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Four-Year Advising After Four Years: Successful?

Every Day 4 during Community, Upper School students are meant to revel in the power of group bonding and decompress in a consistently carefree environment. But does the four-year advising system truly foster connections among students?

The switch from one-year to four-year advising was intended to align the advising system with Packer’s mission statement. “In our mission, it says that we are going to build meaningful, lasting relationships. It is really hard to build meaningful, lasting relationships when you are having to switch every year,” explained Assistant Head of Upper School Allison Bishop, one of the main administrators overseeing the system. 

Ideally, the four-year advising system would result in students forming close bonds with their advisor and one another. But how often is this model realized? Since this year’s senior class is the first group to have experienced the full rotation of the four year advising system, now is the perfect time to ask how effective the current system is and what changes could be made.

Advising groups are put together quite thoughtfully; the eighth-grade dean makes preliminary groups for returning students, while Head of Admissions Sheila Bogan, along with the ninth-grade dean, adds new students and makes changes to the groups as needed. The team even tries to sort groups by interest. 

Given that the groups last throughout all of high school, the experience can be fun for students that get along with their group, but for those who do not, advisory is less enjoyable. 

“I understand that with a system where you are with people for four years, you have more of a likelihood to either love your group or really not like your group. But, I don’t think the solution is to cut the current system. If you only have [advising groups for] one year, it is more likely that more people will not be that content, or people will not feel that close to their advisor,” said Emma Weseley (‘20). 

There are, however, students whose advisor leaves Packer partway through their high school journey, thus making it more difficult to forge connections. The main gamble of the system is whether advisors will leave before the four years are over. 

“At least in my grade, there have been a lot of switches where advisors have either left the school or taken on a new role… But I think most people that have stuck with their same advisor since freshman year like [the four-year advising program],” said Nick Yohn (‘21). 

 “It is always a tricky situation when we have advisor turnover. And I understand how that can be really frustrating for an advisee. The numbers on that happening are pretty low, though,” explained Ms. Bishop. Of 76 surveyed students, 75% had the same advisor for four years. However, for the few students who do experience a turnover, this situation can be unfortunate. 

“You can’t make a teacher sign a four-year contract. You know, life changes and people move, and some of our advisors get promoted,” Dean of the Class of 2020 Ali Iberraken noted.  

In rare situations, however, advisors choose to stay in their role, even though they no longer have to. Head of Math Department Ian Rumsey chose to stay with his advising group this year, even though he was promoted and no longer had to be an advisor. “I started my new job this year and I was expected to not have an advisory, but I decided to stay with them. I figured that we have been through this for three years, I would not want to have them graduate with another advisor. I felt not just a responsibility, but also a closeness,” said Mr. Rumsey. 

Even for students that have had the same advisor, some feel that the people who serve this role should be chosen more carefully. 

“I think what really needs to be put more effort into is who the advisors are. I think it is a bigger job than it is made out to be, because you really are supposed to be that right hand person for your students,” said Emma. This point is currently being addressed; when hiring, administrators now ask potential hires if they would want to be an advisor. 

Usually, there are not enough teachers that want to be advisors, but, according to Ms. Bishop, there were too many teachers this year who wanted to take on the role. Along with new modifications to the system, the way advisory is viewed by faculty members is also changing. 

There is now a process through which students can switch advisories, though very few do so. While the administration cannot force teachers to stay for four years, teachers are told that if they plan on leaving or being promoted, they should not ask to be an advisor.

According to the survey, 78% of students like the four-year advising system, suggesting that it is, overall, a positive aspect of the Packer Upper School experience.

“We want the advisor to be an incredibly important role model in a student’s life, but we also believe that we have an excellent student support network… If [a student] is not as connected to their advisor, then they [hopefully] always have at least one other person in the building that they can turn to,” concluded Ms. Iberraken. 

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