Changes to freshman advisory build community


Graphic by Graham Krewinghaus

The new freshman advisory system uses restorative justice practice, increasingly popular in schools nationwide, to build connections between students and teachers.

The high school had many changes to make before receiving this year’s freshman class at Old Lincoln School (OLS). The schedule was reworked, many teachers moved campuses and classes were modified to accommodate travel time and the new schedule. For the class of 2023, the 9th grade experience is completely different than it was for any other class before it.

The advisory system is no different. At OLS, a completely new class has replaced the previous advisory in T block, eliminating junior mentors and following restorative justice practices to help grow the sense of community amongst students and teachers alike. The new HUB system seeks to strengthen bonds between students and provide an accepting environment for them to take a break from academic stressors.

According to Advisory co-coordinator and Spanish teacher Emily McGinnis, the plan for the HUB arose from the desire to help incoming freshmen connect with the rest of the OLS community.

“We designed the program to respond to what we saw as deficits in the existing program,” McGinnis said. “We really think that what students and teachers are asking for is a more meaningful experience between students and teachers, which includes opportunities for students and teachers to connect in more authentic and meaningful ways and also for students to connect with each other.”

Advisory co-coordinator and Special Education teacher Beau Morimando said students value the new advisory in a different way than last year’s freshmen did the old advisory.

“Last year, advisory was just kind of a moment in the day, where they’d handle a lot of business items, or there were a couple of lessons they would get,” Morimando said. “But now I’m hearing 9th graders talking about advisory a lot more, talking about HUB a lot more. It’s something that they feel is very present in their daily life.”

Morimando attributes this change, at least in part, to the new restorative justice system. Originally used in indigenous communities, restorative justice revolves around students sitting in a circle with a talking piece. Instead of a traditional classroom experience with a teacher doing most of the talking, this allows students to talk amongst themselves about anything from serious questions about identity to what their favorite knock-knock joke is. Julia Rocco, a freshman advisory teacher, said this practice encourages positive connections amongst participating students.

“Most days we meet in a circle, we sit together in a circle, which is supposed to bring us together as a community and communicate that every kid has an equal voice in the room,” Rocco said. “I think in the past, the main focus of advisory was for every kid to have an adult that they knew and trusted in the building, and I think now that has broadened a little bit, for kids to have a community of other students that they feel comfortable in and where they can take a little space to breathe in the day.”

Morimando said that the HUB was intended to be a sort of break from the stress of academic classes, and a place students could feel comfortable and connected.

“It’s a time when 9th graders can step out of the classroom and step out of all the pressures that come with being in high school, and just kind of open up with a group of their peers, and have conversations,” Morimando said. “It’s kind of a pause in the day. There are opportunities for 9th graders to come together in this very relaxed atmosphere, and just have conversations with each other and connect outside of the classroom.”

Students do homework and talk with teachers during the new H block. Part of the HUB system, the block provides students with time exclusively for homework help.

Freshman Alex Bronstein, a student in Rocco’s advisory, said the HUB has helped him get to know his classmates.

“I think the HUB really builds more community than our middle school advisories did because we were mostly doing on games and stuff last year, and this year it’s more focused,” Bronstein said. “We’ll pass around a talking piece, and Ms. Rocco will give us a prompt, like ‘what did you do over the weekend,’ and we’ll go around the circle with the talking piece and say what we all did over the weekend. But usually, the questions are more personal.”

Rocco said that the practice communicates to students many of the high school’s core values, encouraging freshmen to adopt those values and help recreate the high school’s culture at OLS.

“I do think that the messages the HUB communicates are really valuable to our culture as a whole,” Rocco said. “We value community, we value kindness towards each other and support of each other, because that’s what HUB is all about. And I think over time, that’s going to have an impact.”

According to Advisory and History Teacher Sam Dickerman, OLS and HUB have not only stuck to the high school’s core values, but it has already created some of its own culture by having only freshmen and teachers on campus. 

“I love it over here, there’s so much camaraderie, and spirits are high,” Dickerman said. “We’re all part of a volunteer army, the teachers, we all chose to be here, so morale is high. And the HUB just fits in well with this attempt to build this really great community. It’s a really positive vibe, and HUB is just part of that.” 

Besides the stronger sense of community,  another key distinction of this year’s HUB system is the absence of junior mentors, which were part of the old advisory system. Dickerman said that their strong presence helped to integrate freshmen into the building in the old system, but that the need is no longer present.

“I remember the junior mentors being integral to what was happening, and that’s totally absent here, it’s just me and the students,” Dickerman said. “But that kind of mirrors what’s happening with the campus, it’s just us and the 9th graders here.”

Juniors this year still had the opportunity to be involved in the freshman experience as junior reps, helping freshmen acclimate by guiding them through orientation, club fair and back-to-school night. Morimando said their role is still important to freshmen, although they are no longer called ‘mentors.’

“Schedule-wise, we couldn’t have juniors sit in on advisory with 9th graders anymore,” Morimando said. “But they are still very much involved in being leaders for their freshmen, and leading by example, and showing 9th graders the ropes around BHS.”

The HUB’s goal is to get 9th graders to connect with their peers, in part because they will not have the same advisor all four years as past classes have. McGinnis said this new goal shaped the way the HUB was designed.

“It used to be the goal that you were with the same adult for four years. We wanted to make the main goal about the kids, make it more student-centered,” McGinnis said. “We wanted to put the students at the center of it, not the adults, so it didn’t matter about the personality of your advisor, whether you got a great one or a not great one, but the idea is that that you’re with a group of kids and you can do something of value together because you’re peers.”

Morimando said that through these connections between students, HUB seeks to guide them towards broader growth, and that he hopes the students are able to maintain those connections throughout their high school experience in their everyday lives.

“The goal is to have students connect with each other more and take those connections out of the HUB and into the school community,” Morimando said. “Whether it’s just saying hi to someone in the hallway or helping out someone in need, I think that’s something that students can get from the HUB.”