Upper School Welcome
Mr. Nathan Stevens
Welcome to the 2012-13 school year. I wanted to take the time to not only
welcome you back to Hilton Head Prep, but to also share with you some
things that we have been working on and give you a glimpse into how these
initiatives relate to our overall direction as a community of learners. More
specifically, I would like you to know how they relate to your day-to-day
At this time I would also like to formally welcome two new faculty members
to our division: Dr. Bassett, who will be teaching in our English department,
and Mrs. Jacobs, who will be teaching Science and Math.
I think that it is important for you to get a glimpse into the dialogue the
faculty of the upper school have been having over the past year. We have
really tried to focus on “challenging the status quo.” This focus can be
boiled down to asking the question, why do we do what we do? Why do we
have senior speeches? Why do we have an advisory program? Does our
detention system actually work in changing student behavior? While these
questions seem to have a negative tone to them, we are also asking questions
that are more proactive in nature. What if we had more student input into
our cell phone policy? What if we created an advisory program that had a
more purposeful direction? What if our students truly felt that they were a
part of a community of learners? It is on this last question that we have
chosen to focus our efforts.
So what is a community of learners? At the beginning of the summer we
created an alumni survey that asked our alums from the last ten years to give
us some feedback as to how prepared they were for their college experience.
As we reviewed their responses, a number of themes clearly came to the
fore. One of these themes was that Hilton Head Prep was a community.
One alum said, “A great, nurturing environment. A school based in
community and rooted in family.” Another shared, “Hilton Head Prep is a
home away from home. The small school created an intimate setting to learn
The idea of community is embedded in the fabric of who we are as an
institution. We are all “known” on some level. We have risen up in support
of one another through great tragedy. We are classmates, teammates, and
friends. One of the things that became clear through a review of the surveys
was the power of the relationships that were developed between student and
teacher. As I reviewed these surveys I began to personally reflect on my
high school experience. I graduated from Lake Stevens High School in Lake
Stevens, Washington in 1994. I began thinking about the relationships that I
developed during my time as a student. It became clear to me that I also had
relationships with my teachers. They certainly did have my best interest at
heart but there was something missing. I began to reflect on the limitations
that were embedded in my personal high school experience. I felt that I was
known but not really part of something bigger. My teachers knew I was an
athlete but rarely watched me compete. My teachers understood my
interests but rarely fed my passions. My teachers recognized my potential
but never challenged me to deal with my “fixed mindset.” It is one thing to
be recognized; it is entirely different to be “known.” It is as a member of a
community that one becomes connected to something bigger and is
challenged to reach beyond self-imposed limitations.
What does this all mean? What are the opportunities that we have as a
community of learners? As a true community we have the opportunity to
flatten the hierarchy. This means that we can all be invested in the
betterment of the institution by being part of the dialogue. We do not have
to traverse a maze of structures that are ultimately controlled by the
nebulous “others.” I do not know how many of you watched the TV show
“Lost.” The basic premise of the story was that a plane crashed on an island
that seemed to have a life of its own. There was a power at work that the
castaways could not fully understand or come to control. Throughout their
turbulent journey, the new inhabitants of the island realize that there is
another faction on the island called the “others.” This group seems to fully
understand the dynamic of the island and consistently takes advantage of the
ignorance of the new inhabitants. During the first few seasons there are
significant self-imposed limitations that are created as the group strives for
self preservation. While I am sure that there are much more powerful
representations of the impact of the “others” on the actions of a community,
I believe that this example provides a fitting depiction of a community that
becomes paralyzed by outside forces. A community that is paralyzed in this
way seems to choose self- preservation over challenging the status quo. A
community that is paralyzed in this way has survival as its mission and
cannot see past their self imposed boundaries. A community that is
paralyzed in this way struggles to respond to the inevitable needs of the
The upper school at Hilton Head Prep is a pliable community that is working
to “challenge the status quo” in way that will benefit you as the student. One
area that we focused on over the summer is our advisory program. As we
reflected on this component of our program we determined that we needed
to consider creating a structure that had a clear purpose and was focused on
building a community of learners through flattening the hierarchy by
fostering deep relationships. As we were working through this discussion
and reviewing the alumni surveys, it became evident that the relationships
developed between teacher and student were a foundational component of
the Hilton Head Prep experience. It was with this quality in mind that we
began to work through a process that would help us to support and
accentuate the development of relationships in a mission-driven advisory
program. I would like to share this mission with you right now:
Hilton Head Preparatory School’s Upper School Advisory Program
supports students’ personal, social, and academic growth through building
and maintaining meaningful rapport with advisors who serve as advocates
in a community that challenges them to engage and reflect.
While this may seem like a flowery statement that should be filed away
somewhere and used as a marketing tool, we as a faculty believe that there
are some extremely important components of this message that help us to
continue to develop as a community of learners. There are two particular
statements that I would like to highlight. The first statement is in a
community that challenges one another to engage and reflect. Words have a
tendency to mean everything and nothing depending on how we choose to
identify with them. Dr. Bruce Perry, M.D., Ph.D., the Senior Fellow of The
Child Trauma Academy (www.ChildTrauma.org) in Houston and an
Adjunct Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at the Feinberg
School of Medicine of Northwestern University in Chicago, makes the
following statement as it relates to the impact of words:
Words are merely sounds until they become associated with an object
or an action or a feeling. And the way sounds come to have meaning
is through repetitive exposure to spoken language in context of a
While this quote has specific relevance to child development, it is the
statement, words are merely sounds until they become associated with an
object or an action or a feeling, that is germane to our current discussion.
The question then becomes what actions or feelings can we attach to the idea
that we are a community that challenges all its members to engage and
reflect. What structures are needed to ensure that this challenge is received
not as judgment of ones current state but encouragement to develop a clear
sense of self and translate this personal reflection into an engagement for the
The second statement that I would like to highlight is advisors who serve as
advocates. In order for our advisory structure to support the development of
our community of learners, the advisors have to be engaged in a deeper level
of advocacy. This advocacy is founded in a depth of relationship guided by
a clear understanding of the collective mores and the individual needs.
Advocacy is not passive. As I looked through a number of resources for a
definition of advocacy, it was the definition provided by Dictionary.com that
most resonated with me (sorry Mrs. Hudak), the act of pleading for,
supporting, or recommending; active espousal. Pleading and active
espousal are clearly dynamic in nature. A group of people that challenges
and advocates for the whole, as well as the needs of the individual, will only
serve to highlight the foundational components of “community” that were
clearly described in our alumni surveys.
Advocacy for engagement and reflection. To what aim? Why should any of
us make the choice to invest in this experience? What do we gain? This
level of advocacy, engagement, and reflection will challenge us all to
growth. This is where the true distinction between my personal high school
experience and what we have the opportunity to be part of here at Hilton
Head Prep becomes clearly evident. I had no advocate who challenged me
to be part of something larger. I was never challenged to be engaged past a
surface level. I was never challenged to reflect on my role as it relates to
growth as an individual with responsibilities within a community. While the
philosophical underpinnings of our Prep community are clearly relevant, it is
in the application of these ideas to our personal lives that provides the
opportunity for growth.
And now to the practical.
As we began to review our advisory program it became clear that our current
structure would not be sufficient if our desire was to support our new
mission. So what are the specific changes that will help us to more
successfully move forward:
• Advisories will be mixed-grade except 9th grade students, who are
• We will consider “grandfathering” in the Senior advisory groups that
have been in place for the last three years. If you are a Senior and
prefer to stay with your advisor from last year, feel free to
communicate that when we move forward with the selection process.
• Our focus is on the group dynamic that will aid in your holistic
growth during the academic year.
• We want to match the proper groups with the proper advisors.
• We appreciate and will utilize your contributions to place you in an
• This will allow us to put you in the best situation possible.
So what is your role?
• You are investing in the process to help the US community.
• It is important for you to invest in this process because your initiative
will influence your academic year.
• Lastly, if you feel fervently about not being placed with a particular
faculty member or peer, please schedule a meeting with Mr. Stevens.
How is this going to happen?
1. Friday, August 17 - Introduction to changes and goals
2. Friday, August 24 - Fill out Advisor Request Form in class meetings
3. Weekend of August 24 - Faculty group assigns advisors
4. Tuesday, August 28 - First formal day of advisory
It is extremely important for you, as students, to engage in this process. You
have a group of faculty members who have worked to create a structure to
support the development of our community of learners. This is your
opportunity to help us to help you. We cannot guarantee that your specific
desires will be granted, but what we can guarantee is that we will work very
hard to establish groups that will serve your particular needs and help you
establish a relationship with an advocate whose aim to is to challenge you to
be a contributing member of the community.
I have a few other announcements:
The first thing that I would like for you to consider is the atmosphere in the
media center. This is truly a place where we as a JK-12 community merge
together. There is a natural challenge with this facility due to the fact that
we do not have a defined location for a student commons. It is the blending
of purposes that creates an atmosphere that at times can get in the way of the
needs of individuals within our community. What I would ask is that you
consider the atmosphere that is needed for that location to become one of
purpose. If you simply desire to interact with your peers, please find an
alternative location for these conversations. Mrs. Keyes will be outlining
some specific expectations that will help us to support all members of our
community. It will be important that we all respond to these expectations.
Teacher Cadet Program:
• Another way we're trying to create a true community of learners in the
• Opportunity for our juniors and seniors to work with faculty members
and freshmen and sophomores in the classroom to improve each
other's skill sets
• Cadets will serve as instructional assistants to faculty members and
role models to peers. They do not simply make copies. They will
NOT assign grades. Cadets serve as another resource in the classroom
and community to aid in the development of your academic mindset.
• This is not a make copies type of thing—it is a for-credit elective with
an application process.
• If you are accepted and we can find a match with an instructor, you
will have weekly responsibilities and create a portfolio of work that
will then be presented to the entire US faculty at the end of the year
and you will also write a synthesis paper reflecting on your
observations and growth during the year.
• Again, this is a for-credit elective with a pretty substantial number of
• If you're interested in partnering with us and committing to help all of
us grow, there is a meeting today in Mr. VanGronigen's room (407) at
break where you can pick up an application.