Everyone Needs a Catcher (OES’ New Advisory System)

By Vy Nguyen

Earlier this week, OES upper schoolers were informed about Asha Appel’s plan to introduce a different Advisory system. I spoke with her this week about the new plan. Here’s what she had to say:

What exactly is this new Advisory system?

“The advisory system isn’t necessarily new, but it is a move towards the change that we want to make. I call it a single-grade-level advisory, which means that instead of having advisory with kids from a lot of grades, each advisory group will consist of students from the same grade. Additionally, there will also be senior leaders, who are, in a sense, mother hens for the 9th graders.”

In your opinion, what is worth changing about the old system?

In my opinion, there is nothing wrong with the current Advisory system, however the community is always looking for ways to change our learning experience. OES would not be the school that it is if we aren’t constantly learning and changing ourselves. You see, we ask students to do that all the time, we ask them to say “okay, great job, what else can you do to learn?”

That’s where we are right now. Now, one of the school’s top priorities is to increase support for kids, which will hopefully improve through the new advisory system.

Is there any foreseeable risk to this plan?

There will obviously be some risks and complications that come along with the change, however both faculty and staff are working as a team to figure out the best way to move towards a single-grade advisory without disrupting the relationships between advisors and advisees. As I said at the end of my presentation, there will be a form coming out about changes in advisory groups. There are kids who have already approached me and shared their interests in switching advisors for all sorts of reasons, and I believe that with all the changes coming up, everyone will have that opportunity and we’ll see what happens.

One thing that I am thinking about is the relationships between students from different grades that are formed by being in the same advisory group. There are lots of benefits to having multi-grade advisory groups, and sometimes you can develop really good relationships between older kids and younger kids, but not always. So the way that I like to think about it is that these relationships are present, but not intentional, and my goal is to see how we can make that bonding to be intentional. Personally, I believe that a buddy system, where advisory groups from different grades collaborate and socialize, would be very invaluable. For example, 9th-grade advisory groups will work with 11th-grade, the 10th-grade will work with 12th, and so forth. Also, as I mentioned, there is also the senior leader position, which is a chance to create the connection between upperclassmen and underclassmen.

How is the change affecting faculty and staff?

One of the hardest things for some faculty is that they’re really wedded to the idea of having many people from different grades in their advisory group. However, I think all of them are pretty excited about the new system and are looking forward to having a team to work with.

Do you think that the new Advisory system will encourage the network between students and faculty/ staff?

As you know, every class will have a class dean, and this person will work with a team of advisors. They will meet regularly to talk about students in the class, what’s happening with that class, and how we can strengthen and support that class better. The addition and focus of people will definitely tighten the network between students and the faculty/staff, and the increased advisory meeting time will be very beneficial as well. We will make a slight adjustment to activities, so instead of just 15 minutes on Tuesday like you always have, students will have the additional 20 minutes on Thursday with their advisor. It’s really hard to form relationships if you don’t get to meet people that often, and it’s also really hard for your advisor to be able to do the things that they need to be able to support you.

What else do you have in plan for us?

We have some new administrative positions, some have already been discussed and decided. The last slide of my presentation, which is about these new occupations, was not shown at Gathering because it seemed to me that people were already very baffled over the first change.

OES already has directors of athletics, Dennis Sullivan and Missy Smith, the director of inclusion and engagement, Dori King, and the director of residential life, Sarah Grenert-Funk. However, we’re adding two new positions to this team of administrators. Liz Weiler will be the new director of academics, and the director of student life is going to be Kara Tambellini.

We call this team the Upper School Catcher team. There are two reasons for the naming. The first reason is that my favorite book is The Catcher in the Rye, which I think is the Bible of teenage literature. The other reason is that that’s what this team does, they are going to be the net into which all advisors, class deans, every ounce of support comes from. Everyone needs a catcher.

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