The Place Where Everybody Knows Your Name: How Severn Facilitates the Start of New Chapters for Students

Severn is more than just a place where students learn.
It’s a place where they are celebrated, consoled, supported, challenged, and encouraged. It’s a place where lifelong friendships are born. It’s a place where the entire family is known and valued, not just the student. There is undoubtedly robust and challenging learning, but there is so much more – joy, triumph, connection – that happens at Severn precisely because it is so much more than just a physical location where students learn. And that is because Severn is more than just a place of learning. It’s a community.

The philosopher and theologian Jean Vanier was quoted as saying, “One of the marvelous things about community is that it enables us to welcome and help people in a way we couldn’t as individuals.”

There may be no better example within Severn of the power of community in helping and welcoming others than in how those all-important transitions are marked and managed. Whether it’s a new student coming into Severn, current students who are making the exciting – and potentially anxiety-inducing –change from one division to the next, or seniors graduating and leaving Severn to start a new chapter, these transitions are thoughtfully considered, planned for, acknowledged, and celebrated in ways that only a true community could.

You’re an Admiral Now

For new students, the Severn introduction begins well before they experience their first day of school. Once a new student is accepted and enrolled, the family is invited to their respective campus in the spring for a welcome event. On the Chesapeake Campus, this means a fun outdoor picnic where new families can interact with Lower School teachers and one another. On the Teel Campus, Severn hosts two separate welcome events, one for new ninth-graders – typically the largest group of new students -- and one for all new middle school students, including the rising sixth graders coming up from the Lower School. It's an evening event where students are encouraged to get to know one another through various games and ice-breaker activities. Current Severn upperclassmen lead many of the activities. Before the night is over, students who had been strangers just a few hours before are invariably posing together in photos, following each other on social media, and exchanging numbers so they can keep in touch. And their parents are doing the same thing, albeit with fewer selfies and more carpool conversations.

Anna Mescher ’27, a new ninth-grader who attended the welcome event, enjoyed the experience. "My favorite part was meeting other incoming 9th grade students and connecting with them through social media," she said. "The current Severn students leading my group also helped make me feel welcomed."
At both events, the new family members had the opportunity to mingle while the students were engaged in games and activities on another part of campus. "From the very start of the admission process, we make a point to convey the strength of the Severn community to prospective families," said Kim Slade, Director of Enrollment Management and Outreach. “Once they enroll, we want them to know that they’re all Admirals now.”

Transition to Teel – in Two Parts

Another significant adjustment for current students is when they are promoted to the sixth grade and move up to Severn's Teel Campus. This is why, long before that occurs, fifth graders are gradually introduced to their new learning environment. Part one of the exposure to the Upper School begins during the first week of school, as groups of fifth graders are toured around campus immediately following Convocation, the first all-school assembly. Early in the fall[SK1] , each fifth grader also has the opportunity to do a class visit to the Middle School, while parents of fifth graders are invited on a student-led tour. For many, this visit is the first one to Severn’s Teel Campus. Fifth graders conclude their year with a field trip to the Zimmerman Library each spring, where they are introduced to the expanded resources available to them once they are in Middle School.
The intentionality around supporting this particular group of young learners continues once they become sixth-graders. The Middle School leadership and faculty recognize their responsibility to develop and deliver learning experiences that address the developmental needs of this age group. Their charge is essential – to deliver a school program that meets the needs of incoming sixth-graders and effectively guides them into seventh and eighth grade with the intellectual skills, strong character, and overall wellness required to succeed.
“Incoming sixth-graders step onto Teel Campus with an influx of new classmates, a newfound independence, and high academic expectations, all while managing the dramatic physical and emotional changes of adolescence,” said Dan Keller, Head of Severn’s Middle School. “The best thing to do is acknowledge all of this and help them to get comfortable and develop the skills they need to manage the spirited growth that happens at this age.”

Our solution: Transition to Teel, a purposeful set of sixth-grade enrichment courses designed to support the growth of students. The curriculum includes study skills, health and wellness, design thinking, and grammar and composition. Every sixth-grade student rotates between these enrichment courses throughout the school year.

“Through Transition to Teel, I learned important study skills,” said Janie ’28. “This was especially helpful in studying for tests, and I felt less stressed. I also learned how to send an email to an adult, which made communicating with my teachers much easier.”

Middle Schoolers No More

Becoming a high schooler is another milestone for students, and even though grades 6-12 are on the same campus, this is still a significant change. To aid in this transition, students entering ninth grade must participate in a Freshman Retreat that happens just before the start of the school year. This two-day event is designed to help students acclimatize to the Upper School. It includes outdoor team building, get-to-know-you activities, and a group dinner. These activities are followed by Orientation on campus the next day. Prefects are paired with advisories, and together with the advisors, they lead their groups on campus tours, share more about the Upper School culture, and help incoming ninth-grade students get comfortable with their new daily routines and responsibilities.

Prefects then continue to support the advisories throughout the rest of the year. Their role is important, as they can offer ninth-graders a peer-based perspective on navigating student life in high school.

For Upper School students new to Severn, there is one more step as well. They are invited to a family meeting with Steve Soden, Upper School Head; Marc Buckley, Assistant Upper School Head and Dean of Students; or Sidra Smith, Director of Studies. During this session, the new students' academic and extracurricular interests are reviewed, and preliminary class schedules are discussed. Mostly, though, it affords new Severn families dedicated time with the Upper School administration, allowing them to ask questions, share concerns, and learn more about what to expect as the new school year approaches.

Known and Valued

In addition to all of these thoughtfully designed programs, initiatives, and events, there is yet another layer of activity taking the well-being of each student into consideration. Behind the scenes, the Division Heads meet each spring to talk about how to best assist the incoming class – both as a group and as individuals. These meetings help ensure that students are placed in the advisory that is the best fit and that they are supported appropriately in the new division.

Students new to Severn benefit from these internal reviews as well, only this time, it's the Admission Counselors who meet with the Division team. They can offer insights that inform advisory placement based on their meaningful interactions with each student during the admission process. Investing time to architect advisories with complementary interests and skill sets is another way that the Severn community provides the warmest welcome possible and sets each student up for success.

From Students to Alums

As exciting and celebratory as high school graduation is, it can be bittersweet as it marks the end of an era for graduates, which is why the Office of Alumni Affairs has developed a way to honor this final transition for students. Days before the seniors take that final walk across the stage as students, they are invited to a lunch hosted by the Admiral Alumni Association. There, they are officially welcomed into the ranks of Admiral alums. On the way in, they sign a special alumni book, marking in ink the end of one phase and the beginning of their new identity as Admiral alums. Students at this lunch are also encouraged to write a letter to themselves that will be returned at their five-year reunion.

All alums also have access to a professional networking tool (Severn Connect) and are invited to meet up with fellow alums at social events in a variety of locations or to get involved in any number of mentoring opportunities.

In a place of learning where the population is ever-changing, culture becomes the defining feature. And Severn’s abiding values, long-standing traditions, and thoughtful transitions that extend from early school to the twelfth grade have created – to borrow from Vanier – a marvelous community that is helping and welcoming people in ways that no single individual could ever do alone.

Lower School

Upper School