Advisories in Austin: Voices of Educators and Students

Between 2007 and 2011, ESR worked intensively with faculty members and leadership at ten high schools within the Austin (Texas) Independent School District to establish and fundamentally integrate Advisories. ESR consultants provided professional development institutes and embedded coaching to ensure that Advisories flourished as an essential structure within the schools to ensure that every student was known well by at least one adult and a supportive peer group. Advisories helped create conditions in the school that produced increased student engagement and academic performance. Here’s what staff members and students had to say about the critical role Advisories play in their schools:

What is advisory?

Student: Advisory is mainly about finding out what you need in life, what you need for the future, and about going to college, and about how to get your grades up and how your advisor will give you confidence to talk to teachers if you’re having a bad time or need extra help.

Patrick Patterson, Advisor and Principal of Lyndon B. Johnson HS:  For me, advisory is such a powerful part of breaking a large school down into smaller groups so that families have a contact person to advocate for their kids.

To do advisory, all you need are teachers or any other adults [in the building] who are really willing to foster relationships with kids. It doesn’t cost a lot of money. If you build it into your school schedule, it doesn’t even cost a lot of time. And you can set it up in a way that it doesn’t even take a lot of planning. And sometimes our kids have serious issues and we can help them with those issues. So, if you’re a true advocate, which I think every educator should be, it really shouldn’t take a lot of set-up.

Student: The advisor is someone you can talk to about your grades, issues, and problems.

Student: We meet every day and I think that’s important because every day there’s going to be something going on in your life that you need somebody to talk to and express your feelings to or ask for help.

Student: Many of the advisors are very helpful and will help you with whatever you need. And you can ask them about anything academic or otherwise – in any subject or any part of life that you need help with which is what makes it different from your classes.

How advisory supports postsecondary planning

Jane Farmer, Advisor and Librarian, McCallum HS: Advisory can help them develop their vision of what they’ll do afterwards. And having a group that they know to talk to about it with – and an adult that they know to talk to about it – can help.

Cecilia Gutierrez, Advisor and Career and Technical Education/Family & Consumer Science Teacher, Akins HS: I think it is really important for advisors to talk about postsecondary planning because a lot of times students think of education as ending at graduation and you really need to talk about the idea that that is really just the first real big step to whatever you’re going to do with your life.

Student: We talk a lot about opportunities for scholarship and where we all are in the college search, and if we aren’t planning on going to college, my advisor has provided us with a ton of information about where to go after high school which has been really beneficial. I personally am going to go to college, but if I weren’t it would really benefit me too.

Making connections and building community through advisory

Christina Almaraz, Assistant Principal, International HS: Advisory has brought in a sense of community. It has really made a difference in the relationship between the adults and the students.

Bill Staples, Advisor and World History Teacher, McCallum HS: I may be the only teacher in that particular year or throughout the day that they connect with. The connection between teacher and student is really enhanced by advisory.

Tai Choice, School Improvement Facilitator, David Crockett HS: Teachers have good relationships with students, and while we don’t have any hard data on it, we would say that it is mainly because of advisory. When we do our surveys, we get feedback that reports that students and teachers have good relationships, and students with other students within their advisories have built relationship also that they would not have outside of advisory.

Student: Advisory is fun. You learn. You get to communicate with your other peers in your group and it helps with your grades.

Student: It helps you stay connected with all aspects of the school and how the school is changing, and pretty much everything that has to do with your education.

Student: We do a lot of group activities where everybody is involved. You get to know everybody better.

Brennan Gage, Advisor and Math Teacher, David Crockett HS: Advisory gives them an anchor both in terms of the community of the other students and a helpful caring supportive adult that can give them guidance.

Student: Your advisor is kind of like your friend, your counselor, your family member. You can talk to them.

Leticia Vega, Principal, International HS: I think it is the primary safety net for our students.

Jim Furgeson, Advisor and US History Teacher, McCallum HS: It puts them in a situation where for four years they will be with students they otherwise may have no access to.

Patrick Patterson: Once you decide to go with a model that includes advocacy— you really need to advocate for the kid. Advisory is not another class. It is an opportunity to become the face of the school. It gives students a sense of belonging, a sense of empowerment. It gives them expectations and a sense of brother- and sisterhood, and that’s what all young people need.

Student: You get band kids. You get athletes. You get kids that aren’t involved in anything, everybody’s together.

Student: Nobody is singled out or left behind. Everybody comes together as one.

John Dagar, Advisor and Special Education and Math Teacher, Austin HS:  Seminar (advisory) gives us an opportunity for students who may not generally be in the mix together. You’ll have AP students with students taking all general classes. What’ve noticed is that kids are more likely to go across the hall now, that kind of thing. They are more likely to sit down at a different lunch table.

Melissa Arasin, Advisory Co-chair and Science Teacher, International HS: The kids are connecting despite their differences. They are really starting to see the similarities between themselves and say, “Hey, I’m more like you than I’m not.”

Cecilia Gutierrez: They can talk about anything in this room, and that’s one thing that we’ve gotten better about. Some of the students who started off not talking at all are now participating a little bit more.

Student:  The whole feeling, the whole energy here, is a happy mode, something to look forward to, like a family in a sense.

Craig Shapiro, Principal, David Crockett HS: There are more kids reporting to us that they feel part of the school, that there is a responsible adult that cares about them, that they feel they have an advocate in the building.

Patrick Patterson: When you go to a system that is so powerful – and I know it’s so powerful because I’ve been doing it for so long – it’s  really doing kids and families a disservice if adults don’t take it seriously and look upon it as another prep. It is a prep, a prep for success, for these kids’ lives, and that’s what an educator should be about. At the end of the day we want to make a difference, and this is our way of doing it.