Mrs. Cussen wrote in an email, “I have encouraged leaders to ask the students if they liked the activity and would they enjoy doing it again.” According to Mrs. Marks, administrators will review the success of the program at various checkpoints in the year to see if they should extend the Freshmen Community Groups to other awaiting 8th graders in later years.


FCG leaders work to make students feel comfortable within each specialized Freshmen Community Group. In aiding students’ social and academic abilities, facilitators enable young people to evolve into resilient pupils. Leaders include…
Ryan Brewer

Beth Curran

Erin DuChanois

Lauren Genduso

Chris Gebauer

Tiffany Gonzalez

Katherine Halloran

Jimmy Kreis

Laura Lane

Robin Mendelson

Mike Mulvey

Steven Stam

Beth Stone

Melissa Tyler

Jeff Yeakel

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