FULTON, NY – Faculty members and former students of G. Ray Bodley High School recently approached the FCSD Board of Education to share their thoughts behind the idea to implement a seminar course at the high school.
GRB previously ran an advisory program in which groups of students met with one teacher for a set period of time every day through the duration of their high school career. The advisory program was phased in with freshman in the 2007-08 school year and remained for four years.
The program was entirely funded by school improvement funding when GRB was labeled as a corrective action school by the New York State Education Department, however, it was cut after 2011 because it lost funding.
Within 18 months, GRB was removed from the corrective action list through the committed action of employees throughout the district, a task that is very unheard of but one that lost the funding needed for advisory according to the district’s executive director of instruction and assessment, Betsy Conners.
The mission of advisory in its time at GRB was “to provide students with a more one-on-one personalized learning environment where connections are made between students and teachers.”
GRB High School principal, Donna Parkhurst alongside Conners presented an opportunity to board members last month to instate a seminar course at the high school, a course with similar structure and goals to that of the advisory program.
Seminar would differ from advisory in that it would be held for 40 minutes every other day and would also take a more dominant focus on academic components while still developing essential skills and creating a mentor relationship with a teacher.
Parkhurst and Conners are hopeful to begin by phase seminar in to the freshman and sophomore classes beginning the 2017-18 school year to be offered as a graded course worth a half credit.
Four GRB teachers, Angela Ferlito, Teresa Hill, Ami LaDuc and Jennifer Reese used their own personal experiences as former advisory teachers to share the success advisory had as well as the success they believe seminar will replicate.
Much like advisory, the seminar mission remains centered around students developing a positive mentor relationship with a teacher but also adds an academic component that was not addressed as firmly through advisory.
“Our purpose is to build a relationship between students and an advisor, to foster a sense of community, and facilitate skill development in order to ultimately improve academic performance,” the seminar mission reads.
For freshman, seminar curriculum will center around transitioning to the high school, team building, goal setting, study skills and time management.
For sophomore, seminar curriculum will center around true colors personality testing, conflict resolution, and the history of Fulton.
Seminar will provide students at both grade levels an in depth training and regular use of Naviance, the school’s career and college planning program, as well as visits to several local colleges.
Many previously instated components of advisory are hoped to be revived through seminar including “Options Day” and student led conferences.
On “Options Day,” sophomores are given a day to explore all options of life after high school including some more typical options such as two-year community college, four-year private or public college, school to work, CiTi, civil service or military and also lesser known options such as trade unions, Peace Corp, college abroad and many more.
“Every student had something that applied to them. I cant tell you how many kids came up to me after (Options Day) and told me, ‘that changed me, I now see a future for myself,’” GRB social studies teacher, Reese said. “We have too many kids walking our halls with their hoods up not really seeing that future, they need to see what their options are and we need to offer that to them.”
Student led conferences will also resurface as formerly implemented in the advisory program.
School improvement coordinator, Hill described student-led conferences as a “very powerful” experience in which students presented their portfolio to parents or a trusted adult, sometimes even asking other staff from the district to sit in at the student’s request.
Seminar will foster a sense of school and community pride by learning the history of the city of Fulton and the school mascot as well as participating in school and community service projects.
Teachers and students alike raved the benefits of advisory as former GRB student, Siobhan Murphy recalled advisory as a “wonderful” program that helped her through high school.
“To be able to touch base and recognize yourself within another teacher was something that has very deep meaning,” Murphy said.
She sited advisory as the reason she experienced lessened referrals, improved grades, and emotional development through the confidant of an advisory teacher.
“All kids want to do is fit in, they want to talk to people. Not to have a figure like that while attending school, I couldn’t understand what that would be like because I always had one,” she finished.
Former GRB student Alyssa Robinson shared her thoughts on advisory through a video presented by the teachers.
“When I think about advisory, I think about family because that’s what my advisory was to me, my school family. It was a great place to make friends and meet people I probably otherwise wouldn’t have made friendships with throughout my four years of high school,” she said.
Robinson referred to advisory as the “one constant thing” that was available to her that allowed her to feel comfortable and confident in transitioning to the high school.
“I am forever thankful that I had that experience during high school and I think that all the students would benefit if GRB decided to bring it back,” she said.
In deciding whether to reinstate a program similar to advisory, Parkhurst and Conners initially laid out the successes GRB had seen when the program was in place.
The graduation rate for economically disadvantaged students increased from 58% for 2007 graduates to 69% for 2011 graduates, the latter of which participated in advisory for all four years of high school. This subgroup’s graduation rate has since dropped to 52% for the 2013 graduating class of which advisory was dropped in their junior year.
Chronic attendance took a plunge from 32% in the 2009-10 school year to 25% in the 2010-11 school year, currently the chronic attendance rate sits at 31%.
If seminar were implemented in the high school, district officials would measure its success by following data hopeful to indicate a decrease in chronic absence, increase in number of students on track to graduate in four years, increase in parent involvement through student-led conferences, increase in student voice and ownership of their learning, and increase in the number of two and four year college graduates as well as trade programs.
While funding became the source of the program’s termination, Superintendent Brian Pulvino explained that the seminar course would be made possible through repurposing of positions and believes the course to be sustainable through the future.
There will be no additional costs associated, Conners said.
Teachers and students made their plea, and the board of education intends to act on a resolution regarding the implementation of seminar in early June after hearing more information at a board meeting later this month.
“We saw the difference in our building. Our building was different place with advisory, and so when the seminar program got brought up as an option it just brought that rejuvenation right back to us. We have hope that we can go back to those days when it was amazing. It was a different building when that program was in place,” Reese said.
Board president, David Cordone said some parents have expressed concern that their students may not have room in their schedule for an additional course.
However, Conners explained that for specific circumstances, students will meet with Parkhurst and school guidance counselors to discuss the benefits and opportunities presented through seminar to determine whether there will be a time that the student can take advantage of the course.
“Teachers can teach you content but in math class you’re learning math, you’re not learning who you are as a person. No matter what your background or who your parents are, students still need to figure that out for themselves. I think that’s a piece that we sometimes forget,” Conners said.