A new, accelerated student advisory program at Bedford High School is receiving high marks from students, teachers, and other members of the staff.
BHS Principal Heather Galante, backed by Assistant Principals Dan Hudder and Tom Casey, and a delegation of students, presented details on the program at last Tuesday’s School Committee meeting.
Student advisory is a 25-minute weekly bloc during which groups of 8 to 12 students meet with an adult – everyone, not just teachers. “Every person in our school natters,” the principal said. The larger groups are virtual.
All four grades are represented, which Galante said is a strength. “It’s wonderful to see the upperclassmen help the newcomers,” she said, adding that it also avoids a single grade bonding over four years and excluding a new arrival.
According to the BHS school improvement plan, student advisory was scheduled to be launched in September 2021, Galante said. “We were going to do our training with a consultant this year, but our students and teachers on the reopening committee said we need it this year. This is a credit to our faculty and staff because they were all on board. We have got to do this on behalf of and for kids. And the students were really asking for it.”
“We know if students feel safe and connected, they are going to take academic risks and pride in their school building,” Galante asserted. “Research has shown that when students make a lasting connection with at least one caring adult, academic and personal outcomes improve.”
The concept originated during a Principal’s Advisory Committee discussion. Galante cited a youth risk behavior survey a few years ago that included “a section that really speaks to student connection to adults in our building.” There was similar feedback from a 2018 Climate of Care survey, she continued. “Our faculty and staff listen to student feedback. They want to improve.”
“What kept coming up was advisory,” Galante said. A pilot program was tried last school year for the ninth grade. “It felt a little choppy and we weren’t doing with fidelity.” This year, she said, “The program “has been going really well.” She said survey results from participants will be valuable. “It’s great just to connect with kids,” Hudder declared. “It’s the highlight of my week for sure, and I have heard that across the board.”
The principal enumerated several goals of student advisory:
- “Creating experiences that emphasize collaboration, responsibility, leadership, and problem-solving;”
- “Building positive peer relationships by offering opportunities for conversation in mixed-grade level groupings;”
- Establishing a “regular check-in for students to address schoolwide concerns and build safe and supporting environments.”
In answer to a question from committee Chair Dan Brosgol, Galante said administrators are hearing from students for extra help and support. “We are getting feedback about the schedule, feedback about Zoom fatigue from students and faculty. They’re missing their school life as they knew it. BHS is a really special place where students gather in common areas, walk into classrooms and offices without appointments.”
A range of students joined the School Committee to share first-hand assessments.
“It’s such a nice break from academics,” said senior Annanta Budhathoki, adding that a “human connection can really be fortified.” Advisory provides “a small bit of spontaneity that I need during Covid.” Prakhar Gupta, a junior, commented that if not for the mixed-grade format, “I wouldn’t have been able to meet many underclassmen.” Mya Brewster, a sophomore, told the board, “I love just getting away from academics. I feel very safe in my advisory. It’s a new setting, a clean slate, a fresh start.”
Senior Alethia Chan commented that the opportunity for advisory was “one of the main reasons for my staying in the hybrid mode. It really helps my emotional and mental health.” Senior Ryan Doucette, the student representative on the School Committee, added that social isolation “can be depressing sometimes. Being able to go into school or even online and have a period where your focus is on interacting with other students is like a high school version of recess.”
Galante said initial suggestions from students indicates a desire for a more consistent standard for the adult leaders.
“In order to keep it sustainable and meeting the needs of students, we need help,” Galante said. She mentioned the Bedford Educational Foundation, which is considering helping fund consultants to do training and visioning.
Mike Rosenberg can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or 781-983-1763
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