Starting a new school in your senior year would be daunting for any student, but starting at a new boarding school in your senior year during a global pandemic would be even harder. That's exactly what Sam Schonfeld, from Ottawa, faced in August 2020 when he arrived early for Grade 12 at Rothesay Netherwood School (RNS).
"I had to quarantine because I was coming to the school from Ontario," says Schonfeld. On his first day out of his mandatory 14-day quarantine he met Kayla Blackmore, RNS Director of Athletics. “One of my hockey teammates and I were walking to the gym as she was leaving. I introduced myself and she was really friendly,” he says.
For Schonfeld, Blackmore would become more than just a friendly RNS faculty member, she would become his Advisor. Rothesay Netherwood School's Advisor Program gives every student – boarding and day students alike – individual support both inside and outside the classroom. The Advisor is the student's advocate, champion and mentor; someone who helps with everything from goal setting and time management to good decision-making and developing positive relationships.
“For me, it’s like having a parent here. It’s really nice knowing there is someone there who always has your back,” says Schonfeld.Family Away From Home
In Middle School, the students’ Advisor is their homeroom teacher. In Senior School, students are part of an Advisor Group of 7-10 peers who meet daily with the RNS faculty member who is their Advisor. The meetings allow students to create a diverse, steady group of peers who often become great friends.
“At bigger schools, you might only hang out with kids in your own grade,” says Schonfeld. “In our Advisor Groups, we develop a sense of community. One week the Grade 9 students might have a lot of work and the Grade 12 students are helping them out," he says. "It's almost like having younger siblings...we all get along. It's a really good group of friends who turn into family."
And, of course, Blackmore also helps Schonfeld stay on course with his studies too. "As a student who plays prep hockey, sometimes I get a little bit distracted and she's always there to keep me focused on my schoolwork," he says. "It’s been really helpful – this is the best I've ever done in school."
Daily Meetings Make a Difference
Over the summer, Advisors spend time researching the students they’ll be matched with – concentrating on interests, strengths, struggles, and goals the students have for their time at RNS. A student's relationship with their Advisor continues outside the classroom. Many Advisors host events, like going out for a dinner and a movie or inviting their Advisor Group over to bake at their home. Advisors attend games and other important activities, cheering them on. They also regularly touch base with their student's parents.
"We’re an extension of their houseparent for a lot of our boarders,” says Kayla Blackmore, Sam Schonfeld's Advisor. “We're that initial point of contact if they have things that they need or anything they want to talk about. We’re a confidant for them."
RNS Grade 11 day student Jill Finnegan says the Advisor Program “is especially nice on the first day of school because your Advisor Group introduces you to other students in a small, less intimidating way compared to the big homeroom class I was used to at my other high school."
In Finnegan's case, her Advisor is her biology teacher, Anna Simonds. Simonds says she's taken the skills she's learned from forming deeper relationships with students as an Advisor and applies them to her teaching.
"Being an Advisor really does enhance my teaching style and my teaching ability because I understand that there is much more going on in their lives than just sitting in my biology class,” says Simonds. “You really get to know about them outside of the classroom. It’s a lot more than understanding just how they are as students academically, it’s about understanding and appreciating who they are as people.”
Many schools offer a mentorship practice, but few are as comprehensive and meaningful as the one at RNS. It's one of the things Blackmore says really makes the school stand out.
"The RNS Advisor Program is one of our unique features. We're one of the only schools with an advisor program that meets every day," she says. "We really strive to ensure that every young person in our school has a trusted adult they can go to for support."
Without the RNS Advisor Program experience, both Finnegan and Schonfeld say their student experience would have been different.
"I feel like I wouldn’t be able to express my concerns or ask questions as easily or have the same opportunity to get to know different peers and staff members as well," says Finnegan. "My Advisor makes me feel like I have a group I can always go to where I feel comfortable. Without it, I would probably feel much more on my own."
His daily check-ins with Blackmore and his Advisor Group is something Sam Schonfeld looks forward to. “I know for me, it's always my favourite part of the day," he says.
"When I wake up in the morning, even if I have a tough load of classes that day, I still know I get to start the day off with a lot of my good friends. It's very comforting and it makes you feel like you're at home when you're at school."
Learn More on an RNS Virtual Open House
For more information about the RNS Advisor Program and how it will benefit your child, join RNS for a Virtual Open House taking place on Wednesday, March 31
from 7-8 pm ADT
or Wednesday, April 14
from 9-10 am ADT
. Registration is available at rns.cc