Using Advisory Periods to Build School Community

Using Advisory Periods to Build School Community

The work that schools have to do to prevent and respond to bullying increasingly extends past the schoolhouse door.  As educators and administrators grapple with social issues such as cyberbullying, new and innovative strategies are emerging.  One such approach was recently profiled in the New York Times.

Facing History School in New York City engages students in critical analysis and problem solving of major social issues throughout the curriculum.  The idea is that, “by looking at case studies about social injustices, students try to understand the circumstances and decisions surrounding these events and then relate that back to their own experience and communities.”  In doing so, historical events can be linked to current issues such as cyberbullying.  The academic coursework is supplemented by “advisory periods,” regular meetings of same students and educators with structured topics and discussions during the four years of high school.

The model links to many of the principles promoted in the Virginia Center for Inclusive Communities’ Educational Equity Initiative.  A few years ago, one participating middle school saw a 74% decrease in discipline referrals over 12 months after implementing a “One Book: One School” program that included a school-wide reading of a book about bystanders and regular advisory group meetings. The school climate markedly improved as students and educators built relationships and fostered a sense of belonging.

In both the case of this middle school and Facing History School, “the ultimate goal is to encourage students to be both good students as well as civic participants.”

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