MS Sentiments Guide Lastest Workshop


On Wednesday April 27, the school hosted its third and final Upstander Workshop for Middle School students. Similar to the Upstander Workshop held recently in the Upper School, Director of Student Life Jared Winston collaborated with the Middle School Senate Representatives, Middle School Senate Faculty Advisor Danielle Rauch, and the Social and Emotional Learning Committee to improve the Upstander Workshop programming and structure after receiving feedback from students and faculty. But the structure itself of the third Upstander Workshop in the Middle School was different from the recent workshop held in the Upper School. While both Winston and Middle School faculty members have generally noticed a more positive reception, 5th through 8th grade students have varying thoughts. 

The development of the third Upstander Workshop began immediately after the second workshop that took place on January 19. “As with the last Upper School Upstander Workshop, we leaned on elected representatives to drive the planning process,” Winston wrote in an email to The Polygon. Based on the feedback received from the previous two workshops, Middle School students wanted workshop programming designed by the students themselves. “The Middle School Senate designed the program from start to finish, focusing on an organized discussion around a specific topic: peer relationships at Poly,” Winston added. 

Middle School Senate Faculty Advisor Danielle Rauch, in addition to the Social and Emotional Learning Committee, assisted Senate representatives with the Upstander Workshop planning. “We wanted to do an activity that was more interactive and didn’t feel like just sitting and listening to something. I helped to get the conversation started and then the Middle School Senate members created the actual idea,” Rauch said. English teacher Lee Marcus, a faculty member serving on the school’s Social and Emotional Learning Committee, stated “We were sent over the agenda for the workshop and overall we thought the students did a great job of putting the program together. We didn’t really have much input at all in terms of the structure or facilitation.” 

This time, the Upstander Workshop programming was only for Middle School students, a major change from the previous workshops in which Middle and Upper School students spoke with each other. “I think that made the environment a little bit more comfortable for some kids that felt shy speaking up in a room of Upper School students,” Rauch said. The ultimate goal was to make everything comfortable and enjoyable for Poly’s younger students. “In the previous Upstander Workshops, students were not as engaged since they felt like they were just listening to teachers speak more. There were awkward silences or some students felt like they were being asked questions that felt like common sense to them — that was the feedback that the Middle School Senate gathered,” Rauch stated. “Then, going off of that, we tried to make it more interactive and student-driven.”

On the day of the Upstander Workshop, students were first greeted by members of the Middle School Senate in the Theater: Anna Brandmeyer ’26, Naomi Bobbitt ’27, Leo Yang ’28, and Caiden Silverstein ’29. The Senate set a foundation for the workshop by leading an example activity, so students had an idea of what to expect as they were divided into small groups throughout the school. These groups consisted of roughly 15 to 17 students with two faculty supervisors. 

The groups were also designed with the intent of keeping conversations age appropriate, which meant that grades 5 and 6 met together while grades 7 and 8 met together. “It started off with an ice breaker activity since not all of the students knew each other very well,” Rauch said. The main workshop activity was rolled out in the format of an open session where students anonymously wrote down how they felt about their peer relationships at Poly. Faculty members then shared these ideas so that students in the group could provide feedback, support, and encouragement using different colored index cards. 

Conversations were centered around different statements, ranging from “I like some friends but some of them can be a little much. I feel like one of my friends follows me around and copies me” to “All of my close friends are in different Advisories. I’ve tried to be friends with those in my Advisory, but it’s not the same.” These statements were designed to be much more realistic and relatable from a student perspective, and therefore facilitate stronger discussion within the workshop.

Following the workshop, Winston, Rauch, and Marcus have all said that they have noticed a far more positive reception among Middle School students and faculty compared to the previous two Upstander Workshops. “Middle School Faculty had generally positive reactions to the conversations they led. As with the Upper School Upstander Workshop, it seems the third and final workshop was the most well received by Middle School students,” Winston wrote in an email to The Polygon. 

“From the students in my room, I heard that they felt that the activity was more engaging than the first rounds of Upstander Workshops. I also spoke to a few teachers who felt like students were being very supportive of each other and giving thoughtful feedback to the scenarios that were being shared out,” Rauch stated.

“Because the workshop was created by students there was a greater sense of engagement,” Marcus added. 

However, Middle School students still have differing opinions despite the overall improvement in reception. Some students found the new workshop structure to be invasive. Sixth grader Savannah Park said that she “thought that the teachers were kind of peeking, and I thought it would be better if you would put the cards in a box. It was very intrusive and I don’t like intrusive activities like that. But other than that, it was fine.” 

Another sixth grader, Bennett Ling-Regan, stated that “It was cool, I [liked] my group, it was more comfortable than the previous ones. But I feel like the activities were more intrusive.” 

Other students found the workshop to be repetitive. Eighth grader Noah Pessin said “I think it is fine to do it once or twice because it gets people to think about standing up for themselves and other people, but I think when there is like three or many more, it gets out of hand and unnecessary because we have already gone over the point of being an Upstander.” 

Eighth grader Alex Basham added, “Most students get quite bored during the time period.” 

Winston is confident that Upstander Workshop is here to stay at Poly. “Will all workshops look the same? Probably not,” Winston wrote in an email to The Polygon. “Moving forward, we want Student Government to own these types of programs so being an upstander can become a more prominent aspect of Poly’s ethos and school community.”