Growth, strength, perseverance. These are all qualities that can describe both humans… and trees. At Asheville Academy, we encourage students to build upon these qualities and feel empowered by them. Because trees also possess these traits, we incorporated a tree metaphor into the structure of our residential programming. On campus, we divide students who will be sharing the same living space into “tree groups”. Students sleep in dormitories that we call “tree houses”.
Tree groups are assigned upon enrollment. Named after trees like laurels or magnolias, these groups consist of eight girls and four tree group mentors. Tree groups eat together and share the same tree houses. These groups are designed intentionally to help establish close connections with a specific groups of peers and mentors within the larger Asheville Academy community. The tree group mentors assigned to each group stay the same throughout a student’s time at Asheville Academy. This allows for fewer transitions and less confusion for students within tree groups.
The expansive amount of time students spend with these mentors helps drive relationship skills and establishes close relationships between the mentors and students. Tree group mentors are with the students every week, from the moment students get up in the morning to when they go to sleep.
Tree group staff mentors begin to understand the nuances of each individual student’s personality and serve as their caregivers. These in depth relationships with mentors can be helpful for students struggling with issues of defiance around authority figures. It also helps them learn to respond to adults in an appropriate, constructive way.
Students must navigate relationships with the seven other girls in their tree group. They share a common space with these girls and learn to keep their personal space to themselves (which can be challenging at times).
If a student has a failed interaction with another girl within their tree group, they can’t just walk away from the problem. They will be sharing the same living quarters with the student they aren’t getting along with. Tree groups encourage therapeutic work around building healthy relationships, conflict resolution, navigating personalities, and learning how to tolerate people who are not your cup of tea. These tree groups can also be where students find their best friend at the program.
In addition to fostering positive relationships within tree groups, girls interact with students from the wider Asheville Academy community. During school hours and on the weekends, students are able to branch out and form friendships with peers from other tree groups.
After graduation, many students leave with several new best friends and mentors to keep in touch with for years to come.