Advisory: a half an hour dedicated each week to learning how to navigate the tricky waters of grades, stress, college and the future. What more could students want?
The Palo Alto High School guidance system is composed of three tiers — teacher advisors, guidance counselors and the College and Career Center. The current advisory system for sophomores, juniors and seniors assigns a teacher advisor to every student at the end of his or her freshman year. That teacher then guides his or her student through his or her next three years, meeting every few weeks within a small class, providing students with countless handouts and information about events, testing, transcripts and more. But do students and teachers really bond?
While the current advisory system has benefits to the student population, advisory time could be better spent through more individual meetings and fewer group classes.
The current group classes can cover a range of topics, from handing out transcripts to teaching about mental health awareness. While the information covered is necessary to communicate to students and many of the topics are mandated by the state, it could be distributed in quicker fashion, with the remainder of the time set aside for meetings. According to Ann Deggelman, head of the Teacher Advisor program, this is the intent of the duration of the period, yet if so, this should be communicated more to students so that they are aware and reminded of the importance of meeting individually with their respective advisor.
Some topics are necessary to cover in a group setting in the classroom. Teaching students about the letter of recommendation process and college application essays are just a few examples of when it benefits students to sit together in the classroom to cover material. It also creates more efficiency, as teacher advisors do not have to repeat the same information to every student.
However, a crucial part of having a teacher advisor throughout high school is to have someone to go to for any questions, someone who understands a student’s situation and knows him or her on a more personal level than other staff members or administrators. This can be difficult to accomplish when a student is only one of many in a classroom receiving informative handouts without much personal interaction.
Some students may cultivate a personal relationship with their advisor by having him or her as a teacher for one of their classes. However, not all students have this opportunity. The guidance department has worked to add designated individual meeting times, but there are few. Many feel as if they do not know their teacher advisors well, and that their advisors may not know them well either, as it requires more effort to build a relationship with an advisor that they do not have as a teacher for an academic class.
“I know a lot of people who don’t know their advisors as well because they’ve never had that person as a teacher. It is hard to really get to knew them in 35 minutes once or twice a month on average,” junior Bethany Wong said. If neither party feels as if they understand the other, how can a teacher effectively mentor that student through the college and career planning process, or write them a letter of recommendation?
The advisory system could be best improved through less frequent meetings for each student, but accomplishing more through an individualized approach with one-on-one meetings between students and teacher advisors. Teachers could meet with three or four students briefly each week to check in on their classes as well as mental health and stress. For students who may be struggling but unwilling or embarrassed to ask for help, this would ensure a teacher is looking out for them. Advisors are required to seek out students with Ds and Fs but students could be struggling to get higher grades and advisors may not necessarily realize that struggle is present. If advisors could not feasibly meet with all students individually, even meeting in small groups of three or four could make students feel more at ease.
Also, many students are curious about possible career paths or college opportunities, yet do not know the correct questions to ask. In an individual meeting, teachers could address a student’s interests for the future and help a student understand possible routes to success. By better understanding students’ goals, teacher advisors could better advise their pupil toward achieving whichever goal they have.
The current advisory system allots four weeks in the year for “individual meetings.” Students have the opportunity to contact their advisors for a meeting. Some advisors contact the students themselves if they feel a student is struggling or wish to talk to that student for any number of reasons. However, students who need to be talking to their advisors are not always the ones eagerly seeking out advice. They may not know what questions to ask or feel a stigma in approaching their advisor. In the case of students who may be feeling excessively stressed or depressed, it might be unlikely that those students advocate for themselves. Therefore, it is necessary to have the advisors check-in on students regularly.
The stigma associated with seeking help discourages some students from speaking with their advisor if anything concerns them. “Individual meetings are usually used for advisors to talk to students who have grades that may be particularly low and academic troubles,” Wong said. “It would be helpful, though, if advisors could also make time to talk to all advisory students one-on-one.”
Both advisors and students need to work together in order to create a place for students to gain information and just simply talk.The sheer creation of the advisory system shows Paly’s dedication to helping students remain on track to achieve their goals. Yet as a community that prides itself of student success, we can do better.