Advisory: Productive Program or Odious Ordeal?
After a year and a half of Circle, Hanover High students have mixed feelings, to say the least. The Broadside recently sent out a survey to gauge student opinion about the program and measure its success: We received 113 anonymous responses, constituting about 16% of the student body.
The original purpose of Circle was to “build community, help us reflect together on important topics, and to learn to understand one another more deeply,” but 54.8% of students who responded to the survey did not think that the program met its stated goals. Some said that “the curriculum seems rather pointless,” “the discussions are awkward and ineffective,” and “actual discussion and human connection doesn’t occur.” One respondent said, “I don’t trust the people in my advisory to keep what I say confidential so I don’t talk at all,” and another said that “it is demeaning to force high schoolers to do something called circle as if it is first grade.”
But since people can only speak to their own experience of advisory, their opinions are very dependent on their own group’s interpretation of the program. People who answered “Strong Yes” had totally different experiences to those who answered negatively; one said that “all of the circles… have gone really well and helped our group to connect” and another said, “I have grown a lot closer to my advisory through Circle.” Many of the people who had positive experiences of Circle did acknowledge that they have friends with opposite opinions, whose Advisories are not as safe a space.
Only 18.6% of respondents felt that the Circle topics were relevant to their lives, while 56.6% did not. The positive respondents liked that “they are about school and the things and strategies that I might need” and “relate to students and school life.” Freshman advisories are led by Peer Leaders (mostly Seniors) to try and give them an older student that they can feel comfortable with at school, and one Freshman said that “the seniors give good advice for how they handled similar experiences to what we do as freshmen.”
The negative responses mostly said that the topics are overly simplified or not about things that high schoolers care about. One (very passionate) student said “every single topic is so basic and theoretical; the developers for some reason just haven’t thought to take into consideration how the students, literally the only target audience of this failed experiment, would react to Circle… It is and always has been so grossly cliché and almost comically cosmetic. You can’t simply gather 10 kids in a room and say ‘Hey guys let’s take a deep dive into mental health alright, now everyone please automatically become uncharacteristically vulnerable when I snap my fingers ok 3 2 1 GO!’”
But the results can be summarized by some more neutral answers: “In general there are more important questions that students wish to address” and “we follow circle topics, but when necessary talk about more relevant matters to our group.”
62% of respondents said that they do not look forward to Advisory Circle, mostly because they would rather have free time to spend with their friends or do schoolwork. Most of those who do look forward to it said it was not because of the programming, but “rather getting to enjoy time with my friends” and “love my advisory, not a fan of circles.” But many people do actually value Circle discussions, stating that “it’s a nice way to talk about important things” and their “group always has great discussions and it is great to hear from some people who otherwise rarely share thoughts or opinions.” Again, answers really depend on each individual Advisory, since some students just “really dislike everyone in [their] advisory and… hate having to spend time with them.”
A great majority of students said that their favorite circle topics were the most open-ended ones, consistent with the trend of answers saying that Circle discussions usually feel artificial. People also tended to like the more controversial or topical ones that spark good discussions, such as school vandalism and the Mascot change, though one person said that they “don’t like [Circles] where people have different opinions because it leads to arguments.” A common least favorite Circle was “the iceberg one because it felt recycled.” Others said that while icebreakers like that one were awkward, they were a necessary part of getting to know their advisory before being able to comfortably discuss more compelling issues.
Opinions on advisory lunch are almost exactly split: 40.2% of respondents agreed that their lunch was a place to “slow down and have fun,” while 38.4% thought the opposite. Here, even more than in Circle, people’s opinions are shaped by who they share their lunch period with. Unlucky students say that “[the rest of the advisory are] all friends and don’t really include me,” “tightly knit social groups [have] split the advisory into mini factions,” and “I really don’t like anyone in my advisory, so I normally find myself on my phone in a corner waiting for lunch to be over.” On the other hand, others say that they’ve “rekindled friendships because [they]’ve been forced to talk to each other” or that they “really do take a break and laugh together.” People enjoy “talking to… a certain group of people [they] would not usually talk to,” though many feel “as though circle and advisory could be consolidated.”
Very similar responses were given to the question “Do you enjoy advisory lunches?” Many said that they don’t feel close to the other people in their group and would rather eat with their friends, while others said that they have grown closer to their advisories and now do enjoy spending time with them. A common thread was that “it’s nice to eat lunch with different people from who I’m normally with,” but that “I would not want it to happen more than once per week.”
One person said that “when I started with my group things were a little uncomfortable as many of us did not know each other well, but as we have learned about each other more I miss the times that I don’t see them[, and] I wish it was still everyday.” Another said that “it makes me feel included, and the people in my advisory are also in some of my classes, so it is a chance [to] build relationships.” These experiences are what the creators of advisory hoped for for every student, but unfortunately most advisories may not turn out this well. Another reason for the creation of advisory groups last year was to slow the spread of COVID by creating set places for each person to remove their mask and eat lunch, and students still do “like having a set space to eat because it removes the stress from trying to find one with COVID.”
In conclusion, the success of advisory depends on who you ask. For some groups, the program worked and students got to know each other more deeply and become friends with people who they otherwise would not have, but for others the awkwardness and discomfort could not be overcome. Here is what one student has to say: “I’ve been lucky enough to be placed into a very good advisory. Based on what I have heard from others, my advisory is an exception to the norm. Unlike other advisories, I’ve gotten to be good friends with the other members of my advisory. From what I hear from others, they don’t enjoy the company of their advisory quite as much.”