In our first year, we took an approach whereby we’d provide for one of each week’s two advisory sessions an advisory curriculum unit for each teacher-adviser to use in that “all-school advisory” session, so we could better advance our character education mission and coordinate across the school a unified program. It sounded like a good idea, but it wasn’t. Simply put, it was hard to deploy a single curriculum that each and every teacher could and would effectively and happily put in place, and the feedback we received was not very positive.
This year, we regrouped and are offering instead a wide variety of challenges, competitions, suggestions, and invitations to advisory groups, each of them allowing for more choice, more variety, and more adaptability to the needs and wishes of each group individually.
Three of the areas we are focusing on in this approach are service learning, creative and collaborative problem-solving, and character education, and I want to share an example of each.
For service learning, Lorie Heald our service coordinator has been working with our development office, including director Rachel Villarreal and our AmeriCorps community outreach coordinator, Amy Blankenship, to encourage and motivate students to adopt a local cause or community charity and then, as an advisory group, work together to plan an activity or series of activities to address these needs. From Ms. Heald:
As part of our theme “One School, One City” I would like to invite you to consider starting an advisory community service project. It is my hope that this year-long project will provide an opportunity for your students to work on a project together, allow your parents to get involved, and perhaps give your advisory a deeper purpose and direction.
- As an advisory, develop a community service project or choose a local organization to get involved with. Your advisory will need to do some research to find the right organization and/or project. You can choose a local organization to work with, or you can design your own project that might benefit the school or the local community.
- Chart out a plan for involvement. For example, if you want to get involved with feeding the hungry at Casa Maria or Primavera, you may want to take on providing a dinner once a month, or once every other month. Decide what you want to do and how you want to do it.
- Invite parents to get involved. Besides spending time on this during advisory, this should not be a burden on you as the advisor. Parents want to be involved and this could be the perfect thing for one or two of your parents. Last year, once a month, I took students to Primavera to serve dinner. Towards the end of the year Corinne Bancroft’s advisory provided the dinner and parents helped out. This was the richest time I had spent at Primavera all year. Having a few parents there and a cohesive group effort made all the difference
One new element of this approach has been to motivate students to organize and address an issue by offering them the chance to apply for mini-grant, funded by the Family Association. This requires them to be more intentional and organized, and gives them valuable experience of preparing a grant proposal and making a plan of action.
- Describe Your Project. *What is your project? *What need in the community does it address? *Please include any background information for us to understand your project.
- Please list any community partners you plan on working with to accomplish your project and how you will be partnering with them.
- Volunteer Engagement *How many students will participate in the project? *Will you need volunteers beyond the advisory students? If so, who and how many? What will you do to recruit these volunteers?
- Documentation and Communication *One of our missions this year is to document and communicate our projects and success with the greater community. What are your plans for documenting the project and then sharing your outcomes with the St. Gregory community as well as Greater Tucson? (ex. This can mean inviting media officials to a project, creating a flyer and inviting community members, or drafting a press release.
- Budget: *Please describe how you will use project funds (maximum of $500). Do you plan on doing additional fundraising? If yes, please describe.
A second element of “advisory invitational” has been to challenge groups each week with a brain-teaser or web-quest, posing it on Wednesday at our weekly all-school meetings and then asking groups to work together in Thursday advisory to solve and submit an answer, with the winning group being awarded a prize from the dining hall. Our Librarian and Director of Information Literacy, Laura Lee Calverley, has been handling this, and you can see her challenges on her library blog page here.
Finally, we have been working to find ways to integrate character education into advisory. One of the key ways this is happening is in our EGG process, in which students work with advisers to collect feedback from teachers about their own character development and exhibitions of the same, and then self-assess and set goals going forward on areas of both moral and performance character.
Another example is the way our diversity club is asking for assistance from advisory groups making observations of certain phenomena on campus, and encouraging (not requiring) them to take time to discuss their observations. Let me quote from an email from Dr. Berry, the club’s adviser, about this initiative:
The Diversity Club is endeavoring to create a school-wide dialog about the three issues we are tackling this year — homophobia (and sexual orientation generally), sexism (and gender identity), and ability discrimination (and ability identity).
To facilitate that dialog, the Diversity Club will be bringing to each advisor a Tolerance bag/envelope/box. And each week that we present on an issue (for this week it is sexual orientation), we will follow up with an activity. For the next week, we want everyone to in our school community to pay attention to and count how many times they use or hear a homophobic comment in our community. They will record the number on a slip of paper in advisory and then put the slip in the Tolerance Bag. Diversity Club members will go around and collect the surveys and report the results at an all school meeting. Each time we present on an issue, there will be a different survey/activity.
Your role is really just to take a few minutes in your advisory next Tuesday to have the students record their observations. If you want to generate discussion about the issue, great, but there is no expectation that you will do so. But this won’t work at all if you don’t remind students to be paying attention AND to complete the survey. This is all just important awareness raising in anticipation of Challenge Day next March!
I should close by emphasizing that these initiatives are not designed by or coming out of my office, but rather are arising from a wide variety of campus initiators: the Family Association and Development office, the Library, and the Diversity club. But they are all better able to go into effect, and accomplish their goals, because of the opportunity and forums the advisory program provides.