A few times a year I enjoy sharing here on the blog student perspectives about our educational programs and initiatives here at St. Gregory, lifting them from our award winning student newspaper, the Gregorian Chant.
Although I write more often here about our 1:1 laptop and related technology initiatives, our leadership and innovation educational advances, and our enhanced attention to 21st century skills, our new faculty-student “advisory” is certainly one of our very most important enterprises of the past two years. Before last fall (2010), the school functioned with only a small “homeroom” arrangement, but now students and teachers meet twice weekly for 20 minutes for what we intend to be a rich, relationship-building, social and reflective, service-oriented, character enhancing, advisory time.
In the most recent student paper, one of our sophomore students, Leah M., reported on the program in what is now its second year. I am delighted by the report, and am happy to share it here.
STG advisory making progress toward goals
There is one “class” at St. Gregory where students are not only permitted, but also encouraged, to relax, kick back, chat with friends, and reflect. The implementation of advisory has opened the door to a learning experience that is free from pressure and evaluation. Let’s see how advisories are doing, what positives they have brought to our school, and what might still need tweaking.
On Tuesdays and Thursdays of every week, students from each grade meet with one another and one or two faculty members to participate in advisory. Advisory did exist years ago at St. Gregory in a different form, primarily for the purpose of beginning the day and taking attendance, and it eventually morphed into homeroom. Advisory at St. Gregory began anew last year with a transformed agenda, and is continuing through this 2011-2012 school year. Some of the goals set forth by the administration when advisory began were to have a forum in which students could comfortably articulate their feelings and get feedback from peers and teachers, to encourage students to improve stress management skills, to allow students to work towards better communication with others, and to serve generally as a support system.
When asked if she was pleased with the progress of advisory, Ms. Heintz replied that she is “happy with the direction it is going,” although she admitted that it has not yet met the administration’s expectations. Ms. Heintz added that she believes “it can mean more to the students over time and be a better resource.” However, this does not mean that advisory has not evolved and changed since the launch of it last year. The faculty listened to complaints and opinions about the initial practice of every advisory discussing the same topic once a week, and has instead moved towards having each advisory take charge of its own time. Along with this alteration, this year there has also been more sibling advisory interaction.
While some advisories have not yet made the leap beyond simply being an environment for discussion, others have participated in more lively activities. During the last quarter, Ms. Bodden and Dr. Villarreal’s advisory elaborated on the universal topic of bullying. The group of girls who make up this particular advisory section watched the ABC family film, “Cyberbully,” which documents how online bullying directly interferes with one’s life. The students in Ms. Johnson and Ms. Heintz’s advisory composed questions for their brother advisory to answer, and these boys, led by Mr. Mossman, in turn created questions for the girls. Some advisories are also interested in participating in community service projects. Dr. Shawn’s advisory is adopting a highway and will perform its first clean up in January.
Student response to advisories has been overwhelmingly positive in nature. Heather MacQuarrie, a freshman in Mrs. Heintz and Ms. Johnson’s advisory, notes that advisory has presented an new opportunity now that she is in the high school of feeling as if she is being mentored by older students, while as an eighth grader she welcomed the chance in advisory to mentor students in the lower grades. Freshman Noah Sanders reported that he finds upper school advisory “more relaxed” than advisory in middle school. Sophomore Hattie Groskind looks forward to advisory because it is an “open environment to talk, and to express opinions and concerns.” She praises her advisory for being “open-minded” but also recognizes that some advisories “probably have a list of things they don’t like.” Javier Sayles, also a sophomore, appreciates the fact that his advisory has shared numerous ides for “helping our community.”
With the pressures of middle school and high school as intense as they are, students at St. Gregory are fortunate to have advisory as a haven for dealing with life’s ups and downs.