The High School Student News Site of The American School in London

The Standard

The High School Student News Site of The American School in London

The Standard

The advisory approach

The start of the 2015-2016 academic school year will include something new for High School students: The implementation of an advisory system. 

While the new advisory system will be unique, an advisory system existed in the High School 11 years ago.

Social Studies Teacher Jason Cancella arrived at ASL 11 years ago to witness what he described as the “death” of the old advisory system. “The year that I came in [the teachers] were given a list of advisees, we were given [students] locker number and locker combination, and we [met] with them in the first week of school,” Cancella said. That year, those three tasks described the entirety of the advisory program. “The next year they did not even bother pretending like there was an advisory,” Cancella said.

To Cancella’s knowledge, since the dissolvement of the former advisory system, frequent conversations regarding the creation of a new system have been happening for years. This year, however, due to the scrupulous planning of several faculty and administration members, the High School will bear witness to the birth of a reinvigorated system.

The new advisory system will be a much more involved and integrated process in students’ daily lives. Mixed gender grade level classes will meet twice a week during what was previously conference time. Advisories will meet on Tuesdays for 40 minutes and on Thursdays for a 20-minute check in.

To make room for advisories, conference time will be extended to 40 minutes every day. The increase in conference time has led to five minutes being subtracted from first and second period classes.

When Director of Student Life James Perry considers all of the opportunities he believes advisories are going to offer, he thinks the new system is coming at the cost of minimal disruption. “I think it is a low price to pay. A few minutes from a couple of classes, and there are other pieces, but I think the rewards far outweigh the costs,” Perry said.

While 10 minutes have been added to conference time, the total amount of conference time each week will be ten minutes less as a result of  the implementation of advisories and the inclusion of an assembly each week.

While the mechanics of the system have nearly been finalized, the curriculum of the program is still being developed. Despite the curriculum waiting to be set in stone, there will be education surrounding “[the] social-emotional piece of anything from relationships to bullying and harassment, to how [to] handle tough conversations. How [to] manage your stress, academic pieces, how do you manage school work,” Perry said.

Grade 11 Dean Jennifer Craig, who is a part of developing the advisory curriculum, expanded on the idea of an emotional side to the High School. “There were things we could predict, and so we thought about pressure points and how we needed to take care of students at that time. If we look at the arc of a school year, we thought, ‘Where do [students] need guidance? Where do they need certain help or they’re just floundering at this point’,” she said.

However, the thinking behind the shaping of advisories did not stop at academics. “We thought about topics we needed to cover that weren’t included in the school curriculum. For example, would it be beneficial to cover something about relationships around Valentine’s Day or Prom?” Craig said.

Perry also notes in the first few years of the program, the primary emphasis will be on relationship building, citing that in order for meaningful conversations to take place, “there needs to be a level of trust [between teachers and students].”

Craig agrees with Perry’s perspective on the need for building relationships between faculty and students. “[The school curriculum] is pretty academically straight right now,” she said.

Surya Dhir (’17) hopes that the introduction of advisories will be based more on breaking down boundaries between students and teachers. “I hope it’s not overly formal or strict. [I would want dvisories to be] laid back and built more around the relationship between the advisor and the student rather than one that’s more formal,” he said.

While some ideas are in place for the curriculum for advisories, the first semester of advisory is set to be complete by the end of the summer.

The reasons for the change to students daily lives next year varies far and wide, however, most reasons can be catagorized under the desire to create a school that offers more than just college bound students. “[Advisories are]  a systematic program in the school. In this day and age when the fabric [of] schools can so easily be taken by the competition, it’s even more important,” Craig said.

Craig was surprised when she first came to the school and found that there was not an advisory system in place. “I’ve never been in a school before that doesn’t have an advisory program. It’s almost surprising to me that we didn’t have one yet, because it [has been] such a big, robust, fun, loving, caring part of my life these past 22 years of my career.”

Perry asserted that while there is nothing drastically wrong with the school to suggest that the implementation of the advisory is absolutely necessary, there is “enough experience and evidence out there that shows an advisory program can better connect and engage kids,” he said.

Perry also believes that as an international school, the need for an advisory can be even greater. “You are sort of listening to a teacher in the class you are studying and then all of the sudden three o’clock hits and who have [you] had a meaningful conversation with outside of somebody checking a math problem? So yes, I think in a transient environment like ASL it might mean that advisories are even more critical,” Perry said.

The advisory system will also take strain off of grade level deans, as they will not be in charge of the logistical pieces of being responsible for 120 students.  “I think deans [would] love to do more with the 120 kids in their charge, it is just there [are] only so many hours in the day so an advisory system really leverages the teacher student ratio that you have got, it also leverages all of the skills of the deans, and I think you can get the best of both worlds,” Perry said.

Cancella, who taught a Grade 9 Foundations class this year, a course which has been cancelled as it is too similar to the advisory program, is excited to be an advisor next year. “[I have really enjoyed having] non-content driven conversations where students’ interests and concerns can play more of a role,” Cancella said.

However, Cancella does have certain trepidations surrounding advisories next year. “I am not quite sure how it is going to feel fitting [advisories] in between blocks and then only having a max [30 minutes] as the longest chunk of time. I am not sure how that is going to play out, especially if there is more logistical stuff that we are expected to do in that time,” Cancella said.

While some doubts may exist surrounding the advisory program, Cancella believes that it will offer something invaluable to the student body. “As a culture we do not really do very much to help people develop skills and dispositions to care for their mind. And we are rather dismissive when people are emotionally hurt,” he said. “I do think that their skills can be developed and I think we can help people be more prepared for life beyond taking tests and writing well.”

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