by Will Li (’23) and Louis Chavey (’22) | May 10, 2021
Social-emotional learning, more commonly known as SEL or Advisory, was introduced as a support class for freshmen and sophomores in the 2019-2020 school year. SEL aims to teach communication skills and coping mechanisms for stress to help students thrive at Saint Francis and in the real world. While most students agreed that both advisory’s content and format were helpful when acclimating to Saint Francis, they also began to see it as burdensome when its structure became constricting.
Freshmen saw the social skills they learned in SEL as beneficial to the social aspect of transitioning from middle school to high school. “[SEL helped with] people skills and talking skills, which impacted how I met new friends. It’s also helped me realize other people’s points of view because we have a lot of class discussions, so even though this might be going well for me, it might not be going well for other people,” Liam Haydon (’24) explains. For sophomores, on the other hand, advisory acted as a more direct way to announce important events or changes at school. Andre LeBaron (’23) sees advisory as an improved, more tailored version of school announcements: “It tells a lot of what’s going to happen during the school year. I think that’s really helpful, and you can ask questions about stuff.”
Beyond benefits stemming from the class’s actual content, its format—meeting with the same students every week—creates a welcoming environment for all underclassmen. From a social point of view, Eric Wang (’24) sees SEL as a win-win: “There are two ways you can view it: One is that you can learn more about social interaction and then the other one is there is just a class to chill and talk with some people.” SEL’s social benefits go deeper than just being a fun class. Expanding on the feeling of closeness that comes with smaller class sizes, Maximo Gentini (’23) says that “[advisory] promotes social interaction because you have a small group of people you can talk to.”
However, students’ main criticism of advisory was a lack of engaging ways to reinforce key concepts. LeBaron notes, “I think the topics are important, and I see the reason why they repeat them. If you’re in person, more activities with the people around you [would be better]. I think that’s the main thing that doesn’t work for online is you just talk with the teacher instead of talking with the students in your class.” As he discusses, the online setting has overwhelmingly hurt advisory, which relies so much on peer-to-peer interaction and social activities like discussions to keep the class new and interesting.
Additionally, Gentini emphasizes the importance of specificity to each student’s needs because, after all, not every stressful situation will be the same for all students: “[Advisory] shows us how to manage our stress levels on the whole, but I think it should be tailored more to our needs. Each student should be given more helpful tips on how to improve in classes or how to talk to coaches.” While advisory is directly beneficial for a solid portion of students, others feel that their needs are not reflected in the current curriculum. Gentini also elaborates how though “learning about mindfulness and practicing meditation are helpful tips,” he personally feels that “[he has not learned] how to deal with active stress situations, like turning in an assignment or being put on the bench.”
In terms of larger solutions, Gentini’s idea of fitting content to students’ specific needs rings true in students’ propositions for changing SEL. Obviously, a course designed for hundreds of students will not be totally successful for each individual, but freshmen and sophomores alike have ideas on how to cater to a wider audience. Ronan O’Sullivan (’23) suggests, “There should be a survey [asking if] you want [advisory] to be academic, or socially-based because I think for freshmen, it might be more social, and for sophomores much more academic.” In order to continue building the foundation for the student population’s future success, advisory must adapt in both content and structure. When advisory becomes too strict and content-focused like regular classes, it strays further away from serving students’ needs. As Nikos Karmirantzos (’24) puts it, “I think advisory is supposed to make students feel welcome, and it’s done a good job at that. I think if you turn advisory into something like a class, that’s not what it’s supposed to be.”
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