Who's in the Burrow?

Advisory: Theme-Based Curriculum and the Rise of the Intentionally Non-Traditional

Older Girls' Advisory learns to change a tire
See the full post HERE
On one memorable fall day this year, the “Virtuous Dudes” of Sugar Bowl Academy’s Older Boys’ Advisory and the “Women Empowerment”-themed Older Girls’ Advisory were learning some ballroom dance steps from advisor Martin Benes.

Elsewhere on the Sugar Bowl Academy campus, a ninth-and-tenth-grade advisory group was taking a fencing lesson from advisor Jeff Schloss.

It was advisory hour, when the non-traditional and the unpredictable surface on campus, but with an underlying intentionality that – viewed more closely – makes it all, well, make sense.

For many independent schools across the country, advisory is conceived primarily – and somewhat sterilely – as a way of making sure students are on target to fulfill basic graduation requirements. The right courses have been selected, the right forms signed and delivered, the “i” is dotted and the “t” crossed.

SBA's advisory program is designed with more ambitious goals in mind, serving dynamically as a system of support for the whole child outside of the traditional classroom setting, as an environment conducive to introspection and goal setting, and as a place where our student/athletes can explore and reflect as an intellectual exercise on how a simple theme can connect life's experiences.

“Themes are large guiding scaffolds for advisors to hang their curriculum on and allow for each group to have an independent direction and identity,” said Dean of Students Andy Giordano. 

“The identity of an advisory group comes largely from the top down, where advisors collaborate and choose a theme that can excite and engage their advisees, and then develop a storyline of curriculum to give their time with their group meaning. All groups focus on ‘knowing students well,’ but the theme gives flavor and uniqueness to this umbrella idea in advisory.”

The following are the themes that this year’s advisors have selected:

· Women Empowerment
· An Attitude of Gratitude
· Off Piste
· State of Adventure
· Virtuous Dudes

At opposite ends of the age spectrum on campus, the older-girls’ advisory and the eighth-grade advisories are studies in the kind of age-appropriate, theme-based advisory planning that is happening on the Sugar Bowl Academy campus.

“Women Empowerment” is the theme of the older-girls’ advisory group. Beyond learning some salsa moves, recently the group also got a lesson on how to change a flat tire, check the oil, change the wiper blades or a headlight, and jump start a car from SBST Alpine ski coach Nate Fisher (if you missed the blog post on the subject you can catch up at http://tinyurl.com/SBAadvisory).

Said advisor Kelly Farrell: "Our girls are becoming self-sufficient women right before our eyes.”

The mission statement for the group reads as follows:

“We, the Older Girls’ Advisory, aim to identify the unique qualities in each of the girls and do our best to supplement those qualities with knowledge and skills that will give them more confidence to face their post high school years as ambitious and able individuals.” 

The eighth-grade advisory, led by Steve Ascher, Bryce Hubbard and Aly Kendall, is similarly focused on preparing students for a transitional stage – but in the younger students’ case, the transition from middle school to high school.

The group’s mission statement – aimed at instilling an “attitude of gratitude” for all the doors that an independent school education can open to those who make the most of their experience - targets the following specific areas of development:

· Adept transition to high school;
· Demonstration of organizational strategies;
· Participation in meaningful community service;
· Commencement of a lifelong journey of thoughtful self-reflection; and
· Reflection on the approaches involved in the development of healthy interpersonal relationships.

Winter Term Advisory Mission Worksheet
When leading the eighth graders in a discussion about healthy interpersonal relationships, advisors asked the group to consider thinking of these relationships as personal bank accounts, with positive interactions seen as deposits and negative interactions as withdrawals. 

“The eighth graders had a very interesting and productive discussion about ways to be more positive with one another, family members, and adult authority figures,” said advisor Aly Kendall.

“Eighth grade can be socially challenging, but Bryce, Steve and I are working collaboratively to try and help our youngest members of Sugar Bowl’s high school process their emotions productively and become thoughtful as well as thoroughly engaged members of our SBA community.”

Participation in meaningful community service was achieved in the fall when the eighth-grade advisory visited Truckee’s senior apartments and played bingo with senior citizens.

Said Giordano: “Our program mirrors the development of the whole child by building expanding connections between our students and their community. Each year the definition of community grows as students progress and begin to understand the uniqueness of their opportunity and the ubiquity of an individual’s connection to the broader world.”