Even a global pandemic can engender a positive practice.
Exhibit A at Bedford High School is called ‘Advisory.’
The program matches groups of students across all four grades with two teachers and other staff for a 30-minute conversation each week.
The participants—students, teachers, administrators—were unanimous in their praise for Advisory, shared with the School Committee at its virtual meeting last week.
Advisory at BHS was actually launched a year earlier than planned. That was during last academic year when Covid-19 had ravaged the school culture with its hybrid and remote classrooms; deleted or compromised activities; and overall uncertainty.
“Covid has posed a number of challenges, but it offered an opportunity at a time when we really needed it,” said BHS Principal Heather Galante.
So, encouraged by students, the high school administration began Advisory as a pilot program, while a faculty committee met to refine it with an educational consultant—funded by the Bedford Educational Foundation. “We sorted out and did our visionary work as a team, even though we were doing while we were training.”
“We really wanted a time to meet where students could form relationships with adults and other students,” she described. “We are very interested in continuing to foster a community of care.” The Advisory periods, she said, are “a time when students can reflect on their high school experience in a casual and safe format.”
“Once a week, for a half-hour, that time is sacred,” she stated. “It is uninterrupted.”
Three BHS teachers shared their impressions. “Since its inception, it has been a fun experience,” said Jillian Butler of the English Language Arts Department. “Sometimes it’s structure, sometimes we just talk about whatever show is on their mind. Unstructured time really reveals a lot.”
Her colleague Sarah Kane commented, “As a school, we’ve made a commitment between teachers and students because of that special time. It’s important to hear what’s going on with students during these stressful times.” Added mathematics teacher Samuel Sprangel, “Advisory helps me get to know these kids in a different light, to get to know what their interests are. Teachers are really dedicated to making this thing work.”
Students offered positive impressions as well. Freshman Finn Harrington said Advisory is “a great time to see kids with different points of view.” Sophomore Grace Holland said one of her favorite aspects is the opportunity to talk about national events “and have time to think about it,”
Kelly Aweh-Kisob said Advisory is “a safe space to share anything and everything, a perfect mix for students able to all come together and share different perspectives.” The senior in the group, TJ Mead, commented that because of health restrictions, “we haven’t been able to interact with the younger cohort as much as we would have liked. Advisory is a period where I can learn about kids I might not know as much about, and find common interests.”
Galante told the committee that the BHS administration worked with Hanscom Air Force base educators to ensure that incoming ninth-graders would be paired for Advisory “so they had a friend or a peer as they integrated into the Advisory team.” In answer to a question, Galante said every faculty and staff member participates, and they do not receive stipends for this role.
“We often talk as assistant principals that we are not just disciplinarians,” said Thomas Casey. “Advisory is an opportunity to showcase that for kids in real-time.” Daniel Hudder, also a BHS assistant principal, recounted a session in which participants made holiday cards to send to veterans. “It was so great to see kids engaged in the process and give back to the community.”
Mike Rosenberg can be reached at [email protected], or 781-983-1763