With the addition of a third tutorial, members of the MVHS Leadership Team tossed around the idea of adding an advisory period last spring— perhaps as an extension of second period or as an option for freshmen-only work with a set of volunteer teachers. The purpose was twofold: to build in time for direct instruction in social emotional well-being and to increase the number of students who feel that they have a positive relationship with at least one adult on campus.
Journalism advisor, English teacher and Leadership Team member Julia Satterthwaite has been active in this discussion and advocates for advisory as a possible solution to the mental health obstacles that students often undergo. However, Satterthwaite thought it was important to hear from the students to see if they’d be interested, so she developed a student survey that nearly 600 MVHS students took.
“One of our goals was to sort of see how we were doing on some of the initiatives we were working on throughout the year. One was stabilizing student stress, another was building positive relationships with students. So that’s where the survey kind of came into play,” Satterthwaite said. “We were really trying to gather data about how to best use tutorial time.”
The results were clear: MVHS students were not interested in adding an advisory, even with an added tutorial. Fifty six percent of 580 student respondents said they’d never be interested in an advisory, 19 percent said they’d be interested if it were once a month, 16 percent if it were once a grading period and 10 percent if it were once a week.
If 45 percent are interested in some capacity, Satterthwaite feels that implementing an occasional advisory period could address the 14 percent of survey respondents who say that they don’t have a trusted adult on campus who they could talk to. Part of that demographic is sophomore Anusha Adira, who expresses that she isn’t close with any of her teachers or counselors due to unfixable boundaries.
“It’s really hard to build relationships with teachers and if you had a trusted teacher on campus to go to for problems that aren’t really related to school, that would be nice,” Adira said. “I just don’t use tutorial or anything to see any of my teachers like I used to, so I don’t get to talk to them much. You only see them in a school setting and not really outside so it’s pretty hard to build relationships with them. You can’t really change that.”
Sophomore Kyle Ralston is one of the 86 percent of students surveyed who do have a trusted adult on campus but believes the element of out of class interactions in marching band to be the cause behind the “strong bond” he says he has with his band director Ricky Alegria.
“I think just spending time and talking to him, not just during class, but sometimes I hang out there after school and just talk to him about stuff,” Ralston said. “Also, being in marching band that just adds a lot of extra time spent with him in his class. I think that since it’s not a class, it’s sort of a different relationship and a different interaction.”
Based on these types of anecdotes, Satterthwaite believes an advisory period could be beneficial. A more structured period dedicated to the focus of the student’s social emotional well-being could also help reduce student stress.
However, some students oppose the idea of an advisory period, arguing that tutorial is the only time of day they can use to catch up on things they missed, talk to teachers, socialize and stay on top of things. Senior Anisha Sinha presumes that if a tutorial is taken away, it will thwart the goals of the Leadership Team.
“I think three [tutorials] can be really helpful especially for dividing your time for trying to get done with your academic work and trying to form those relationships with your teachers,” Sinha said. “Tutorials are not just a time to cram the homework that you haven’t done or study for tests, although those are the original intents. I’ve used it in the past just to wind down and destress for myself. Which I don’t think would be possible with an advisory.”
Another aspect of the survey addressed how students use tutorial time, with the highest percentage of students, 22 percent, using their tutorial time to complete homework or study and 16 percent to socialize with friends.
“We asked about self organized learning because tutorial is basically self organized learning, and the research says that its effective for 60 percent to 65 percent of the students,” Satterthwaite said. “So then for the other students, we were trying to figure out how we can help them. One of our observations about tutorial time is that not everyone uses their time effectively. So we were trying to see if there was something we could do or some structures we could build in place to support the students.”
For now, MVHS’ schedule and tutorials will be left untouched, but Satterthwaite says she will continue to bring advisory into discussions in hopes to implement it one day.
“Pretty much anytime you add a new thing that students are required to go to, they will tell you they don’t want to do it and they don’t even know if it’s good,” Satterthwaite said. “I think it’s worth trying it, even if it’s in small chunks.”
Although the new MVHS bell schedule left students disoriented during the first few weeks of school, Cupertino HS has adopted more drastic changes than other schools in the district. On top of a 4-block schedule and three tutorial periods per week, CHS had “advisory” periods during the first two weeks of school and a few more times throughout the year in place of a third tutorial.
CHS principal Kami Tomberlain describes advisory as an opportunity to implement “a campaign around anti-bias work,” which is one of CHS’ goals for the year. This and the desire to build a stronger sense of community manifested in the implementation of advisory periods. During one of the advisory periods in the first two weeks of school, teachers presented the same lessons to facilitate school-wide learning, while the other advisory period was used for students to attend the annual administration presentation in the gym.
CHS senior Anjali Sankar looked at the first two advisories as an overview of everything she had learned in the past four years — email etiquette, how to treat her peers and how to make school a safer place.
“I don’t think it was useful necessarily because I had a teacher who didn’t really… I mean, he cared about it, but he was like ‘You guys have heard this several times, so I’m going to go through this pretty fast,’” Sankar said.
Despite this, Tomberlain believes that the lessons taught during advisory are important to building a stronger community at CHS.
“[Our goal is] helping kids learn to identify bias and speak up for themselves and others when they hear bias, name calling, speech that is derogatory towards individuals who are different from them,” Tomberlain said. “We’re doing a lot of lessons around race and identity and bias and anti-bias and those kinds of things, as well as some mental health lessons, anxiety, avoiding academic bullying.”
The plan is to have advisory once a month during “full months,” which eaves out months like December where students are only in school for two or three weeks. The staff believe that CHS students use the tutorials very well, and felt that it was better to not remove one tutorial every week. As it is, the addition of a third tutorial period every week has pushed the number of tutorials per month from eight to 12. With one of those periods used for advisory, Tomberlain explains that students will still be able to use 11 tutorial periods.
“I mean, I understand maybe for some of the freshmen you would do advisory, but we’ve gone through it for three years,” Sankar said. “I don’t really take anything away from it, because I’ve heard it so many times that it’s not that important.”
CHS senior Philip Nguyen-Dang agrees with Sankar on the repetitive nature of advisory, saying that he would prefer another tutorial.
“You can go and get help from teachers or get whatever advice you want, or finish any work you have left,” Nguyen-Dang said. “So I feel like it’s a nice thing to have, but advisory is only a few times, we still have three tutorials most weeks.”
According to Tomberlain, the staff had a Student Advisory Council working on these ideas over the past school year. This council, which gave input on the concerns that students may have had, was among some of the ways the administration sought student input.
“We [also] do a student survey every year in January around how people feel about the campus, their own well being, the way they’re interacting with others,” Tomberlain said. “And we used the data from that to help plan this as well.”
While the option of advisory was not opened up to them, Nguyen-Dang remembers being asked about whether students would want school to start late. Sankar believes that the administration could have benefited from more student input, perhaps from something like a survey that could have gauged student interest in advisory periods and their thoughts about the 4-block schedule.
“[A survey] would have been a little more helpful, to really see how many students needed it,” Sankar said. “And I think a lot of other students are on board with me, so yeah, I think that might have helped a little bit more.”
For 20 Fridays during tutorial, students at LHS will enter a classroom for a 35-minute lesson. However, students aren’t in an academic class; they’re in Homeroom.
Instead of a third tutorial on those days, everyone attends Homeroom, where students are given the opportunity to build relationships with peers and teachers. It is similar to a normal class in which students are expected to attend, but differs because this is a time where students “de-stress.”
LHS sophomore Aayushi Jain , looks forward to the experience even though she was not completely aware of what Homeroom is going to entail.
“We only have two rules for homeroom: You can’t use your phone and no academics,” Jain said. “You spend time with the people in your class, do team-building activities and class teamwork activities.”
Jain hopes the consistency of the Homerooms will build a bond between the people she encounters.
“We’re introducing a way to make our campus more social and more friendly,” Jain said. “I think it’ll be a good experience and a good way to take a break from what we’re used to.”
LHS sophomore David Heydinger, however, thinks Homeroom will end up failing to bring LHS students together, instead referring to it as a “waste of time.”
“I can think of so many other things I could be doing instead of Homeroom,” Heydinger said. “I could be doing my homework. It would be even better if instead of Homeroom we just [got] out of school early, instead of talking and playing games with the teacher.”
LHS sophomore Alex Cheng expresses similar concerns, and feels like the time could be better spent. The other possible option for Homeroom time is a third tutorial, which Cheng says he would appreciate more.
“I’ve spent the last majority of tutorials to just study for tests and do homework, since I don’t have time after school,” Cheng said. “Most students are actually being productive during tutorial.”
Journalism teacher Josh Miller is, on the other hand, more supportive of the new Homeroom, and believes that it will help increase the number of students who have a positive connection with an adult on campus.
“We’ve had surveys over the last few years to ask students, ‘Do you have an adult on campus that you would feel comfortable going to with an issue you needed to talk about?’” Miller said. “We wanted [the results] to be higher. As a teacher body and as a staff, we were like, ‘That needs to be higher.’ So we want to make that a goal.”
Additionally, Miller hopes that the Homeroom period will create a space where students can be honest with the teacher and themselves, due to the fact that Homeroom has one significant difference from other classes.
“[Homeroom]’s not graded,” Miller said. “Two months from now, I’m going to be walking around campus and I’m going to know an extra 25 students that don’t have a grade in my gradebook. I can just know them as people.”
Heydinger believes he will be able to warm up to the concept of Homeroom, but right now, he’s not satisfied. He admits that building those relationships with other students takes time, but to him it’s not worth the effort.
“Eventually Homeroom [will] be helpful,” Heydinger said, “but it’s going to take more than one session just to bring the Lynbrook students together. I just don’t think it’s worth taking 35 minutes out of our day because everybody is probably just going to talk to their friends during homeroom.”
Yet when Jain looks into the future of Homeroom, she hopes that it will alter LHS’s vibe by creating more of that positive interaction. However, she also recognizes the concerns of others.
“We know for sure not everyone is going to get their dream homeroom,” Jain said. “Not everyone’s going to get a terrible homeroom. It’s different for everybody else. I feel like there’s nothing we can do. It’s almost like a fresh start, but we’re just trying something new.”
According to Miller, LHS spoke with a Midwest school in which the students turned a Homeroom style time into something they control, a step he hopes will happen at LHS.
“They were the ones planning what would happen, whether it was a guest speaker or a day where students were just exchanging between classrooms,” Miller said. “The students have actually took this time over, and they’re planning. So eventually, it would be cool if the students [at LHS] took more discipline on their own shoulders so that it matters to them.”
LHS’s campus has mixed opinions on the future of the Homeroom classes. For those in favor, it’s a new experience where the campus can work on its own bonding. For those against, it takes away time from a tutorial that students could use to further their academic achievements. Jain looks forward to her Homeroom classes and is excited to see what they are about.
“I don’t know what to expect,” Jain said. “We have so many people in our grade that it’s hard to know what to expect. [Homeroom]’ll be something people look forward to, ‘Okay, guys, look, it’s Friday, we have Homeroom, we have half an hour where we don’t have to do work.’ We’re getting something that’s good for us [and] I’m excited to see how it goes.”
Mindfulness has been emphasized in a variety of fields like medicine, law enforcement and even professional sports, but it has also found its place in educational institutions across the country. In the past few years, schools in the Fremont Union High School District have attempted to implement wellness programs into their curriculum with varying levels of success. At Homestead High School, the past school year saw the end of the Connections program, intended to promote bonding between students and the faculty.
In Connections, during one Thursday tutorial each month, students remained in their third period classroom. What each class did was dependent on the teacher; some chose to initiate activities to introduce mindfulness while others allowed students to catch up on work.
“I guess it was kind of like a bonding time, but there wasn’t a set curriculum to be followed, so it really differed from teacher to teacher,” HHS junior Teresa Yang said. “Some students had a good time, while others didn’t.”
HHS senior Kevin Ham agrees, adding that a major reason Connections was successful for him was because of his classmates and not so much what the teachers presented.
“A lot of the team building and icebreakers happened during class, so these tutorial periods were just extra,” Ham said. “We easily spent a third of our class time together. I was very lucky with my class because we met every day for a whole block period so we were very close as a class, but I don’t feel that the actual time in the program contributed as much.”
On the other hand, AVID and English teacher Shawnee Rivera felt the program offered an opportunity for her to connect with her students on a deeper level by engaging in conversations beyond the typical curriculum. Rather than having to focus on a set agenda, the program’s flexibility allowed her to have fun with her class.
“In English, we’re lucky we get to dive deep into a lot of different issues, so it was kind of nice just to sit and chat,” Rivera said. “That’s what I felt like I was doing. I didn’t necessarily have to get through the curriculum. If the conversation went sideways, we could just sit and talk about that.”
However, as the program developed, struggles arose in trying to accommodate as many students as possible. The 30-minute sessions were limited to monthly meetings and some students had a free third period, excluding them from participating.
“A lot of people who had empty third periods didn’t really have anything to do because all the teachers were closed off from academic time because of the Connections program,” Yang said. “I think for the most part, people would prefer having a regular tutorial over the program. I’m sure there are people who appreciate getting to know others better, but a large majority of the students see it more as a hassle.”
Rivera posed a solution: have teachers with third period prep work with students with a free third period. According to Rivera, with this system, not only would more students be involved, but they would also be able to build a community with students they may not have known before.
While the program is no longer in operation and HHS now has three regular tutorials a week, there is a no definite response as to whether a similar curriculum will be reintroduced or developed in the future.
“I teach these [skills] anyway, even in my lit[erature] class,” Rivera said. “I teach organization and growth mindset and mindfulness and stuff like that, but I feel like it’s an opportunity missed for other teachers who don’t get to do that or have that flexibility.”
As of 2018, one of the most apparent changes for schools in the Fremont Union High School District (FUHSD) is the district-wide schedule change. While both schedules added a third tutorial period, teachers at all schools voted on whether they wanted to have four block days or two. Fremont High School (FHS) teachers chose the former.
At FHS, students and staff call their tutorial periods “flex,” and they occur on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.
When deciding between the two schedule options, Principal Bryan Emmert and his staff were able to come to a consensus quickly due to a long-standing tradition at Fremont.
“We’ve been on a four-block schedule for I think the last 20 years,” Emmert said. “It would be a big change to the culture of the school [if we were] to go away from the block schedule.”
In addition to maintaining the culture at the school, Emmert revealed that another driving factor in adopting the new schedule was to have healthy sleep routines for students. Similarly, students at FHS acknowledge Emmert’s belief that the new schedule will assist in improving students’ sleep schedules.
“Now I get more sleep because I get to wake up later,” FHS junior Tammy Phan said. “And I just really like using my flex time for work. I personally think that’s really helpful.”
The students identify both the positives and drawbacks to the new schedule.
“I like is how [tutorials are] more spread out from last year,” FHS junior David Chen said. “We’ve had two in a row, but this year, [they are] every other day. But one thing that I really don’t like is the one on Monday. It is first block, second block, but there’s no break between the flex and a third. Usually students would get used to having a tutorial and then brunch and then third block or something, but now, it is all in one.”
Phan agrees with Chen, but she also shares her opinion that the new schedule has been helpful for her to manage her time better.
“I still kind of feel like [flex periods on] Mondays aren’t really necessary because I finished all my homework by then,” Phan said. “Fridays are better since I probably have more homework to do and I can finish it before the weekend
While Phan speaks on her own behalf, Chen adds an observation of his peers. Prior to the schedule change, office hours were available before the first class for students to voluntarily attend if they needed extra help. Although office hours did not count towards instructional minutes for Fremont HS, it was structured to motivate students to take initiative.
“I liked how you know you would come in early on a day, [but] it just felt like not a lot of people will take advantage of it,” Chen said.
In addition to flex, FHS includes “closed flex” during the first few weeks of school so students could attend orientation. Closed flex is a time which students would be required to stay in an assigned classroom so that they can attend school-wide events, such as a presentation or orientation. Since closed flex is a school-wide decision, students do not have the freedom to carry out their own tasks.
“They’re probably less productive, but they’re probably important for school,” Pham said, “[such as] giving us time to [attend] any school-wide event.”
Overall, the schedule change, including the addition of flex times, was meant to motivate students and reduce high levels of stress.
“Well, I mean, going back to the rationale,” Emmert said, “Students are able to just manage [their] time so that they have to stay up a little bit later to do work or activities or sports, they can get at least a half an hour sleep in the morning.”