Oak Hill promotes ‘family’ concept

Oak Hill teacher Dee Cooper’s “family” eats their Thanksgiving meal together in the school’s cafeteria on Thursday.

The cafeteria at Oak Hill Academy was near capacity on Thursday for the school’s Thanksgiving meal, but something was different about the layout of this year’s event.

Each table featured signs bearing names such as “Cooper’s Troopers” and the “Cravenator Family” and saw students organized into small “families.”

The concept is the brainchild of Oak Hill school counselor Frances Dawkins, who recognized a need for some students who may not be involved in any of the traditional groups offered through the school.

“We noticed we had some students who they might not have been the athletes, they were not necessarily top of the class or extroverts in the middle of all the activities and things going on, but we felt like they didn’t make a connection with any teacher or maybe even not a lot of other students,” Dawkins said. “So instead of just creating another group or organization and offering it to them to join, we decided to create mini ‘families’ within the school.”

Each individual family features one student from sixth grade to 12th grade, with the idea of mixing students together who otherwise would not have the opportunity to get to know each other, or have a closer bond with their teachers.

Dawkins said families range from nine to 10 members and are headed up by a teacher who serves as the family “leader.”

“We meet on activities schedule every other week and the families meet together and we have family challenges where they have to all work together as a family group to compete to win a prize,” Dawkins said.

The most recent family challenge came this week, with students decorating their family leader’s door in the spirit of Christmas.

Dawkins said during Halloween, the groups had a family-focused Halloween contest, with groups dressing in costumes that showed they were families. Just a few of the ideas saw students dress as cave men, Thanksgiving, the Griswold family and Star Wars, among others.

“The kids have really enjoyed it and some of the students we were really reaching out to have come back and asked if we are going to do it next year because it’s a lot of fun,” Dawkins said.
While students have shown a genuine interest in the new concept, Dawkins said teachers have also bought into the idea and expressed the benefits.

“We’ve had some teachers that are going above and beyond on this,” Dawkins said. “We’ve had teachers that have called their families in during lunch and ordered pizza, so the teachers are really buying into it and I think it has been beneficial not only for the students but the teachers, as well.”

The family dynamic also has an academic component, with students grouped together also offering the opportunity for older students to help younger scholars when they run into difficulties with course work.

“Because we have sixth graders through 12th graders in every family, we had older students who can help the younger students if they need help in math or English,” Dawkins said. “It is also a time when students can discuss any problems that they might be having, from every standpoint - academically, socially and emotionally.”

Dawkins said the idea for the family concept was inspired by a need and not derived from another school, which also fit into the family atmosphere promoted at Oak Hill Academy.

While the entire school is viewed as the large family by faculty and administration, developing smaller families within the bigger body proved a successful tool in connecting students and faculty.

On the heels of the success from the first semester of the “family” system, Dawkins said the school will continue it through the end of the school year and possibly on from there.

“We all agreed to go in to a faculty meeting and discussed the idea and the teachers were very willing to help and see how it went,” Dawkins said. “We were going to do it for this semester, then in December decide whether we thought we were successful with the program.”

Dawkins said faculty met last week and all agreed the program would be continued.

“The students actually have stopped us in the hallways to ask if we are going to do this next year,” Dawkins said. “I think that we’re going to let this year play out and continue, as second semester comes along we will try some different types of activities and make some plans for next year.”