Advisory Conundrum: No Easy Answers

(Photo: via CVHS)

(Photo: via CVHS)

David Vu and Laghima Pandey

For the last two years, Fairfax County Public Schools has implemented RULER lessons, but starting this year, CVHS has incorporated PBIS (Positive Behavior Intervention System) RULER lessons into a new medium called ROAR.

Here at CVHS, students from the same grade level meet with the same teacher every Tuesday and Friday. During this period of time, homeroom teachers give lessons on RULER (Recognizing, Understanding, Labeling, Expressing, Regulating emotions) and ROAR (Respect, Ownership, Achievement, Relationship). Students are shown slideshows and short videos on topics related to understanding and controlling emotions.

But this concept has led to polarizing views among the student body. As a result, we decided to conduct a survey to allow students to give their honest opinions on Homeroom lessons. This survey included questions on what grade the student is in, whether they enjoy the advisory lessons, whether they find advisory to be useful, have they been effective, and their own personalized responses.

Out of 222 responses, the majority came from freshmen (29.7 percent) and seniors (30.6 percent), followed by juniors (22.1 percent), and then sophomores (17.6 percent).

When asked to rate how much they enjoy Advisory lessons, 140 people rated it a one, 51 rated it a two, 26 rated it a three, four rated it a four, and only one respondent rated it a five.

(on a scale from 1 — not enjoying it at all — to 5 — loving it)

When asked to rate how helpful Advisory lessons are, 153 respondents rated it a one, 37 rated it a two, 23 rated it a three, seven rated it a four, and two people rated it a five.

(on a scale from 1 — not helpful at all — to 5 — really helpful)

Finally, when they were asked to rate the effectiveness of Advisory lessons, 150 people rated it a one, 46 rated it a two, 15 rated it a three, eight rated it a four, and three respondents rated it a five.

(on a scale from 1 — not effective at all — to 5 — really effective)

A common complaint among those who responded was that students felt like they were being lectured to and treated as elementary school aged children. Many agreed that the lessons seemed very basic and that they already knew about what they were being taught. Another commonality was that students felt like teachers didn’t seem to be engaged in the lessons as well. The students believe that the lesson plans shouldn’t feel forced and that they should be more like an open discussion. While most students dislike the lessons, a few students do feel that the lessons are helpful to them.

Most students gave constructive and insightful responses when asked about what changes could be made to Advisory lessons. Many think that we should get rid of these lessons, while others say that there should be more hands-on activities (not necessarily paperwork, but more of an open discussion where people feel comfortable talking). A lot of students mentioned that this class period should be turned into a study hall. One respondent felt that the faculty should “Have students take a survey about the things they are struggling with so that the topic in the classes are relatable to all…students [involved].” Another person suggested that the lessons should be“more focused on mental health and helping students understand the specifics of how they are feeling and why they feel that way…the lessons do focus on emotions, but not well enough so that students can actually get to the root of their problems.”

After we conducted our survey, we had a meeting with Principal Lehman to discuss what the school administration is doing to improve Advisory. He had stated that the RULER and ROAR lessons cannot be completely removed due to the fact that, as we mentioned before, the RULER lessons are required by the county to be implemented in every FCPS school. The faculty was well aware of the problems and conflicts expressed by the students on Advisory issues from last year, so this year, they made some adjustments to fix some of the problems that resulted from last year’s advisory methods. This year, to make sure lessons don’t overlap, teachers are assigned students from the same grade level; for example, all 9th graders are grouped into classes that consist of only 9th graders, and with teachers who mostly teach 9th grade.

Even with these new arrangements, a good number of students still don’t think that these lessons are helping them personally and would rather have the advisory period turned into a study hall for them to catch up on work. Mr. Lehman stated that, although it sounds great to have Advisory classes turned into a study hall, it would possibly take away too much structure from the school schedule, leading to students increasing their amount of tardies and absences. Mr. Lehman stated that:

“We want the time to be productive, not trying to just waste 30 minutes in the day, but there are multiple priorities for that time, and that makes it challenging to try to meet all of those priorities. People have different perspectives on whether those priorities match their own individual priorities. You just can’t make everyone happy. You have to figure out what are the key priorities.”

When asked about the purpose behind the Advisory lessons and why every FCPS schools has to do them, Mr. Lehman responded with:

“Advisory is supposed to be an important time for remediation and support for students who need additional help. People who have higher levels of emotional intelligence are more successful. Academics are important but there are aspects of personal development that are important too. We need to be open to learning beyond academics.”

When the Advisory period was first implemented, the faculty and staff did not expect such a divisive response from the students. Even though students are very vocal and outspoken about their opinions on Advisory, the lessons are meant to help us deal with the issues and problems that we face everyday. If we are to take full advantage of Advisory lessons in the future, there will likely need to be some compromise on both sides.