The honest truth behind Advisory

December 10, 2022

Teachers assess Advisory: fixable flaws or lost cause?

According to PA’s Advisory co-lead Ashley Karunaratne, the biggest issue with Advisory is the attitude of both teachers and students: “I think Advisory could be good, but everybody hates it, and…if you hate something, then you’re not going to get anybody else to like it, are you?” 

In other words, a teacher’s approach to Advisory can make a big impact: student experiences with Advisory can vary wildly depending on whether or not their teachers present the lessons in an engaging manner.

Karunaratne serves as a liaison between VBCPS and PA, receiving the Advisory curriculum from the district, then finalizing and distributing it to teachers. While there are some components she is required to include in the lessons, she also has some flexibility.

“Some of the lessons that are provided to us we have modified a lot because as they’re given to us, they’re not conducive to using at all,” said Karunaratne. These modifications can range from adding icebreakers to changing the activities entirely.

Karunaratne’s goal is to lessen Advisory’s burden on teachers as much as possible by clarifying directions and making lessons easier to follow: “Usually the lessons that we get [from VBCPS] are pretty…basic, in the sense that there’s not much to them. We try to make it so we’re still doing what’s being asked of us, but we’re making it somewhat more interesting than just ‘here’s a website, look at it.’”

In a way, Advisory could be beneficial to teachers because it can be used for assemblies that would otherwise take up their instructional time.

When it comes to scheduling, Karunaratne hopes for more consistency in the future rather than frequently changing formats, so that the process can be gradually improved upon rather than starting from scratch nearly every year.

Conversely, Government teacher Angela Cosimano believes that Advisory is a “waste of time.” Critiquing the format, Cosimano says, “I’m not sure putting groups of strangers together for 30 minutes every other week is the way to build relationships.”

For Cosimano, Advisory planning ends up being an afterthought on top of two fast-paced 4×4 classes to prepare and grade for, diluting the lessons’ potential to benefit students.

“I understand that we might still need to do SEL…but I think we could work that in better in other ways,” says Cosimano. For example, the return of One Lunch would allow students with similar interests to meet and form relationships organically, and SEL lessons could still be offered to interested students during that time.

IB and AP Psychology teacher Amanda Augustine shares Cosimano’s belief that while SEL is important to teach students, there could be other ways to accomplish it. “SEL is important; it’s maybe one of the most important things to happen in school,” Augustine explains. “But I don’t think a 30-minute session with a teacher you don’t know…doing a lesson that [they] didn’t create…every couple weeks or so…[is] the best way to do Advisory.” 

Augustine proposes that the lessons taught in Advisory, shouldn’t really be given their own class at all. “I think [SEL] is embedded into my class. Any teacher that is doing their job for VBCPS is teaching SEL in their actual classes.” Augustine explains how in the past, teachers were simply expected to teach content to their students but now, it’s “totally different.” 

“Now, mental health matters more,” says Augustine. “We’re not just teaching students content. We’re teaching them to be responsible, to make good decisions, to be a good person, and to manage their emotions. And many teachers are, they’re teaching that stuff in their class. If we’re all doing that, then we’re meeting the whole purpose of Advisory without having to meet with random groups of 12-15 kids every two weeks, because you’re getting [SEL] from all of your other teachers in your classes.”

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Students advise ditching Advisory

Sophomore Piper Richardson isn’t impressed with PA’s new system for Advisory. “I have learned nothing, literally nothing,” Richardson explains. “I don’t think I’ve learned anything for social, emotional learning, or wellness at all.” Richardson reflects on the system for Advisory last year, and how its frequency has changed, as well as the content. “Last year, we had it very rarely, but now this year, it’s almost every week.” 

Richardson’s views are shared by many in the PA community. According to VBCPS, the purpose of Advisory is to foster social-emotional learning (SEL), but in a survey conducted by The Page about this year’s Advisory schedule, 68 percent of students either agree or strongly agree that Advisory lessons do not accomplish that goal. Only eight percent of students believe that the bimonthly lessons are a good use of their time. 

“[Advisory] is so wasteful and has not helped me develop any skills or learn anything about myself,” according to sophomore Anna Griesmer. “Instead, I am forced to complete silly little tasks that could be considered busy work.” An anonymous respondent to the survey went deeper, critiquing the lessons themselves: “I do not like the assignments. They are not fun, and the ‘critical thinking’ and ‘bonding’ is far too forced. If the school wants me to build relationships with other students, this will not work.” 

According to students, there are additional problems that should be addressed. Currently, Advisory is every B-day that falls on a Wednesday. If students had the ability to change the current schedule, 28 percent would make lessons less frequent, and 30 percent would get rid of them altogether.  

“One of the big problems is that [Advisory] is such a short block,” explains Junior Daniel Sweeney. “It’s not enough time to give us stuff to retain, or to focus on something. So we have these short assignments that we don’t really retain information from them, we just do them and then…what’s the point?”

For some, the teaching seems to be as big of a problem as the frequency and content of the lessons. One anonymous respondent believes their teacher “feels [Advisory is] more like an obligation than something that she’s invested in.” According to another respondent, “none of my teachers like them, they complain about it, even my own Advisory teacher.” 

However, other respondents feel that the teacher is not the problem, but the students. “My Advisory teacher seems excited about Advisory,” an anonymous respondent claims, “but the students aren’t.” 

Sophomore Philip Dan suggests bringing back the system of Advisory from the previous school year. “Last year, at least we had Advisory with teachers we knew so it was some form of bonding experience,” says Dan. “But now it’s with teachers we don’t know, and it feels like a waste of time.” 

Junior Mary Grace Mathias believes that Advisory could be improved if it focused on more skills for students’ future school careers like “spending time teaching…better study habits…tips to get into college, [and] how to write a college essay.” 

Many students believe that Advisory should focus on life skills to help outside of school and in the real world. “I want a lesson that teaches me things I will need in college or adulthood,” believes Griesmer. “I want to learn how to type, how to write an email, different ways of meditation, different things that would be considered advice and related to social and emotional learning.”

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