Vance Keeps Ninth Grade Fresh

Four years as ninth-grade dean yields student, faculty benefits


Sage Marmet

Vance’s candy dish is nearly always full, allowing students of all grades to quickly stop by her office and grab a piece.

With her role as the freshmen dean, Jen Vance has made new connections with freshmen while also strengthening those connections as students become upperclassmen. Before her current position, she was the junior and senior dean for the class of 2004 and then the freshman and sophomore dean for the class of 2008. This is her fourth year as the freshman dean, adding up to a total of eight years.

The switch was made to address difficulties in time and attention management with the spring of senior year and the end of eighth grade, both of which come with lots of questions, concerns, and new students. This thinking has allowed many students to make a really comfortable move to high school, as Alice Jin ‘20 said, “I’m so happy to have had her as my first dean because she made the transition to high school so easy.”

New-to-Blake Molly Haag ‘22 agrees, saying, “I think it’s very helpful [to have Ms. Vance as just the ninth grade dean] because ninth grade year is very difficult, from the transition from middle school to high school. Also for the new students, because most of them come in ninth grade, it’s very helpful to have one grade dean who’s done it multiple years.”

Vance also agrees, highlighting the intensity of the transition into freshman year when she says, “I want to help you all develop the skills you need to navigate, so there’s always that balance of times when you need my support and intervention.”

However, some students feel that this dean system creates a weaker connection between deans and students. As Peter Barry ‘19 says: “I do think that having a dean all four years does foster a greater connection between a dean and their students.”

But this system allows Vance to make connections with almost every student at Blake as they go through ninth grade. She describes, “What’s exciting is when I get to see kids progress or kids develop those skills, and sometimes it’s not till they give a senior speech or sometimes it’s not till they come back and say hello after a long time away.”

But Vance doesn’t do all of this on her own. She gets a lot of help from other teachers and fellow deans. “There’s so many times when teachers will come and say ‘I’m worried about this kid, I see this, or will you help me with this?’ so I do think, you know, kids might not always realize how much behind the scenes we’re thinking about them,” she remarks.

Despite all of the hard work, it’s worth it. Vance says, “I love the energy and the excitement, and helping with the transition, and seeing the growth. And so I really do [like being the freshmen dean]. This is kind of my sweet spot.”