In September 2018, Lauralton launched FYE (First Year Experience), a year-long Lauralton course for all freshmen featuring curriculum designed for personal growth.  Students meet with School Counselor Erin Chamberlain once each eight-day cycle to cover 21 lessons.  The custom-designed course features no homework, no assessments, and no course credit; rather, it focuses on the following: 

Lauralton Hall recognizes the importance of strengthening students’ connections to their school community and laying the foundation for student success during their first year. Freshman year brings challenges that require students to learn and develop the skills needed to negotiate their new environment and discover a successful pathway to their future that fits their talents and needs.  The First Year Experience (FYE) course will address academic and personal dimensions of student development. A comprehensive set of educational programs will include a focus on practical competencies (time management, study skills, leadership skills, access to school resources), emotional wellness (stress management, healthy relationships, mental health, social media), physical health (substance abuse, nutrition, exercise, team building), and academic planning (Four-Year Academic Plan, college and career planning).  This learning-centered experience encourages students to take ownership of their plans and develop solid goals for their education, while making an empowered transition to the LH community of learners and compassionate stewards of our Mercy tradition.

Lauralton students create short- and long-term goals, lending meaning to their work. Lessons are purposefully structured in a sequence to modulate the intensity of the topics, and are designed to increase collaboration and thoughtful discussion.

Mrs. Chamberlain designed FYE as a member of the national “freshman transition network” that includes high schools, colleges, and universities where colleagues share transition strategies. She also carefully curated ideas from state universities, small private colleges, and other all girls’ high schools as well as collaborated with her four colleagues in Lauralton's counseling department. 

Director of Counseling Yvonne Fosse-Previs ’90 hired Mrs. Chamberlain in 2014 as a seasoned counselor. “Erin immediately comes across as a warm and engaged professional with a wealth of experience,” said Ms. Fosse-Previs. “She is tireless in her pursuit of knowledge, taking courses and attending workshops in the field of adolescent development to provide the very best opportunities for our students.”

In one component of FYE girls learn about breast health through a variety of approaches.  The focus is on advocacy and responsibility for one’s own health. In addition to this academic component, freshmen are responsible for “pinking out” the front of campus as part of our Pink Week activities during Breast Cancer Awareness Month in October.

Because this course was built to reflect our Mercy Mission, it was particularly edifying to receive high praise from Sr. Regina Ward when she visited Lauralton May 15.  Sr. Regina is the Associate Director for Mercy Mission Integration. “I love Erin’s meaningful intentionality as she focuses on ways to equip the freshmen for high school and life,” Sister Regina observed. “The absence of assignments and grades frees the students from ‘trying to get everything right’ and allows them to enter the experience in a stress-free learning environment. In the Mercy tradition, Erin is empowering women to face the realities of life with thoughtful tools and skills,” she added.

What have we learned since our pilot? Class of 2022 participants told us that they feel more connected to each other and to campus resources. When surveyed at the close of our pilot, girls told us that they enjoyed the ice-breaking and team-building activities. For example,  fitness for life was embedded in the curriculum with occasional 10-20 minute walks on campus to demonstrate a stress management technique.

Since the pilot, we have engaged LH Peer Mentors in role-play activities, and the freshmen enjoy hearing the older students’ perspective. We also have engaged our NHS (National Honor Society) members to teach the practicalities of navigating final exams and time management. Ultimately, we plan to have a formalized Student Advisory Board that can in influence the FYE curriculum.

Head of School Elizabeth Miller said, “We see examples that Lauralton’s signature program FYE accelerates students’ development of self-advocacy while helping to alleviate stress -- skills that will help our young women navigate more successfully through high school and beyond.”