As the new superintendent, Dr. William Hite, is arguing over instruction, teacher evaluation, school closings, and more in his new Action Plan v1.0, there is something important missing from the conversation: how to effectively prepare students with organizational and motivational tools for life.
Yes, these skills are supposed to be intertwined with curricula across disciplines: English teachers can have students write papers about ethics; Social Studies teachers can analyze the Civil Rights movement and how organizing helped ensure the right for Blacks to vote. Unfortunately, with the increased focus on test scores (and the impending evaluation of teachers using tests), these units are falling by the wayside. The only true time when students are free to ponder the world is during advisory, a time overlooked by many.
A brief look at schedules across the District leads one to believe that the advisory class plays little to no role in the life of a student. From my experience (and small survey sample), advisory in high schools is between 10-25 minutes long on average and takes place either at the very beginning of the day (before the first academic class) or between 2nd and 3rd periods. There are a variety of reasons for this - announcements, time to allow late students not to miss class, or to allow teachers to mark students as "present" in case they are very late to school. But, these reasons falter when compared to the potential of what advisory could be: a lifeline to the student body to influence school culture and educate the whole person.
Unfortunately, "advisory" is a misnomer. There is little time (or energy) to truly "advise" students as the time is used more for babysitting than anything else. Imagine if there were a rich curriculum devoted to increase student's organization and study skills, with growing themes over the course of four years of high school. Students would know who to go to for advice and truly see a connection with the outside world because they would have time to discuss their place in it.
In my ideal world, advisory would function as a place for discussion and curiosity, with articles read about educational research on how to be the best student; with discussion on what's happening in the lives of students now; with time devoted to what students really need. There are a small number of schools in Philadelphia who provide time for this (Science Leadership Academy being one) but we need more flexibility.
Maybe with that time students would be able to get themselves together and teachers would not have to spend as much time calling home over forgotten homework and missed assignments. And, instead, students would start applying these tools to other aspects of their lives.