If someone were to walk into an SAS classroom on any given Tuesday or Thursday morning, chances are they would see a small group of students playing dodgeball, sharing their weekly highlights, competing in a game of cards or acknowledging one another through some form of a game or greeting.
Twice a week, students spend half an hour with the same close-knit group of 12-13 students and one teacher. They greet each other by name, giving everyone in the room a moment in the spotlight. They discuss relationships, themes, and world events. They express their opinions and ideas to their peers. And they will do this for the rest of their high school careers. This is the advisory system in Singapore American School.
“Advisory was set up with the goal of helping to make our big school feel smaller,” said Jay Londgren, a member of the advisory board at SAS. “Ultimately, everything comes down to the desire to help build relationships, both between teachers and students and between the students themselves.”
Many students, especially those returning to school, have been confused about the purpose of advisory. But as they slowly start to adjust to the system, the motive is becoming apparent.
“I’m really hoping to see a cultural shift, a climate change. That means teachers getting to know kids in different ways, and kids having the opportunity to know their teachers outside of the classroom,” said Sue Nesbitt, a high school counselor and the head of the advisory board.
While many students are on board with the new program, one complaint some students have is the fact that not all the advisories are the same, and not everyone understands what students are expected to learn.
“We don’t have a say in anything we do,” said sophomore Maya Denzel, “and the environments are different for every class. If each teacher was following the same plan for advisory, it would make more sense in the way we all interact as a school.”
Ms. Nesbitt explains the reasoning behind not having a detailed structure to every group. “We’re teaching relationships, so it has to look different with each one. That’s fine, because every group will move at a different pace.” As long as the central focus of each group is a greeting, a main topic, and a reflection to track personal growth, each advisory doesn’t need to have a set structure.
For the ninth graders, advisory will make more of an impact as they will have it for four years. Freshman Margi Antonio said, “It’s pretty similar compared to homebase in middle school. We would see each other every day for a shortened period time, and we’d do more chill things in homebase like playing games and just hanging out. But in advisory it’s more structured.”
Others have a different view on the comparison between middle school homebase and advisory in high school. “Homebase last year was really chill and you could just hang out with your classmates,” said freshman Alex Danielson. “I don’t think it’s going to be beneficial over the next four years. I get how they are trying to do counseling, but I don’t think it will help that much.”
But other students disagree. “I think advisory has affected me in that it has really helped me to broaden my horizons to get to know other people in the school,” said sophomore Quinn Tucker. “I would say it’s been a positive change. I think it’s a really good experience for people to make new friends if they don’t have anyone they know in their advisory.”
One challenge that the community has been faced with is working around the schedule. Students have three days of flex period during the week, but advisory prevents students from having a balanced schedule – many students just want to be able to complete homework and put their time to good use – and in the eyes of many, advisory may block that productivity.
Junior Sasha Wodtke said, “Sometimes if you have a test or homework it might just be something you want to get done, so having advisory can be a little bit of a distraction.”
However, this doesn’t stop students from seeing the positive side. Sasha continues, “I honestly think advisory is an opportunity for us to meet people that we wouldn’t normally have the chance to be around. I can already see that I definitely acknowledge the people in my advisory in the hallways, so that’s really nice. I think people are going to benefit from this in the end.”
Over time, the ultimate goal is to see progress being made for students in their relationships and their personal well being. “If you cut off the social-emotional well being of students, then you cut off basically a large part of their education as a human being,” concluded Ms. Nesbitt, “so, these are skills you absolutely need to lead a life that’s full and successful.”