It’s 8:30 a.m. at SA Harlem West Middle School and classrooms are abuzz with scholars’ conversations — and not just about the latest chess tournament, math homework, or an upcoming debate in history. Instead, they’re comparing techniques for time management and sharing tips with each other.
These scholars are in their Advisory block, a dedicated 30 minutes in which scholars get the chance to build relationships and a sense of community with their classmates, and start cultivating key life skills needed for high school and beyond.
At SA, we believe middle school is the perfect time to help teens and pre-teens learn life skills like time management, goal setting, and learning independently. Advisory is a safe space that allows scholars to discuss challenges like assignments or relationships they’re struggling with and also develop strong bonds with their advisors, who serve as families’ points of contact throughout the year.
“The base of Advisory, in its simplest form, is respect, organization, and treating each other with kindness,” SA Harlem West Senior Leader Amaury Ramirez said. “It’s a time when we slow down and try to build a community.”
At SA Harlem West, Advisory happens immediately after a 30-minute reading block to give scholars a full hour to themselves before their standard classes start. Other middle schools may break up the 30 minutes between the morning and afternoon, or even place it towards the end of the schedule to allow scholars to talk to each other about their days.
The half-hour can take a number of different forms, including grade-specific topics like adjusting to middle school or for eighth graders, preparing for high school. On other days, social-emotional learning specialists may visit the class to help spark discussion about navigating difficult situations.
“The scholars talk about things that matter to them,” Mr. Ramirez said. “They discuss things that they’re struggling with, their feelings, and things that they need to work on. We help them develop the skills they need in order to be successful in and out of the classroom.”
A pillar of Advisory is free-flowing dialogue between scholars, but their advisors (who are also teachers) play a crucial role. They’re responsible for managing the discussions, keeping parents informed on their child’s progress, and most significantly, listening to what their scholars have to say.
Middle school is a time of much change for scholars, and SA understands that it’s important to have adults who are there for them. The relationship with an advisor is a key part of a scholar’s experience at SA. Even after they advance to new grades, scholars will often stay in contact with past advisors because of the connection and trust they’ve built.
With Advisory, scholars have the opportunity to learn more about their peers and develop life skills. Independence and confidence are built by having unique conversations about issues in their school, their communities, and the world. Alongside SA’s unparalleled curriculum, Advisory helps scholars emerge from middle school as kind, engaged, well-rounded individuals.
“Advisory has taught me important life lessons and tips on maturing and making my own decisions,” said SA Midtown West Middle School eighth-grader Jordan Feliz. “I feel like I know myself better and am so much more prepared for high school because of it.”