This was a statement I made to a group of parents at an evening event in September of this school year. I repeated that declaration to faculty in a subsequent meeting and encouraged them to consider that what they do as advisors as being their number one priority. I am a strong believer that because we have outstanding educators teaching in all subject areas at Southridge, our students are going to receive a first rate education that will prepare them well for the academic rigours of university. There is simply no doubt that the standards we hold and the commitment we have to academics will always be a priority here. But when the Globe and Mail reports that university students in Canada are suffering from anxiety and depression at alarming rates, and are more likely than ever to contemplate suicidal thoughts, then we have a responsibility to ensure our students are taken care of from a social and emotional perspective. We are called to educate the whole child which certainly includes academic subjects such as science, English, math and the humanities, but equally important is that students remain physically active, are committed to the arts and service, have access to adequate counselling resources, and are able to find balance in their lives.
Typically, as students move from elementary or middle school to high school, one of the biggest challenges that they face is the fact that they no longer have a connection to one trusted adult who knows them well as they did in a Junior School setting, but rather, they travel from one class to another throughout the day and can have upwards of 10 different teachers throughout the school year. The result in many high schools is a feeling of being disconnected from adults and a dependency upon peers inevitably results. In a Phi Delta Kappan article titled, “Meeting the needs of young adolescents,” Douglas J. MacIver (Johns Hopkins University) writes, “One major challenge facing educators in the middle grades is how to provide early adolescents with the social and emotional support they need to succeed as students. As young adolescents strive for autonomy, as they grapple with how to regulate their own behaviour, and make responsible choices, their need for close, caring adult supervision and guidance is paramount.” I believe we do this best through advisory.
This year, the Senior School committed to lengthening the time that students spend each day in advisory from what was, in the past, a mere few moments for attendance, to now, a 10-minute period first thing in the morning every day where students connect with a multi-grade grouping of students and an advisor (or two) that will stay together for five years. Additionally, long-advisories of 30 minutes happen two times per month (something we are looking at extending to weekly for next year). Many advisories schedule special events like breakfast meetings either at school or at local restaurants throughout the year, and all advisories serve at the Surrey Urban Mission every year. Senior School students at Southridge are known well, on a deeper level beyond the classroom, by at least one trusted adult through advisory.
Advisory at Southridge is something that helps our students to understand that we are all one. It is not a perfect system, and we are always looking for ways to improve it, but advisory will continue to be the most important thing we do.
From the Spring 2018 Spirit Magazine