A Guide to Family Group

The Superintendency of Alternative, Adult and Continuing Education, Schools and Programs


The New York City Department of Education

Youth Development Institute

121 Avenue of the Americas

New York, NY 10013

Table of Contents


I.     How This Publication was Developed and How To Use It 

         Family Group Task Force

II.    Background and Rationale for Family Group

         Mission Statement and Outcomes

         What is Family Group? 

         Why Family Group?


III. The Importance of Family Group

         Benefits to Principals/Leaders, Students & Teachers

IV.  School-Based Supports for Family Group

V.  Stages of Family Group 

VI.  Family Group Constructs/Activities

About the Fund for the City of New York

About the Youth Development Institute


The Guide to Family Group was created by the Superintendency of Alternative, Adult and Continuing Education, Schools and Programs during a year-long series of working meetings facilitated by the Youth Development Institute of the Fund for the City of New York. The project came about through the invitation of the Superintendent�s Office to develop materials that would help to strengthen Family Group, which has long been a key component of the alternative schools.

This Guide is designed to be accompanied by staff development and additional materials. A 12-minute video tape has been developed by the Educational Video Center to complement the Guide.

We wish to acknowledge the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation which provided the core financial support for conducting this project. Chris Sturgis has been an enthusiastic and wise program officer.

Critical to the success of this project has been the vision and support of Richard Organisciak, the Superintendent of Alternative High Schools and Programs, and Alan Werner, Deputy Superintendent. Elayna Konstan, Assistant Administrative Superintendent, has played a critical role each step of the way in supporting this project. A list of the staff who developed the content for the project appears on the introductory letter.

The project was facilitated by the Youth Development Institute:

          Jessica Mates, Deputy Director

          Marsha Milan-Bethel, Project Assistant

          Pardeice Powell-McGoy, Training Director

          Jean Thomases, Consultant

The photographs in this publication were taken by Jasmine Cruz (pages: 10, 15, 18, 22) and Michael Kamber (pages: cover, 4-5, 12-13, 14, 18, 21, 24, 26). We wish to thank the students and staff of Unity High School and Satellite Academy for their cooperation in obtaining these photographs.

Thanks to all.

Peter Kleinbard, Vice President, Fund for the City of New York and Director, the Youth Development Institute

Family Group Task Force

Elayna Konstan  
Assistant Administrative Superintendent

Maria Giacone
Director of Instruction

Madeline Falk
Supervisor Spark

Melody Kellogg
Pupil Personnel Services Counselor

Amy Mulvihill
Assistant Principal Special Education

Office of the Superintendent
of Alternative, Adult and
Continuing Education

45-18 Court Square
Long Island City, NY 11101

RoseMarie Arons

Social Worker

Bronx Regional High School 1010 Rev. J. A. Polite Avenue Bronx, NY 10459

Alan Baratz


Satellite Academy 120 West 30 Street New York, NY 10001

Josephine Carson

Assistant Principal

Program for Pregnant and Parenting Teens 22 East 128th Street New York, NY 10035

Mark Chenault

Assistant Principal

Edward A. Reynolds West Side High School 140 West 102 Street New York, NY 10025

Shirley Edwards


EBC/HS For Public Service/Bushwick 1155 DeKalb Avenue Brooklyn, New York 11221

Steve Goodman

Executive Director

Educational Video Center 120 West 30th Street New York, NY 10001

Gertrude Karabas


New School for Arts and Sciences730 Bryant Avenue Bronx, NY 10474

Kathe Karlson

Social Worker

CASES: Community Preparatory School 67-69 Schermerhorn Street Brooklyn, NY 11201

Nancy Mann


Fannie Lou Hamer 1021 Jennings Street Bronx, NY 10460

Patricia Martin

Assistant Principal

Program for Pregnant and Parenting Services22 East 128 Street New York, NY 10035

Nick Mazzarella


Park East High School230 East 105 Street New York, NY 10029

Allen C. Nilsen


Concord High School109 Rhine Avenue Staten Island, New York 10304

Vivian Orlen


Landmark High School220 West 58th Street New York, NY 10019

Sheila Richards


East New York Family Academy2057 Linden Boulevard Brooklyn, NY 11207

Lilit Suffet

Assistant Principal

Project BLEND (Bronx)470 Jackson Avenue Bronx, NY 10455

Maritza Tamayo


Unity High School121 Avenue of the Americas, 4th Floor New York, NY 10013

Camilla Saly

Staff Developer

Alternative, Adult and Continuing Education Schools and Programs 45-18 Court Square, LIC, NY 11101

German Arregui


Liberty High School 250 West 18th Street, New York, NY 10011

Background and Rationale for Family Group

Mission Statement

Family Group supports and strengthens student academic, social and emotional functioning by developing the relationship between young people and the school and building a positive school culture.


Family Group improves student outcomes by strengthening student engagement and performance of the tasks
that are essential for completion for high school and transition to college and careers. Outcomes of Family Group are:

Improved relationships between students and adults, and among students

Greater student engagement and sense of belonging to the school community.

Personal skills & decision-making

          More informed decision-making about school courses, college and careers.

          Increased ability to examine alternatives and make decisions.

          Stronger orientation toward the future.

Interpersonal skills

          Heightened ability to communicate feelings, ideas and to clarify values.

          Greater respect for other students and adults.

          Improved ability to challenge stereotypes.

          Improved ability to develop trusting relationships.

Relationships with families

Increased and improved communication between families, schools and students.

What is Family Group?

It is through Family Group that we establish the bonds needed to create a feeling of belonging and reinforce the school's values. We believe that this sense of belonging results in increased student success.

Sue-Ann Rosch, Satellite Academy

It's what I come for. Sure, I want to graduate, but I need people to talk with. Here, people will listen to you, and you can say what's on your mind, you get your work done. But sometimes you have to feel that family is first.

Student at alternative high school

Family Group (FG) is a regularly occurring meeting of students and staff conducted primarily for the purpose of building relationships among the participants. These meetings provide opportunities for students and teachers to communicate openly and help each other on a wide variety of issues, and to build skills for working together.

FG is more likely to succeed if:

          The rationale and benefits are understood by students and staff.

          The ratio of students to teacher is small.

          Meetings occur regularly and are structured with explicit themes and a sequence of activities.

          There is intentional development of staff skills and of student leadership.

Family Group:
Especially Important Today

High schools face increasing pressure to assure that all students achieve at higher levels than in the past. FG is a strategy that helps to address this challenge. Research cited in this publication, as well as the experiences of many educators, underline the importance of building relationships in schools. Young people are more likely to remain in a school and work hard where strong and positive relationships exist. And if they have opportunities to assume responsible and active roles, they become partners in building a strong school community. FG reflects the belief that school is likely to be more engaging, satisfying and that education is more powerful when it occurs in the context of strong relationships among young people and adults.

Why Family Group?

A message from the Superintendent

The history of successful practices in alternative schools frequently includes lengthy discussions regarding the use of Family Group classes. The reality that increased connections, stronger engagements, greater ownership for outcomes, improved student leadership and changes in student behavior all occur when an effective Family Group class is conducted is testament to the power of this methodology.

Throughout the last decade, the significance of Family Group has slowly diminished as a result of factors such as increased academic demands, teacher turnover, lack of effective professional development in the continued training and use of Family Group methods, and possibly the lack of a standardized curriculum or guide that could help it evolve. As a result, Family Group has all but vanished from some schools and been reduced in the number of sessions that are offered. Many schools that have retained a Family Group class as part of a daily student schedule find the outcomes to be disappointing.

With the preparation of this guide, it is hoped that schools will reexamine the current status of their Family Group classes with an eye towards strengthening its application in the future. For schools that have abandoned Family Group, this guide may offer an opportunity to consider its return to the curriculum. For those schools that have never experienced the impact of successful Family Group practices, it is hoped that they will take the time to consider adding it to the curriculum.

There is no doubt that Family Group, when designed and delivered appropriately, represents a powerful combination of academic and effective approaches which have helped students handle the challenges of high school. It is hoped that this guide will provide the blueprint to construct a Family Group program which reflects the unique needs of its students.

Richard Organisciak
Alternative High Schools and Programs
September 2002



Research and the experience of practitioners both within schools and in non-school settings consistently point to environmental factors that help young people succeed. These factors center on emotional and physical safety, positive relationships between youth and adults, a focus on student achievement and opportunities for students to contribute and take responsibility. Family Group Advisory (FG) can provide a structured and regularly occurring activity to assure that these qualities are developed within schools.

1.     Relationships

School size is often cited as a key element in school success. By itself, however, size does not assure strong relationships and a sense of community. FG is a specific structure with the purpose of building relationships among those in the school.

Positive relationships among students help to assure that schools are safe. Feeling unsafe, physically and/or emotionally, is often cited by students as a reason for staying away from school or dropping out. Bullying by other students, including verbal abuse, can undermine even the best classroom efforts, and make school a scary place.1 Because of its explicit focus on creating good relationships, its openness to student concerns and emphasis on high expectations for behavior FG can reduce negative behavior among students, and between students and teachers. FG advisors often work with their students to develop structured and safe ways to address conflict.

Relationships between teachers and students are important. Youth with strong relationships to caring adults have higher educational and career aspirations and lower incidences of at-risk behavior. Research on youth resiliency documents the powerful role that adults, teachers, principals, counselors, coaches, or janitors play in fostering children's resiliency, that is, in encouraging children to successfully adapt despite risk and adversity. 2,3

The Manpower Demonstration Research Corporation's evaluation of the Career Academies found strong associations between the interpersonal supports students receive early in high school and various measures of their subsequent engagement and performance.4 The interpersonal supports include students' perceptions of their teachers' expectations for them, personalized attention they receive from teachers, the degree to which they see their peers as being engaged in school, and the degree to which they have opportunities to work collaboratively with peers.5 The study also found that the effect of these supports is much stronger for students at high risk of dropping out of high school than for other students. The researcher, Paul Hill, and his colleagues, in a study of 13 big city high schools, found that the relationships between students and teachers are much stronger in successful schools than in other schools. Relationships between teachers and students in these successful schools are built on a clearly understood and enforced social contract between the school, teachers and students.6 By social contract, they mean that there is a sense of the obligations of each member of the school community to each other and the community as a whole.

In the same study, in which they compared urban focus schools (Catholic and special purpose theme-centered schools) with zoned schools (to which students are assigned by their neighborhood rather than by student choice), Hill and his colleagues found that students in the former significantly outperformed the zoned schools in sat score and percentage graduating. In contrasting the two types of schools, Hill and his colleagues state that focus schools have a strong commitment to parenting, that is, caring for and addressing the whole student.7

2.     High Expectations

Strong relationships in schools are especially valuable when they emphasize high expectations for students and teachers.

The structure and content of relationships schools establish with their students matter. Relationships should provide support and resources to students, but cannot be separated from high expectations and challenging course work. A study by the Consortium on Chicago School Research found that social support, defined as �the personal relationships that students have with people who may help them do well in school, can have an important role in improving student performance. However, the study goes on to show that without academic press, a combination of normative emphasis on academic success and conformity to specific standards of achievement, student academic improvement is much less likely. The study emphasizes the need for both social support and academic press to be present in order to substantially improve student performance.8

In general, a strong academic focus and press for achievement have been noted repeatedly as an important feature of effective schools. Research links strong press for academic success with greater student effort, more time spent on academic tasks, and ultimately higher student performance.9

3.     Student Participation

Stronger schools provide students with opportunities for contributing to the school and making decisions. FG creates a setting in which young people can practice and exercise leadership. In many of the programs studied for this publication, young people are supported in eventually leading their FG as well as taking on other leadership roles in the school.

These activities address several important goals. They help young people practice leadership roles in which they can feel successful. These roles include problem solving, decision-making, consensus building and others. They also prepare young people for active and meaningful participation in their communities.

Michael Rutter's landmark study, Fifteen Thousand Hours, points strongly to the value of youth contribution. He identifies the extent to which children are able to take responsibility as one of the features of more successful schools: ample opportunities for children to take responsibility and to participate in running of their school lives appear conducive to good attainments, attendance and behavior.10 Students in the schools he studied where youth held positions of responsibility had better academic outcomes.

In High Schools with Character, cited above, Paul Hill and his colleagues describe schools where students feel responsibility for their end of the social contract and the school as a whole. For example, they state that successful schools try to create a supportive caring environment in which each student's talents and contributions are recognized� and that the schools �try to create a tone of community and shared enterprise.11

4.     High Quality Learning Experiences

Youth development research supports the idea that students will be more engaged and perform better if they are involved in high quality learning experiences. High quality has several components often associated with FG.

The experience must:

          Present youth with real options and choices

          Combine emotional, sensory and intellectual involvement

          Have clear goals and clear rules

          Allow youth to take on diverse roles and use different strengths

          Allow time for self-reflection

          Provide youth with feedback specific to the work they complete

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi provides a focused look at what makes up a high quality learning experience. He studied what happens during experiences that people describe as the best or most memorable in their lives. He calls these experiences "flow" experiences and found they are all bound by the same parameters. Activities in which people experience flow have clear goals, immediate feedback and offer a sense of control and demand focused attention. Because people are engaged and challenged, Csikszentmihalyi says "the flow experience acts as a magnet for learning that is for developing new levels of challenges and skills."12 The qualities cited here can be helpful in designing effective FG experiences, and are apparent in strong programs.

5.     Skills

Participation in FG can help students master skills and competencies that prepare them for adulthood and especially the workplace.

Experience in FG can prepare young people to work with others, communicate clearly, and solve problems in ways that are similar to those in the workplace. In studies of the workplace, and especially in what makes today's workplace different and more demanding than in the past, a key element has been "soft-skills," the ability to communicate with others and to work in groups:

The u.s. economy is changing rapidly in ways that have disastrous consequences for workers who lack the New Basic Skills, skills that were unnecessary even 15 years ago. These are the �hard� skills including the ability to do basic mathematics and to understand written instructions. These are also the �soft� skills including the ability to communicate clearly and to work productively in groups to solve problems.13

There are of course many other ways that FG can be of benefit to students. The research cited here helps those of us who work with young people to identify promising elements and directions for our work that are consistent with what is known about the successful development of young people.

The Importance of Family Group: Benefits to Principals/Leaders, Students and Teachers

Voices from Schools - Principals/Leaders

On Interpersonal Skills:

"Students are encouraged to discuss difficulties they may be having with another student or a family member. Other members of the Family Group help the student develop a course of action. The Family Group provides the support necessary to help the student take the risk of pursuing the course of action. Newer students may simply listen. Soon they will offer ideas and eventually they will ask for and get support."

On Retention:

"The value of Family Group at our school is apparent for both the institution and its staff. Family Group has become one of the most effective vehicles for student retention. Ours is a transfer school with a teen population that has had past school failures. As a result, our youngsters are at high risk of dropping out, and any effective strategy for dropout prevention is firmly embraced. Being a part of Family Group helps students feel as if they belong to the institution, and belonging is a force for school retention. Better student retention helps us retain and maintain a stable staff."

On Academic Success:

"The beginning of each term is a time for Family Group members to set specific goals. Report card times are opportunities to assess and make mid-course corrections. Family Group is where the student is held accountable in a climate of un-anxious expectation. Study days, when cooperative groups work together on subject class assignments, permit teachers to work directly on academics with students in an entirely different setting."

Voices from Schools - Students:

Family Group is important to me because I can:

"Talk about problems."

"Be with an advisor"

"Talk about academic progress, like grades
and classes."

"Express my feelings"

"Be in a place where confidentiality is maintained"

"Talk about real issues"

"Do academic work like catching up on homework"

"Have group discussions"

"Relax and unwind"

Family Group helps individual students because:

"Individuals get to talk over individual problems and issues"

"Students respect each other"

"Students learn to get along with each other"

Family Group helps the school because:

"Students are in academic classes together and so can push each other"

"Everyone knows each other"

"Teachers commun-icate with each other (classroom teachers with advisors and students)"

"Family Group deals with school-wide community issues"

Family Group helps me grow and change because:

"It is a place for peer support so that you get supported when you are having issues and you get practical support like morning wake-up calls, and help with school work"

"You realize that others are going through the same issues"

"The group does not give up on the individual"

"Since this school is the last choice before a GED, Family Group helps you deal positively with the challenges of school"

"You develop friendships through Family Group"


Voices from Schools - Teachers

In General:

"The staff finds Family Group to be essential, challenging and, for the most part, rewarding. As it cements the bond between the student and community, Family Group places the Advisor in a pivotal role. The Advisor is the guidance counselor, coach and liaison with other staff and parents for each of his/her advisees. The role is a complex one and at times can be stressful, especially when the student is having trouble in negotiating their school or personal life. We have worked hard in our training of Advisors to have them know that they cannot solve every student�s issues nor are they trained to do so. The stress at times is in the desire to make things right for the student when there may not be any easy solutions. Our Advisors need to learn how to develop our students' abilities to be reflective and responsible young adults in school and their personal world. This takes much focus and experience (for both!)."

Why teach Family Group and how do you teach it?

"Although people often talk about a school-student-family partnership, this can often be a theoretical and amorphous concept. What does that partnership look like and where does it take place? One place the teacher can see that partnership is through teaching Family Group. One adult gets to know one group of students well. As a teacher you can see students in multiple ways and this expands your understanding of our students and your work. We are not only �subject� teachers, we are teachers of individual students who have many facets. The more we understand those students the more we understand our role as teachers."

How does Family Group help the school?

"Our school would not be what it is without Family Group. Each Family Group is a unit that links to the greater community's norms, values, and efforts. Students know that as they are responsible to the greater school community they are even more directly responsible to their Family Group members and their Advisor. Family Group is embedded in our structure; it is not an additional component. Much of the effective work that we do across the school is more personally developed in Family Group. The support network that we provide for all students often finds its nexus in Group."

"Family Groups can generate ideas for school-wide activities and send the ideas to staff or a student activities group. Family Groups can be given �pieces of the plan.� If each Family Group takes a piece of the responsibility for the Thanksgiving Sharing, then they are all involved in the project and yet each has a specific task responsibility. Family Groups will want to have their own individual activities and also want to promote school-wide events. It is important that both be nurtured since we want to develop group bonding and loyalty, while at the same time not losing the sense of family the whole school embodies."

School-Based Supports for Family Group

The support of the District Superintendent and the leadership and commitment of the principal provides a critical foundation for the implementation of an effective Family Group (FG) in the school. At the same time, there are a series of important questions that must be answered in implementing this practice and integrating it into the overall life of the school.

Q.   At what scale should Family Group operate?

A.   This is a critical decision for a principal planning to implement FG for the first time.

If it is feasible, it is better for the overall climate of the school to implement it throughout the school. However, it is sometimes preferable to start it on a small scale so that it can grow as more staff see its value and gain the skills to lead it successfully. While starting small may be a necessary first step, there should be an explicit plan for expansion over a designated period of time. For example, one could start with the ninth graders or with the ninth and tenth graders and phase it in over a three or four year period.

Whatever the implementation plan, principals will also have to determine which staff will be involved and the extent to which social workers, counselors and others, as well as teachers, will have a role. Often, these other staff can help teachers develop the FG skills because of their training in small group leadership. At the same time, teachers must be centrally involved from the very beginning since it is intended that FG will build bonds between teachers and students and that the engagement of students in FG will be infused into the classrooms.

Q.   What should be the content and structure of Family Group?

A.   The questions related to the content of Family Group, whether or not it is given for credit and how frequently it meets are closely related. Whatever the decision regarding content and credit, it is critical that students be scheduled for FG on a consistent basis and for a long enough period of time to assure a strong experience.

Schools have implemented a range of FG models, but in general FG should meet a minimum of three times a week for a full period in order for students to develop the personal relationships with each other and with the teacher that allows them to address important issues together.

Whether or not the course is offered for credit, the content must be focused and relevant for young people. There are many approaches to developing the content of FG. It can be primarily a student support group but can integrate reading, personal writing and public speaking as part of making it into an English or language arts experience. It can be organized around educational support and future planning and include both community service and introductions to college and the world of work. A variety of approaches to the content are offered in Section V of this document.

Often, FG's students have a specific role in determining some of the content of what is going to be discussed. Whatever the approach, the content must be thoughtfully planned and the purpose of FG must be thoroughly articulated to students.

Many schools decide to give credit for FG because they feel that emphasizes the importance of FG to the students. Depending on the content of the course, credit can be given in English, civics, health or as a general elective credit. These are just a few of the options. If credit is not given, there must be an explicit strategy to establish the importance of FG for students and teachers.

Q.   How are students assigned to Family Group and how is it organized over time?

A.   There are a variety of options for grouping students. They can be grouped by age and grade or they can be grouped in mixed ages. Some schools feel it is better for students of the same age to be together because they are at the same point in their high school career and are facing similar issues. Schools may build FG around classroom blocks so that students who are in classes together are also in FG. Other schools feel that there are advantages to having older students together with younger students. There are also different approaches to having mixed gender groups or separating out young men and women. While in most cases FG is mixed, there are some schools that have separate groups or offer that option to a limited number of students. Finally, there is the question of how long a group stays together with their advisor. Some schools try to keep the group together for two or more years to increase the level of connection that can develop. Other schools see it as a one year assignment and have students change advisories at the beginning of every year.

Q.   How can students assume leadership roles in the operation of Family Group?

A.   Student involvement in FG can offer important opportunities to assume different responsibilities and to make a contribution of the overall effectiveness of the experiences. As has been mentioned earlier, depending upon the content of FG, students can contribute to selecting topics and issues to be discussed. If FG includes some kind of community service either within the school or in the broader community, students can be given responsibilities in planning and carrying out these activities. If FG includes the development of a group journal or newsletter or a group art activity, students can be directly involved in the design and implementation of these projects.

Finally, students can receive specific training and can assist in leading FG. Frequently, as they become more comfortable, they can also share these leadership roles in the larger school community. Whether it is through contributing to the content or assisting in the leadership of the group, FG provides invaluable opportunities for students to assume active responsible roles that enhance their own learning and development and can also impact positively on both FG and, eventually, on the broader school community.

Q.   What kind of training and ongoing support should be offered to staff who are leading Family Group?

A.   Family group should be built around interested and competent staff, but the staff also will need ongoing support and training to lead FG effectively. Within every school, there needs to be a point person who is responsible for FG. The person with that responsibility should have experience with FG; a vision for how to implement it that is developed in collaboration with the Principal and, if possible, with interested staff; and the skills to help other operate FG effectively. This individual's responsibilities include staff training, monitoring FG and connecting activities in FG to other classes and activities within the school.

There are many ways to provide support to staff who are implementing FG. Once the content focus has been determined, relevant materials should be provided either from the existing staff, through the District Office or through other organizations that may have useful resources. Staff that is conducting FG should have the opportunity to meet together regularly to share materials and approaches. Some schools arrange for after-school or lunchtime meetings providing per session funding and/or food to reward those who participate. Since FG does not have a prescribed curriculum, staff find it especially valuable to discuss their progress, what has worked, what has not and get the support and knowledge of peers who are working on the same issues.

Some schools use outside agencies or community organizations to help with FG. They can assist with training staff or providing resources on particular issues.

Q.   How can the philosophy and strategies of Family Group be communicated to the broader school community?

A.   To be most effective, FG must be understood as integral to the life and culture of the school and not viewed as an isolated experience that students participate in a few times a week. FG needs to be linked to the mission of the school and to its overall approach to working with students. Its role needs to be articulated in written material that is developed on the school and described/explained in staff, student and parent orientations. Students can often provide the strongest testimonials for its value to staff and to other students. Through the words of students FG can be described as a school experience that belongs to the students and is vital to building their connection with each other, the staff and the broader school community.

Both students and staff need to work together to identify ways in which the values of FG can be infused into the broader school community. Are there school-wide activities that can be planned jointly by students and staff using the FG structure that can strengthen the school community? Are there strategies that are used in FG that can also be used in content classes to increase opportunities for student participation and potential leadership roles? The answers to these questions will vary from school to school, but it is critical that every school implementing FG raise these questions as they recognize the potential contribution FG can make to building a stronger more engaged school community.

Q.   What strategies can help build support for Family Group among the school staff?

A.   There are a variety of ways that principals and teachers can encourage other staff to learn about FG. Materials such as this booklet and other resources can help to introduce staff to family group. Staff can discuss their work with FG at staff meetings and share materials and approaches they are using. Staff should also have opportunities to observe FG, provided this does not violate students� sense of privacy or confidentiality. Another way to help staff learn about FG is to pair teachers so that those less experienced with FG or lacking the skills can learn about it while they are receiving support and guidance from a more experienced peer. Finally, it might also be possible to invite students to discuss their experience in family group with members of the staff as a way of informing them directly of the positive impact of family group on their school experience.

Q.   How will Family Group be assessed?

A.   The assessment of FG will be shaped by the purpose and focus that it is given. Criteria for assessment may include overall engagement of the students and the number of students who earn credit, if it is offered as a credit-bearing course. Students could also be asked to provide specific feedback on FG including what they liked, what they did not like and what recommendations they might make to improve it. Staff might be invited to participate in an assessment both of the content and structure of FG and the broader impact on other aspects of school life.

In the following sections, Stages of Family Group and Constructs of Family Group, we present two approaches to structuring/designing Family Group. In each, we name those themes, objectives and activities that may comprise FG at any given school. The two sections represent different ways of thinking about planning and implementing FG � you may pick one way of approaching FG, or you may interweave the two.

Stages of Family Group: Beginnings, Middles, and Endings

The underlying themes for all stages of Family Group are:

           Youth Participation

           Group/Team Building

           Conflict Resolution

The following describes the stages of any FG, regardless of the context. The themes, questions, activities and tips will be relevant no matter the idea, structure or purpose of FG. This section may be used in conjunction with the following section, which describes in detail various constructs and activities for FG.

All of the activities described can be carried out by the Family Group Advisor. They draw on two fundamental teaching concepts that are also key in good group facilitation. They entail:

   n   Developing essential questions for group consideration and discussion, and;

   n   Using open-ended questioning to expand student thinking and participation.

It should be expected that there will be some overlap between the stages of FG. It should also be expected that FG members will naturally return to the themes of previous stages. There are certain phrases and questions that may be helpful in facilitating group discussions and student participation. These can be found at the end of this section.


* Ice-breaking                            * Acceptance

* Motivation                              * Ambivalence

* Trust                                       * Expectations/purpose

* Commonalities                        * Authority

*  Safety                                     * Rules/limits

* Stereotyping                             * Role/status

* Questioning involvement


*  Who are these people, anyway?

*  Will they like me?

*  Will I like them?

*  What's in it for me?

*  Should I say anything, or just listen?

*  What can I reveal safely?

*  What do they want from me?

*  What do I want from them?

*  What do I have in common with them?

*  Who's in charge? Who's boss?

*  What if I get hurt?

*  What can I get away with?

*  What am I coming here for?

*  Am I a leader, or a follower?


* Desert Island                    * Throw a Sock

* Group Mural or Poem      * Two Pieces of Paper

* The Values Auction           * Ropes

* Magic Hat                          * Stereotyping


You are primarily responsible for initiating activities and encouraging discussion, more so now than later. Try to facilitate connections among students. Find commonalities while appreciating individual differences. Acknowledge uniqueness of each member.



* Value of others                    * Meaning

* Closeness                              * Commonalities

* Letting go                             * Self-disclosure

* Decision-making                   * Differences

* Identity                                 * Self-esteem

* Problem-solving                    * Initiative in group

* Re-establishing boundaries

   * What do I like about these people?

*  What does group mean to me?

*  Can I share my feelings of closeness?

*  What do I have in common with them?

*  Can I allow myself to get really involved?

*  How much can I tell them?

*  How do I make choices in life and decisions in-group?

*  Where do I draw the line in being close to others in-group?

*  Is it OK to be different here?

*  How am I unique from others?

*  What are my strengths?

*  How can I work on problems I have uncovered?

*  How do I take more responsibility for what goes on in-group?


* The Rubber Band                 * Wearing the Sign

* The Commercial Game        * Self-Esteem

* Dear Abby, Soap Operas

* What Would You Do If...


     Shift from primarily advisor-centered content to more student-generated ideas for discussion and activities.
Encourage students to volunteer to lead activities and discussions. Keep acknowledging commonalities among group members and also appreciating differences.



* Separation/individuation n Current loss

* Dependence/independence              

* Denial/devaluing

* Regression                                 * Repression

* Early loss                                   * Continuance

* Recapitulation/review              * Value

* Replication                                * Ambivalence

* Anxiety


*  If we care about each other, why are we ending?

*  Will group members miss me?

*  Will I be able to manage without the group?

*  Group's ending, So what?

*  Can I turn back the clock?

*  If I squash these feelings, will the pain go away?

*  Why me?

*  Why don't we meet again?

*  What have I learned in group (remember when...)?

*  What is mine to take with me?

*  Where else can I get the things I've gotten from group?


* * Symbolic Gifts                    * The Web

* Termination                        * Certificates

* How Group Members Will Be Remembered


The process of ending the academic year and saying "goodbye" takes time, and the time will vary according to the people involved. This process could take anywhere from two to six weeks. Ambivalence and anxiety are very prevalent in this stage of group and should be recognized and addressed.

   n  Helpful phrases in facilitating group discussions and student participation:

Who wants to comment on that?

   n   Let's check that out with the rest of the group.

   n   How do you see it differently?

   n   How about that?

   n   Good idea or not?

   n   How do you feel about that statement?

   n   How is it true to life?

   n   Won't you carry that idea a bit further?


   n   I can see by your expression that you disagree. How would you state it?

   n   How do you see the problem?

   n   Sounds like that's a problem we ought to address.

   n   Looks like you're really concerned about this issue.

   n   Seems like you're all worn out. Would you like a five minute break?


   n   OK, where are we now?

   n   What's the purpose of this presentation?

   n   Are you saying...?

   n   Give us an example of what you mean.

   n   I still don't have a handle on the real problem. What is it?

   n   I hear that you're saying...  Am I saying it right?

   n   Is that how you see it?

   n   Have I missed your point in any way?


   n   Hold on, I think we're talking about two issues: _______ and _______.  I think they are both important, but let's talk about them one at a time.

   n   That's an important point. Let's write it down and get back to it after we finish the subject we're on, ok?

   n   What do you think, and do we want to deal with that now or stick to our agenda and deal with that concern later?


   n   What will success look like today?

   n   What do you want to have happen?

   n   Can we all agree on this?

   n   Does anybody disagree?

The following are some additional tips that will help in conducting group discussions or activities:

   n   Be a Good Listener: make eye contact, don't interrupt the speaker

   n   Show Respect to Others: respect others' beliefs and opinions even when you disagree, don't put people down

   n   Be an Active Participant: participate in discussions and activities, help support others to help them engage

   n   Observe Confidentiality: ensure that what is said in the group stays there, don't gossip

Family Constructs/Activities


Student Support                               Understanding Changes of Adolescence

Academic/Student Support             Family Group Publication

Academic                                          Increasing Student Literacy 

Futures                                             Helping Students Plan for Post-Secondary Options             

Socio-Political                                   Interview Project: Method of Inquiry

Socio-Political                                   Law & Ethics

Futures                                              Opportunities for Students to Explore the World of Work

Futures                                              Teen Parents: Making It On Your Own

Student Support                               Community Service/Community Building

Student Support                                Family Group Leadership Development


1    The National Education Association reports that 160,000 students cut class every day because of their fear of physical harm. Suellen Fried and Paula Fried, Bullies and Victims (New York: M. Evans and Company, 1998) 20.

2    Community Programs to Promote Youth Development, National Academy of Sciences, National Research Council, Jacquelynne Eccles and Jennifer Appleton Gootman, eds. (Washington, D.C.: National Academy Press, 2002) 90.

3    Bonnie Benard, �Fostering Resiliency in Urban Schools,� in Closing the Achievement Gap: A Vision for Changing Beliefs and Practices, Belinda Williams, ed. (Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, 1996) 98.

4    By �performance,� the study indicates improvement in credits earned toward graduation and preparation for post-secondary education. The evaluation of Career Academies did not find any systematic improvements in achievement test scores in reading or math. James J. Kemple and Jason C. Snipes, Career Academies: Impacts on Students' Engagement and Performance in High School (New York: Manpower Demonstration Research Corporation, 2000) 12 �14.

5      Career Academies: Impacts on Students' Engagement and Performance in High School, James J. Kemple and Jason C. Snipes,  (New York: Manpower Demonstration Research Corporation, 2000) 14.

6      Paul T. Hill, Gail Foster, and T. Gendler, �High Schools with Character� (Santa Monica, CA: Rand Corporation, 1990).

7      Other key characteristics of focus schools include: concentrate on student outcomes, have strong social contracts that communicate the reciprocal responsibilities of all participants, and curricula that draw all students toward learning core skills and perspectives. Hill, Foster, and Gendler vii.

8      Valerie E. Lee, Julia B. Smith, Tamara E. Perry, and Mark A. Smylie, Social Support, Academic Press, and Student Achievement: A View from the Middle Grades in Chicago (Chicago: Consortium on Chicago School Research, 1999) 9-10.

9  Lee, Smith, Perry and Smylie, P. 10.

10 Michael Rutter, Barbara Maughan, Peter Mortimore and Janet Ouston. Fifteen Thousand Hours: Secondary Schools and Their Effects on Children, (Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 1979) 216.

11 Hill, Foster, and Gendler, P. 28.

12 Mihaly Csikszenthmihalyi, Finding Flow: The Psychology of Engagement with Everyday Life. (New York: Basic Books, 1997) 33.

13 Richard Murnane and Frank Levy, Teaching the New Basic Skills. (New York, The Free Press, 1996) 50.