“This year, I feel like I’ve lost some of the freedom to get to know [my advisory], but with the flex day we still have time to have silly discussions and things like that,” said Leslie Gelsomini, teacher at ORHS and a member of the group that created advisory.
The first sweltering week of school found students back in their daily routines and back to their advisories. This year there was a change to the daily program. Thanks to data from surveys distributed to students and teachers last year, advisory has been changed to be more consistent from advisor to advisor. Two days of every week follow curriculum and discussions designed by counseling, one flex day to play games and do activities, and two days of office hours to get work done. In addition, students now need passes from their destinations to go somewhere during office hours. It is still quite early, but already there is controversy surrounding the changes.
When advisory was founded at the start of the 2015 school year, it was because the school failed to meet an essential requirement of accreditation by the New England Association of Schools and Colleges(NEASC), which states:
There is a formal, on-going program(s) or process(es) through which each student has an adult in the school, in addition to the school counselor, who knows the student well and assists the student in achieving the school’s 21st century learning expectations.
Accreditation is a process that guarantees equal education standards throughout New England and the school’s review for this 10 year cycle is incumbent.
Advisory was founded with the following mission statement in order to create a program that would follow the guidelines of accreditation:
The purpose of Advisory is to promote a safe and nurturing environment in Oyster River High School, where the uniqueness of every member is valued. Advisory will support the school’s mission statement with particular emphasis on strengthening student and teacher relationships, providing academic support for students, and developing a positive school environment.
Builds a positive school culture
Provides students with an adult advocate
Supports students in academics and social-emotional wellness
Fosters relationships among our entire student body
Provides a stable, small group community
“The changes come,” said Mark Milliken, the Dean of Faculty at ORHS, “not because of the upcoming accreditation, but are based on feedback really. It was based on the survey last year of faculty and students. There was a desire to give teachers more resources to work with.”
71% of the 460 surveyed students thought that advisory met it’s mission statement. 29% thought that it did not. While this may not seem like a substantial amount, this means 132 people did not believe advisory met the mission statement.
“The surveys distributed last year showed that many students and teachers thought advisory didn’t meet its mission statement. The changes were to improve the social and psychological chaos,” said Gelsomini. In addition, 56.64% of the population thought advisory was a worthwhile experience, while 43.36% thought it was not.
Many students are still not sure how much they like the changes to the program. “I don’t like to have to do more work during advisory because I have to do work throughout the day and it’s nice to have a break,” said Olivia Flemming, (‘17). She asked on the survey last year that advisory be more relaxing.
Students can expect to talk about topics involving coping skills, mental health, suicide prevention, interest inventories, career exploration, bullying and cyberbullying, stress management, resumes, study skills, drug and alcohol awareness, goal setting, college, and teen dating.
Kim Sekera, of the school counseling department, said, “A lot of the topics are important to everyone. Some are more benign, like goal setting; Some are more serious, like suicide. Both are important and should be on students’ radars.”
The topics discussed are designed so that the counseling department can share information with students that they normally wouldn’t be able to.
Skylar Bagdon, (‘17), said, “I hope [these topics] are presented in such a way that they are taken seriously, but I’m not sure that they will have an effect on the student body.”
Another intention of the changes is to make it easier for the teachers to form relationships with their students. “I hope [they do], because that’s the design of the lessons and the theme,” said Milliken. “I think for some of the teachers, they didn’t know how to go about talking with their advisees and I think this structure can help them better form these bonds.”
Advisory will continue to change based on student and teacher feedback, and next year could be completely different.
“I think right now, it’s a little bit of wait-and-see. For this year, improvement would be making sure everyone is doing the same thing, that way we can get a better baseline for next year,” said Sekera.
Written by George Philbrick